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Davis v. Frink

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 2, 2018

DAVID B. DAVIS, Petitioner,
MARTIN FRINK, Respondent.



         Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel with a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.[1] He challenges a judgment of conviction entered against him on July 24, 2014 in the Shasta County Superior Court on charges of: (1) assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury pursuant to Cal. Penal Code § 24(a)(4); (2) criminal threats pursuant to Cal. Penal Code § 422; and (3) corporal injury pursuant to Cal. Penal Code § 273.5(A). He seeks federal habeas relief on the following grounds: (1) the trial court erroneously admitted evidence of his 2004 conviction for domestic violence; (2) the trial court denied him the right to present a defense by excluding evidence of what motivated him to plead guilty to a prior offense which was presented to the jury; and (3) the cumulative effect of the first two deprived him due process. Upon careful consideration of the record and the applicable law, it is recommended that petitioner's application for habeas corpus relief be denied.

         I. Background

         In its unpublished memorandum and opinion affirming petitioner's judgment of conviction on appeal, the California Court of Appeal for the Third District Appellate District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

2014 Charges
On the afternoon of January 3, 2014, Shasta County Deputy Sheriff Meghan Bliss arrived at the home of Carl Norquist, a neighbor of victim Lisa Campbell. Campbell was there and was visibly upset, crying, and her face was red and bloody. When asked about her injuries, Campbell told Bliss that in the morning defendant had “either punched or kicked her in the face while they were laying in bed arguing.” Immediately following the incident, Campbell ran to Norquist's home for help. Norquist saw Campbell “was beat up, ” “[s]he had marks on her face, ” “[s]he had a bloody lip, ” and was “rattled” because “she was crying.” Campbell told Norquist defendant had “slugged” her in the face and asked him to call 911. While on the phone, Norquist saw defendant leave in his truck.
Campbell told Bliss defendant had also placed both of his hands around her neck and threatened to kill her the night before (January 2). Bliss examined and photographed Campbell's neck, finding no visible injuries there, but did see a bruise directly under Campbell's left eye and injuries on her lips. Defendant was charged with three counts based on this conduct, count 1 for the January 3 injuries to Campbell and counts 2 and 3 for the January 2 threat and assault.
At trial, Bliss and Norquist testified as outlined above. Campbell testified and essentially recanted, denying she and defendant had argued on January 2 or 3, 2014, and denying that he injured her intentionally, instead claiming that he was “thrashing around” and accidently hit her. She claimed throughout her testimony that she did not remember or did not understand. She admitted to lying for defendant to protect him. She identified letters she wrote to him while he was in jail, professing her love for him. She claimed his prior convictions related to their relationship were also based on accidental conduct, as we describe in more detail post. She did confirm that she had started dating defendant in 2007 and during the last two years they had lived together intermittently; she was living with him at the time of the January 2014 incidents.
District Attorney's Investigator Mike Wallace testified as an expert that domestic violence victims will often recant or refuse to cooperate with the criminal justice system. Even if initially cooperative, victims can become hostile as the case progresses and when testifying in court tend to give different versions of events from those in the original police report. Wallace explained strangulation is a form of domination used to instill fear in a victim, and that it is possible to strangle someone without leaving a visible injury.
Defendant testified that on January 3, 2014, he was not at Campbell's house. He also denied being at Campbell's on January 2. Defendant claimed Campbell fabricated stories. He did, however, characterize his relationship with her as violent, as we describe in more detail immediately post.
Prior Domestic Violence Convictions
The trial court admitted evidence of three prior domestic violence incidents pursuant to Evidence Code section 1109, all of which resulted in criminal convictions. Two were for assaultive conduct against Campbell, and had occurred in 2009 and 2010 with resulting convictions in 2009 and 2011. Defendant does not challenge the admission of these two prior incidents on appeal.
The third incident occurred in 2003 and resulted in a 2004 conviction for criminal threats against defendant's then-wife. The witness was unavailable, and the specifics of the threat-which the jury never heard-were that defendant gave his wife a black eye and threatened to kill her, telling her would cut off her head and drink her blood. The trial court took judicial notice of the incident, sanitized as follows: “On March 8th, 2004, in Shasta County Court case No. 03F9579, the defendant pled guilty and was convicted of Penal Code section 422, which is criminal threats, a domestic violence conviction, for an offense occurring on November 29, 2003.” This was read to the jury in the form of a stipulation. In addition, the parties stipulated that the 2004 conviction involved a woman other than Campbell, and the court informed the jury that an officer “would testify that he responded to a domestic violence call on November 29, 2003, and contacted victim Cynthia Starkey.”
At trial, Campbell characterized the 2009 and 2010 incidents as accidents and claimed to remember very little about both incidents when asked for details.
When asked about the three priors, defendant testified that the 2009 and 2010 incidents were accidents, and that he did not intentionally “stomp on” Campbell in 2009, nor did he intentionally gouge her eyes or stab her with a screwdriver in 2010. When asked about the 2003 threat, he admitted he threatened to kill the victim.

People v. Davis, 2016 WL 347842, at *1-2 (Cal.App. 3 Dist., 2016) (unpublished).

         II. 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. Thompson v. Runnels, 705 F.3d 1089, 1096 (9th Cir. 2013) (citing Greene v. Fisher, 565 U.S. 34 (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, 49 (2012) (per curiam)). 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. 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, 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). 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 the Supreme Court's decisions, but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.[2] Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003); Williams, 529 U.S. at 413; Chia v. Cambra, 360 F.3d 997, 1002 (9th Cir. 2004). In this regard, 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 412. 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.'”). “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.

         If the state court's decision does not meet the criteria set forth in § 2254(d), a reviewing court must conduct a de novo review of a habeas petitioner's claims. 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 ...

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