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Lobato v. San Bernardino County

United States District Court, C.D. California, Western Division

December 13, 2019

JESSE LOBATO, Petitioner,
SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY, et al., Respondents.



         Jesse Lobato (“petitioner”) initiated this action on December 5, 2019, by filing a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (“Petition”). The cover page of the Petition cites to both 28 U.S.C. § 2254, the habeas statute applicable to state prisoners seeking to challenge a state court judgment, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which applies to civil rights actions. (ECF No. 1 at 1). Petitioner states that he has been charged with carjacking (Cal. Penal Code § 215(a)), and being a felon in possession of a firearm (Cal. Penal Code § 29800(a)(1)), and that his criminal proceeding in the San Bernardino County Superior Court is “still pending.” (ECF No. 1 at 2[1]).

         A search of the San Bernardino County Inmate Locator website shows that, in No. FWV18002049 in the San Bernardino County Superior Court, petitioner has been charged with the crimes referenced in the Petition -- carjacking and being a felon in possession of a firearm --as well as the crime of unlawful possession of ammunition (Cal. Penal Code § 30305(a)(1)). He is currently incarcerated at the Central Detention Center in San Bernardino, and his next court date is scheduled for February 4, 2020, in the superior court. (See San Bernardino County Inmate Locator website at

         In the instant Petition, petitioner asserts the following claims: his attorney has provided ineffective assistance in violation of the Sixth Amendment (ECF No. 1 at 3); respondents, acting under color of state law, have framed petitioner for crimes he did not commit by ignoring exculpatory evidence and tampering with evidence (id. at 4); the video surveillance evidence shows that he does not look like the suspect (ECF No. 2 at 1-2); his confession was coerced as a result of an “excessive malicious interrogation” (id. at 10); a police officer has changed his sworn testimony (id. at 11); and the identification of petitioner as the suspect was unreliable because officers used a suggestive six-pack photographic lineup (id. at 11). As relief, petitioner apparently seeks an order from the Court barring the superior court from violating petitioner's due process and fair trial rights, and ordering the superior court to “exercise proper criminal procedure.” (Id. at 15). As set forth below, the Petition has several defects that subject it to dismissal.


         As a threshold matter, petitioner is considered a pretrial detainee because he has not yet been convicted and sentenced in No. FWV18002049. Accordingly, any habeas claims concerning his criminal case would fall under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, and not § 2254. Section 2241 empowers a federal court to grant habeas relief to a pretrial detainee held “in custody in violation of the Constitution.” 28 U.S.C. § 2241(c)(3); see also McNeely v. Blanas, 336 F.3d 822, 824 n.1 (9th Cir. 2003); White v. Lambert, 370 F.3d 1002, 1006 (9th Cir. 2004) (“[T]he general grant of habeas authority in § 2241 is available for challenges by a state prisoner who is not in custody pursuant to a state court judgment -- for example, a defendant in pre-trial detention[.]”), overruled on other grounds by Hayward v. Marshall, 603 F.3d 546 (9th Cir. 2010) (en banc), overruled on other grounds by Swarthout v. Cooke, 562 U.S. 216, 131 S.Ct. 859, 178 L.Ed.2d 732 (2011).

         Although exhaustion under § 2241 is not a jurisdictional prerequisite, federal courts require, “as a prudential matter, . . . that habeas petitioners exhaust all available judicial and administrative remedies before seeking relief under § 2241.” Ward v. Chavez, 678 F.3d 1042, 1045 (9th Cir. 2012). To complete the exhaustion procedure, a petitioner's contentions must be fairly presented to the state supreme court even if that court's review is discretionary. O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845-47, 119 S.Ct. 1728, 144 L.Ed.2d 1 (1999); James v. Giles, 221 F.3d 1074, 1077, n.3 (9th Cir. 2000). Moreover, a claim has not been fairly presented unless the petitioner has described in the state court proceedings both the operative facts and the federal legal theory on which the claim is based. See Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364, 365-66, 115 S.Ct. 887, 130 L.Ed.2d 865 (1995); Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275-78, 92 S.Ct. 509, 30 L.Ed.2d 438 (1971); Johnson v. Zenon, 88 F.3d 828, 830 (9th Cir. 1996).

         Petitioner has the burden of demonstrating that exhaustion was completed. See, e.g., Brown v. Cuyler, 669 F.2d 155, 158 (3d Cir. 1982). Here, there is no indication that he has presented any of his claims to the California Supreme Court. Accordingly, the Petition is subject to dismissal without prejudice as unexhausted.

         B. ABSTENTION

         The Petition challenges various aspects of petitioner's pending state proceeding. Indeed, as relief, petitioner even asks the Court to order the state superior court to follow proper criminal procedure and ensure that petitioner's constitutional rights are not being infringed with respect to his prosecution. Because petitioner's state criminal case is ongoing, the Petition is subject to dismissal pursuant to the abstention doctrine announced in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 43-54, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971).

         The Younger case established a “strong federal policy against federal-court interference with pending state judicial proceedings absent extraordinary circumstances.” King v. County of Los Angeles, 885 F.3d 548, 559 (9th Cir. 2018) (quoting Middlesex County Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 431, 102 S.Ct. 2515, 73 L.Ed.2d 116 (1982)). Younger and its progeny are based on the interests of comity and federalism that counsel federal courts to maintain respect for state functions and not unduly interfere with the state's good faith efforts to enforce its own laws in its own courts. Middlesex County Ethics Comm., 457 U.S. at 431; Dubinka v. Judges of Superior Ct. of the State of Cal., County of L.A., 23 F.3d 218, 223 (9th Cir. 1994). The Younger rationale applies throughout appellate proceedings as well, requiring that state appellate review of a conviction be exhausted before federal court intervention is permitted. Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd., 420 U.S. 592, 607-11, 95 S.Ct. 1200, 43 L.Ed.2d 482 (1975); Dubinka, 23 F.3d at 223 (stating that even if the trial is complete at the time of the abstention decision, state court proceedings are still considered pending).

         Younger abstention is appropriate when the following factors are satisfied: “(1) there is an ongoing state judicial proceeding; (2) the proceeding implicate[s] important state interests; (3) there is an adequate opportunity in the state proceedings to raise constitutional challenges; and (4) the requested relief seek[s] to enjoin or has the practical effect of enjoining the ongoing state judicial proceeding.” Arevalo v. Hennessy, 882 F.3d 763, 765 (9th Cir. 2018) (citation and internal quotations omitted). But “even if Younger abstention is appropriate, federal courts do not invoke it if there is a showing of bad faith, harassment, or some other extraordinary circumstance that would make abstention inappropriate.” Page v. King, 932 F.3d 898, 902 (9th Cir. 2019) (citations and internal quotations omitted).

         Here, the criteria for abstention are present. First, petitioner's state criminal proceedings are ongoing, as petitioner is in custody apparently awaiting trial on the criminal charges for which he is being detained. It is generally not appropriate for a federal court to intercede at such a time. See Drury v. Cox, 457 F.2d 764, 764-65 (9th Cir. 1972) (“[O]nly in the most unusual circumstances is a defendant entitled to have federal interposition by way of injunction or habeas corpus until after the jury comes in, judgment has been appealed from and the case concluded in the state courts.”). Second, the pending prosecution implicates important state interests, in particular California's interest in the order and integrity of its criminal proceedings. See Kelly v. Robinson, 479 U.S. 36, 49, 107 S.Ct. 353, 93 L.Ed.2d 216 (1986) (“[T]he States' interest in administering their criminal justice systems free from federal interference is one of the most powerful of the considerations that should influence a court considering equitable types of relief.”). Third, petitioner has an adequate opportunity to raise his habeas claims in his state proceedings, including his trial and, if applicable, through state appellate review. See Penzoil Co. v. Texaco, Inc., 481 U.S. 1, 15, 107 S.Ct. 1519, 95 L.Ed.2d 1 (1987) (a federal court should assume that state procedures will afford an adequate opportunity for consideration of constitutional claims “in the absence of unambiguous authority to the contrary”). The fourth Younger factor is also satisfied, as granting habeas relief would require the Court to significantly interfere with, or in effect enjoin, the pending state prosecution against petitioner.

         Once the Younger criteria are met, abstention is required unless there is a showing of bad faith or harassment, or there are extraordinary circumstances where irreparable injury can be shown. See Page, 932 F.3d at 902. Here, petitioner's brief and conclusory allegations of wrongdoing do not establish the sort of “proven harassment or prosecution[ ] undertaken by state officials in bad faith without hope of obtaining a valid conviction” that would warrant federal court intervention. See Perez v. Ledesma, 401 U.S. 82, 85, 91 S.Ct. 674, 27 L.Ed.2d 701 (1971). Because no allegations ...

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