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Doyle v. Rackley

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 30, 2018

DOUGLAS HAROLD DOYLE, Petitioner,
v.
RONALD RACKLEY, Respondent.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

          DEBORAH BARNES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis with a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner challenges a judgment of conviction entered against him on December 13, 2010 in the Placer County Superior Court on one count of driving under the influence. He seeks federal habeas relief on the grounds that his three strikes sentence of 25 years to life violates his rights to due process, equal protection of the laws, to be free of cruel and unusual punishment, and to be free of double jeopardy. Upon careful consideration of the record and the applicable law, the undersigned will recommend denial of petitioner's application for habeas corpus relief.

         BACKGROUND

         In its unpublished memorandum and opinion affirming petitioner's judgment of conviction on appeal, the California Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate District provided the following factual and procedural summary:

         FACTS

Under the influence of valium, cocaine, and alcohol, defendant nonetheless got behind the wheel of his van in December 1987. Going southbound on Highway 89, defendant sped around a blind curve in the oncoming lane to pass cars in his own lane. He hit an oncoming car head-on, killing the driver of the oncoming car. As a result, in 1988, he pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter. (Pen. Code, § 191.5, subd. (a).)
The 1988 DUI manslaughter conviction was not defendant's first brush with the law, and it would not be his last. Most seriously, defendant was convicted of spousal abuse in 1996 and assault with a deadly weapon in 2007.
In August 2008, defendant again drove drunk on Highway 89, this time northbound, and again he passed on a blind curve. Fortunately, defendant did not cause another collision, and, again fortunately, a sheriff's deputy saw the unsafe driving and stopped defendant. After observing that defendant was drunk, the deputy arrested defendant for DUI.

         PROCEDURE

The district attorney charged defendant by information with felony DUI, with a prior DUI manslaughter. (Veh. Code, §§ 23152, subds. (a) & (b), 23550.5, subd. (b).) The district attorney also alleged that defendant had two prior strike convictions (the 1988 DUI manslaughter conviction (Pen. Code, § 191.5) and the 2007 assault with a deadly weapon conviction (Pen. Code, § 245)) and had four prior prison terms (Pen. Code, § 667.5, subd. (b)).
Defendant pleaded guilty to felony DUI, with a prior DUI manslaughter. He also admitted the prior serious felony convictions and prison terms. He did so with the understanding that this exposed him to a potential sentence of 29 years to life under the Three Strikes law.
The trial court considered and denied a Romero[fn] motion to strike one or both of the prior serious felony convictions. The court sentenced defendant under the Three Strikes law to state prison for an indeterminate term of 25 years to life. It stayed the prior prison term enhancements.
[fn] People v. Superior Court (Romero) (1996) 13 Cal.4th 497, 53 Cal.Rptr.2d 789, 917 P.2d 628 (Romero ).

People v. Doyle, 220 Cal.App.4th 1251, 1256-57 (2013) (one footnote omitted).

         STANDARDS OF REVIEW APPLICABLE TO HABEAS CORPUS CLAIMS

         An application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody under a judgment of a state court can be granted only for violations of the Constitution or laws of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). A federal writ is not available for alleged error in the interpretation or application of state law. See Wilson v. Corcoran, 562 U.S. 1, 5 (2010); Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991); Park v. California, 202 F.3d 1146, 1149 (9th Cir. 2000).

         Title 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) sets forth the following standards for granting federal habeas corpus relief:

An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim -
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

         For purposes of applying § 2254(d)(1), “clearly established federal law” consists of holdings of the United States Supreme Court at the time of the last reasoned state court decision. Greene v. Fisher, 565 U.S. 34, 37 (2011); Stanley v. Cullen, 633 F.3d 852, 859 (9th Cir. 2011) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)). Circuit court precedent “‘may be persuasive in determining what law is clearly established and whether a state court applied that law unreasonably.'” Stanley, 633 F.3d at 859 (quoting Maxwell v. Roe, 606 F.3d 561, 567 (9th Cir. 2010)). However, circuit precedent may not be “used to refine or sharpen a general principle of Supreme Court jurisprudence into a specific legal rule that th[e] [Supreme] Court has not announced.” Marshall v. Rodgers, 133 S.Ct. 1446, 1450 (2013) (citing Parker v. Matthews, 567 U.S. 37 (2012)). Nor may it be used to “determine whether a particular rule of law is so widely accepted among the Federal Circuits that it would, if presented to th[e] [Supreme] Court, be accepted as correct.” Id. at 1451. Further, where courts of appeals have diverged in their treatment of an issue, it cannot be said that there is “clearly established Federal law” governing that issue. Carey v. Musladin, 549 U.S. 70, 76-77 (2006).

         A state court decision is “contrary to” clearly established federal law if it applies a rule contradicting a holding of the Supreme Court or reaches a result different from Supreme Court precedent on “materially indistinguishable” facts. Price v. Vincent, 538 U.S. 634');">538 U.S. 634, 640 (2003) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 405-06). “Under the ‘unreasonable application' clause of § 2254(d)(1), a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from th[e] [Supreme] Court's decisions, but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.'” Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 413); Chia v. Cambra, 360 F.3d 997, 1002 (9th Cir. 2004). “[A] federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather, that application must also be unreasonable.” Williams, 529 U.S. at 411; see also Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007); Lockyer, 538 U.S. at 75 (“It is not enough that a federal habeas court, in its independent review of the legal question, is left with a firm conviction that the state court was erroneous.” (Internal citations and quotation marks omitted.)). “A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as ‘fairminded jurists could disagree' on the correctness of the state court's decision.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011) (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). Accordingly, “[a]s a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 103.

         There are two ways a petitioner may satisfy subsection (d)(2). Hibbler v. Benedetti, 693 F.3d 1140, 1146 (9th Cir. 2012). He may show the state court's findings of fact “were not supported by substantial evidence in the state court record” or he may “challenge the fact-finding process itself on the ground it was deficient in some material way.” Id. (citing Taylor v. Maddox, 366 F.3d 992, 999-1001 (9th Cir. 2004)); see also Hurles v. Ryan, 752 F.3d 768, 790-91 (9th Cir. 2014) (If a state court makes factual findings without an opportunity for the petitioner to present evidence, the fact-finding process may be deficient and the state court opinion may not be entitled to deference.). Under the “substantial evidence” test, the court asks whether “an appellate panel, applying the normal standards of appellate review, ” could reasonably conclude that the finding is supported by the record. Hibbler, 693 F.3d at 1146 (9th Cir. 2012).

         The second test, whether the state court's fact-finding process is insufficient, requires the federal court to “be satisfied that any appellate court to whom the defect [in the state court's fact-finding process] is pointed out would be unreasonable in holding that the state court's fact-finding process was adequate.” Hibbler, 693 F.3d at 1146-47 (quoting Lambert v. Blodgett, 393 F.3d 943, 972 (9th Cir. 2004)). The state court's failure to hold an evidentiary hearing does not automatically render its fact finding process unreasonable. Id. at 1147. Further, a state court may make factual findings without an evidentiary hearing if “the record conclusively establishes a fact or where petitioner's factual allegations are entirely without credibility.” Perez v. Rosario, 459 F.3d 943, 951 (9th Cir. 2006) (citing Nunes v. Mueller, 350 F.3d 1045, 1055 (9th Cir. 2003)).

         If a petitioner overcomes one of the hurdles posed by section 2254(d), this court reviews the merits of the claim de novo. Delgadillo v. Woodford, 527 F.3d 919, 925 (9th Cir. 2008); see also Frantz v. Hazey, 533 F.3d 724, 735 (9th Cir. 2008) (en banc) (“[I]t is now clear both that we may not grant habeas relief simply because of § 2254(d)(1) error and that, if there is such error, we must decide the habeas petition by considering de novo the constitutional issues raised.”). For the claims upon which petitioner seeks to present evidence, petitioner must meet the standards of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2) by showing that he has not “failed to develop the factual basis of [the] claim in State court proceedings” and by meeting the federal case law standards for the presentation of evidence in a federal habeas proceeding. See Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 186 (2011).

         The court looks to the last reasoned state court decision as the basis for the state court judgment. Stanley, 633 F.3d at 859; Robinson v. Ignacio, 360 F.3d 1044, 1055 (9th Cir. 2004). “[I]f the last reasoned state court decision adopts or substantially incorporates the reasoning from a previous state court decision, [this court] may consider both decisions to ‘fully ascertain the reasoning of the last decision.'” Edwards v. Lamarque, 475 F.3d 1121, 1126 (9th Cir. 2007) (en banc) (quoting Barker v. Fleming, 423 F.3d 1085, 1093 (9th Cir. 2005)). “When a federal claim has been presented to a state court and the state court has denied relief, it may be presumed that the state court adjudicated the claim on the merits in the absence of any indication or state-law procedural principles to the contrary.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 99. This presumption may be overcome by showing “there is reason to think some other explanation for the state court's decision is more likely.” Id. at 99-100 (citing Y1st v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 803 (1991)). Similarly, when a state court decision on a petitioner's claims rejects some claims but does not expressly address a federal claim, a federal habeas court must presume, subject to rebuttal, that the federal claim was adjudicated on the merits. Johnson v. Williams, 568 U.S. 289, 292 (2013).

         A summary denial is presumed to be a denial on the merits of the petitioner's claims. Stancle v. Clay, 692 F.3d 948, 957 & n. 3 (9th Cir. 2012). Where the state court reaches a decision on the merits but provides no reasoning to support its conclusion, a federal habeas court independently reviews the record to determine whether habeas corpus relief is available under § 2254(d). Stanley, 633 F.3d at 860; Himes v. Thompson, 336 F.3d 848, 853 (9th Cir. 2003). “Independent review of the record is not de novo review of the constitutional issue, but rather, the only method by which we can determine whether a silent state court decision is objectively unreasonable.” Himes, 336 F.3d at 853 (citing Delgado v. Lewis, 223 F.3d 976, 981 (9th Cir. 2000)). This court “must determine what arguments or theories . . . could have supported, the state court's decision; and then it must ask whether it is possible fairminded jurists could disagree that those arguments or theories are inconsistent with the holding in a prior decision of th[e] [Supreme] Court.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 102. The petitioner bears “the burden to demonstrate that ‘there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief.'” Walker v. Martel, 709 F.3d 925, 939 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting Richter, 562 U.S. at 98).

         When it is clear, however, that a state court has not reached the merits of a petitioner's claim, the deferential standard set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) does not apply and a federal habeas court must review the claim de novo. Stanley, 633 F.3d at 860; Reynoso v. Giurbino, 462 F.3d 1099, 1109 (9th Cir. 2006); Nulph v. Cook, 333 F.3d 1052, 1056 (9th Cir. 2003).

         PETITIONER'S CLAIMS

         Petitioner's claims are directed at his sentence. He states five claims for relief: (1) the dual use of sentencing factors violates the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments; (2) the trial court abused its discretion when it refused to strike the prior conviction; (3) the imposition of a 25 years-to-life sentence on a misdemeanor DUI is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause; (4) the imposition of a 25 years-to-life sentence on a misdemeanor violates the Eighth Amendment; and (5) double-counting the prior DUI violates the Double Jeopardy Clause.

         Respondent argues that petitioner's first two claims are unexhausted because petitioner made arguments based only on state law before the California Supreme Court. In addition, respondent argues the state court's decision denying the remaining claims, was not contrary to or an unreasonable application of federal law. Finally, respondent argues that petitioner's claims are barred as untimely.

         The statute of limitations issue is not jurisdictional and courts may consider the merits of a habeas petition despite a timeliness issue if the merits may be more easily resolved. Day v. McDonough, 547 U.S. 198, 205, 210 (2006) (a district court has discretion to decide whether the administration of justice is better served by dismissing the case on statute of limitations grounds or by reaching the merits of the petition); Bruno v. Director, CDCR, No. CIV S-02-2339 LKK EFB P, 2010 WL 367538, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 26, 2010) (“[T]he court elects to deny petitioner's habeas petition on the merits rather than reach the equitable tolling issues.”). In the present case, the court finds it can resolve the merits of petitioner's claims without reaching the statute of limitations and potential tolling issues.

         I. Claims One and Two - Dual Use of Prior Conviction ...


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