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Villarreal v. People

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 24, 2019

LIONZO ANGEL VILLARREAL, Petitioner,
v.
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA, Respondent.

          ORDER AND FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

          EDMUND F. BRENNAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Petitioner is a state prisoner who, represented by counsel, seeks a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. He has filed a petition (ECF No. 1) which, for the reasons stated below, does not state a viable federal claim.

         I. Legal Standards

         The court must dismiss a habeas petition or portion thereof if the prisoner raises claims that are legally “frivolous or malicious” or fail to state a basis on which habeas relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). The court must dismiss a habeas petition “[i]f it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief[.]” Rule 4, Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases.

         II. Analysis

         Petitioner states that he was convicted in 2012 of: (1) conspiracy to commit first degree murder; (2) a gang enhancement; and (3) a gun enhancement. ECF No. 1 at 8. He was sentenced to life without parole on conspiracy to commit murder and twenty-five to life on the gun enhancement (to run consecutively). Id. He brings this petition on the basis that California Senate Bill 620, signed into law in 2017, provides a sentencing court with discretion as to the imposition of the twenty-five to life firearm enhancement. Id. at 9. Pursuant to the bill, the California Penal Code was changed to provide that:

The court may, in the interest of justice pursuant to Section 1385 and at the time of sentencing, strike or dismiss an enhancement otherwise required to be imposed by this section. The authority provided by this subdivision applies to any resentencing that may occur pursuant to any other law.

Cal. Penal Code § 12022.53(h). Given that the sentencing court lacked such discretion in 2012, petitioner requests that his habeas petition be granted and his case referred back to the San Joaquin Superior Court. Id.

         Petitioner’s claim fails insofar as it involves only an application of state sentencing laws and, thus, does not give rise to a federal question. See Waddington v. Sarausad, 555 U.S. 179, 192 n.5 (2009) (“[W]e have repeatedly held that it is not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determinations on state-law questions.”); Rivera v. Illinois, 556 U.S. 148, 158 (2009) (“[A] mere error of state law . . . is not a denial of due process”) (quoting Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107, 121, n.21 (1982)); Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991) (“[W]e reemphasize that it is not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determinations on state-law questions.”). The court recognizes that petitioner claims that his sentence is invalid not only under state law, but also pursuant to the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. He does not, however, satisfactorily explain how his state claims intersect with the Constitution. And the mere invocation of the Constitution is insufficient to convert a claim based on state law – as the immediate one clearly is – into a federal one.[1] See Langford v. Day, 110 F.3d 1380, 1389 (9th Cir. 1997) (“[A claimant] may not, however, transform a state-law issue into a federal one merely by asserting a violation of due process . . . .”) (as modified).

         III. Conclusion

         Accordingly, it is ORDERED that the Clerk of Court shall randomly assign a United States District Judge to this case.

         Further, it is hereby RECOMMENDED that the petition (ECF No. 1) be DISMISSED for failure to state a cognizable federal claim.

         These findings and recommendations are submitted to the United States District Judge assigned to the case, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Within fourteen days after being served with these findings and recommendations, any party may file written objections with the court and serve a copy on all parties. Such a document should be captioned “Objections to Magistrate Judge’s Findings and Recommendations.” Failure to file objections within the specified time may waive the right to appeal the District Court’s order. Turner v. Duncan,158 F.3d 449, 455 (9th Cir. 1998); Martinez v. Ylst,951 F.2d 1153 (9th Cir. 1991). In his objections petitioner may address whether a certificate of appealability should issue in the event he files an appeal ...


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