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Farley v. Kernan

United States District Court, S.D. California

February 26, 2018

CRAIG FARLEY, Petitioner,
SCOTT KERNAN, Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Respondent.


          Larry Alan Burns United States District Judge

         Petitioner Craig Farley, a prisoner in state custody, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The matter was referred to Magistrate Judge Bernard Skomal for a report and recommendation. After Judge Skomal issued his substantial report and recommendation (the “R&R”), Farley filed objections (“Objections” or “Obj.”).

         Farley was convicted in California state court of first degree murder, robbery, and burglary. The jury made additional findings that he committed the murder while engaged in a robbery and burglary, that he committed all three crimes for the benefit of a criminal street gang, that a firearm was used during the crime, and that the crime was committed in an inhabited dwelling. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole plus an additional consecutive sentence of 25 years to life. In his petition, he raised nine claims for relief.

         Legal Standards

          A district court has jurisdiction to review a Magistrate Judge's report and recommendation on dispositive matters. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). “The district judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to.” Id. “A judge of the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The Court reviews de novo those portions of the R&R to which specific written objection is made. United States v. Reyna-Tapia, 328 F.3d 1114, 1121 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc).

         Federal habeas review of state court judgments is highly deferential. Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 105 (2011); Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011). As to claims adjudicated on the merits in state court, the Court can grant relief only if those proceedings resulted in a decision that was contrary to or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law, as determined by the U.S. Supreme Court; or resulted in a decision based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding. § 2254(d). The state courts' factual determinations are presumed correct, and this presumption can only be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence. § 2254(e)(1). The Court's review is limited to the record before the state court. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181-82 (2011).

         Where, as here, the state supreme court summarily denies relief, the Court “looks through” to the last reasoned decision - in this case, the California Court of Appeals' decision - to determine the basis for the state supreme court's judgment. See Reis-Campos v. Biter, 832 F.3d 968, 973-74 (9th Cir. 2016). But if there is no reasoned decision on a particular claim, the petitioner must show that there was no reasonable basis for the denial of relief. Id. at 974 (citing Richter, 562 U.S. at 92).

         Federal habeas relief is available only when a prisoner is in custody in violation of federal law; errors of state law are not a basis for issuance of the writ. Swarthout v. Cooke, 562 U.S. 216, 219 (2011).

         Request for Stay and Abeyance

         The petition included a request for stay and abeyance as to three ineffective assistance of counsel claims that Farley said he intended to bring in state court. The R&R recommended denying it as moot, because the claims in fact had been exhausted because Farley raised them in a habeas petition in the California Supreme Court. Neither party objected to this, and the Court ADOPTS the R&R's recommendation. The request for stay and abeyance is DENIED.

         Farley's Objections as to Legal Standards

         Farley's objections, while lengthy, are premised on the erroneous idea that federal habeas review is de novo. He contends that under AEDPA no deference is due to state courts' decisions. For example, he argues that “no AEDPA deference should have been accorded” to the state courts' decision (Obj. at 1) and faults Judge Skomal for this. (Id. at 2 (“The Magistrate Judge['s] basis for the decision is deference to the state court decision . . . .”).) He argues that Judge Skomal should have found some independent reasons for his recommendations instead of relying on the state courts' factual findings or deferring to state courts' determinations. (Id. at 2 (“Moreover, the Magistrate Judge establishes no independent legal or reasonable basis for his decision . . . .”); 14.) He appears to argue that the Court's review is not limited to the state court record, and that the Court should consider arguments based on factual bases that were never developed in state court. And he also argues that the Court should weigh the evidence itself. (Id. at 13.)

         Farley's concept of the standard of review is completely incorrect, and the standards set forth in the R&R are correct. Farley's petition is subject to AEDPA, and the Court's review of state court judgments a deferential one. The R&R correctly states the legal standards, which the Court ADOPTS.

         A good part of Farley's objections is devoted to arguing legal positions that the R&R either explicitly or implicitly agrees with, such as his right to a fair trial, his right to competent counsel, his right to an impartial jury, and the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard applicable to criminal cases. The points where he agrees with the R&R are not, however, objections and do not trigger a de novo review.

         Farley also makes a number of generalized and conclusory objections, which do not require review, and which in any event either lack merit or do not affect the outcome.

         Discussion of Farley's Claims

         The facts of Farley's case, as well as the procedural history, are set forth in the R&R. Because the parties are aware of them, the Court does not repeat them here, except as necessary for discussion. Most of Farley's objections focus on his claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, and he mentions other claims only very briefly and conclusorily.

         Claims 1 Through 5: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         Farley claims his trial counsel was ineffective in several respects: failure to introduce evidence of witnesses' inability to identify him in a live police line-up; failing to present evidence of innocent explanations for his behavior following the murder; failing to raise insufficiency of the evidence for first degree murder; failing to raise a Batson/Wheeler challenge; and failing to raise third-party culpability as to Leroy Thomas, an associate of one of Farley's co-defendants. Farley argues his trial counsel was ineffective in all these respects, and his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise claims 3 through 5 on direct appeal.

         Ineffective assistance of counsel is reviewed under the standard set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 688 (1984). This is a highly deferential standard, and surmounting it is “never an easy task.” Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356, 371 (2010). “A fair assessment of attorney performance requires that every effort be made to eliminate the distorting effects of hindsight, to reconstruct the circumstances of ...

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