United States District Court, E.D. California
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
F. BRENNAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
is a California state prisoner who, proceeding with counsel,
brings an application for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 2254. He was convicted in the Solano County
Superior Court of: (1) arson (Pen. Code § 451(b)); (2)
possession of flammable material (§ 453(a)); (3) battery
(§ 243(e)(1)); (4) vandalism (§ 594 (b)(2)(A)); and
(5) battery on a police officer (§ 243(b)). The
immediate habeas petition raises two claims. First,
petitioner claims that the trial court violated his due
process rights when it permitted expert testimony on fire
accelerants from an individual who lacked the requisite
expert qualifications. Second, petitioner argues that the
state court erred in concluding that the prosecutor's
misconduct did not render his trial fundamentally unfair.
reasons stated below, his petition should must be denied in
October of 2012, petitioner was temporarily living with his
girlfriend, Latoya Anderson, in a townhouse in Benicia. On
October 22, petitioner and Anderson fell to arguing about the
former's possible infidelity. The argument became
physical and Anderson's mother - who also lived in the
townhouse - called the police. The police arrived and forced
petitioner to leave. Anderson's mother testified that
petitioner said, as he was removed, “I know how to get
back at you.”
one hour later, Anderson heard a noise on her patio and
investigated. She found a rock which had evidently damaged
some of the wooden patio railing. Petitioner was in her
driveway. Police returned and arrested petitioner.
was in the vicinity of Anderson's home the next day. He
saw Elizabeth Coney, who lived nearby and with whom
petitioner would sometimes “hang out.” That
afternoon, Coney walked with petitioner to a local
convenience store and purchased beer for him. At
approximately three or three-thirty, the two walked back to
Coney's home. Petitioner went to Coney's downstairs
couch, while she went upstairs to do dishes. At about four,
one of Coney's sons came by the house and told her that
Anderson's home was on fire. She went downstairs and
observed petitioner on the couch, though she could not say
whether he had been there the entire time between their
return from the convenience store and the news of the fire.
Police Officer Mark Simonson arrived at Anderson's house
at approximately 4:10 p.m. He observed smoke coming from an
upstairs window and heard fire crackling. The front door was
open and there was damage to the handle and strike plate.
Also notable, was a large shoe print that had been imprinted
on a decorative Halloween skeleton which hung on the door.
Inside, Simonson observed a bottle of lighter fluid on the
carpeted floor. The area surrounding the bottle had burned
and a credenza along the far wall was also on fire.
Fire Captain Gregory Petersen arrived at Anderson's house
at about the same time as Officer Simonson. He entered the
home and extinguished the credenza and was careful not to
disturb the bottle of lighter fluid. He noted that there was
burnt paper at the top of the bottle.
technician subsequently photographed the shoe print on the
Halloween decoration. She also collected a beer can that was
on top of a dog crate outside the front door of
Anderson's home. A police sergeant noticed petitioner in
a nearby parking lot shortly after the outbreak of the fire.
The officer collected petitioner's shoes after noticing
that their pattern was similar to the print on the door.
was arrested shortly after the fire was extinguished. He
appeared intoxicated and a field screening test produced a
blood alcohol reading more than twice the legal driving
Lasater, a criminalist with the California Department of
Justice, received petitioner's clothes after his arrest
and tested a sample for fumes. He determined that the sample
contained a high concentration of “medium petroleum
distillates.” Lasater testified that three common
product categories containing such distillates include
charcoal lighter fluids, dry-cleaning solvents, and paint
firefighter engineer Scott Hansen investigated the scene of
the fire. Based on his observations, he concluded that the
fire had two points of origin - one on the floor and one on
top of a piece of furniture. He also concluded that the fire
was the result of arson. He opined that there were no
potential sources for an accidental fire outbreak. He also
determined that the paper next to the lighter bottle was
likely a “delay device” employed to allow the
arsonist to start the fire and escape before it flared.
collected DNA from the beer can found outside Anderson's
front door. They compared that DNA with a separate sample
taken from petitioner by buccal swab. The markers were
consistent and indicated, with a very high degree of
likelihood, that the DNA on the can belonged to petitioner.
GOVERNING HABEAS RELIEF UNDER THE AEDPA
Applicable Statutory Provisions
U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and
Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”),
provides in relevant part as follows:
(d) 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;
(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.
2254(d) constitutes a “constraint on the power of a
federal habeas court to grant a state prisoner's
application for a writ of habeas corpus.” (Terry)
Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000). It does
not, however, “imply abandonment or abdication of
judicial review, ” or “by definition preclude
relief.” Miller El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322,
340 (2003). If either prong (d)(1) or (d)(2) is satisfied,
the federal court may grant relief based on a de novo finding
of constitutional error. See Frantz v. Hazey, 533
F.3d 724, 736 (9th Cir. 2008) (en banc).
statute applies whenever the state court has denied a federal
claim on its merits, whether or not the state court explained
its reasons. Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86,
99-100 (2011). State court rejection of a federal claim will
be presumed to have been on the merits absent any indication
or state law procedural principles to the contrary.
Id. at 784-785 (citing Harris v. Reed, 489
U.S. 255, 265 (1989) (presumption of a merits determination
when it is unclear whether a decision appearing to rest on
federal grounds was decided on another basis)). ...