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BROWN v. GARCIA

December 5, 2002

MENDES STANLEY BROWN, PETITIONER,
V.
SILVIA GARCIA, WARDEN, CALIFORNIA CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION AT CALIPATRIA, RESPONDENT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thelton E. Henderson, United States District Judge

ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Petitioner, Mendes Stanley Brown, has petitioned for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Brown seeks an order vacating his murder conviction and sentence of imprisonment for life without parole on grounds that the selection of the grand jury foreperson violated his equal protection and due process rights under the United States Constitution. Specifically, Brown, an African-American, alleges that his rights were violated because no Chinese-Americans, Filipino-Americans or Hispanic-Americans had served as foreperson of a San Francisco indictment grand jury for the 36-year period from 1960 to 1996. While the length of this period is troubling, the Court concludes, for the reasons discussed below, that Brown's habeas petition must nonetheless be denied.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On May 11, 1995, a San Francisco grand jury returned an indictment against Brown charging him with first degree murder with use of a firearm and use of a deadly weapon, robbery and burglary with use of a firearm and being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm. Brown sought to quash the indictment based on the grounds that the selection of the grand jury foreperson violated his right to equal protection and due process under the United States Constitution. After ten days of hearings, the trial court denied that motion.

The court ruled that, for equal protection purposes, Brown had established a prima facie showing of discriminatory purpose in the exclusion of Chinese-Americans and Hispanic-Americans from the position of grand jury foreperson. Nonetheless the court found that the presumption of improper purpose had been overcome by the city because its "selection criteria and procedures are racially neutral and do not present an opportunity for discrimination." People v. Brown, 75 Cal.App.4th 916, 921 (1999).

Similarly, the trial court held that Brown was not denied due process because any discrimination which may have occurred during the selection of the grand jury foreperson was "not so significant" as to impugn the fairness of the process and thereby "undermine the integrity of the indictment." Id. Brown subsequently waived his right to a jury trial and was found guilty by the court on all counts and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Brown appealed his convictions on the same grounds as his motion to quash. The appellate court affirmed the decision of the trial court. Brown, 75 Cal.App.4th 916 (1999).

In its equal protection analysis, the appellate court held that Brown, an African-American, had standing to challenge the exclusion of other cognizable groups (Chinese- and Hispanic-Americans) from the position of grand jury forepersons. Id. at 922 (citing Campbell v. Louisiana, 523 U.S. 392 (1998)). The court further found that Brown had made a prima facie showing of discrimination under Castaneda's three-prong test. Id. at 924 (citing Castaneda v. Partida, 430 U.S. 482, 494-495 (1977)). Specifically, the court found that (1) Hispanic and Chinese-Americans were a cognizable class, (2) the statistical evidence presented demonstrated substantial under representation of Hispanic or Chinese-American grand jury forepersons over 36 years, and (3) Brown "contended that the selection of the foreperson was susceptible of manipulation for a nonracially neutral outcome because the presiding judge makes his or her selection after conducting voir dire of the prospective jurors and thus after having an opportunity to observe the jurors and note their race or ethnicity." Id. at 924-925.

The appellate court held, however, that the City had successfully rebutted the prima facie case. The appellate court found that the testimony of a nondiscriminatory purpose could be given greater weight because it came not from the selector (the Judge), but from the district attorney and a court executive officer who acted as grand juror advisors. Id. at 926. Additionally, the court found "relevant that in this case the forepersons were not selected by a single judge using his or her criteria; thus whatever pattern emerged from the aggregate outcome of all the San Francisco foreperson selections could obscure the variables involved in each discrete selection." Id. The court also found relevant that the criteria used to select forepersons were "specific and job related." Id.

The appellate court thereafter addressed Brown's due process challenge. The court held that Brown had standing to raise the due process claim. Id. at 929 (citing Campbell, 523 U.S. 392, 401 (1998)). Nevertheless, the court found that Brown had failed to show any actual prejudice and denied the claim under a harmless error analysis. Id. at 930 (citing People v. Corona, 211 Cal.App.3d 529, 537 (1989)). Brown's Petition for Writ of Certiorari in the United States Supreme Court was denied. Brown v. California. 531 U.S. 830 (2000).

JURISDICTION AND VENUE

This court has subject matter jurisdiction over this habeas action for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, 28 U.S.C. § 1331. This action is in the proper venue because the challenged conviction occurred in San Francisco County, California, which is located within this judicial district. 28 U.S.C. § 2241(d).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

This court may entertain a petition for writ of habeas corpus "in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). The petition may not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the state court's adjudication of the claim: "(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); see Williams (Terry) v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000).

EXHAUSTION

Prisoners in state custody who wish to challenge collaterally in federal habeas proceedings either the fact or length of their confinement are required first to exhaust state judicial remedies, either on direct appeal or through collateral proceedings. They must present the highest state court available with a fair opportunity to rule on the merits of each and every claim they seek to raise in federal court. See 28 U.S.C. ยง ...


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