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Hudson v. Sexton

United States District Court, N.D. California

September 18, 2019

M. SEXTON, Respondent.




         Toriano Germaine Hudson, a prisoner currently incarcerated at the California State Prison-Solano, filed this pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Mr. Hudson’s petition is now before the Court for review on the merits. For the reasons discussed below, the petition for writ of habeas corpus is DENIED.


         A. The Crime

         On January 17, 2014, Lucio Sanchez was driving his pickup truck in the northbound lane of Seventh Street in Richmond when he was struck on the side by an SUV. Mr. Sanchez never saw the SUV until it crossed into his lane and struck him from the left. Reporter’s Transcript (“RT”) 302-304. After hitting Mr. Sanchez’s car, the SUV reversed, then drove forward, striking other cars. Mr. Sanchez observed Mr. Hudson exit the vehicle, and later identified him to police as the driver of the SUV. RT 308-313.

         Giovanni Wafer drove her mother-in-law, Martha Wilson, to Ms. Wilson’s sister’s house on Seventh Street. RT 215, 240-41. Ms. Wafer parked by the curb, and Ms. Wilson opened the door and began to exit. The car was struck on the driver’s side headlight by a Cadillac Escalade, knocking Ms. Wilson out of the vehicle. RT 216, 241-43. Ms. Wilson fell on her face and hit the left side of her body on the sidewalk. When Ms. Wafer observed Ms. Wilson after she was thrown from the car, Ms. Wilson was face down and not moving. RT 245. She was transported to the hospital where she received stitches in her head. RT 218.

         Lakeya Green heard some loud crashes and, when she came outside to see what happened, she observed that all the cars in front of the house had been “smashed up,” and an Escalade, with Mr. Hudson in the driver’s seat, had crashed next door. RT 185-86, 187-89. After the Escalade backed up and then drove forward, hitting Ms. Wafer’s car again, Ms. Green banged on Mr. Hudson’s window and opened his SUV door, yelling for him to stop. RT 190-92.

         Police Officer Anthony Diaz arrived at the scene and observed the Cadillac SUV with smoke coming from the hood, as well as several parked cars with major damage. No one was in the SUV, but a large crowd had gathered and informed Officer Diaz that Mr. Hudson had fled and was in a rear yard area. RT 375-380. Other police officers arrived, and Mr. Hudson was arrested. RT 381-82. Mr. Hudson was placed in the police car, but later the officers attempted to remove him from the police car and an altercation ensued. RT 388-405. Mr. Hudson was taken to the hospital where his blood was drawn. RT 255, 257. A criminalist later testified that the result of the blood draw showed Mr. Hudson had a blood alcohol content of 0.20 percent, a level at which anyone driving an automobile would be impaired. RT 292, 296.

         B. Procedural History

         Mr. Hudson was charged in Contra Costa County Superior Court with the following counts: (1) driving under the influence causing injury (Cal. Veh. Code § 23153(a)); (2) driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08% causing injury (Cal. Veh. Code § 23153(b)); (3) leaving the scene of an accident with injury (Cal. Veh. Code § 20001(a)/(b)(1)); (4) hit and run driving (Cal. Veh. Code § 20002(a)); (5) resisting an officer by force, violence or threats (Cal. Pen. Code § 69); (6) battery on a peace officer (Cal. Pen. Code § 242/243(b)); and (7) obstructing a peace officer (Cal. Pen. Code § 148(a)(1)). Counts 1 and 2 also alleged that Mr. Hudson personally inflicted great bodily injury, see Cal. Pen. Code § 12022.7(a). It was also alleged that Mr. Hudson had suffered two prior serious felony strike convictions, see Cal. Pen. Code §§ 667(a)(1); (b)-(i) and 1170.12. CT 260-266. The jury returned guilty verdicts on counts 1 through 4, deadlocked on the remaining counts, and found true the great bodily injury allegations. CT 368-371, 381-386. The trial court found true allegations that Mr. Hudson had suffered two prior serious felony convictions. On July 31, 2015, the trial court sentenced Mr. Hudson to a total term of 35 years to life in state prison. CT 387; 432-439. The California Court of Appeal affirmed the conviction. People v. Hudson, 2017 WL 1075430 (Cal.Ct.App. Mar. 22, 2017). The California Supreme Court denied review. Docket No. 17-8.

         Mr. Hudson then filed his federal habeas petition, where he raised three claims: (1) that he received an illegal sentencing enhancement; (2) that his right to counsel was denied; and (3) that the trial court erroneously denied his Marsden motion for new counsel. Because his first claim was unexhausted, while his federal habeas petition was pending, Mr. Hudson also filed a habeas petition before the California Supreme Court to exhaust the first claim, which was denied. Docket No. 17-9. He then filed an amended federal habeas petition, Docket. No. 16, which is currently before the Court. Mr. Hudson’s amended habeas petition raises three claims: (1) that he lacked the requisite specific intent necessary for a sentencing enhancement; (2) that he was not competent to stand trial or to represent himself; and (3) that his Sixth Amendment right to counsel was violated when the trial judge denied his Marsden motion for new counsel. Respondent filed an answer to the order to show cause. Docket No. 17. Mr. Hudson filed a traverse, Docket No. 20, and an amended traverse, Docket No. 22. The Court has considered both the traverse and the amended traverse.


         This Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this action for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. This action is in the proper venue because the petition concerns the conviction and sentence of a person convicted in Contra Costa County, California, which is within this judicial district. 28 U.S.C. §§ 84, 2241(d).


         This Court may entertain a petition for writ of habeas corpus “in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a).

         The Antiterrorism And Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”) amended § 2254 to impose new restrictions on federal habeas review. A petition may not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the state court’s 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.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

         “Under the ‘contrary to’ clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000).

         “Under the ‘unreasonable application’ clause, 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.” Id. at 413. “[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.” Id. at 411. “A federal habeas court making the ‘unreasonable application’ inquiry should ask whether the state court’s application of clearly established federal law was objectively unreasonable.” Id. at 409.

         The state-court decision to which § 2254(d) applies is the “last reasoned decision” of the state court, if there is a reasoned decision. See Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 803-04 (1991). When confronted with an unexplained decision from the last state court to have been presented with the issue, “the federal court should ‘look through’ the unexplained decision to the last related state-court decision that does provide a relevant rationale. It should then presume that the unexplained decision adopted the same reasoning.” Wilson v. Sellers, 138 S.Ct. 1188, 1192 (2018).

         V. DISCUSSION

         A. Sufficiency of the Evidence For Sentence Enhancement

         1. Exhaustion

         Prisoners in state custody who wish to challenge collaterally in federal habeas proceedings either the fact or length of their confinement are first required to exhaust state judicial remedies, either on direct appeal or through collateral proceedings, by presenting the highest state court available with a fair opportunity to rule on the merits of each and every claim they seek to raise in federal court. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b), (c); Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 515-16 (1982).

         Mr. Hudson’s first claim is that his sentence should not have been enhanced for causing great bodily injury because he lacked the requisite specific intent. Amended Petition, Docket No. 16 at 5. Respondent asserts that this claim has not been exhausted and that it fails on the merits. Previously Mr. Hudson conceded that the claim was not exhausted because it was not presented in his state appellate proceedings, but in the intervening time he filed a habeas petition in state court to exhaust the claim. However, Mr. Hudson’s state habeas petition did not include any supporting documents, and the California Supreme Court denied the habeas petition, with a citation to People v. Duvall, 9 Cal.4th 464, 474 (Cal. 1995), including the parenthetical that “a petition for a writ of habeas corpus must include copies of reasonably available documentary evidence.” Mr. Hudson’s specific intent claim was raised only in his state habeas petition, thus the last reasoned decision is the California Supreme Court’s denial of his habeas petition.

         Under California law, a denial of a habeas petition with a citation to Duvall indicates that a petitioner has failed to include copies of reasonably available documentary evidence, a curable defect. It can be cured in a renewed state petition that includes the documentary evidence, and state judicial remedies are not exhausted in such a case. When the California Supreme Court summarily denies a petition for writ of habeas corpus with citations to both Duvall and In re. Swain, 34 Cal.2d 300, 304 (Cal. 1949), the decision is in effect, the grant of a demurrer. See Curiel v. Miller, 830 F.3d 864, 869 (9th Cir. 2016). Although the California Supreme Court did not cite Swain, it did cite to Duvall. The court thus dismissed the petition for failure to attach necessary documents; this suggests Mr. Hudson could return to the California Supreme Court with a new petition for writ of habeas corpus with the necessary documents. Here, Mr. Hudson could exhaust by filing a new habeas petition in the California Supreme Court and attaching the necessary supporting documents. The claim is therefore unexhausted.

         The district court may deny, but not grant, relief on a habeas petition that presents an unexhausted claim. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(2). The district court can deny an unexhausted claim on the merits if “it is perfectly clear that the applicant does not raise even a colorable federal claim.” Cassett v. Stewart, 406 F.3d 614, 623 (9th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). Here, despite Mr. Hudson’s failure to properly exhaust his claim regarding specific intent, the Court will nevertheless deny the claim on the merits.

         2. The Claim Fails on The Merits

         A sentence enhancement violates due process if there is insufficient evidence to support the enhancement. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 315, 321 (1979); Garcia v. Carey, 395 F.3d 1099, 1102 (9th Cir. 2005) (applying the Jackson standard to state sentence enhancements). Mr. Hudson challenges the sentence enhancement he received under California Penal Code Section 12022.7(a). That section provides: “Any person who personally inflicts great bodily injury on any person other than an accomplice in the commission of a felony or attempted felony shall be punished by an additional and consecutive term of imprisonment in the state prison for three years.” Under California law, section 12022.7(a) does not require a showing of specific intent to inflict great bodily injury (GBI). See People v. Poroj, 190 Cal.App.4th 165, 172 (Cal.Ct.App. 2010) (“[S]ection 12022.7, subdivision (a) does not require a showing of intent to inflict GBI, either general or specific. Rather, in order to have found the enhancement allegations true in counts 2 and 3, the jury only had to find defendant acted with general intent in committing the underlying DUI felonies and personally inflicted GBI on [the victim] in the commission of those felonies.”); People v. Carter, 60 Cal.App.4th 752, 755-56 (Cal.Ct.App. 1998) (subdivision (a) originally required the defendant to intend to inflict GBI, but has since been amended to repeal the element of specific intent to inflict GBI) (citing Stats. 1995, ch. 341 § 1); Hodge v. Uribe, 2012 WL 6014666, at *11 (C.D. Cal. Nov. 25, 2012).

         Mr. Hudson cites People v. Santos, 222 Cal.App.3d 723 (Cal.Ct.App. 1990), which held that section 12022.7 requires specific intent to inflict great bodily injury. However, Santos predates the 1995 amendments which removed the specific intent requirement. Accordingly, it no longer applies. See e.g. People v. Modiri, 39 Cal.4th 481, 501 n.11 (Cal. 2006) (noting that the California Legislature long ago removed from section 12022.7(a) the requirement that great bodily injury be personally inflicted “with the intent to inflict the injury”) (citing Stats.1995, ch. 341, § 1, p. 1851); Poroj, 190 Cal.App.4th at 172; Carter, 60 Cal.App.4th at 755-56; Hodge, 2012 WL 6014666 at *11.

         Federal courts must look to state courts for the definitions of the substantive elements of state criminal offenses, and such determinations are binding on federal courts. See Bradshaw v. Rickey, 546 U.S. 74, 76 (2005) (per curiam) (“We have repeatedly held that a state court’s interpretation of state law, including one announced on direct appeal of the challenged conviction, binds a federal court sitting in habeas corpus”). Even a determination of state law made by an intermediate appellate court must be followed and may not be ‘“disregarded by a federal court unless it is convinced by other persuasive data that the highest court of the state would decide otherwise.”’ Hicks v. Feiock, 485 U.S. 624, 630 n.3 (1988) (citation omitted).

         This Court is bound by the California Court of Appeal’s more recent holding in Poroj that § 12022.7(a) does not require specific intent to inflict great bodily injury for a sentencing enhancement under that section. Poroj, 190 Cal.App.4th at 172. Mr. Hudson’s due process claim that he lacked the requisite specific intent for a great bodily injury enhancement ...

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