Saturday, October 23, 2010

Northern California Judges Deny Petitions for Habeas Corpus

Photo Courtesy of Publik15
Several Northern California Judges have recently denied petitions for habeas corpus.

In Price-Mahdi v. Subia, a Contra-Costa jury convicted the petitioner of first degree murder under a felony murder theory with burglary being the predicate offense and the trial judge sentenced him to 25 years to life in prison.

On July 2, 1993, Leon Walker, his brother Will Moss Jr., and their friend Pecollian Mays picked up the petitioner from his house.  Mr. Moss decided to rob the QuickStop liquor store.  The four parked across the street, Mr. Moss distributed bandannas. Upon entering the store Mr. Walker endeavored to disable the security camera and Mr. Moss (presumably with a gun) threatened the cashier to open the cash register.  Upon opening, the petitioner and Mr. Mays removed $40 from the cash register.  As they left, Mr. Walker killed the cashier.  Mr. Moss plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter.  Mr. Mays was acquitted of felony murder on the theory that burglary was the predicate offense.  Mr. Walker's fate is not discussed in the opinion.

The petitioner claims that the advance of alternate theories of culpability for the cashier's death violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  Judge Marilyn Hall Patel disagreed, stating that the prosecutor is free to use alternate theories as long as they are supported by the evidence.  Bradshaw v. Stumpf (U.S. 2005) (Thomas, J. concurring) ("This Court has never hinted, much less held, that the Due Process Clause prevents a State from prosecuting defendants based on inconsistent theories. ")

In Lagadia v. Curry, the petitioner challenged the Board of Parole Hearings (BPH) decision which denied him parole.  As this blog has explained before:
Under California law, the governor reviews decisions of the parole board to determine whether parole should be granted. That review is plenary, but the Ninth Circuit stated that decisions to deny parole must be based on "some evidence of dangerousness" without "an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence." The governor is free to disagree with the parole board as long as there is some evidence for his decision.
 Judge Susan Illston found that there was "some evidence of dangerousness" in the BPH decision:
There was sufficient evidence for the state superior court to uphold the BPH's decision. The murder was unusually brutal and was done for a trivial motive.Lagadia had a significant criminal history that included assaultive behavior and had been in a street gang before the commitment offense. The record also does provide support for the conclusion that he continued to minimize his responsibility for the killing, which suggested a lack of remorse.
She denied the petition for habeas corpus.

In Hudson v. Curry, the petitioner per se challenged the Board of Parole Hearings (BPH) decision which denied him parole.  Judge Susan Illston copied and pasted most of the opinion from the Lagardia noted above.  The facts seem to follow the Soprano's episode Funhouse.

Robert Steven Hudson and his friend Patrick Dickey decided to assault and rob Hudson's fellow drug dealer Duane Keith Rice. Upon meeting Mr. Rice, he resisted their plans causing Mr. Hudson and Mr. Dickey to repeatedly beat him in the head with a metal pipe.  Mr. Rice's head ruptured and he died.  The assailants then wrapped Mr. Rice in plastic, loaded him into the back of a van, cleaned the crime scene and drove to Las Vegas.  On their way to Vegas, the assailants stopped at a 24-hour sporting goods store where they purchased a rubber raft and some lead weights.  Upon arriving at Lake Mead, they rowed into the middle of the lake, weighed down the body, and threw it overboard.  It has not been recovered.  Mr. Hudson plead guilty to first degree murder.

BPH denied parole stating that the underlying crime was particularly heinous and Mr. Hudson was previously a drug dealer and that this was "some evidence of dangerousness."  Judge Susan Illston agreed with the respondent, and denied the writ, but granted a certificate of appealability for Mr. Hudson to appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

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