The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES BREYER, District Judge
Petitioner Juan A. Merced ("Merced") has filed a petition for a writ
of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Merced was convicted
by a jury for attempted premeditated murder of a peace officer involving
the personal use of a firearm and being a post convicted felon in
possession of a firearm. After finding true allegations that Merced had
eight prior felony convictions, the trial court sentenced Merced to state
prison for a total term of sixty five years to life. The
California Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. The California Supreme
Court denied review. Upon receipt of Merced's petition, the court issued
an order to show cause why a writ of habeas corpus should not be granted.
Respondent filed an answer to the order to show cause, and petitioner
filed a timely traverse. Having reviewed the memoranda submitted by the
parties, the Court DENIES petitioner's writ of habeas corpus.
Merced was first tried in February and March 1999. His first trial was
declared a mistrial after the jury was unable to reach a unanimous
verdict. Merced was retried beginning in June 1999. At his second trial,
Merced was convicted on the attempted murder and possession of a firearm
charges. At the beginning of the second trial, the parties stipulated
that all rulings on pretrial motions in the first trial would be apply in
the second trial. None of the petitioner's claims for habeas relief arise
out of the first trial. Therefore, except for that part of the record
relating to the first trial court's denial of Merced's pretrial motion to
strike his prior convictions, this Court was not required to review the
On September 24, 1996, Officer Christopher Crabtree was on patrol. He
noticed a black male, around twenty five to thirty years
old, five feet ten inches to six feet tall, about
200 pounds wearing a thick blue puffy jacket and a blue cap, walking with
another man near Niles Market in Oakland. A bottle in one hand and a cup
in the other, the man appeared to be drinking. Crabtree saw him brush up
against a lady with small children. He stopped and got out of his patrol
car to investigate. He asked the man for identification. The man handed
him a Gold Star check cashing card with a name, "Juan Merced,"
and a picture. Crabtree radioed police dispatch that he was "Code Four,"
indicating he did not need assistance. Then, seeing the man reach under
his shirt, Crabtree grabbed at the area where the man was reaching. He
felt a gun. Failing to wrest it away, Crabtree backed up and reached for
his own gun. As he did so, the man said "Don't do it, motherfucker"
several times, pointed his gun at Crabtree, and pulled the trigger. The
gun misfired. Crabtree sought cover behind his patrol car. The man fired
at him, grazing his head. They exchanged gunfire and the man
fled. Crabtree saw him run down 23rd Avenue and turn left on East 15th
Street, but then lost sight of him. He went back to his car. He picked up
the check cashing card, which was laying on the ground where he
had dropped it. He radioed in the name on the card, "Juan Merced," and a
description of the suspect.
Shortly after hearing shots, Sophia Jones, who lived in an apartment
building at 2312
East 15th Street, saw Merced run into her building. A friend,
Tamika Madison, who had been in Jones' apartment on the second floor,
came out and told Jones that Merced wanted her and that he had a gun. The
police subsequently surrounded the building. Officer Mark Neely was shown
the Gold Star check cashing card by another officer. He, then,
entered the building. He went to Jones' apartment on the second floor and
knocked on the door. A shirtless Merced answered. He told Neely his name
was Reggie Freeman. When the officer asked him if he knew "Juan Merced,"
he said "Juan" was his brother. After comparing the photograph on the
card to Merced, Officer Neely arrested him. The officer also picked up a
shirt, which matched the description of clothing that the man who shot
Officer Crabtree had been described as wearing. During a subsequent
search of the apartment, officers found a single. 38 caliber bullet
laying on a child's bed and a. 38 caliber revolver in a closet. The
revolver contained five spent casings and one live cartridge with a dent
in the primer. Subsequent tests determined that a bullet retrieved from
Officer Crabtree's car had been fired from the gun found in the
apartment. A gunshot residue test of Merced's hands indicated that he had
either apparently fired a weapon, or handled a weapon that had gunshot
residue on it, or was near a weapon that was discharged that deposited
the gunshot residue on his hands.
Maletia Luckett lives on the third floor of the same building as Jones.
On September 24, she heard gunshots. At the time, she was in her
apartment with her boyfriend, Phillip Williams, and his fourteen year
old brother, Joel Williams. A few minutes after she heard the
gunshots, she left her apartment and went downstairs. She saw Merced
sitting in front of Jones' apartment on the second floor. He was
perspiring and looking worried. He was wearing a dark sweatshirt with his
ponytail laying in the hood. After looking outside for her son, Luckett
returned to her apartment. As she went upstairs, she saw Merced again. He
was still outside of Jones' apartment. Police subsequently came to
Luckett's apartment. They entered and searched it. Phillip and Joel
Williams were handcuffed and taken to the police station for questioning.
They were tested for gunshot residue and released. Traces of gunshot
residue were found on Joel's hands. No traces were found on Phillip's
Merced's trial, Luckett testified that Joel was in the bathroom in
her apartment at the time she heard the gunshots.
While Merced was in jail, he sent a letter to his wife. The letter was
intercepted by the Alameda County Sheriffs's Department. It read:
Hello Luv. I need you to find or get a
male to read the following to that
misfit who is testifying on me. Don't
make the call from the house and give no names! Be
sure to destroy this when finished.
(Home No. . . . /Work No. . . .)
Listen up, there is a guy who works at Niles
Market that is lying on this black guy that is in
jail on a cop shooting. If the black guy goes to
jail or is convicted we will get the entire
family!! When you go to trial you had better tell
the jury that the black guy didn't shoot
the cop, a Mexican did!!
Luv, read it just like that: I used the term
black instead of Afrikan because it's
common knowledge that I use it ("Afrikan"). Do
this from a pay phone that's
not close or near the house. Be
sure to flush/burn this paper when you
finish, and baby, let this punk know that we aint
bull shitte!! Use a male that I've
never spoke with over the phone and make
sure you can trust him. Luv You.
II. Contested Eyewitness Testimony
The prosecution presented three eyewitnesses who identified Merced as
the man who shot Officer Crabtree. First, Emiliano Valenzuela testified
that, just as he was leaving Niles Market, he heard shots and saw a man
carrying a gun running away. Later that day, he picked a picture of
Merced out of a photo lineup. At Merced's preliminary hearing, Valenzuela
could not identify Merced in the courtroom. At trial, he testified that
after the shooting (but before the photo lineup) he had seen the police
take Merced out of the apartment building in handcuffs. Second, the day
after the incident, Officer Crabtree picked Merced's photo out of a photo
lineup. At trial, he testified that he was "absolutely positive" Merced
was the man who pulled the gun on him. Finally, Mick Hara, the manager of
Niles Market, testified that, shortly before the shooting, he saw Merced
and another man buy brandy in his store; that he later saw the appellant
talking to Officer Crabtree; and that, after hearing shots, he saw
Merced, with a gun, running away from the scene. On the day of the
shooting, Hara picked Merced's photo out of a photo lineup shown to him
by the police. At trial, he testified that although he had at first
indicated he was "75 percent" certain that the
person in the photo he picked out was the right man, he became "a
hundred percent" certain. Hara also described a watch that Merced was
wearing. Both Crabtree and Hara described the shooter as having had a
The prosecution also called Wanda Brannon, a branch manager for Gold
Star Check Cashing. She testified that a check cashing card had
been issued to Juan Merced. Based on the data card and customer
maintenance record for that card, she said it had never been reported
lost or stolen.
The defense challenged the eyewitness identifications of Merced.
Crabtree and Hara picked Merced's picture out of the photo lineup after
viewing his picture on the check cashing card. The defense
contended, without offering any substantiation, that Merced had lost his
card. On the day of the shooting, Crabtree told another officer that the
person who shot him was a "light skinned male Hispanic or even
Puerto Rican." At trial, Hara described the suspect as appearing light
skinned and gave inconsistent testimony about the color of the
Carles Buie testified for the defense. Buie watched the shooting from a
phone booth forty feet away. He said he did not get a clear view of the
shooter's face, but the shooter was "definitely taller than the
defendant." Under cross examination, Buie, who does not wear
glasses, reluctantly acknowledged that he needs glasses to see far away.
He also admitted having been convicted of three prior felonies. The
defense also elicited testimony from Sophia Jones that a person by the
name of "Boogie," who was "tall, not really slim, kind of big boned, long
hair, high yellow light skin complected" and had a "long pony
tail braid," hung out on 23rd Avenue. In closing, the defense noted that
"the defendant (Merced) is not light complected." Conflicting testimony
was also presented concerning the color and type of shirt the shooter was
wearing and whether it was the shirt that police found in Jones'
apartment at the time of Merced's arrest.
The jury asked to see Merced's Gold Star check cashing card,
the data card and customer maintenance record for that card, two photo
lineups used to identify Merced, and
three pictures of Joel Williams.
The jury found Merced guilty of attempted premeditated murder of a
peace officer involving the personal use of a firearm and being a post
convicted felon in possession of a firearm. The trial judge
sentenced Merced to consecutive sentences of twenty five years to
life for attempted murder of a peace officer plus a ten year
aggravated term for use of a firearm; twenty five years for being
a felon in possession of a gun; and a five year term for having a
felony prior felony conviction. In total, Merced was sentenced to sixty
five years to life.
Petitioner appealed his conviction to the California Court of Appeal,
which affirmed in December 2001. He then appealed to the California
Supreme Court, which denied his petition for 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 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." Id. § 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 `unreasonable 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.
"[A] federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because that
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.
The only definitive source of clearly established federal law under
28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) is in the holdings (as opposed to the dicta) of
the Supreme Court as of the time of the state court decision. See
Id. at 412; Clark v. Murphy, 331 F.3d 1062, 1069 (9th Cir.
2003). While circuit law may be "persuasive authority" for purposes of
determining whether a state court decision is an unreasonable application
of Supreme Court precedent, only the Supreme Court's holdings are binding
on the state courts and only those holdings need be "reasonably" applied.
Clark, 331 F.3d at 1069.
I. Exclusion of Prospective Juror
Petitioner claims that his Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment
rights to Due Process and a Fair Trial were violated when the trial court
excused prospective juror Andrew Black based on his statement that he
believed in the concept of jury nullification.
Question No. 64 on the jury questionnaire asked: "Is there any matter
that has not been covered by this questionnaire that you feel you should
mention at this time that might affect your ability to be a fair and
impartial juror in this case?" Black answered: "I recognize and believe
injury nullification where appropriate." The trial court subsequently
asked Black: "If you are selected on this jury, and if I instructed you
as to the law that implies [sic: applies] in the state of California and
it went against your conscience for whatever reason, is it reasonable for
me to assume that you would not follow the law as I dictate it to you?"
Black answered: "It's reasonable for you to assume that." Based on that
answer, the trial court excused Black. The trial court explained:
". . . he's not inclined to follow the Court's instructions that he
must follow if he's selected as a juror. He has a right not to, but I
right not to let him sit if he's going to engage injury
nullification." Reporter's Transcript ("RT"), 93-94. Defendant objected.
Id at 95.
On appeal, petitioner renewed his objections. The Court of Appeal noted
that the California Supreme Court had recently "held that a juror may be
removed from a jury if it appears `in the record "as a demonstrable
reality" that the juror is refusing to deliberate or follow the law in an
effort to exercise the naked power known as jury nullification. . . ."
People v. Merced, No. A088418, slip op. at 5 (Cal. Ct. App.
Dec. 2. 2001) (citing People v. Williams, 25 Cal.4th 441
(2001) and People v. Cleveland, 25 Cal.4th 466
(2001)). Petitioner argued that the "demonstrable reality" standard
should have been applied in reviewing the trial court's decision to
excuse prospective juror Black. The Court of Appeal found "[t]here is
nothing in either People v. Williams or People v.
Cleveland that suggests the Supreme Court intended to impose the
`demonstrable reality standard' upon both situations [the excusal of a
juror during trial and the excusal of a prospective juror before trial],
thus overturning the well established rule that the excusal of a
prospective juror for cause will be overturned only if abuse of
discretion is found." Merced, slip op. at 6. The Court of
Appeal held that, in excusing Black, the trial court did not abuse its
The trial court here could have viewed Mr. B.'s
answer "It's reasonable for you to assume
that" as fair warning that the prospective
juror might not follow the law as instructed by
the court. That answer, on top of Mr. B.'s
volunteered belief in jury nullification, was more
than an adequate basis on which the court could
decide that seating Mr. B. would present an
unacceptable risk that yet a third trial might be
required. Mr. B.'s answer is more than an adequate
basis for finding no abuse of discretion. The same
result is allowed under the federal standard,
i.e., "that a prospective juror may be excused if
the juror's voir dire responses convey a `definite
impression' [citation] that the juror's views
"would `prevent or substantially impair the
performance of his duties as a juror in accordance
with his instructions and his oath.'"
Id. (quoting People v. Holt. 15 Cal.4th 619
, 650-651 (1997).
The California Court of Appeal rejected, "as fraught with practical
perils," Id. at 7, petitioner's argument that, because Black's
response was not sufficiently unambiguous to identify him as a potential
nullifier in this specific case, the trial court was obligated to follow
up and explore Black's views with respect to the particulars of the case.
The Court of Appeal also suggested that doing so would be contrary to
[T]o give a prospective juror a thumbnail sketch
of the case based on evidence not yet
heard and often not known to the court at that
time and then ask whether that scenario
would cause the person to nullify is in plain
effect asking a juror to prejudge the case. That
is not only contrary to statute and entrenched
practice . . . it amounts to misconduct for a
Id. at 7 (citations omitted).
On habeas review, this Court is restricted to considering whether the
Court of Appeal's ruling was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable
application of, clearly established federal law. Liberally construed,
Merced offers three grounds for his claim that the exclusion of ...