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Bottenfield v. Robertson

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 24, 2019

MICHAEL DALE BOTTENFIELD, Petitioner,
v.
JAMES ROBERTSON, Warden, Pelican Bay State Prison, Respondent.

          ORDER [RE: MOTION AT DOCKET NO. 15] AND MEMORANDUM DECISION

          JAMES K. SINGLETON, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Michael Dale Bottenfield, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus with this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Bottenfield is in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and incarcerated at Pelican Bay State Prison. Respondent has answered, and Bottenfield has replied.

         I. BACKGROUND/PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

         On March 9, 2016, Bottenfield was charged with inflicting injury upon a person with whom he had a dating relationship (Count 1) and false imprisonment of another by means of violence, menace, fraud and deceit (Count 2). The information further alleged as to Count 1 that Bottenfield personally inflicted great bodily injury upon the victim and that he had suffered a prior serious felony conviction. Bottenfield pled not guilty and denied the enhancement allegations. He proceeded to a jury trial on March 10, 2016. On direct appeal of his conviction, the California Court of Appeal laid out the following facts underlying the charges against Bottenfield and the evidence presented at trial:

In August 2015, [Bottenfield] lived with his fiancée, C.H., in her apartment in Citrus Heights. At that time, C.H. had been an alcoholic for 30 years and had a problem with methamphetamine. According to C.H., she and [Bottenfield] had been working on their sobriety together.
On the evening of August 31, 2015, [Bottenfield] and C.H. got into an argument after they had consumed alcohol and used methamphetamine. During the argument, [Bottenfield] grabbed C.H. by the throat and strangled her until she lost consciousness. While she was unconscious, [Bottenfield] used duct tape to cover her mouth and bind her wrists and ankles.
When C.H. regained consciousness, she pleaded with [Bottenfield] to let her go. [Bottenfield] disregarded her pleas and strangled her a second time until she lost consciousness. When C.H. regained consciousness the second time, [Bottenfield] helped her remove the duct tape. At that point, C.H. put clothing on, gathered a few things, and ran out of her apartment and called 911.
A police officer named Christopher Light made contact with C.H. in front of her apartment complex. C.H. was crying, somewhat manic, and panicked. She appeared very fearful and wanted to leave the area. Officer Light noticed that she had small red spots on her ankles, and that there was a light redness around her ankles. He also noticed that C.H. had a piece of duct tape on her right ankle. C.H.’s eyes were red and bloodshot, and she had redness around her neck.
C.H. told Officer Light that [Bottenfield] had strangled her until she lost consciousness two times. She also told him that [Bottenfield] had strangled her on numerous occasions in the past but she had never reported the abuse to law enforcement. C.H. did not report that she had been engaged in sex play with [Bottenfield] involving asphyxiation.
C.H. was taken to the emergency room at Mercy San Juan Hospital. The treating physician determined that she had bilateral carotid artery dissections to both carotid arteries in her neck, which is an injury to the inner lining of the arteries. Because her injuries were serious in nature, C.H. was transferred to the intensive care unit where she received treatment for two days. Due to the nature of her injuries, the treating physician was concerned she could suffer a hemorrhage, blood clots, or a stroke.
At trial, C.H. recanted her claims of abuse and claimed she could not remember the details of what occurred during the incident with [Bottenfield]. C.H. testified as follows: [Bottenfield] never physically abused her, and she could not remember whether she told the police there was a history of domestic violence in her relationship with [Bottenfield]. She admitted she did not want to testify. She said she loved [Bottenfield], wanted him to be acquitted, and had told the prosecutor and investigators from his office several times that she did not want to participate in the prosecution of this case. While she acknowledged that she got into an argument with [Bottenfield] on August 31, 2015, she claimed she could not remember much of the argument, except that it started because [Bottenfield] brought alcohol and methamphetamine into her apartment. She also remembered that she was mad at [Bottenfield] for jeopardizing her sobriety. C.H. claimed that she was not afraid of [Bottenfield], and that [Bottenfield] is “really good” as long as he is sober.
After listening to the 911 call, C.H. acknowledged that she told the 911 operator that [Bottenfield] had strangled her to the point where she lost consciousness. She also acknowledged that she sounded afraid during the call.FN2 However, C.H. claimed that she did not remember being strangled. She only remembered waking up with duct tape on her body. C.H. also claimed that she could not remember whether she told a detective or a responding police officer that [Bottenfield] had grabbed her by the throat and strangled her until she lost consciousness.
FN2. The entire 911 call was played for the jury. During the call, C.H. reported that [Bottenfield] had “choked” her until she passed out and then placed duct tape on her body. She explained that she was unable to move or breathe because of the duct tape.
C.H. further claimed she could not remember if she had been engaged in a consensual sex act or bondage activity with [Bottenfield], but explained that [Bottenfield] had strangled her a few times in the past while they were engaged in sexual acts. According to C.H., she had lost consciousness on one occasion in the past while they were engaged in such activity.
With regard to her memory, C.H. explained that she had “trouble with [her] memory sometimes” because she has fibromyalgia. She said that she took Norco pills for the pain caused by her condition and Ativan pills to treat her anxiety. According to C.H., on the day of the incident with [Bottenfield], she had taken four Norco pills, three Ativan pills, and her prescription medication-Abilify (antipsychotic) and Elavil (antidepressant). C.H. noted that the Ativan pills made her memory “not good.”

People v. Bottenfield, No. C081998, 2017 WL 6547077, at *1-2 (Cal.Ct.App. Dec. 22, 2017).

         At the conclusion of trial, the jury found Bottenfield guilty as charged and also found true the allegation that he personally inflicted great bodily injury. Bottenfield waived jury trial on the prior serious felony conviction allegation, and the trial court also found it to be true. The trial court subsequently sentenced Bottenfield to an aggregate imprisonment term of 14 years.

         Through counsel, Bottenfield appealed his conviction, arguing that: 1) the prosecution’s expert witness violated the court’s in limine order during her testimony at trial, the prosecutor committed misconduct in eliciting or attempting to elicit the inadmissible testimony in violation of the same in limine ruling, and counsel was ineffective for failing to object to that testimony; 2) the trial court erred in admitting a jail call between Bottenfield and the victim; 3) the court’s admission of prior domestic violence conduct violated his rights to due process and a fair trial; and 4) the cumulative effect of the errors warranted reversal of his conviction. The Court of Appeal unanimously affirmed the judgment against Bottenfield in a reasoned, unpublished opinion issued on December 22, 2017. Bottenfield, 2017 WL 6547077, at *9. The California Supreme Court summarily denied review on March 21, 2018.

         Bottenfield timely filed a pro se Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus to this Court dated June 10, 2019. Docket No. 1 (“Petition”); see 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A).

         II. GROUNDS/CLAIMS

         In his pro se Petition before this Court, Bottenfield raises the following claims: 1) the prosecution’s expert witness violated the court’s in limine order during her testimony at trial; 2) the prosecutor committed misconduct in eliciting or attempting to elicit the inadmissible testimony in violation of the same in limine ruling; 3) trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to that testimony; 4) the trial court erred in admitting a jail call between Bottenfield and the victim; and 5) the court’s admission of prior domestic violence conduct violated his rights to due process and a fair trial.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), this Court cannot grant relief unless the decision of the state court was “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, ” § 2254(d)(1), or “was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding, ” § 2254(d)(2). A state-court decision is contrary to federal law if the state court applies a rule that contradicts controlling Supreme Court authority or “if the state court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision” of the Supreme Court, but nevertheless arrives at a different result. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 406 (2000).

         The Supreme Court has explained that “clearly established Federal law” in § 2254(d)(1) “refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme Court] as of the time of the relevant state-court decision.” Id. at 412. The holding must also be intended to be binding upon the states; that is, the decision must be based upon constitutional grounds, not on the supervisory power of the Supreme Court over federal courts. Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 10 (2002). Where holdings of the Supreme Court regarding the issue presented on habeas review are lacking, “it cannot be said that the state court ‘unreasonabl[y] appli[ed] clearly established Federal law.’” Carey v. Musladin, 549 U.S. 70, 77 (2006) (citation omitted).

         To the extent that the Petition raises issues of the proper application of state law, they are beyond the purview of this Court in a federal habeas proceeding. See Swarthout v. Cooke, 131 S.Ct. 859, 863 (2011) (per curiam) (holding that it is of no federal concern whether state law was correctly applied). It is a fundamental precept of dual federalism that the states possess primary authority for defining and enforcing the criminal law. See, e.g., Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991) (a federal habeas court cannot reexamine a state court’s interpretation and application of state law); Walton v. Arizona, 497 U.S. 639, 653 (1990) (presuming that the state court knew and correctly applied state law), overruled on other grounds by Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002).

         In applying these standards on habeas review, this Court reviews the “last reasoned decision” by the state court. See Robinson v. Ignacio, 360 F.3d 1044, 1055 (9th Cir. 2004) (citing Avila v. Galaza, 297 F.3d 911, 918 (9th Cir. 2002)). A summary denial is an adjudication on the merits and entitled to deference. Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 99 (2011). Under the AEDPA, the state court’s findings of fact are presumed to be correct unless the petitioner rebuts this presumption by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003).

         IV. ...


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