United States District Court, D. Arizona
D. THOMAS FERRARO, Magistrate Judge.
Petitioner Frankie Rodriguez, presently incarcerated at the Arizona State Prison-Central Unit, in Florence, Arizona, has filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Before this Court are the Petition and accompanying Memorandum (Docs. 1, 3), and Respondents' Answer (Doc. 18). The parties consented to exercise of jurisdiction by a Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). (Doc. 20.) The Court finds that the Petition should be denied.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Petitioner was convicted of two counts of first degree murder, two counts of kidnaping, two counts of armed robbery, two counts of thefts of means of transportation, one count each of theft by control, second degree burglary, and theft by control and/or controlling stolen property. (Doc. 3-1 at 65.) Rodriguez was sentenced to multiple prison terms, the longest of which were two consecutive life sentences. ( Id. ) The convictions were based on the following facts, as summarized by the appellate court:
On November 1, 2000, Rodriguez and his codefendant Harper, burglarized the home of Harper's estranged father, taking guns, ammunition, and other items. Both men discussed this crime with a third person before and after committing it.
In the early morning of November 12, 2000, D. left a friend's home in his red Volkswagen Jetta; D. was not heard from again. Rodriguez, Harper, and a third man were seen driving a red Jetta around noon that day. Other witnesses saw Rodriguez and Harper driving the Jetta during the month of November. On November 14, 2000, an occupied residence was burglarized by two men driving a red Jetta, later identified by the resident as Rodriguez and Harper. On November 15, 2000, the Jetta was discovered abandoned in an alley. Officers searched the vehicle and found guns stolen from Harper's father, a backpack containing papers with Rodriguez's name on them, and a motel receipt in a seat-back pocket, also in Rodriguez's name.
On November 28, 2000, A. left her home around midnight to return movies to a nearby video rental store. She never returned to her apartment. Security videos from ATM machines showed Rodriguez and Harper using A.'s debit card to withdraw money, and a bank representative testified to other, unsuccessful attempts to obtain cash. A.'s credit card was used to purchase various items, and several witnesses saw Rodriguez and Harper with A.'s new teal green Blazer. After she disappeared, A.'s cellular telephone was traced and Rodriguez and Harper were identified as suspects. They were captured driving A.'s car and Harper had A.'s cellular telephone, debit card, and credit card with him. Two handguns, several pairs of shoes, and other items were also recovered during the arrest.
After his arrest, Rodriguez gave several statements to police, led police to A.'s body in a remote desert area, and eventually admitted participating in kidnaping and vehicle theft involving A. Rodriguez's shoes were consistent with shoe prints found near A.'s body, and shell casings found in the area matched to a gun found under the Blazer when he was arrested, a gun he admitted having bought. D.'s body was found in the same area the next day during a training exercise for police cadaver dogs. Shoe prints found near the body were, again, consistent with Rodriguez's shoes. In a telephone call to M., who testified at trial, Rodriguez admitted he had been involved in both killings.
(Doc. 3-1 at 66-67.)
Rodriguez filed an appeal, which was denied by the Arizona Court of Appeals. (Doc. 3-1 at 2, 64.) The Arizona Supreme Court denied review. ( Id. at 106.) Rodriguez then filed a petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). ( Id. at 108.) The PCR court denied his petition on the merits. (Doc. 3-3 at 21-30.) The Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed the PCR court's denial. ( Id. at 53-56.) The Arizona Supreme Court denied review. ( Id. at 71.)
LEGAL STANDARDS FOR RELIEF UNDER THE AEDPA
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) established a "substantially higher threshold for habeas relief" with the "acknowledged purpose of reducing delays in the execution of state and federal criminal sentences.'" Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473-74 (2007) (quoting Woodford v. Garceau, 538 U.S. 202, 206 (2003)). The AEDPA's "highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings'... demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt." Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (per curiam) (quoting Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 333 n. 7 (1997)).
Under the AEDPA, a petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief on any claim "adjudicated on the merits" by the state court unless that adjudication:
(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). The last relevant state court decision is the last reasoned state decision regarding a claim. Barker v. Fleming, 423 F.3d 1085, 1091 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 803-04 (1991)); Insyxiengmay v. Morgan, 403 F.3d 657, 664 (9th Cir. 2005).
"The threshold test under AEDPA is whether [the petitioner] seeks to apply a rule of law that was clearly established at the time his state-court conviction became final." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 390 (2000). Therefore, to assess a claim under subsection (d)(1), the Court must first identify the "clearly established Federal law, " if any, that governs the sufficiency of the claims on habeas review. "Clearly established" federal law consists of the holdings of the Supreme Court at the time the petitioner's state court conviction became final. Williams, 529 U.S. at 365; see Carey v. Musladin, 549 U.S. 70, 74 (2006).
The Supreme Court has provided guidance in applying each prong of § 2254(d)(1). The Court has explained that a state court decision is "contrary to" the Supreme Court's clearly established precedents if the decision applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in those precedents, thereby reaching a conclusion opposite to that reached by the Supreme Court on a matter of law, or if it confronts a set of facts that is materially indistinguishable from a decision of the Supreme Court but reaches a different result. Williams, 529 U.S. at 405-06; see Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002) (per curiam). In characterizing the claims subject to analysis under the "contrary to" prong, the Court has observed that "a run-of-the-mill state-court decision applying the correct legal rule to the facts of the prisoner's case would not fit comfortably within § 2254(d)(1)'s contrary to' clause." Williams, 529 U.S. at 406; see Lambert v. Blodgett, 393 F.3d 943, 974 (9th Cir. 2004).
Under the "unreasonable application" prong of § 2254(d)(1), a federal habeas court may grant relief where a state court "identifies the correct governing legal rule from [the Supreme] Court's cases but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular... case" or "unreasonably extends a legal principle from [Supreme Court] precedent to a new context where it should not apply or unreasonably refuses to extend the principle to a new context where it should apply." Williams, 529 U.S. at 407. For a federal court to find a state court's application of Supreme Court precedent "unreasonable, " the petitioner must show that the state court's decision was not merely incorrect or erroneous, but "objectively unreasonable." Id. at 409; Landrigan, 550 U.S. at 473; Visciotti, 537 U.S. at 25. "A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal ...