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Stamps v. Grounds

United States District Court, N.D. California

October 4, 2019

KEITH STAMPS, Petitioner,
RANDY GROUNDS, Warden, Respondent.



         Petitioner, a California prisoner, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his 2009 criminal judgment.[1]The second amended petition is the operative petition in this action. Dkt. No. 57, ("Pet."). Respondent filed an answer on the merits. Dkt. No. 66, ("Ans."). Petitioner did not file a traverse although given an opportunity to do so. For the reasons set forth below, the petition is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On June 11, 2009, an Alameda County jury convicted Petitioner of first degree murder, with an enhancement for personal discharge of a firearm causing death. Ans., Ex. 1, Vol. 2 of Clerk's Transcript (2 CT) 411-413.[2] On October 5, 2009, the trial court sentenced Petitioner to 50 years to life in state prison. Ex. 2, Vol. 2 of Reporter's Transcript (2 RT) 421-424.

         On April 27, 2011, the California Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of conviction. Ex. 6. On August 10, 2011, the California Supreme Court denied review. Exs. 7, 8.

         On November 8, 2012, Petitioner filed a habeas petition in this Court, containing both the claims he had exhausted on direct appeal and several unexhausted claims relating to juvenile sentencing issues. Subsequently, he filed a motion for stay and abeyance in order to exhaust his claims in state court, which was granted. Dkt. No. 10.

         On December 20, 2012, Petitioner filed a habeas petition in the California Supreme Court. Following briefing, on March 12, 2014, the state high court denied the petition without prejudice to any relief Petitioner might be entitled to after the court decided other pending cases regarding juvenile sentencing. Ex. 9.

         After additional proceedings, on October 17, 2016, this Court reinstated the stay to allow Petitioner to exhaust the juvenile sentencing claims. Dkt. No. 42. Petitioner filed a habeas petition in the state superior court, which agreed, pursuant to new procedures outlined in People v. Franklin, 64 Cal.4th 261 (2016), that Petitioner would be eligible for a parole hearing after 25 years, and that he could make a contemporaneous record of any factors that would affect his eligibility. Accordingly, Petitioner acknowledged that the juvenile sentencing claims were moot, and asked this Court to dismiss those claims and proceed on the other claims. Dkt. No. 52. The Court did so. Dkt. No. 53. On August 30, 2018, Petitioner filed a second amended petition raising three exhausted claims. Dkt. No. 57.


         The following brief summary is from the opinion of the state appellate court on direct appeal:

Stamps shot and killed Elric Wheeler during an encounter in a shopping mall parking lot. When he walked up to the car in which Wheeler was riding as a passenger, Stamps was looking for a friend's dog that he thought the driver, Brandon Jaquez, had taken hostage to assure payment for a previous drug transaction that went wrong. Jaquez and Wheeler initially got out of the car and moved away, then headed back towards the car to prevent Stamps from taking it. As they approached, Stamps shot Wheeler in the chest.

People v. Stamps, No. A126440, slip op. at 1-2 (Cal.Ct.App. Apr. 27, 2011) (Ex, 6, hereinafter "Op.").


         A. Legal Standard

         This Court may entertain a petition for a 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); Rose v. Hodges, 423 U.S. 19, 21 (1975). The writ 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 Supreme] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000). The only definitive source of clearly established federal law under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) is in the holdings (as opposed to the dicta) of the Supreme Court as of the time of the state court decision. Id. at 412; Brewer v. Hall, 378 F.3d 952, 955 (9th Cir. 2004). While circuit law may be "persuasive authority" for purposes of determining whether a state court decision is an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent, only the Supreme Court's holdings are binding on the state courts and only those holdings need be "reasonably" applied. Clark v. Murphy, 331 F.3d 1062, 1069 (9th Cir.), overruled on other grounds by Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63 (2003).

         "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." Williams, 529 U.S. at 413. "Under § 2254(d)(1)'s 'unreasonable application' clause, ... 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." 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.

         B. Claims and Analyses

         Petitioner raises the following three claims for federal habeas relief: (1) there was insufficient evidence to sustain the conviction for first degree murder on either an express malice or felony murder theory; (2) the trial court erred in instructing the jury on CALCRIM 361, depriving Petitioner of his right to due process; and (3) ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to request CALCRIM 522.

         1. Insufficient Evidence

         Petitioner was tried for first degree murder under the alternative theories of (1) premeditated and deliberate murder, and (2) felony murder committed during an attempted carjacking. Op. at 2. Petitioner claims the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction under either theory.

         The state appellate court summarized the relevant factual background for this claim:

Two days before the shooting, Jaquez met Stamps and sold him some marijuana. Jaquez also gave Stamps his cell phone number for any possible future deals. The next day, Stamps called Jaquez to buy more marijuana, and they met again. After Jaquez arrived with his friend Wheeler, Stamps and another man got into the back seat of Jaquez's car and asked to see the marijuana. When Jaquez handed it to them, they ran off without paying for it.
The following day Jaquez saw Stamps and the other man standing in front of a house while he was driving through the neighborhood. As Jaquez drove closer, the two men ran inside the house and left a small dog on the front lawn. Soon after Jaquez drove by, he received a phone call from the telephone number he recognized as Stamps, and Jaquez heard "the same voice that called [him] for the weed." The caller demanded to know where his dog was, and he called Jaquez repeatedly over the next hour, threatening to kill him and his family unless he got his dog back. At trial, Jaquez denied that he took the dog, although a detective testified that Jaquez's friend, Joe Segon, said that he did.
While he was getting the threatening phone calls, Jaquez arranged to meet Wheeler at a local mall. Jaquez drove to the mall with two passengers, and Wheeler got into the car. Wheeler told Jaquez that someone was looking for him about a dog. Just then, Jaquez saw Stamps standing outside the driver's door of his car, pointing a gun at him through the open window. Stamps said "Where's my fucking dog?" Jaquez got out of the car and left the key in the ignition. He told Stamps he did not know where the dog was. When Jaquez heard a male voice from the sidewalk say, "Just shoot him," he ran behind his car. Then he heard the voice call out, "Just take his car." Stamps pointed the gun at the three passengers and ordered them out of the car. Two of them went towards the sidewalk, and Wheeler walked over to Jaquez. As Stamps appeared to climb into the driver's seat, Jaquez and Wheeler began to walk back toward the car to prevent Stamps from taking it. Stamps stepped away from the car and backed up. When Jaquez and Wheeler were a few feet away, Stamps fired and hit Wheeler in the chest. Stamps got into a waiting car and drove away.
When he first spoke to police, Jaquez seemed afraid and said he did not know the gunman, but he later identified a photo of Stamps. His account of the events in the mall parking lot was generally confirmed by eyewitness Jesse Calles, who was employed at a nearby store.
When police arrived at the mall, they spoke to Joe Segon, who happened to be passing by when the shooting occurred. Segon told police he could point out the house of the men who might be responsible. He directed police to a house where a car was parked with a license plate that matched a partial number obtained by an eyewitness to the shooting. Police surrounded the house, and. after a lengthy standoff, Stamps, Darell McDowell, and Danny Coleman surrendered. In the crawlspace under the house, the police found a cell phone and semiautomatic handgun wrapped in a towel. ...

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