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Diaz-Valencia v. Yates


August 1, 2005


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Susan Illston United States District Judge



Jose G. Diaz-Valencia, a California prisoner incarcerated at the Pleasant Valley State Prison, has filed this pro se action seeking a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. This matter is now before the court for consideration of the merits of the habeas petition. For the reasons discussed below, the petition will be denied.


On February 19, 2002, the San Jose police put Diaz-Valencia's apartment under surveillance after receiving a tip that large quantities of narcotics and cash were there and that a home invasion robbery might occur that evening. Police officers stopped the apparent robbers before they entered the building. Two officers later went to the apartment to speak to the occupant, Diaz-Valencia. After questioning Diaz-Valencia for a while, an officer asked and obtained permission to look in his locked bedroom. The officer discovered several kilos of cocaine and approximately $117,000 cash in Diaz-Valencia's bedroom.

Following a jury trial in Santa Clara County Superior Court, Diaz-Valencia was convicted of possession of cocaine for sale and possession of funds in excess of $100,000 for purchase of a controlled substance. Cal. Health & Safety Code §§ 11351, 11370.6. The jury found that the quantity of cocaine exceeded one kilogram, Cal. Health & Safety Code § 11370.4(a), and that Diaz-Valencia was personally armed with a firearm, Cal. Penal Code § 12022(c). On November 21, 2002, he was sentenced to a term of ten years in state prison.

Diaz-Valencia Appealed

The California Court of Appeal affirmed his conviction and the California Supreme Court denied his petition for review. He then filed this action, seeking a writ of habeas corpus.

The lone claim remaining for adjudication is Diaz-Valencia's claim that his rights under the Fifth Amendment and Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), were violated when he was subjected to a custodial interrogation without first being advised of his Miranda rights. The court ordered respondent to show cause why the petition should not be granted. Respondent filed an answer and petitioner filed a traverse. The matter is now ready for a decision on the merits.


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 Santa Clara County, California, within this judicial district. 28 U.S.C. §§ 84, 2241(d).


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, by presenting 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. § 2254(b), (c). The parties do not dispute that state court remedies were exhausted for the claim asserted in the petition.


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).

"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 (Terry) 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.


In the landmark decision of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), the Supreme Court held that certain advisements must be given before a suspect may be questioned and before his statement made during custodial interrogation can be admitted in evidence at trial. General "onthe-scene questioning" concerning the facts and circumstances surrounding a crime or other general questioning of citizens during the fact-finding process do not trigger a need for Miranda warnings. See id. at 477-78.

The issue in this case is whether Diaz-Valencia was in custody at the time of the questioning in his apartment -- Diaz contends he was in custody and respondent disagrees -- because only if he was in custody were Miranda advisements necessary before police officers could question him.

The California Court of Appeal described the facts regarding the incident: When Officer Ramirez arrived at defendant's residence, he explained that he believed there was a large amount of drugs and cash in the apartment to see how defendant would react.*fn1 Ramirez asked defendant if he could enter, and defendant stepped back and said, "Absolutely." Defendant became nervous. Ramirez testified that defendant was not detained until Officer Torres found cocaine in his bedroom. After Ramirez asked defendant if he minded him looking around the apartment, he said, "No, go right ahead." At some point, Ramirez asked defendant to take a seat on his couch. In response to a question by Ramirez, he said that nobody else was home. Ramirez then asked if he could look in his room, and defendant said, "Yes, go ahead." Defendant also told Ramirez that he lived at the apartment with two other young women and that they were currently in Mexico. Ramirez asked defendant if he owned a gun. Defendant replied that he did and that it was in his upstairs bedroom. When Torres came downstairs and told Ramirez that he had found cocaine, defendant spontaneously stated that the "stuff" was not his and that he had received a telephone call asking him to "watch over these things that he ultimately had in his room . . . ."

Cal. Ct. App. Opinion p. 6-7. The California Court of Appeal concluded that Diaz-Valencia was not in custody because there was no restraint on his freedom of movement to the degree associated with a formal arrest. See id. at 8 (quoting California v. Beheler, 463 U.S. 1121, 1125 (1983)). Two officers went to Diaz-Valencia's residence to investigate criminal activity and Diaz-Valencia allowed them to enter the apartment, one officer had questioned Diaz-Valencia for a short period of time while Diaz-Valencia ate his dinner, and there was no display of weapons or physical restraint of Diaz-Valencia. A reasonable person would have understood he could have refused the officer's requests or terminated the encounter. See Cal. Ct. App. Opinion, p. 8. Having determined that there was no custody and therefore no need for Miranda advisements, the state court rejected the claim that Diaz-Valencia's statements to the officers before he was arrested should not have been admitted at trial.*fn2

Miranda protections are triggered "'only where there has been such a restriction on a person's freedom as to render him 'in custody."" Stansbury v. California, 511 U.S. 318, 322 (1994) (quoting Oregon v. Mathiason, 429 U.S. 492, 495 (1977)). "[I]n custody" means "'formal arrest or restraint on freedom of movement' of the degree associated with a formal arrest." California v. Beheler, 463 U.S. 1121, 1125 (1983) (quoting Oregon, 429 U.S. at 495). It requires that "a reasonable person have felt he or she was not at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave," as judged by the totality of the circumstances. Thompson v. Keohane, 516 U.S. 99, 112 (1995). The Ninth Circuit has identified several factors relevant to the "in custody" determination:

Pertinent areas of inquiry include [1] the language used by the officer to summon the individual, [2] the extent to which he or she is confronted with evidence of guilt, [3] the physical surroundings of the interrogation, [4] the duration of the detention and [5] the degree of pressure applied to detain the individual. Based upon a review of all the pertinent facts, the court must determine whether a reasonable innocent person in such circumstances would conclude that after brief questioning he or she would not be free to leave.

United States v. Booth, 669 F.2d 1231, 1235 (9th Cir. 1981); see, e.g., United States v. Kim, 292 F.3d 969, 977-78 (9th Cir. 2002) (defendant was "in custody" where she arrived at her store to look for her son and did not know police were there, the store was surrounded, the police locked the door behind her and left her husband outside, they restricted her communication with her son, what language she should speak, when, and where she could sit, and the questioning was lengthy and detailed in nature).

Upon consideration of the circumstances of Diaz-Valencia's encounter with the police officers in his apartment, this court agrees with the California Court of Appeal's determination that Diaz-Valencia was not in custody at the time he answered the police officers' questions.

Diaz-Valencia contends that he was "in custody" for Miranda purposes based largely on the presence of two officers inside his home, one of whom stayed consistently at his side. This is not persuasive. The fact that Diaz-Valencia was in his own home when he made the incriminating admissions suggests a lack of custody rather than the existence of custody. DiazValencia "hardly found himself in the custodial situation described by the Miranda Court as the basis for its holding." Beckwith v. United States, 425 U.S. 341, 347 (1976)(defendant not "in custody" when police arrived at his home at 8:00 a.m. and he was interviewed at his dining room table). As Beckwith explained, "the principal psychological factor" of concern is "isolating the suspect in unfamiliar surroundings 'for no purpose other than to subjugate the individual to the will of his examiner.' " 425 U.S. at 346 & n. 7 (quoting Miranda, 384 U.S. at 457). That isolation did not exist for Diaz-Valencia, who dealt with the police while in the familiar setting of his own home. "[A]n interrogation in familiar surroundings such as one's home softens the hard aspects of police interrogation and moderates a suspect's sense of being held in custody." United States v. Czichray, 378 F.3d 822, 827 (8th Cir. 2004). Compare id. (defendant not "in custody" after being told several times that his participation was voluntary and he was free to ask the agents to leave, despite being directed to call in sick to work and not to answer his phone, being escorted to the bathroom, and being subjected to a nearly seven hour interview); and United States v. Rogers, 391 F.3d 1165 (10th Cir. 2004) (defendant not "in custody" where he invited two officers inside his home, two officers remained outside, defendant was told to turn over the key to a locked room containing weapons, and officers were cordial and not coercive); with Orozco v. Texas, 394 U.S. 324, 325 (1969) (defendant "in custody" when four police officers entered his bedroom at 4:00 a.m., woke up defendant, and immediately began to question him about a shooting).

Diaz-Valencia further argues that his freedom of movement was curtailed because an officer was constantly at his side, he was told to sit down, and he had to ask permission to finish eating his dinner. This, too, is unpersuasive. Unlike the facts in Kim, where law enforcement officers locked Kim inside, locked Kim's husband outside, dictated where Kim would sit, and told Kim to "shut-up" and not to speak to her son in her native language, Kim, 292 F.3d at 971-72, Diaz-Valencia was allowed to move freely about the kitchen and living room, so long as he was accompanied by an officer. An officer did suggest that Diaz-Valencia sit down, but that was in the context of attempting to make him more comfortable. Officer Ramirez testified that, after noticing how uncomfortable Diaz-Valencia appeared, he asked if Diaz-Valencia wanted to sit down. See RT 22. Diaz-Valencia agreed and sat down on his couch. See id. Diaz-Valencia then asked if he could finish his dinner, walked into the kitchen to retrieve it, and then returned to the couch. See id. Diaz-Valencia was sitting on the couch watching television. See CT 35. As the California Court of Appeal noted, one could infer "that [Officer] Ramirez asked [Diaz-Valencia] if he wanted to sit down before he decided to do so and that [Diaz-Valencia] felt uncomfortable eating in the presence of others." Cal. Ct. App. Opinion p. 5 n.2. The officers made no suggestion that Diaz-Valencia would not be free to leave or free to ask them to leave. The fact that they repeatedly sought his permission to enter the home and look around would make a reasonable person believe he had the ability to say "no" at any point and terminate the encounter. There was not a restraint on Diaz-Valencia's freedom of movement to the degree associated with a formal arrest.

Diaz-Valencia also argues that his obvious nervousness in the presence of the officers demonstrates his belief that he was in custody. Interpreting the cause of the suspect's nervousness would involve sheer speculation for the police officers: Diaz-Valencia's nervousness easily could be attributed to the fact that he had a large quantity of narcotics and money in his bedroom or the fact that he had just learned from the officers that he had almost been the victim of a home-invasion robbery as easily as it could be attributed to the fact that he felt he was in custody. More importantly, Diaz-Valencia's nervousness or subjective belief that he was in custody are irrelevant. "[T]he initial determination of custody depends on the objective circumstances of the interrogation, not on the subjective views harbored by either the interrogating officers or the person being questioned." Stansbury, 511 U.S. at 320. "[A]n objective, reasonable-man test is appropriate because, unlike a subjective test, it 'is not solely dependent either on the self-serving declarations of the police officers or the defendant nor does it place upon the police the burden of anticipating the frailties or idiosyncracies of every person whom they question.'" Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 442 (1984)(quoting People v. P., 21 N.Y.2d 1, 9-10 (N.Y. 1967)); see also Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 662 (2004). Diaz-Valencia asserts for the first time in his traverse that he "stated no to the officer's questions to look around the apartment." Traverse, p. 2; contra Petition For Review in Califonria Supreme Court, 2 (Diaz-Valencia representing that "the facts are adequately recited in the Court of Appeal opinion"). Even if relevant, the self-serving assertion made for the first time in the traverse does not overcome the presumption of correctness of the state court's determination that he agreed to allow the police to look around the apartment. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e).

A reasonable person in the circumstances in which Diaz-Valencia found himself, would have concluded that he could terminate the questioning at any time and leave or ask the officers to leave. Diaz-Valencia was not in custody until he was formally arrested and that did not occur until the drugs, gun and cash had been found and he made the statements identified in footnote 2, supra. Diaz-Valencia was not the subject of custodial interrogation and Miranda warnings were not required before the officers asked questions of him. The admission at trial of Diaz-Valencia's statements to the police officers before he received his Miranda advisement did not amount to a violation of his constitutional rights.

The California Court of Appeal's rejection of Diaz-Valencia's claim was not contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law as set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court. The state appellate court identified the correct governing cases, and applied them not unreasonably. See Yarborough, 541 U.S. at 665 ("the custody test is general" and habeas relief will be barred by § 2254(d) if the state court application "fits within the matrix of [the Supreme Court's] prior decisions"). Diaz-Valencia is not entitled to a writ.


The petition for writ of habeas corpus is DENIED on the merits. The clerk shall close the file.


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