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Patterson v. Davey

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 1, 2018

CHRISTOPHER H. PATTERSON, Petitioner,
v.
DAVE DAVEY, Warden, Respondent.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION TO DENY PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

          JENNIFER L. THURSTON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Petitioner is currently serving a sentence of life without possibility of parole for his conviction of first degree murder during commission of a robbery and participating in a criminal street gang. He filed the instant habeas action challenging the conviction and sentence. As discussed below, the Court finds the claims to be without merit and recommends the petition be DENIED.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On October 16, 2013, Petitioner was found guilty in the Kern County Superior Court of: first degree murder during commission of a robbery (Cal. Penal Code §§ 187(a), 189, 190.2(a)(17)); robbery with the personal infliction of great bodily injury (Cal. Penal Code §§ 212.5(c), 12022.7(a)); and active participation in a criminal street gang (Cal. Penal Code § 186.22(a)). People v. Patterson, 2015 WL 3563502, at *1 (Cal.Ct.App. 2015). In a bifurcated court trial, it was determined that Petitioner had served a prior prison term (Cal. Penal Code § 667.5(b)). Id. Petitioner was sentenced to an indeterminate term of life without the possibility of parole plus four years. Id.

         Petitioner appealed to the California Court of Appeal, Fifth Appellate District (“Fifth DCA”). The Fifth DCA modified the sentence, staying the sentence imposed on count three; however, the judgment was affirmed in all other respects on June 9, 2015. Id. Petitioner then filed a petition for review in the California Supreme Court. (LD 4.[1]) The petition was summarily denied on August 12, 2015. (LD 5.)

         Petitioner filed at least nine petitions for collateral relief in the state superior court. Many of the petitions were filed during trial or prior to the conclusion of the direct appeal. Petitioner filed four post-conviction petitions in the superior court relative to the claims in this petition, as follows: 1) Petition filed January 23, 2015, and denied on August 14, 2015; 2) Petition filed on February 5, 2015, and denied on April 28, 2015; 3) Petition filed on June 23, 2016, and denied on September 7, 2016; and 4) Petition filed on January 6, 2017, and denied on February 28, 2017. (LD 6-13.)

         Petitioner filed four petitions for writ of habeas corpus in the California Court of Appeal, as follows: 1) Petition filed July 21, 2015, and denied on October 1, 2015; 2) Petition filed on September 23, 2015, and denied on September 30, 2015; 3) Petition filed on October 12, 2016, and denied on December 8, 2016; and 4) Petition filed on April 5, 2017, and denied on May 26, 2017. (LD 14-21.) Petitioner also filed two petitions for writ of habeas corpus in the California Supreme Court: 1) Petition filed February 29, 2016, and denied on May 18, 2016; and 2) Petition filed on February 23, 2017, and denied on April 12, 2017. (LD 22-25.)

         On June 21, 2017, Petitioner filed a federal petition for writ of habeas corpus in this Court. (Doc. 1.) He filed a First Amended Petition on August 14, 2017. (Doc. 9.) Respondent filed an answer to the First Amended Petition on January 25, 2018. (Doc. 23.) Petitioner filed a traverse on April 23, 2018. (Doc. 30.)

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The Court adopts the Statement of Facts in the Fifth DCA's unpublished decision[2]:

The facts of the crimes are largely irrelevant to the issues before us. Briefly stated, on August 19, 2012, defendant, a member of the Eastside Crips criminal street gang, was seated on a planter just outside a grocery store when 71-year-old Guadalupe Ramos walked from the store to her daughter's car a short distance away in the parking lot. Defendant grabbed Ramos from behind and pulled a gold chain from around her neck knocking her to the pavement in the process and causing her to hit her back and head. Defendant then ran out of the parking lot and was picked up in a vehicle by fellow gang members McDonald and Slaughter. The vehicle, which had been in the grocery store parking lot for several minutes before Ramos was accosted, then sped off.
Ramos was taken to the hospital. She was pronounced dead a short time later. The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy stated the cause of death as “emotion stress by precipitated sudden cardiac death due to marked excitation and emotional stress associated with physical exertion during robbery confrontation, ” and “cardiac dysrhythmia or irregular heartbeat associated with blunt force trauma to the trunk and the extremity.”

Patterson, 2015 WL 3563502, at *1 (Cal.Ct.App. 2015).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Jurisdiction

         Relief by way of a petition for writ of habeas corpus extends to a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court if the custody is in violation of the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); 28 U.S.C. § 2241(c)(3); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 375 n. 7 (2000). Petitioner asserts that he suffered violations of his rights as guaranteed by the United States Constitution. The challenged conviction arises out of the Kern County Superior Court, which is located within the jurisdiction of this court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); 28 U.S.C.§ 2241(d).

         On April 24, 1996, Congress enacted the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), which applies to all petitions for writ of habeas corpus filed after its enactment. Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320 (1997) (holding the AEDPA only applicable to cases filed after statute's enactment). The instant petition was filed after the enactment of the AEDPA and is therefore governed by its provisions.

         B. Legal Standard of Review

         A petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) will not be granted unless the petitioner can show that the state court's adjudication of his 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.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 70-71 (2003); Williams, 529 U.S. at 412-413.

         A state court decision is “contrary to” clearly established federal law “if it applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [the Supreme Court's] cases, or “if it confronts a set of facts that is materially indistinguishable from a [Supreme Court] decision but reaches a different result.” Brown v. Payton, 544 U.S. 133, 141 (2005) (citing Williams, 529 U.S. at 405-406).

         In Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011), the U.S. Supreme Court explained that an “unreasonable application” of federal law is an objective test that turns on “whether it is possible that fairminded jurists could disagree” that the state court decision meets the standards set forth in the AEDPA. The Supreme Court has “said time and again that ‘an unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of federal law.'” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 203 (2011). Thus, a state prisoner seeking a writ of habeas corpus from a federal court “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 of fairminded disagreement.” Harrington, 562 U.S. at 103.

         The second prong pertains to state court decisions based on factual findings. Davis v. Woodford, 384 F.3d 628, 637 (9th Cir. 2003) (citing Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322 (2003)). Under § 2254(d)(2), a federal court may grant habeas relief if a state court's adjudication of the petitioner's claims “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.” Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520 (2003); Jeffries v. Wood, 114 F.3d 1484, 1500 (9th Cir. 1997). A state court's factual finding is unreasonable when it is “so clearly incorrect that it would not be debatable among reasonable jurists.” Jeffries, 114 F.3d at 1500; see Taylor v. Maddox, 366 F.3d 992, 999-1001 (9th Cir. 2004), cert.denied, Maddox v. Taylor, 543 U.S. 1038 (2004).

         To determine whether habeas relief is available under § 2254(d), the federal court looks to the last reasoned state court decision as the basis of the state court's decision. See Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 979, 803 (1991); Robinson v. Ignacio, 360 F.3d 1044, 1055 (9th Cir. 2004). “[A]lthough we independently review the record, we still defer to the state court's ultimate decisions.” Pirtle v. Morgan, 313 F.3d 1160, 1167 (9th Cir. 2002).

         The prejudicial impact of any constitutional error is assessed by asking whether the error had “a substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict.” Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 623 (1993); see also Fry v. Pliler, 551 U.S. 112, 119-120 (2007) (holding that the Brecht standard applies whether or not the state court recognized the error and reviewed it for harmlessness).

         C. Review of Claims

         The petition presents the following three grounds for relief: 1) Trial court committed reversible error when it denied the defense motion to change venue based on the sensational pretrial publicity; 2) Defense counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel in several aspects; and 3) Petitioner's sentence constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.

         1. Motion to Change Venue

         Petitioner claims the trial court violated his constitutional right to an impartial jury when it denied the defense motion for change of venue. He claims there was a substantial amount of sensational pretrial publicity concerning the crime which created a hostile environment in the community where the ...


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