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Maes v. Chrones

March 11, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Benjamin H. Settle United States District Judge


This matter comes before the Court on the First Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Dkt. 23). The Court has considered the petition, the answer, the traverse, and the remainder of the file and hereby denies the petition for the reasons stated herein.


Petitioner is a state prisoner currently incarcerated at Kern Valley State Prison in Delano, California. He filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus to challenge his 2004 Sacramento County conviction. Dkt. 1.

A. Petitioner's Trial

On April 15, 2004, Petitioner was convicted by a jury of the lesser-included offense of second degree murder (Cal. Penal Code § 187) with an enhancement for using a baseball bat as a deadly weapon (Cal. Penal Code § 12022(b)(1)). Lodged Document 9, Clerk's Transcript ("CT") at 215-16. On June 11, 2004, based on the conviction and the enhancement, the trial court sentenced Petitioner to an indeterminate term of 16 years to life imprisonment. Id. at 268.

B. Petitioner's Appeal

Petitioner appealed his conviction to the California Court of Appeals. Lodged Document 1. He raised multiple issues on appeal, including two that are relevant to this petition:

1. The trial court erred prejudicially in denying appellant's request to have the jury instructed with [California Pattern Jury Instruction ("CALJIC") No. 5.44]; and

2. The court erroneously instructed the jury that appellant bore the burden of proving that the victim had a violent character.

Lodged Document 1 at 12, 14.

On May 11, 2006, the court issued its opinion and summarized the facts of this case as follows:

Defendant lived with his extended family, including his mother, siblings, girlfriend, and child. On March 29, 2002, the family spent the day moving from one house to another around the block. The victim, a neighbor named John Sullivan, helped defendant move a washing machine.

The new house featured a converted garage, which was used as the bedroom for defendant's brother, Gabe. Late in the afternoon, a group of friends gathered in Gabe's new room to play video games, listen to music, drink, and smoke marijuana. Defendant and his girlfriend, Angela, argued loudly in the yard because Angela wanted to join the group and defendant thought it was inappropriate.

While defendant and Angela were arguing, the victim came over and tried to apologize to defendant for something he had done. (What that something was was never established.) Defendant angrily told him that he was interrupting, so the victim went into Gabe's room to get a beer. The victim then went back outside and again tried to approach defendant, telling him that he was sorry. Defendant did not want to hear the victim's apology and told the victim to leave. As the victim kept trying to apologize, defendant became increasingly angry, and he told the victim to "get the fuck out of here." Defendant told the victim he had five seconds to leave or he would "kick his ass." The victim instead went into Gabe's room in the converted garage.

Defendant followed him and again threatened to kick his ass. The victim repeated that he was going to stay put, that he wanted to talk to defendant, and that defendant should calm down. Defendant picked up a baseball bat and proceeded to beat the victim on his head and body.

Defendant's mother, Cynthia, heard screaming. She entered the garage and saw the defendant, in a rage, beating the victim until "he couldn't move anymore." The victim lay on the floor, covered in blood and moaning. Cynthia asked her son what he had done, and he replied, "I beat him up" and said the victim needed to mind his own business. When Cynthia told defendant to call an ambulance because the victim was going to die, defendant replied that the victim was fine.

The victim's girlfriend arrived on the scene and became hysterical. She told defendant that they needed to get the victim to the hospital, but defendant refused to allow that. Instead, he threatened to kill the victim's girlfriend. Defendant remained very angry, and when other friends suggested calling an ambulance or the police, he replied, "No, fuck that, you're not calling the police. Clean this shit up. If anybody calls the police I'll kill them before the police get here." He said that if he heard police arrive, he would "finish him off," and that "if I'm going to go for attempted murder, I might as well go for murder."

Defendant and his mother began to clean the blood in the room as the victim lay there, moaning. Sometime later, defendant directed others in the group to move the victim's body so that it looked like he was beaten up elsewhere and trying to crawl home. Some of defendant's friends placed the victim on a door, carried him outside, and left him there.

Someone eventually called the police, who arrived on the scene and found the victim in the gutter, bloodied, unconscious, and breathing erratically. The victim subsequently died from blunt force head and thoracic injuries.Officers went to defendant's home and arrested him after defendant emerged from a bathroom, wearing different clothes. Police officers found clothing soaking in the bathtub. When officers asked defendant for consent to search his house, defendant asked if others had already consented and he asked to see the forms. Defendant appeared coherent and understood the officers' questions. Officers noticed a slight smell of alcohol, but defendant did not appear inebriated.

After initially denying any involvement in the crime, defendant admitted to police officers that he might have beaten the victim while in a rage. He said he had consumed a lot of alcohol and may have blacked out. He did not know how many times he hit the victim, nor did he remember cleaning up the room.

Toxicologists analyzed a blood sample from defendant and found a small amount of methamphetamine but no alcohol.

Witnesses at trial described other violent behavior by defendant, including assaults on Angela and the boyfriend of defendant's mother.

As discussed in further detail later in this opinion, witnesses described the attack on the victim, testifying that the defendant went into a rage at the victim's persistent attempts to apologize to defendant.

In closing argument, defense counsel suggested that events occurred in the heat of passion, not as the result of premeditation or deliberation. He also asserted claims of self-defense, imperfect self-defense, and unconsciousness.

The jury acquitted defendant of first degree murder but convicted him of second degree murder and found that defendant used a deadly weapon in the commission of the offense. The court sentenced defendant to an aggregate prison term of 16 years to life.

Lodged Document 4 at 2-5.

The court explained that California's Home Protection Bill of Rights (Cal. Penal Code § 198.5) provides as follows:

Any person using force intended or likely to cause death or great bodily injury within his or her residence shall be presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury to self, family, or a member of the household when that force is used against another person, not a member of the family or household, who unlawfully and forcibly enters or has unlawfully and forcibly entered the residence and the person using the force knew or had reason to believe than an unlawful and forcible entry occurred. As used in this section, great bodily injury means a significant or substantial physical injury.

Id. at 22. In order for the rebuttable presumption of § 198.5 to apply, there must be "an unlawful or forcible entry into a residence." People v. Brown , 6 Cal. App. 4th 1489, 1494-1495 (1992). The court found that this element was "absent in this case" and concluded that the trial court did not err by refusing to give this instruction to the jury. Lodged Document 4 at 23.

With regard to Petitioner's other relevant issue of appeal, the court ultimately concluded that "[t]here was no error." Id. at 28. The court reasoned that:

[the] instructions, considered as a whole, clearly conveyed to the jury that the prosecution bore the burden of establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that the ...

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