Garcia v. Yates, No. 3:2006cv01958 - Document 12 (N.D. Cal. 2008)

Court Description: ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS. Signed by Judge Maxine M. Chesney on December 19, 2008. (mmcsec, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 12/19/2008)
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Garcia v. Yates Doc. 12 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 8 FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 9 ARNULFO GARCIA, Petitioner, 11 For the Northern District of California United States District Court 10 12 v. 13 JAMES YATES, Warden, 14 Respondent. ________________________________ ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) No. C 06-1958 MMC (PR) ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS 15 16 On March 15, 2006, petitioner Arnulfo Garcia, a California state prisoner proceeding pro se, 17 filed the above-titled petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, in which he 18 challenges the constitutional validity of his conviction. In response to the Court’s order directing 19 respondent to show cause as to why relief should not be granted, respondent has filed an answer. 20 Petitioner has filed a traverse. Having reviewed the briefs and the underlying record, the Court 21 concludes petitioner is not entitled to relief based on the claims presented and, accordingly, will 22 deny the petition. 23 24 BACKGROUND In 2002, a Santa Clara Superior Court jury convicted petitioner of first-degree burglary (Cal. 25 Pen. Code § 459), use and possession of heroin (Cal. Health. & Saf. Code § 11350), being a felon in 26 possession of a firearm (Cal. Pen. Code § 12021.1), and failure to appear while released on bail (id. 27 § 1320.5). (Ans. Ex. 6 (People v. Garcia, No. H025734, 2004 WL 2185706 (Cal. Ct. App. Sept. 29, 28 2004)) at 1.) In a separate proceeding, the trial court found true allegations that petitioner had Dockets.Justia.com 1 suffered ten prior convictions within the meaning of Three Strikes (Cal. Pen. Code §§ 667(b)–(i) & 2 1170.12), four prior serious felony convictions for purposes of five-year sentencing enhancements, 3 and three prior prison terms for purposes of one-year sentencing enhancements. (Ans. Ex. 6 at 1.) 4 The trial court sentenced petitioner to a total term of sixty-five years-to-life in state prison. (Id. at 5 1–2.) 6 The state appellate court summarized the facts of the case as follows: 7 Robin DeLeeuw returned to her home, found the doors open, and saw [petitioner] walking toward a parked pickup truck carrying her husband’s rifle. She noted the truck’s license number and called the police. She inspected her home, saw open drawers, and concluded that two jewelry boxes were missing. San Jose Police Lieutenant Michael Sterner saw the truck as he was responding to DeLeeuw’s call. He followed the truck to a residence and saw [petitioner] park and run toward the home. After backup officers arrived, he knocked at the front door and explained to the answering resident that he was investigating a burglary. The resident denied that anyone else was in the home and allowed the officers to search. Officers found [petitioner] in a closet sweating profusely and under the influence of heroin. They also found black tar heroin in the adjacent room. They found the rifle, jewelry boxes, and other items belonging to DeLeeuw in the truck. They brought DeLeeuw to the residence, and DeLeeuw identified [petitioner]. 8 9 11 For the Northern District of California United States District Court 10 12 13 14 (Id. at 2.) 15 Petitioner appealed his convictions. The California Court of Appeal for the Sixth Appellate 16 District affirmed the judgment in 2004. (Id. at 2.) The California Supreme Court thereafter denied 17 petitioner’s petition for review. (Id. at 3.) Petitioner did not file a state habeas petition in 18 connection with the convictions at issue herein. (Pet. at 4–5.) 19 As grounds for federal habeas relief, petitioner alleges that (1) the admission of evidence of 20 his prior convictions, in lieu of acceptance of a stipulation regarding such convictions, violated his 21 right to due process; (2) his conviction for failure to appear violated his right to due process; and 22 (3) his sentence violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. 23 (Order to Show Cause at 2.) DISCUSSION 24 25 A. Standard of Review 26 This Court may entertain a petition for a writ of habeas corpus “in behalf of a person in 27 custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in 28 violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); Rose v. 2 1 Hodges, 423 U.S. 19, 21 (1975). 2 A district court may not grant a petition challenging a state conviction or sentence on the 3 basis of a claim that was reviewed on the merits in state court unless the state court’s adjudication of 4 the claim: “(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application 5 of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or 6 (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the 7 evidence presented in the State court proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); Williams v. Taylor, 529 8 U.S. 362, 412–13 (2000). A federal court must presume the correctness of the state court’s factual 9 findings. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). Habeas relief is warranted only if the constitutional error at issue 11 Johnson, 532 U.S. 782, 796 (2001). For the Northern District of California United States District Court 10 had a “‘substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury’s verdict.’” Penry v. 12 The state court decision implicated by 2254(d) is the “last reasoned decision” of the state 13 court. See Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 803–04 (1991); Barker v. Fleming, 423 F.3d 1085, 14 1091–92 (9th Cir. 2005). When there is no reasoned opinion from the highest state court to have 15 considered the petitioner’s claims, the district court looks to the last reasoned state court opinion, 16 which, in this case, is the California Court of Appeal’s opinion affirming the trial court’s judgment. 17 (Ans Ex. E); See Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. at 801–06; Shackleford v. Hubbard, 234 F.3d 1072, 1079 18 n.2 (9th Cir. 2000). 19 B. Petitioner’s Claims 20 1. 21 Petitioner claims the trial court violated his right to due process by admitting evidence of his Admission of Evidence of a Prior Conviction 22 prior robbery conviction.1 (Pet. at 10.) 23 The facts underlying this claim were summarized by the state appellate court as follows: 24 Before trial, the trial court bifurcated trial on all of the prior convictions. [Petitioner] then offered to stipulate that he had suffered a prior robbery conviction “for purposes of proof of the elements of the [section] 12021.1 violation only.” The prosecutor 25 26 1 Petitioner claims the trial court violated his constitutional rights by refusing to allow him to stipulate to such conviction for the limited purpose of proving the prior-felony 28 element of section 12021.1. (Pet. at 9.) Petitioner, however, has not shown the trial court’s ruling gives rise to a cognizable federal habeas claim. 27 3 1 2 3 4 5 took the position that “once he admits it, he’s admitted it for all purposes.” [Petitioner] then stated that he was not admitting a robbery conviction “for purposes of proving that it’s a strike.” The trial court explained that it could not compel the prosecutor to accept a limited stipulation. During voir dire, the prosecutor mentioned that [petitioner] would probably stipulate to his ex-felon status. But, after further arguments on the issue, [petitioner] declined to stipulate. During trial, the prosecutor introduced documentary evidence showing [petitioner’s] prior conviction for robbery and the trial court instructed the jury that it was not to consider the conviction for any purpose other than ex-felon status. 6 (Ans. Ex. 6 at 3.) 7 The state appellate court found the trial court committed error under California law by admitting the 8 evidence, but further found petitioner had suffered no prejudice thereby under either state or federal 9 law. (Id. at 3, 5–6.) Permitting a jury to hear evidence of prior crimes or bad acts may violate due process. See 11 Marshall v. Lonberger, 459 U.S. 422, 438–39 n.6 (1983). A state court’s procedural or evidentiary For the Northern District of California United States District Court 10 12 ruling is not subject to federal habeas review, however, unless the ruling violates federal law, either 13 by violating a specific federal constitutional or statutory provision or by depriving the defendant of 14 the fundamentally fair trial guaranteed by due process. See Pulley v. Harris, 465 U.S. 37, 41 (1984); 15 Jammal v. Van de Kamp, 926 F.2d 918, 919–20 (9th Cir. 1991). Accordingly, a federal court cannot 16 disturb on due process grounds a state court’s decision to admit evidence of prior crimes or bad acts 17 unless the admission of the evidence was arbitrary or so prejudicial that it rendered the trial 18 fundamentally unfair. See Walters v. Maass, 45 F.3d 1355, 1357 (9th Cir. 1995). Put another way, 19 the admission of other crimes evidence violates due process where there are no permissible 20 inferences the jury can draw from the evidence. See McKinney v. Rees, 993 F.2d 1378, 1384 (9th 21 Cir. 1993); Jammal, 926 F.2d at 920. 22 Applying the above legal principles to the instant matter, the Court finds petitioner’s claim is 23 without merit, because the fact of his having suffered a prior felony conviction was an element of a 24 charged offense and, as such, was properly admitted. Specifically, the prosecutor had charged 25 petitioner with being a felon in possession of a firearm (Cal. Pen. Code § 12021.1).2 One of the 26 27 28 2 California Penal Code § 12021.1 reads in relevant part: “[A]ny person who has been previously convicted of any of the offenses listed in subdivision (b) and who owns or has in his or her possession or under his or her custody or control any firearm is guilty of a felony.” Cal. Pen. Code §§ 12021.1(a), 12021.1(b)(18). 4 1 elements of such charge is that of being a felon, which, in petitioner’s case, is satisfied by his prior 2 conviction for robbery (id. § 12021.1(b)(18)), evidence of which the prosecutor introduced at trial. 3 Consequently, the jury was entitled to draw the permissible inference that petitioner was a felon. 4 Further, the trial court instructed the jury that this evidence was to be considered for no purpose 5 other than to show that petitioner was a felon. Without evidence to the contrary, this Court must 6 assume the jury followed such instructions. See Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U.S. 200, 206 (1987). 7 Given such circumstances, the Court finds petitioner’s due process rights were not infringed. Even 8 assuming, arguendo, that the evidence was improperly admitted to the extent the jury was apprised 9 of the particular nature of the prior felony, however, the Court finds petitioner has not demonstrated 11 petitioner was strong, including an unequivocal eyewitness identification and the retrieval of the For the Northern District of California United States District Court 10 that he suffered prejudice or otherwise was denied a fundamentally fair trial. The evidence against 12 stolen items from the truck petitioner was seen driving at the time of the burglary. 13 Accordingly, petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief on this claim. 14 2. 15 Petitioner challenges his conviction for failure to appear (Cal. Pen. Code § 1320.5), as set Failure to Appear 16 forth in the two claims discussed below. 17 18 (a.) Sufficiency of Evidence Petitioner claims his conviction for failing to appear in court was not supported by sufficient 19 evidence, in violation of his right to due process. More specifically, petitioner contends § 1320.5 20 requires he have knowledge that he was to appear in court on a specific date. Petitioner asserts he 21 had no such knowledge, and that no evidence was presented at trial demonstrating such knowledge. 22 (Pet. at 19–20.) 23 The state appellate court found no merit in petitioner’s claim: 24 [T]he purpose element [of willful failure to appear in order to evade the court’s process] in section 1320.5 satisfies the mens rea requirement. It is therefore unnecessary to construe a knowledge-element mens rea into section 1320.5 to comport with due process principles. A defendant is certainly free to defend a section-1320.5 charge by proving lack of knowledge. But there is no due-process necessity to require the People to affirmatively prove knowledge when they must affirmatively prove purpose. 25 26 27 28 (Ans. Ex. 6 at 11.) 5 1 At trial, the prosecutor presented evidence of the following: (1) a trial calendar status 2 hearing regarding petitioner’s detention was held on April 5, 1999, at which hearing petitioner’s 3 counsel, but not petitioner, was present; (2) at the hearing, a bail amount was determined; (3) 4 petitioner was released on bail; (4) petitioner did not appear in court on April 12, 1999, his bail was 5 revoked and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest.3 (Ans. Ex. Ex. 2, Vol. 2 (Reporter’s 6 Transcript Oct. 30, 2001) at 273–74, 311–12.) 7 In California, “[w]illful failure” to appear in court as required after release on bail is a crime. 8 See Cal. Pen. Code §1320.5.4 Proof of a violation of this statute requires a showing that a defendant 9 has been charged with a felony, has been released on bail, and willfully failed to appear in court with 11 1988). For the Northern District of California United States District Court 10 the intent to evade the court’s process. People v. Wesley, 198 Cal. App. 3d 519 (Cal. Ct. App. 12 A federal court reviewing collaterally a state court conviction does not determine whether it 13 is satisfied that the evidence established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Payne v. Borg, 982 F.2d 14 335, 338 (9th Cir. 1992). Rather, the federal court “determines only whether, ‘after viewing the 15 evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the 16 essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.’” See id. (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 17 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979)). Only if no rational trier of fact could have found proof of guilt beyond a 18 reasonable doubt, may the writ be granted. See Jackson, 443 U.S. at 324. 19 Applying the above-referenced legal principles to the instant matter, the Court finds 20 petitioner’s claim is without merit, because petitioner’s knowledge of a specific court date is not an 21 element of the statute. As the Ninth Circuit held in Payne v. Borg, a reviewing federal habeas court 22 23 3 24 4 Petitioner’s attorney appeared on April 12, 1999. California Penal Code § 1320.5 reads in full: “Every person who is charged with or 25 convicted of the commission of a felony, who is released from custody on bail, and who in order to evade the process of the court willfully fails to appear as required, is guilty of a felony. Upon a 26 conviction under this section, the person shall be punished by a fine not exceeding ten thousand 27 28 dollars ($10,000) or by imprisonment in the state prison, or in the county jail for not more than one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment. Willful failure to appear within 14 days of the date assigned for appearance may be found to have been for the purpose of evading the process of the court.” 6 1 is solely concerned with whether any rational trier of fact could find the essential “elements” of a 2 crime beyond a reasonable doubt. See Payne v. Borg, 982 F.2d at 338. At trial, the prosecutor 3 presented evidence that petitioner was released on bail, and that he failed to return to court; a 4 reasonable juror could find petitioner’s acts satisfied the elements of § 1320.5. In particular, from 5 such evidence, a reasonable juror could infer that petitioner willfully evaded the court’s process by 6 failing to appear in court. Based on this record, the Court cannot say that no rational trier of fact 7 could find petitioner was guilty of the charged offense beyond a reasonable doubt. 8 9 (b.) Instructions to Jury Petitioner also contends the trial violated his constitutional rights by failing to instruct the 11 Petitioner further contends the trial court failed to give a special jury instruction, offered by the For the Northern District of California United States District Court 10 jury that it had to find petitioner knew he was required to be in court on April 12, 2001. (Pet. at 23.) 12 defense, that the jury had to find petitioner had actual knowledge that his appearance in court was 13 required at a specific time and place. (Pet. at 29; Ans. Ex. 2, Vol. 2 at 244– 245, 253.) 14 A state trial court’s refusal to give an instruction does not alone raise a ground cognizable in 15 a federal habeas corpus proceeding. See Dunckhurst v. Deeds, 859 F.2d 110, 114 (9th Cir. 1988). 16 The error must so infect the trial that the defendant was deprived of the fair trial guaranteed by the 17 Fourteenth Amendment. See id. 18 Here, petitioner’s claim fails for the same reason his earlier claim respecting this issue fails, 19 specifically, there is no knowledge element in the statute. Consequently, the trial court correctly 20 instructed the jury on the elements of the offense, and, as discussed above, the prosecutor presented 21 sufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Consequently, 22 petitioner has not shown the trial court’s refusal to give the defense’s requested instruction deprived 23 him of a fair trial. 24 Accordingly, petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief on this claim. 25 4. 26 Petitioner, whose multiple prior “strikes” were used to calculate his sentence, claims his Sentence 27 sentence of sixty-five years-to-life in prison violates the Eighth Amendment. Petitioner bases this 28 claim on the trial court’s refusal of petitioner’s requests that his felony conviction under § 1320.5 be 7 1 reduced to a misdemeanor and that his prior convictions be stricken. (Pet. at 35; Ans. Ex. 2, Vol. 3 2 at 401–02, 554–56.) 3 A criminal sentence that is not proportionate to the crime for which the defendant was 4 convicted violates the Eighth Amendment. Solem v. Helm, 463 U.S. 277, 303 (1983). “[O]utside 5 the context of capital punishment,” however, “successful challenges to the proportionality of 6 particular sentences will be exceedingly rare.” Id. at 289–90. “The Eighth Amendment does not 7 require strict proportionality between crime and sentence. Rather, it forbids only extreme sentences 8 that are ‘grossly disproportionate’ to the crime.” Ewing v. California, 538 U.S. 11, 23 (2003). 9 A challenge to the proportionality of a sentence is analyzed using objective criteria, 11 imposed on other criminals in the same jurisdiction; and (3) a comparison of sentences imposed for For the Northern District of California United States District Court 10 including: (1) the gravity of the offense and harshness of the penalty; (2) a comparison of sentences 12 the same crime in other jurisdictions. Solem, 463 U.S. at 290–92. Where, however, it cannot be 13 said as a threshold matter that the crime committed and the sentence imposed are grossly 14 disproportionate, it is not appropriate for the court to engage in a comparative analysis of the 15 sentence received by the defendant and the sentences received by other defendants in other cases. 16 See United States v. Harris, 154 F.3d 1082, 1084 (9th Cir. 1998). 17 In the instant case, petitioner’s claim is without merit. First, petitioner has not shown the 18 trial court’s refusal, either to reduce a felony to a misdemeanor or to strike his prior convictions, is a 19 cognizable federal habeas claim. Second, petitioner’s contention that his sentence is grossly 20 disproportionate in violation of the Eighth Amendment is essentially foreclosed by the Supreme 21 Court’s decisions in Ewing and Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63 (2003). As the Supreme Court 22 observed in Andrade, Eighth Amendment jurisprudence “gives legislatures broad discretion to 23 fashion a sentence that fits within the scope of the proportionality principle — the precise contours 24 of which are unclear.” Andrade, 538 U.S. at 76 (internal quotations and citations omitted). 25 Consistent with such deference, the Supreme Court, in each of those cases, upheld the application of 26 California’s “Three Strikes” law to non-violent theft crimes. Andrade’s final commitment offense, 27 for example, was his theft of videotapes from two stores, the total value of such merchandise being 28 $150. Id., 538 U.S. at 66. Because Andrade had a prior misdemeanor conviction, he was charged 8 1 with two felony counts of petty theft. Id. at 67–68. After conviction, the trial court sentenced 2 Andrade to two consecutive terms of twenty-five years to life under the Three Strikes law, a 3 sentence the Supreme Court upheld as constitutional. Id. at 77. 4 If Andrade’s sentence of fifty years for stealing videotapes passes constitutional muster, 5 petitioner’s sentence of sixty-five years for residential burglary cannot be said to be unconstitutional. 6 Put another way, in light of such authority, petitioner has not established his sentence was grossly 7 disproportionate to his crimes. Because petitioner has not made the threshold showing that his 8 sentence is grossly disproportionate to his crimes, this Court’s analysis is at an end. See Harris, 154 9 F.3d at 1084. Accordingly, petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief on this claim. 11 For the Northern District of California United States District Court 10 12 CONCLUSION As to each of petitioner’s claims, the Court concludes the state court’s determinations were 13 neither contrary to, nor unreasonable applications of, clearly established Supreme Court precedent, 14 nor were they based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented. 15 Accordingly, the petition for a writ of habeas corpus is hereby DENIED. 16 The Clerk shall enter judgment and close the file. 17 IT IS SO ORDERED. 18 DATED: December 19, 2008 19 20 _________________________ MAXINE M. CHESNEY United States District Judge 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 9