Raymond Wright v. Warden et al

Filing 34

MEMORANDUM AND DECISION by Magistrate Judge Stephen J. Hillman, The Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus is denied and dismissed with prejudice. (sbu)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA-WESTERN DIVISION 11 12 13 14 15 RAYMOND WRIGHT, Petitioner, 16 17 18 v. J.N. KATAVICH, 19 Respondent. 20 ) CV 12-5905-SH ) ) MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ) DISMISSING 28 U.S.C.§2254 ) PETITION FOR WRIT OF ) HABEAS CORPUS ) ) ) ) ) I. BACKGROUND 21 22 A. Conviction and Direct Appeal 23 On September 16, 2011, in Los Angeles County Superior Court case number 24 BA379739, petitioner pleaded no contest to one count of possession of cocaine base 25 for sale. (Cal. Health & Saf. Code §11351.5). The trial court found true two prior 26 convictions within the meaning of California’s Three Strikes Law (Cal.Penal Code 27 §§ 1170.12(a)-(d); 667 (b)-(I)), and one prior conviction alleged pursuant to 28 California Health and Safety Code § 11370.2(a). Petitioner was sentenced to six 1 1 years in state prison. 2 On October 18, 20011, petitioner appealed his conviction in the California 3 Court of Appeal. That court affirmed his conviction, but modified his presentence 4 custody credit. 5 Supreme Court. Petitioner did not file a Petition for Review in the California 6 7 B. 8 On October 7, 2011, petitioner filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in 9 10 11 12 13 State Habeas Corpus and Mandate Petitions the California Court of Appeal. That Petition was denied on October 18, 2011. On December 12, 2011, petitioner filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas corpus in the California Supreme Court. That Petition was denied on March 21, 2012. On February 15, 2012, petitioner filed a Petition for Writ of Mandate in the California Court of Appeal. That Petition was denied on June 19, 2012. 14 On June 27, 2012, petitioner filed a Petition for Review of the California 15 Court of Appeal’s denial of his Petition for Writ of Mandate in the California 16 Supreme Court. That Petition was denied on August 8, 2012. 17 On September 18, 2012, petitioner filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus 18 in the California Court of Appeal. That Petition was denied on September 25, 2012. 19 C. Instant Habeas Corpus Petition 20 The instant §2254 Petition was filed on July 9, 2012. Respondent filed an 21 initial Return to the Petition on August 28, 2012, arguing that this Court should 22 abstain from considering the merits of the claims alleged in the Petition because of 23 ongoing state court proceedings. On September 27, 2012, the Court found that the 24 state court proceedings had concluded, and therefore abstention was no longer 25 appropriate. This Court further found that Ground Three of the Petition was 26 unexhausted. Petitioner subsequently elected to withdraw Ground Three, and this 27 Court ordered respondent to respond to the merits of Grounds One and Two. The 28 parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the Magistrate Judge. Respondent filed 2 1 a Supplemental Return on February 15, 2013, and petitioner filed a Reply on March 2 5, 2013. II. PETITIONER’S CONTENTIONS 3 4 1. Petitioner’s right to due process was violated because prior strike 5 allegations made pursuant to California’s Three Strikes Law (Cal. 6 Penal Code §§667(b)-(I), 1170.12(a)-(d)) were not properly pled and 7 proven and did not constitute strikes within the meaning of California 8 law when they were committed. (Pet. at 5; Addendum to Pet. At 1-3; 9 Exhibits.) 10 2. Petitioner’s right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment was 11 violated by the enhancement of his sentence with the prior convictions. 12 (Pet. at 5.) 13 14 III. STANDARD OF REVIEW 15 Petitioner’s claims were all summarily denied on habeas corpus review by the 16 California Supreme Court (LD 13-14). See Harrington v. Richter, 131 S. Ct. 770, 17 784, 178 L.Ed. 2nd 624 (2011) (State court’s summary denial of a claim constitutes 18 a denial on the merits for purposes of § 2254(d)); see also In re Reno, 55 Cal. 4th 19 428, 447, 146 Cal. Rptr. 3d 297 (2012) (summary habeas denial reflects rejection 20 of those claims in federal court is unavailable unless the state-court decisions were 21 objectively unreasonable. 22 A federal court may review a habeas petition by a person in custody under a 23 state court judgment “only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the 24 Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Federal 25 habeas relief is not available for state law errors. Swarthout v. Cook, 26 S. Ct. 859, 861, 178 L. Ed. 2d 732 (2011)(per curiam)(citing Estelle v. McGuire, 27 502 U.S. 62, 67, 112 S. Ct. 475, 116 L. Ed. 2d 385 (1991)). 28 U.S. , 131 Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 3 1 (“AEDPA”), a federal court may not grant habeas relief on a claim adjudicated on 2 its merits in state court unless the adjudication: 3 (1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable 4 application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the 5 Supreme Court of the United States; or 6 (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination 7 of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court 8 proceeding. 9 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). 10 “Clearly established federal law” means federal law that is clearly defined by 11 the holdings of the Supreme Court at the time of the state court decision. See, e.g., 12 Cullen v. Pinholster, 13 (2011)(citation omitted). Although only Supreme Court law is binding, “circuit 14 court precedent may be persuasive in determining what law is clearly established 15 and whether a state court applied that law unreasonably.” Stanley v. Cullen, 633 16 F.3d 852, 859 (9th Cir. 2011)(citation omitted). U.S. , 131 S. Ct. 1388, 1399, 179 L. Ed. 2d 557 17 In determining whether a decision is “contrary to” clearly established federal 18 law, a reviewing court must evaluate whether the decision “‘applies a rule that 19 contradicts [such] law’” and how the decision “confronts [the] set of facts that were 20 before the state court.’” Cullen v. Pinholster, 131 S. Ct. at 1399 (quoting Williams 21 v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L. Ed. 2d 389 (2000)). If the 22 state decision “‘identifies the correct governing legal principle’ in existence at the 23 time,” a reviewing court must assess whether the decision “‘unreasonably applies 24 that principle to the facts of the prisoner’s case.’” Id. (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. 25 at 413). An “unreasonable application” of law is “‘different from an incorrect 26 application’” of that law. Harrington v. Richter, __ U.S. __, 131 S. Ct. 770, 785, 27 178 L. Ed. 2d 624 (2011)(quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 410). Similarly, a state- 28 court decision based upon a factual determination may not be overturned on habeas 4 1 review unless the factual determination is “‘objectively unreasonable in light of the 2 evidence presented in the state-court proceeding.’” Stanley, 633 F.3d at 859 3 (quoting Davis v. Woodford, 384 F.3d 628, 638 (9th Cir. 2004)). 4 The AEDPA standard requires a high level of deference to state court 5 decisions, such that a state decision that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas 6 relief so long as “‘fairminded jurists could disagree’ on the correctness of the state 7 court’s decision.” Harrington v. Richter, 131 S. Ct. at 786 (quoting Yarborough v. 8 Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664, 124 S. Ct. 2140, 158 L. Ed. 2d 938 (2004)). 9 Accordingly, to obtain federal habeas relief a state prisoner must show that the state 10 court’s decision on a federal claim was “so lacking in justification that there was an 11 error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for 12 fairminded disagreement.” Id. at 786-87. Moreover, even if this court finds such 13 a state-court error of clear constitutional magnitude, habeas relief is not available 14 unless the error “had substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the 15 jury's verdict.” Fry v. Pliler, 551 U.S. 112, 116, 121-22, 127 S. Ct. 2321, 168 L. Ed. 16 2d 16 (2007)(quoting Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 637, 113 S. Ct. 1710, 17 123 L. Ed. 2d 353 (1993)). 18 IV. DISCUSSION 19 20 21 A. Ground One Is Not Cognizable on Federal Habeas, Nor Did The California Supreme Court Unreasonably Apply Clearly Established Federal law When It Denied Petitioner’s Claim 22 23 In Ground One, petitioner argues that his right to due process was violated 24 because prior strike allegations arising out of Florida convictions, findings made 25 pursuant to California’s Three Strikes Law (Cal. Penal Code §667(b)-(I), 26 1170.12(a)-(d)), were not properly pled and proven and did not constitute strikes 27 within the meaning of California law when they were committed. First, Ground one 28 5 1 is a state law claim and thus not cognizable on federal habeas. Second, as the 2 California Supreme Court did not unreasonably apply United States Supreme Court 3 precedent when it denied this claim, AEDPA precludes relief. 4 5 B. 6 Petitioner’s Claim of State Sentencing Error Is Not Cognizable on Federal Habeas and Moreover, the California Supreme Court’s Interpretation of State Sentencing Laws Is Binding 7 8 To the extent petitioner raises a claim based on an alleged error of state law, 9 the claim is not cognizable on federal habeas review. Federal habeas corpus is 10 available only on behalf of a person in custody in violation of the Constitution or 11 laws or treaties fo the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); Estelle v. McGuire, 502 12 U.S. 62, 68, 112 S.Ct. 475, 116 L.Ed. 2d 385 (1991); Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107, 13 119, 102 S.Ct. 1158, 71 L.Ed. 2d 783 (1982). A violation of state law standing 14 alone is not cognizable in federal court on habeas. Park v. California, 202 F.3d 1146, 15 1149 (9th Cir. 2000); Jammal v. Van de Kamp, 926 F.2d 918, 919 (9th Cir. 1991); 16 see also Dugger v. Adams, 489 U.S. 401, 409, 109 S.Ct. 1211, 103 L.Ed. 2d 435 17 (1989). 18 Absent fundamental unfairness, federal habeas relief is not available for a 19 state court’s misapplication of its own sentencing laws. See Christian v. Rhode, 41 20 F.3d 461, 469 (9th Cir. 1994) (holding that petitioner was not entitled to habeas 21 relief on claim that state court improperly used petitioner’s prior federal offense to 22 enhance punishment); Miller v. Vasquez, 868 F.2d 1116, 1118-19 (9th Cir. 1989) 23 (holding that claim that prior conviction was not a “serious felony” under 24 California’s sentencing law is not cognizable in federal habeas proceeding); Moore 25 v. Chrones, 687 F.Supp. 2d 1005, 1039-41 (C.D. Cal. 2010) (claim of trial court 26 error by declining to exercise its discretion to strike a prior “strike” conviction 27 involves solely the interpretation and application of state sentencing law, and thus 28 does not present a basis for federal habeas relief). Thus petitioner’s claim that his 6 1 Florida convictions did not qualify as “strikes” under California’s Three Strikes Law 2 is not cognizable on federal habeas. 3 Moreover, federal courts are bound to follow the decisions of the state’s 4 highest court on state law matters. Bradshaw v. Richey, 546 U.S. 74, 76, 126 S.Ct. 5 602, 163 L.Ed. 2d 407 (2005) (per curiam); see also Mendez v. Small, 298 F.3d 6 1154, 1158 (9th Cir. 2002) (“A state court has the last word on the interpretation of 7 state law”); Woratzeck v. Stewart, 97 F.3d 329, 336 (9th Cir. 1996) (State Court 8 presumed to properly apply state law). Therefore, the California Supreme Court’s 9 rejection of his state sentencing claim is binding. 10 11 C. Even If Petitioner’s Claim of State Sentencing Error Were Subject to Federal Habeas Review, It Is without Merit 12 13 Petitioner’s claim alternatively fails on the merits. The crux of petitioner’s 14 argument is that his convictions for robbery in Florida should not have counted as 15 strikes in California because 1) the Florida and California statutes for robbery were 16 not sufficiently similar and 2) the Florida convictions were not properly pled and 17 proven. (Pet. at 5; Addendum to Pet. at 1-3; Exhibits.) However, as the trial court 18 found: 19 In People’s 2, Mr. Wright pled to a violation of Florida revised statute § 20 812.13, which is a robbery and the element of that robbery essentially tracks the 21 language of California Penal Code § 211. So that is clearly a robbery. The elements 22 clearly establish a robbery under California law. 23 Similarly in People’s 3, it appears that Mr. Wright entered a plea of guilty to 24 a violation of Florida revised statute 812.13. That is also a dash one on page 1 of 25 16. However, it does not appear from reviewing the record that there was a plea to 26 812.131. I don’t know what the dash one means. 27 28 Moreover, I have read and reviewed the declaration under penalty of perjury, 7 1 the fact that the first page which does establish the elements of a robbery under 2 California law. Moreover the factual summary contained in the criminal record also 3 indicates the elements of a robbery under California law. Moreover, finally the first 4 page of Exhibit 3 indicates that it was a violation of Florida statute § 812.13. 5 So based on all of that, I find beyond a reasonable doubt that the priors 6 alleged under California’s Three Strikes Law are true, have been proven beyond a 7 reasonable doubt, and I do find them to be true. 8 (2RT at H27-H28.) 9 As the trial court noted, the definitions of robbery in Florida and California 10 were sufficiently similar for petitioner’s convictions in Florida to qualify as “strikes” 11 under California’s Three Strikes Law. In 1990, Florida defined robbery as “the 12 taking of money or other property which may be the subject of larceny from the 13 person or custody of another when in the course of the taking there is the use of 14 force, violence, assault, or putting in fear.” Fla. Stat. Ann. §812.13 (West 1990). 15 California defines robbery as “the felonious taking of personal property in the 16 possession of another, from his person or immediate presence, and against his will, 17 accomplished by means of force or fear.” Cal. Penal Code §211. Because petitioner 18 pleaded guilty to Florida statutes § 812.13 in 1986 and 1990, the trial court correctly 19 found that petitioner’s convictions for robbery qualified as strikes in California. See 20 Cal. Penal Code § 1192.7(c)(19) (listing robbery as a strike). 21 Furthermore, petitioner’s contention that the prior convictions were not 22 properly documented fails. In determining the substance of a prior conviction, the 23 trier of fact may look to the entire record of conviction. People v. Guerrero, 44 Cal. 24 Cal. 3d 343, 355, 243 Cal. Rptr. 688 (1988). The record of conviction may consist 25 of the preliminary hearing transcripts, (People v. Reed, 13 Cal. 4th 217, 223-30, 26 52 Cal. Rptr. 2d 106 (1996)); the Information and verdict forms (People v. Skeirik, 27 229 Cal. App. 3d 444, 462, 280 Cal. Rptr. 175 (1991)); abstracts of judgment People 28 v. Johnson, 208 Cal. App. 3d 19, 26, 256 Cal. Rptr. 16 (1989)); minute orders 8 1 (People v. Harrell, 207 Cal. App. 3d 1439, 1444-45, 255 Cal. Rptr. 750 (1989)); 2 change of plea forms (People v. Carr, 204 Cal. App. 3d 774, 778, 251 Cal. Rptr. 458 3 (1988));and certain statements in the probation reports (People v. Garcia, 216 Cal. 4 App. 3d 233, 237, 264 Cal.Rptr. 662 (1989)). 5 Here, the trial court reviewed documents from each conviction including 6 arrest and booking reports, signed guilty plea forms, an Information (for the 1986 7 conviction only), and abstracts of judgment (including fingerprint expert that the 8 fingerprints in the exemplars belonged to petitioner. (2RT at H23-H25.) Thus, the 9 trial court had sufficient evidence to determine that petitioner had been convicted 10 of robbery in Florida in 1986 and 1990. Therefore, the California Supreme Court’s 11 rejection of this claim was reasonable, and the AEDPA precludes relief. 12 13 D. The California Supreme Court Did Not Unreasonably Apply 14 Clearly Established Federal Law When It Rejected Petitioner’s 15 Claim That His Sentence Constituted Cruel and Unusual 16 Punishment in Ground Two 17 In Ground Two, petitioner argues that his six-year sentence violates the 18 proscription against cruel and unusual punishment. Specifically, petitioner contends 19 that his sentence was cruel and unusual because it was enhanced pursuant to 20 California’s Three Strikes law. Because the California Supreme Court did not 21 unreasonably apply clearly established federal law in denying this claim, AEDPA 22 precludes relief. 23 24 1. The Applicable Law 25 The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution bars cruel and 26 unusual punishment and applies equally to capital and noncapital sentences. Ewing 27 v. California, 538 U.S. 11, 20, 123 S.Ct. 1179, 155 L.Ed 2d 108 (2003). This 28 constitutional principle “forbids only extreme sentences that are ‘grossly 9 1 disproportionate’ to the crime.” Id. At 23. In a noncapital case, successful 2 proportionality challenges are “exceedingly rare.” Id. At 20-21 (sentence of twenty- 3 five years to life in prison for felony theft of golf clubs under California’s Three 4 Strikes law, with prior felonies of robbery and burglary, did not violate federal 5 prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment). 6 2. 7 Petitioner’s Six-year Sentence Does not Violate the Proscription Against Cruel and Unusual Punishment 8 9 Here, petitioner received the low term of three years for possession of cocaine 10 based for sale (Cal. Health & Saf. Code §11351.5). Although the trial court found 11 that petitioner had two prior strikes, it dismissed one in the interests of justice. The 12 trial court then doubled petitioner’s three-year sentence pursuant to California’s 13 Three Strikes Law. Under the plea agreement, petitioner received a sentence of six 14 years in state prison. 15 Petitioner’s second strike sentence did not violate the Eighth Amendment 16 because petitioner had an extensive criminal history dating back to his youth, 17 including felony convictions for robbery, dealing in stolen property, marijuana, 18 trafficking, and sale of a controlled substance. (Sealed Probation Report at 387-91.) 19 Based on petitioner’s recidivism, it was not cruel and unusual punishment to double 20 his three-year sentence pursuant to California’s Three Strikes Law. 21 /// 22 /// 23 /// 24 /// 25 /// 26 /// 27 28 CONCLUSION 10 1 ACCORDINGLY, The Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus is denied and 2 dismissed with prejudice. 3 DATED: March 19, 2013 4 5 6 7 8 ____________________________________ STEPHEN J. HILLMAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 11

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