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GARCIA v. RUNNELS

United States District Court, Northern District of California


April 1, 2003

JOSE RODRIGUEZ GARCIA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
D.L. RUNNELS, WARDEN, DEFENDANT

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles R. Breyer, United States District Judge.

ORDER

Petitioner Jose Rodriguez Garcia was convicted by a jury in the Superior Court of the State of California in and for the County of Santa Clara of forcible rape, forcible sodomy, two counts of penetration by a foreign object, felony sexual battery, and possession of cocaine. The first four counts carried allegations of kidnaping pursuant to the "one strike law." He was sentenced to an indeterminate term of 25 years to life for the forcible rape count, a consecutive sentence of 2 years was imposed on the possession of cocaine count. The mid-term of six years was imposed on the remaining counts to run concurrently to the twenty-seven years to life sentence. Petitioner unsuccessfully appealed his conviction to the California Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of California, which on February 21, 2001 denied review of a petition allegedly raising the same claims raised here.

Petitioner then filed the instant pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Per order filed on August 6, 2002, the court found that the petition stated several cognizable claims of improper admission of evidence and instructional error under § 2254 and ordered respondent to show cause why a writ of habeas corpus should not be granted. Respondent filed an answer to the order to show cause. Petitioner did not file a traverse.

BACKGROUND

The California Court of Appeal summarized the facts of the case as follows:

At approximately 4:40 a.m. on October 4, 1998, Perla Doe was walking to work on Plum Street in San Jose when defendant approached on a bicycle and grabbed her. Perla screamed and struggled to get away. Defendant grabbed Perla's neck, ordered her to walk, and forced her into an alley. Defendant threatened to kill his victim if she failed to walk.
Perla's screams awakened a neighbor, Elvia U. Elvia looked out her window and saw a man and woman struggling on the sidewalk. As the woman pushed the man off of her, the man grabbed her with a headlock. The man then forced the woman into the alley. Elvia called 911.
From the alley, Perla was taken into a carport. Defendant forced her between two cars and asked her to take off her shirt and bra. Defendant removed her pants. Defendant pushed Perla to the ground and tried to have intercourse with her. Not having an erection, defendant only penetrated "a bit."
Defendant then asked Perla to orally copulate him. She refused. When defendant placed his penis in Perla's mouth and threatened to kill her, she complied. While being orally copulated, defendant inserted his fingers into Perla's vagina and anus "a little bit."
Officer James Lisius responded to the 911 call placed by Elvia. When he arrived, he saw a bicycle on Plum Street. After speaking with another officer, Lisius drove into the alley behind Plum Street with his headlights on and a spotlight in hand. When he heard a scream, he left his car, ran towards a carport from which he saw a suspect fleeing, and chased after the man. After losing sight of the man a couple of times, Lisius saw defendant in a stooped position against a wall. Lisius concluded that it was the same person he had been chasing because he wore the same dark jacket and was breathing hard. When Lisius took him into custody defendant's pants were unzipped, and his shirt was not tucked in correctly in front.
The police brought Perla to where defendant was detained for possible identification. When she first saw defendant, she did not think he was her assailant. However, as she got closer to him she decided he was the man who attacked her.
Perla was taken to the hospital for a sexual assault examination. During the physical examination, no tears, bruising or other injuries were found on the victim's vagina or rectum. Scratches to the face, an abrasion of the right elbow, and a missing clump of hair were observed.
Tests were also performed on the physical evidence taken from defendant. Fingernail scrapings from defendant's SART kit tested presumptively positive for blood. No sperm were found on a penile swab taken from defendant. However, high levels of amylase, which indicates the possible presence of saliva, were detected form the penile swab. DNA testing was not performed on the blood or amylase to determine whether either came from Perla.
In a search incident to his arrest, a small bag of cocaine was found in defendant's pocket. A blood sample that was taken from defendant at the time of his arrest showed the presence of cocaine and .09 percent alcohol.
Defendant presented no evidence. Defense counsel argued that the prosecution had not proved that defendant was the person who committed the assault against Perla. Counsel asserted that, at most, the prosecution had only proven attempted rape and attempted penetration with a foreign object.
People v. Garcia, No. H020041, slip op. at 2-3 (Cal. Ct. App. Dec. 14, 2000) (Resp't Ex. A).

DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

This court may entertain a petition for a 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 writ 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." Id. sec; 2254(d).

"Under the `contrary to' clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000). "Under the `reasonable application clause,' a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case." Id. at 413.

An unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of federal law. Id. at 410. "[A] federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because the court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather, that application must also be unreasonable." Id. at 411. A federal habeas court making the "unreasonable application" inquiry should ask whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law was "objectively unreasonable." Id. at 409.

B. Legal Claims

Petitioner raised three claims for relief: (1) the trial court erroneously admitted fingernail scrapings for which a proper chain of custody was not shown; (2) the trial court erroneously gave solely oral jury instructions; and (3) the trial court erroneously refused to instruct on voluntary intoxication.

Respondent contends that none of the claims warrant federal habeas relief

1. Erroneous admission of evidence

Petitioner claims that the trial court erred in admitting evidence regarding the fingernail scrapings, because there was no foundation laid that the scrapings had been taken from defendant and the chain of custody was not established. The claim is without merit.

The admission of evidence is not subject to federal habeas review unless a specific constitutional guarantee is violated or the error is of such magnitude that the result is a denial of the fundamentally fair trial guaranteed by due process. See Henry v. Kernan, 197 F.3d 1021, 1031 (9th Cir. 1999); Colley v. Sumner, 784 F.2d 984, 990 (9th Cir. 1986). Failure to comply with state rules of evidence is neither a necessary nor a sufficient basis for granting federal habeas relief on due process grounds. See Henry, 197 F.3d at 1031; Jammal v. Van de Kamp, 926 F.2d 918, 919 (9th Cir. 1991). While adherence to state evidentiary rules suggests that the trial was conducted in a procedurally fair manner, it is certainly possible to have a fair trial even when state standards are violated; conversely, state procedural and evidentiary rules may countenance processes that do not comport with fundamental fairness. See id. The due process inquiry in federal habeas review is whether the admission of evidence was arbitrary or so prejudicial that it rendered the trial fundamentally unfair. See Walters v. Maass, 5 F.3d 1355, 1357 (9th Cir. 1995); Colley, 784 F.2d at 990.

In order to obtain habeas relief on the basis of an evidentiary error, a petitioner must show that the error was one of constitutional dimension and that is was not harmless under Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619 (1993). He must show that the error had "a substantial and injurious `effect on the verdict.'" Dillard v. Roe, 244 F.3d 758, 767 n. 7 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting Brecht, 507 U.S. at 623).

The California Court of Appeal found that enough custody had been shown and rejected petitioner's claim. The court explained that at trial it was shown that the fingernail scrapings were in the same evidence kit as other evidence for which chain of custody was established with direct evidence. Garcia, slip op. at 4-5. Further, there was no suggestion that the nail scrapings had been altered or tampered with. Id. Under such circumstances the court concluded that it was totally proper to admit the evidence. Id. The California Court of Appeal's rejection of petitioner's claim cannot be said to be contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (d). The introduction of the fingernail scrapings was neither arbitrary or so prejudicial as to implicate due process. See Walters, 45 F.3d at 1357.

And even if there was an error, there is no showing that the error was prejudicial. The record instead shows that there was overwhelming evidence to support petitioner's conviction: The victim identified petitioner as her assailant, a neighbor called 911 after seeing the two struggling, a police officer testified that he heard a scream and chased petitioner until he caught him with his pants unzipped and shirt improperly tucked in, scratches to the victim's face, an abrasion of her right elbow, a missing clump of hair in a hospital sexual assault examination, and the victim's trial testimony regarding the respondent's criminal conduct. See People v. Garcia, slip op. at 2-3. It simply cannot be said that any error resulting from the introduction of the fingernail scrapings had a substantial injurious effect on the verdict. See Brecht, 507 U.S. at 637. Petitioner is not entitled to federal habeas relief on this claim.

2. Jury instruction

Petitioner claims that the trial court denied his due process right to a fair trial because the judge gave certain oral introductory instructions to the jurors and did not repeat them at the close of trial and never provided written instructions. The claim is without merit.

Prior to opening statements and the presentation of evidence, the trial court preinstructed the jury with general instructions on circumstantial evidence, credibility of witnesses, and inconsistent statements of witnesses and informed the jury that it would have the "instructions in written form in the jury room to refer to during your deliberations." None of these in introductory instructions were included in either the final oral instructions or the written instructions given to the jury. Petitioner claims that these omissions constitute prejudicial error and denied his due process right to a fair trial.

To obtain federal collateral relief for errors in the jury charge, a petitioner must show that the ailing instruction by itself so infected the entire trial that the resulting conviction violates due process. See Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 72 (1991). The instruction may not be judged in artificial isolation, but must be considered in the context of the instructions as a whole and the trial record. Id. In other words, the court must evaluate jury instructions in the context of the overall charge to the jury as a component of the entire trial process. United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 169 (1982) (citing Henderson v. Kibbe, 431 U.S. 145, 154 (1977)). The court must inquire whether there is a "reasonable likelihood" that the jury has applied the challenged instruction in a way that violates the Constitution. See Estelle, 502 U.S. at 72 & n. 4. A determination that there is a reasonable likelihood that the jury has applied the challenged instruction in a way that violates the Constitution establishes only than an error has occurred. See Calderon v. Coleman, 525 U.S. 141, 146 (1998). If an error is found, the court also must determine that the error had a substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict, before granting habeas relief. See Calderon, 525 U.S. at 146 (citing Brecht, 507 U.S. at 637).

The California Court of Appeal rejected petitioner's claim. The court noted that under California law, the timing of the giving of jury instructions is a matter within the discretion of the trial court. Garcia, slip op. at 5-6. Additionally, there was no need to reinstruct here because there was no evidence of juror confusion. See id. at 6. Nor was there a need for written instructions because neither the federal nor the state constitution requires them and, in any event, petitioner did not request them.

As the California Court of Appeal correctly noted, petitioner puts forth no evidence that the instructions, albeit it oral, were applied improperly. Nor has he shown that, even if there was some ambiguity resulting from the solely oral instruction, the error so infected the entire trial that the resulting conviction violated his right to due process. See Estelle, 502 U.S. at 72. In addition, he does not demonstrate prejudice by demonstrating that the alleged "error, in the whole context of the particular case, had a substantial and injurious effect or influence on the jury's verdict." Brecht, 507 U.S. at 637.

The California Court of Appeal's rejection of petitioner's claim was neither contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (d). Petitioner is not entitled to federal habeas relief on this claim.

3. Refusal to give voluntary intoxication instruction

Petitioner claims that the refusal to give a voluntary intoxication instruction to the jury constituted a denial of due process. The claim is without merit.

A state trial court's refusal to give an instruction does not alone raise a ground cognizable in a federal habeas corpus proceeding. See Dunckhurst v. Deeds, 859 F.2d 110, 114 (9th Cir. 1988). The error must so infect the trial that the defendant was deprived of the fair trial guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. See id.

Here, the parties stipulated that at 7:50 a.m. on October 4, 1998, petitioner's blood alcohol level was .09. In addition, a criminalist testified that his blood contained .041 micrograms per milliliter of cocaine, and .263 micrograms per milliliter of cocaine metabolites. Nevertheless, the court refused petitioner's request to instruct the jury on voluntary intoxication. Petitioner contends the court erred in making this ruling, because there was an evidentiary basis for the instruction and he was charged with specific intent crimes. The California Court of Appeal acknowledged that there was evidence petitioner had used alcohol and cocaine but nonetheless rejected petitioner's claim on the ground that there was no substantial evidence showing petitioner's capacity to form the requisite intent was significantly diminished. Garcia, slip op. at 7-8. The court explained:

A criminal defendant is entitled, on request, to an instruction pinpointing the theory of his defense. An instruction relating intoxication to any mental [state is one type of pinpoint instruction. Such an instruction is required to be given upon request when there is evidence supportive of the theory. The rejection of a diminished capacity instruction is error only if there is substantial evidence supporting the defense, i.e., evidence from which a reasonable juror could conclude that defendant's mental capacity was so reduced or impaired as to negate the required criminal intent.
In the present case, there was no evidence of alcohol or drug effects on defendant. Perla did not smell alcohol during the attack. The arresting officer testified that defendant did not appear to be intoxicated; nor did he act strange or unusual when he was taken into custody. As the trial court observed, there was no mention of intoxication. In the absence of a showing of diminished capacity, the trial court properly rejected the request for a voluntary intoxication instruction.
Garcia, slip op. at 7-8 (internal citations and quotations omitted) (emphasis added).

The California Court of Appeal's rejection of petitioner's claim was not contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (d). The state appellate court reasonably concluded that the requested intoxication instruction was not required because there was no substantial evidence of intoxication as required under California law. Accord Hopper v. Evans, 456 U.S. 605, 611 (1982) (due process does not require that an instruction be given unless the evidence supports it). Even if the court agreed with petitioner that there was sufficient evidence to merit the requested voluntary intoxication/diminished capacity instruction, "it is at least reasonable to conclude that there was not, which means that the state court's determination to that effect must stand." Early v. Packer, 123 S.Ct. 362, 366 (2002).

CONCLUSION

After a careful review of the record and relevant cases, the court is satisfied that the petition for a writ of habeas corpus should be DENIED.

The clerk shall enter judgment in favor of close the file.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

JUDGMENT IN A CIVIL CASE

(X) Decision by Court. This action came to trial or hearing before the Court. The issues have been tried or heard and a decision has been rendered.

IT IS SO ORDERED AND ADJUDGED.

20030401

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