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Sanchez v. Henry

September 6, 2005


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Claudia Wilken United States District Judge


Petitioner Coreen Kay Sanchez filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging the validity of her State conviction.*fn1 In an Order dated November 13, 2003, the Court directed Respondent to show cause why habeas relief should not be granted. Respondent has filed an answer to the petition along with a memorandum of points and authorities and exhibits in support thereof. Although granted the opportunity to do so, Petitioner has not filed a traverse. For the reasons discussed below, the Court DENIES the petition.


Petitioner was convicted by a jury in Humboldt County Superior Court of possession and manufacture of methamphetamine. She was sentenced on October 8, 1997, to eleven years and eight months in prison. The judgment of conviction was affirmed on appeal by the California Court of Appeal on January 12, 1999, and review was denied by the California Supreme Court on February 19, No. C 02-1806 CW (PR) Related case: C 01-1904 CW ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS 1999. Petitioner filed several State habeas petitions, all of which were denied. The two petitions filed with the California Supreme Court were denied, respectively, on June 28, 2000, and January 29, 2002.

Petitioner filed this federal habeas action on April 16, 2002.*fn2 The Court ordered Respondent to address the following four claims for relief: (1) the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction for manufacturing methamphetamine, in violation of due process; (2) instructional error based on jury instructions that failed to explain an essential element of the offense, in violation of the right to have the jury decide all factual issues; (3) trial court error based on the court's refusal to disclose the identity of confidential witnesses, in violation of due process; and (4) prosecutorial misconduct.


A federal writ of habeas corpus 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 claims: "(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 Supreme] 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 Supreme] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case." Id. at 413.

The only definitive source of clearly established federal law under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) is in the holdings of the Supreme Court as of the time of the relevant State court decision. Id. at 412. But circuit law may be persuasive authority for purposes of determining whether a State court decision is an unreasonable application of Supreme Court law. Clark v. Murphy, 331 F.3d 1062, 1070-71 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 540 U.S. 968 (2003).

In determining whether the State court's decision is contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, a federal court looks to the decision of the highest State court to address the merits of a petitioner's claim in a reasoned decision. LaJoie v. Thompson, 217 F.3d 663, 669 n.7 (9th Cir. 2000). If no reasoned decision exists, an independent review of the record is the only means of deciding whether the State court's rejection of the claim was objectively reasonable. See Himes v. Thompson, 336 F.3d 848, 853 (9th Cir. 2003).

If constitutional error is found, habeas relief is warranted only if the error had a "'substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict.'" Penry v. Johnson, 532 U.S. 782, 795 (2001) (quoting Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 638 (1993)).


In its written opinion, the California Court of Appeal summarized the facts as follows:*fn3 *fn4

At 8:40 a.m. on October 15, 1992, police officers assigned as agents to the Humboldt County Drug Task Force executed a search warrant on appellants' 40-acre parcel of property in the Redwood Valley region of Humboldt County. In order to ensure officer safety and the preservation of evidence, the police took all possible steps to maintain maximum secrecy about the location and timing of the search prior to its execution. The police had to proceed uphill on a rough dirt road several miles through a remote rural area, park their four-wheel drive vehicles before reaching two locked metal gates, and then proceed on foot over a mile further in order to get to appellants' residence. After announcing their presence and being admitted by appellants' juvenile son, the officers found appellants in the upstairs bedroom.

The officers searched the house, the adjacent premises, and vehicles parked nearby. On the bed in the bedroom shared by appellants the police found a pair of size "36x30" blue jeans with a canister in the back pocket containing 0.272 grams of methamphetamine. Inside a nylon gym bag on the living room floor were a plastic bag and a glass jar containing a total of 337.6 grams of methamphetamine, with an estimated street value of between $4,000 and $6,000, together with triple beam scales; measuring spoons; a spatula; and a container of nicotinamide, a B-complex vitamin often used as a cutting agent with narcotics. Inside a backpack found in the downstairs area was a .35-millimeter film canister containing two packages with a total of 2.25 grams of methamphetamine; a wallet containing appellant Sanchez's identification; receipts listing Sanchez's mail address at post office box 2620, McKinleyville, California; welfare receipts and stickers; a copy of the birth certificate of Lashawna Lynn Sanchez dated September 21, 1971; a daily planner; a slip of paper with the name "Shawna" written on it; and handwritten notes with references to chemicals and suspected "payand-owe" records listing names, amounts of money, and apparent weights using the abbreviations "oz" and "lb." In the downstairs area the police also found two plastic baggies of suspected methamphetamine in the drawer of a dresser under the stairs just off the living room, and a metal can labeled "L-methionine" containing rubber gloves and tubing. "L-methionine," a B-Vitamin, is commonly used as a cutting agent for narcotics. Based on this evidence, criminalist experts opined the methamphetamine found in appellants' house was possessed for sale.

Outside the house, the police found a second set of triple beam scales. Under an orange tarp in the yard approximately 35 to 40 feet from the front door of the house, the officers found the essential components of a methamphetamine laboratory. Among other things they discovered were a metal five-gallon container of freon, originally orange but painted black and valued at approximately $1,000; ephedrine tablets, some of which had been mashed; a bottle of hydriodic acid; small pumps, plastic tubing, rubber gloves and a respirator; coffee filters encrusted with methamphetamine; a container of red phosphorous; a two-liter bottle of nicotinamide; two gallons of hydrochloric or muriatic acid; and three pounds of aluminum foil. Ephedrine and hydriodic acid are essential to the manufacture of methamphetamine. Each of the other items found under the tarp are useful and commonly employed in the manufacture of methamphetamine by means of the method known as reduction of ephedrine using hydriodic acid and red phosphorus.*fn5

Although many of these items have legitimate uses, the combination of materials found together indicates they were possessed for the purpose and with the intention of manufacturing methamphetamine. Thus, rubber gloves are used to protect the hands from acidic substances; a respirator is used to protect individuals from harmful vapors; pumps and tubing are used to transport water in the cooling stage; and aluminum foil is placed in contact with hydrochloric acid to generate hydriodic acid. Because the bright orange containers in which freon is sold attract the attention of law enforcement, methamphetamine manufacturers commonly paint such containers black. Police criminalists concluded the materials found in appellants' front yard had already been used to manufacture methamphetamine because that drug was found encrusted on the coffee filters. An analysis of the methamphetamine found in the appellants' house indicated it had been manufactured by means of the identical process of ephedrine reduction using hydriodic acid and red phosphorus for which the laboratory materials found outside the house had evidently been employed.

A Nissan truck parked outside appellants' residence was registered in appellant Sanchez's name. Inside the truck police found a spiral notebook labeled "week-at-a-glance-appointments," with a notation stating that "[t]his book is property of Reen" at post office box 2620 in McKinleyville, and reference to "Shawna's birthday" on September 21 and "Frank's birthday" on September 25. The parties stipulated that appellant Sanchez's daughter, Lashawna, has a birthday on September 21, and her son Frank Sanchez, Jr., has a birthday on September 25. The back page of the notebook contained handwritten notations to "[p]lace orders for ... 12,000 mini white cross, thick, 800-237-3759," and "[s]end COD too [sic] Shawna's address in Arcata. Too [sic] Frank's address in McKinleyville."*fn6 Frank Sanchez, Sr., appellant Sanchez's former husband, rented property at 2295 Walnut in Arcata in 1992. Frank Sanchez, Jr., lived at that same address at the time. The notated telephone number was the toll-free number of Nationwide Purveyors, Inc., a mail order company. In July 1992, Nationwide Purveyors shipped 12,000 .25-milligram ephedrine tablets, specifically referenced as "mini white cross" tablets to Frank Sanchez at 2295 Walnut Avenue in Arcata.

The police found numerous weapons on appellants' property. Among other weapons, they seized two rifles, one loaded with the safety off and ready to fire, from a rack near the front door; a .25-caliber semiautomatic pistol from a metal box behind the living room couch; a loaded rifle from a General Motors pickup truck registered to appellant Sanchez; two loaded rifles and a shotgun from a trailer on the premises; a loaded firearm from a Toyota vehicle registered to appellant Sanchez; and a magnum revolver found in another vehicle located on the property.

In their defense, appellants offered the testimony of private investigator Robert Cloud, who visited appellants' Redwood Valley property several times following the October 1992 search. Cloud testified that he found no evidence of methamphetamine manufacture at appellants' property. During one of his visits, for which he had previously arranged to meet Sanchez at the residence, Cloud detected the chemical odor of methamphetamine production coming from somewhere down the hill from appellants' residence. Cloud was "not exactly clear on where the lines of this particular property are in relationship to where the house is," and did not know "that it was necessarily coming from the Sanchez property but clearly it was fairly close behind . . . ." Knowing that methamphetamine producers are usually armed, Cloud did not investigate the source of the odor but, instead, left immediately out of concern for his personal safety. Cloud never located Sanchez, although she was supposed to meet him there at that time.

Appellants' waists were measured during trial in October 1997. At that time, appellant Severe had a waist size of 42, and Sanchez had a waist size of 44. No evidence was offered of the waist size of either appellants [sic] in October 1992, five years earlier.

Several defense witnesses testified they had known the appellants for years and never saw any evidence of any involvement by either appellant in drug activity. Frank Sanchez, Sr., denied receiving any ephedrine shipment at his home ad [sic] 2295 Walnut in Arcata. His son, Frank Sanchez, Jr., also lived at that address. Frank, Sr., worked the night shift, and slept during daylight hours; he would not necessarily be aware of a delivery to the house which Frank, Jr., may have accepted during the day.

Brian Phillips had helped appellants with their vehicles. He observed a heavy caterpillar tractor digging an "enormous" hole on appellants' property; he "didn't know what it was" for, but "presumed" it was for a septic tank. Deborah Beebe had known Sanchez for over 20 years and Severe for about 10 years. She never saw anything on their property that she "would suspect would be related with a drug lab," although she acknowledged she did not know what a drug lab looked like. Beebe claimed Sanchez "couldn't make brownies from scratch," much less methamphetamine.

Lashawna Sanchez, appellant Sanchez's daughter, testified that she had been assaulted by a neighbor of appellants', Douglas S., and that both she and appellant Sanchez had been repeatedly "harassed" by Douglas and others. Lashawna also testified she had never observed either appellant manufacturing or trafficking in methamphetamine, and denied receiving any shipments of ephedrine or knowing what it was.

Tim Murphy, an attorney, testified he had visited the subject property in 1992 in connection with a dispute between appellants and the contractor who had dug the hole in their property. When the contractor had asked appellants for payment, they claimed the work had been done improperly by making the hole too large for a septic tank. Although Murphy never saw anything that looked like it might be a drug lab, he did observe an orange tarp on the property. Thomas Allen, a California Highway Patrol investigator, testified that appellants reported suspected nighttime drug activity on unspecified property of their neighbors. After Allen advised appellant Sanchez to contact him when the suspected drug activity was actually taking place so he "could get an idea of where it was happening exactly," he never heard from appellants again.

The parties stipulated that, if called, two chemists with the California State Environmental Protection Agency would have testified they were at the scene of the search on October 15, 1992, and found no evidence of the operation of a drug laboratory or the manufacture of any controlled substance.

Appellant Sanchez testified in her own defense. Sanchez denied any criminal acts. She related various disputes with her neighbors, and claimed several of them had engaged in drug activity. Although she and appellant were sleeping in the upstairs bedroom when the police arrived, she did not know who owned the blue jeans found on the bed in that room. She did not remember the dresser the police found under the stairs in her home; "it doesn't look familiar to me." Sanchez claimed she owned all the firearms found on the property. Although Severe lived with her, Sanchez denied he had access to the weapons or that they were available for his use. She acknowledged that Severe was "a felon for growing pot" and "there was something in his probation" that prevented him from possessing firearms.

Although Sanchez first testified on direct examination that she and Severe always left the gates to their property unlocked when they were there, later she testified the police must have made prior arrangements with her neighbors to get on her property on the day of the search because the gates were locked. Sanchez testified to many alleged details about the police search of her residence, including the precise time they "kicked open the door," the alleged fact the police did not observe her standing on the landing of the stairway right in front of them while they searched the downstairs portion of the house, and the alleged fact she had locked the gates to her property that day because she had found one of her guns "out of place." However, she claimed she could not recall anything about the incriminating evidence found by the police on her property because it was "[f]ive years [ago] and probably a lot longer than that and ... my memory isn't as sharp as -- and I don't think anybody else is either so -- " Sanchez denied recognizing the blue gym bag or the plastic bags found inside it. She did admit ownership of the backpack found by the police in the living room, and acknowledged that the wallet and Medi-Cal identification cards found inside the backpack were hers. However, she did not recognize the notebook found in the backpack, although she admitted the handwriting in the notebook "appears to be mine." Sanchez also denied recognizing a chemical company brochure found in her backpack, and denied that she had been keeping it there. She claimed no recollection of the pay-owe sheets found in the backpack, and could not think of any business-related explanation for the references and numbers on the papers. Sanchez denied any knowledge of what hydrogen chloride or hydrochloric acid are, and denied any knowledge of how pieces of papers with those chemical names written upon them appeared in her backpack. Sanchez gave similar testimony regarding other notebooks, appointment books, and papers found on the property; although the notations were written in what she admitted "appears" to be her handwriting, she denied making most of them.

Although during her testimony Sanchez herself used the name "Shawna" to refer to her daughter, she subsequently refused to acknowledge that she ever referred to her daughter by that name, and repeatedly insisted that she always referred to her daughter as "LaShawna." Sanchez claimed not to know where her daughter was living in 1992.

People v. Sanchez, et al., A081383, 2-8 (Jan. 12, 1999)(Opinion).



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