Courtois v. Attorney General Office et al, No. 4:2005cv05137 - Document 24 (N.D. Cal. 2008)

Court Description: ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS. Signed by Judge CLAUDIA WILKEN on 9/29/08. (scc, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 9/29/2008)
Download PDF
Courtois v. Attorney General Office et al Doc. 24 1 2 3 4 5 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 6 7 FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 8 9 United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 11 12 No. C 05-5137 CW PAUL COURTOIS, Petitioner, ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS v. WARDEN ADAM, 13 Respondent. / 14 15 16 Petitioner Paul Courtois, a state prisoner proceeding in 17 propia persona, seeks a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 18 § 2254. 19 following cognizable claims: 1) Petitioner is innocent of the crime 20 of which he was convicted; 2) he was denied effective assistance of 21 counsel; and 3) he was denied the attorney of his choice. 22 Respondent Warden Adam opposes the petition. 23 file a traverse. 24 papers. 25 parties, the Court denies the petition. 26 BACKGROUND 27 28 The Court previously construed the petition as raising the Petitioner did not The matter was taken under submission on the Having considered all of the papers submitted by the The California Court of Appeal described the facts underlying the petition as follows: 1 2 3 4 5 6 Defendant rented a house which Lisa Piedras had rented before him. Piedras and her eleven-year-old son Orien went to the house to retrieve belongings stored there. After defendant allowed them inside, Piedras confronted him about an earlier threat defendant had made against her son. Saying he would kill them, defendant grabbed an axe and struck Piedras in the head. Mother and son ran from the house, chased by defendant. Those summoned to help Piedras found her lying on the ground with a large head wound. Defendant paced nearby holding a long wooden object and saying, “If anyone tries to break in my house, I’ll kill them,” and “She gets what she deserves.” 7 8 9 Piedras told the responding deputy sheriff that “the old Nazi” hit her with an axe. Defendant said that after he allowed Piedras inside, she threatened him with scissors and then fell, possibly hitting her head on an axe leaning against the door. United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 According to the emergency room doctor, Piedras’ skin had been split to the skull. The laceration was not consistent with a fall and was likely caused by an axe or sharp knife. Defendant testified that Piedras kicked in the door, threatened him with scissors and struck him with a baseball bat. After his dogs ran into the room and frightened her, Piedras fell and could have struck her head on a sharp object. The jury convicted defendant of assault with a deadly weapon and attempted voluntary manslaughter as a lesser-included offense of attempted murder. He was found to have used a deadly weapon. When the jury was unable to reach a verdict on great bodily injury allegation, it was dismissed. 19 People v. Courtois, 2005 WL 994024, at *1 (Cal. Ct. App.) 20 (unpublished decision). 21 LEGAL STANDARD 22 A federal court may entertain a petition for a writ of habeas 23 corpus on behalf of a “person in custody pursuant to the judgment 24 of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in 25 violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United 26 States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); Rose v. Hodges, 423 U.S. 19, 21 (1975). Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, 27 28 2 United States District Court For the Northern District of California 1 a district court may not grant habeas relief unless the state 2 court’s adjudication of the claim: “(1) resulted in a decision that 3 was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, 4 clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court 5 of the United States; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based 6 on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the 7 evidence presented in the State court proceeding.” 8 § 2254(d); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000). 9 prong applies both to questions of law and to mixed questions of 28 U.S.C. The first 10 law and fact, id. at 407-09, while the second prong applies to 11 decisions based on factual determinations, Miller-El v. Cockrell, 12 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003). 13 A state court decision is “contrary to” Supreme Court 14 authority -- that is, falls under the first clause of § 2254(d)(1) 15 -- only if “the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to 16 that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the 17 state court decides a case differently than [the Supreme] Court has 18 on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.” 19 U.S. at 412-13. 20 application of” Supreme Court authority if it correctly identifies 21 the governing legal principle from the Supreme Court’s decisions 22 but “unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the 23 prisoner’s case.” 24 court may not issue the writ “simply because that court concludes 25 in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision 26 applied clearly established federal law erroneously or 27 incorrectly.” 28 “objectively unreasonable” to support granting the writ. Williams, 529 A state court decision is an “unreasonable Id. at 413. Id. at 411. On habeas review, the district Rather, the application must be 3 See id. 1 at 409. 2 3 4 I. Factual Innocence Petitioner claims that he is innocent of the crime of which he 5 was convicted. 6 conspiracy to frame him and that she invaded his home with several 7 gang member friends who attacked him and stole his property. 8 also alleges that the prosecution paid the witnesses who testified 9 against him so that they would give false testimony. 10 United States District Court For the Northern District of California DISCUSSION He asserts that Ms. Piedras was involved in a He “Freestanding” actual innocence claims such as Petitioner’s 11 may not be cognizable in non-capital habeas cases. 12 Collins, 506 U.S. 390 (1993); Carriger v. Stewart, 132 F.3d 463, 13 476-77 (9th Cir. 1997). 14 for the Third Judicial Dist., 521 F.3d 1118, 1130-31 (9th Cir. 15 2008) (assuming without deciding that freestanding actual innocence 16 claims are cognizable in federal habeas proceedings in both capital 17 and non-capital cases). 18 cognizable, though, Petitioner would have to make an 19 “extraordinarily high” showing, “affirmatively prov[ing] that he is 20 probably innocent.” 21 See Herrera v. But see Osborne v. Dist. Attorney’s Office Even assuming that such a claim is Carriger, 132 F.3d at 476. Petitioner has not made such a showing. At trial, Ms. Piedras 22 testified that Petitioner struck her in the head with an axe. 23 Rep.’s Tr. (Ex. 2 to Ans.) at 518-532. 24 account of events. 25 the incident, as Ms. Piedras was lying on the ground with a severe 26 head wound, Petitioner paced nearby, stating that Ms. Piedras had 27 gotten “what she deserves” and, “If anyone tries to break in my 28 house, I’ll kill them.” Id. at 436-48. Her son confirmed her A witness testified that after Id. at 454-64. A sheriff’s deputy 4 United States District Court For the Northern District of California 1 testified that, when searching Petitioner’s house, she observed a 2 trail of blood and collected a broken axe handle and a double- 3 bladed axe. 4 Piedras testified that her injury was consistent with being struck 5 with an axe. Id. at 473-94, 506-13. The doctor who treated Ms. Id. at 570-82. 6 In support of his position, Petitioner simply asserts in vague 7 terms that his conviction is the result of a conspiracy against him 8 and that the testimony at his trial was false. 9 sufficient to prove that he is innocent, particularly considering This is not 10 the detailed eyewitness testimony and other evidence introduced 11 against him at trial. 12 innocence is not a basis for granting habeas relief. 13 II. 14 Accordingly, Petitioner’s asserted factual Ineffective Assistance of Counsel A claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is cognizable as 15 a claim for denial of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, which 16 guarantees not only assistance, but effective assistance of 17 counsel. 18 benchmark for judging any claim of ineffectiveness is whether 19 counsel’s conduct so undermined the proper functioning of the 20 adversarial process that the trial cannot be relied upon as having 21 produced a just result. 22 counsel applies to the performance of both retained and appointed 23 counsel without distinction. 24 344-45 (1980). 25 Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686 (1984). Id. The The right to effective assistance See Cuyler v. Sullivan, 446 U.S. 335, In order to prevail on a Sixth Amendment ineffectiveness of 26 counsel claim, a petitioner must establish two things. 27 must establish that counsel’s performance was deficient, that is, 28 that it fell below an “objective standard of reasonableness” under 5 First, he 1 prevailing professional norms. 2 Second, he must establish that he was prejudiced by counsel’s 3 deficient performance, that is, that “there is a reasonable 4 probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the 5 result of the proceeding would have been different.” 6 A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine 7 confidence in the outcome. 8 after thorough investigation of law and facts relevant to plausible 9 options are virtually unchallengeable.” United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 Id. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687-88. Id. at 694. However, “strategic choices made Id. at 690. It is unnecessary for a federal court considering a habeas 11 ineffective assistance claim to address the prejudice prong of the 12 Strickland test if the petitioner cannot establish incompetence 13 under the first prong. 14 737 (9th Cir. 1998). 15 counsel’s performance was deficient before examining the prejudice 16 suffered by the defendant as the result of the alleged 17 deficiencies. 18 Calderon, 52 F.3d 1465, 1470 & n.3 (9th Cir. 1995) (approving 19 district court’s refusal to consider whether counsel’s conduct was 20 deficient after determining that petitioner could not establish 21 prejudice). 22 See Siripongs v. Calderon, 133 F.3d 732, Similarly, a court need not determine whether See Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697; Williams v. Petitioner states that his counsel was ineffective, but he 23 articulates no factual allegations to support his claim except that 24 his attorney withdrew before trial. 25 he was forced to proceed to trial without an attorney. 26 demonstrate otherwise. 27 28 Petitioner thus suggests that The record Petitioner first appeared in court with retained counsel. Clerk’s Tr. (Ex. 1 to Ans.) at 10. 6 On November 30, 2000, 1 Petitioner’s attorney was relieved and the public defender was 2 appointed to represent him. 3 defender declared a conflict of interest, and conflict counsel was 4 appointed. 5 Petitioner until January 8, 2002, when Petitioner appeared with his 6 own retained counsel and conflict counsel was relieved. United States District Court For the Northern District of California 7 Id. at 17. Id. at 16. The next day, the public Conflict counsel continued to represent Id. at 55. On July 18, 2002, the first day of Petitioner’s trial, his 8 counsel moved to withdraw, citing “an irreconcilable and 9 irrevocable breakdown of the attorney-client relationship and 10 conflict of interest.” 11 Petitioner’s erratic behavior, including anti-Semitic letters 12 Petitioner had sent to various organizations in which he advocated 13 violence against members of an Israeli conspiracy that he 14 maintained was persecuting him. 15 sought to have his counsel discharged. 16 requests, appointed conflict counsel, and declared a mistrial. 17 Clerk’s Tr. at 245. 18 Rep.’s Tr. at 101. The motion was based on At the same time, Petitioner The court granted these On August 12, 2002, Petitioner moved to discharge conflict 19 counsel and to represent himself. 20 court informed Petitioner of his absolute right to be represented 21 by an attorney and questioned him about his decision to ensure that 22 it was informed. 23 that he would not be able to complain of ineffective assistance of 24 counsel if he represented himself. 25 acknowledged the risks involved with representing himself, the 26 court granted his motion. 27 on October 28, 2002 and he represented himself for the duration. 28 Id. at 30-35. 8/12/02 Rep.’s Tr. at 30. The The court also told Petitioner Id. at 32-33. Id. at 35. After Petitioner Petitioner’s new trial began Because Petitioner represented himself at trial, he cannot 7 United States District Court For the Northern District of California 1 obtain habeas relief on the basis of ineffective assistance of 2 counsel in connection with the trial itself. 3 Estelle, 924 F.2d 1459, 1466 (9th Cir. 1990) (“[A] defendant who 4 elects to represent himself cannot thereafter complain that the 5 quality of his own defense amounted to a denial of ‘effective 6 assistance of counsel.’” (quoting Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 7 806, 834-35 n.46 (1975))). 8 deficiency in his earlier representation by counsel, let alone a 9 deficiency that ultimately prejudiced him. Nor has Petitioner pointed to any 10 is denied. 11 III. Denial of Counsel of Choice 12 See Savage v. Accordingly, his claim The constitutional right to representation in criminal cases 13 requires that a defendant be “afforded a fair opportunity to secure 14 counsel of his own choice.” 15 (1932). 16 to defendants who require counsel to be appointed for them,” United 17 States v. Gonzalez-Lopez, 548 U.S. 140, 151 (2006), and thus “a 18 defendant may not insist on representation by an attorney he cannot 19 afford,” Wheat v. United States, 486 U.S. 153, 159 (1988). 20 Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45, 53 However, “the right to counsel of choice does not extend Petitioner asserts that he was denied the attorney of his 21 choice. 22 none appears in the record. 23 counsel of his choice -- to the contrary, he retained two different 24 attorneys during the course of the litigation. 25 claim is based on a lack of choice with respect to his appointed 26 counsel, it is foreclosed by case law. 27 IV. 28 He does not explain the factual basis for this claim, and He was not prevented from retaining Insofar as his Validity of Petitioner’s Decision to Represent Himself The petition could be interpreted as asserting a claim that 8 United States District Court For the Northern District of California 1 Petitioner was unlawfully allowed to represent himself because he 2 was not mentally competent to waive his right to counsel. 3 Godinez v. Moran, 509 U.S. 389 (1993). 4 previously identify this as a cognizable claim, Respondent did not 5 address the matter in his memorandum in opposition to the petition. 6 Nonetheless, the Court has reviewed the record and concludes that 7 no violation of Petitioner’s right to counsel was committed. 8 direct appeal, the California Court of Appeal thoroughly discussed 9 the circumstances surrounding Petitioner’s decision to represent 10 himself, and its determination that the decision was unequivocal 11 and was made knowingly and intelligently was not an unreasonable 12 application of clearly established federal law. 13 Courtois, 2005 WL 994024, at *1-*5, *6-*8. 14 Because the Court did not On See People v. CONCLUSION 15 For the foregoing reasons, the petition for a writ of habeas 16 corpus is DENIED. 17 file. 18 See The clerk shall enter judgment and close the The parties shall bear their own costs. IT IS SO ORDERED. 19 20 Dated: 9/29/08 CLAUDIA WILKEN United States District Judge 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 9 1 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 2 3 COURTOIS, Case Number: CV05-05137 CW 4 Plaintiff, CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE 5 v. 6 ATTORNEY GENERAL OFFICE et al, 7 Defendant. 8 9 United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 11 12 / I, the undersigned, hereby certify that I am an employee in the Office of the Clerk, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California. That on September 29, 2008, I SERVED a true and correct copy(ies) of the attached, by placing said copy(ies) in a postage paid envelope addressed to the person(s) hereinafter listed, by depositing said envelope in the U.S. Mail, or by placing said copy(ies) into an inter-office delivery receptacle located in the Clerk's office. 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 Paul Craig Courtois CDC T-83017 Corcoran State Prison PO Box 7100 Corcoran, CA 93212 Ross Charles Moody Attorney General of the State of California 455 Golden Gate Avenue, Suite 11000 San Francisco, CA 94102-7004 Dated: September 29, 2008 Richard W. Wieking, Clerk By: Sheilah Cahill, Deputy Clerk 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 10