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Butler v. Kramer

August 17, 2009

BLAINE BUTLER, PETITIONER,
v.
M. KRAMER, WARDEN, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ronald B. Leighton

ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS AND REQUEST FOR AN EVIDENTIARY HEARING

I. INTRODUCTION

Petitioner Blaine Butler was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to 10 years in prison by the Sacramento County Superior Court for possession of methamphetamine with intent to sell. The California Third District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment and sentence. Butler claims there were a number of errors made by the California Courts which had a cumulative unfair impact on the trial process. (Dkt. #28) Having exhausted his appellate avenues and been denied habeas corpus relief in state court petitioner filed the instant Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus. (Dkt. #1) This petition includes a request for an evidentiary hearing. (Dkt. #1) Having reviewed the last reasoned decision of the California Third District Court of Appeal from February 3, 2006, the petition and hearing request are DENIED for the reasons explained below.

II. GENERAL FACTS AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

On October 29, 2003, the Sacramento Sheriff's Department conducted surveillance of petitioner at an apartment. Roxanne Navarro (petitioner's girlfriend), Brian Provins (resident of the apartment), and Jennifer Schmueckle (Provins' friend) were all present at the residence. Schmueckle and Navarro consumed methamphetamine in the bathroom while inside of the apartment. Afterwards, Butler took two trips between the residence and the street, loading various bags and a cooler into a silver Ford Contour. Detective Marcus Gregory of the Sheriff's Department then detained and arrested him for being a parolee at large.

On May 16, 2004, a jury convicted petitioner of possessing methamphetamine for sale, and the trial court sentenced petitioner to 10 years in state prison. Petitioner appealed his conviction, and after briefing by the parties, on February 3, 2006, the California Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. On or about February 15, 2006, petitioner filed a Petition for Rehearing. On February 23, 2006, the California Court of Appeal denied the Petition for Rehearing. On or about March 7, 2006, petitioner filed a Petition for Review with the California Supreme Court, which was denied on April 12, 2006. Butler filed a Petition for Certiorari in the United States Supreme Court on April 12, 2006, which was denied on October 2, 2006.

Also, on April 6, 2006 petitioner filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Sacramento County Superior Court. This petition was denied on June 1, 2006. On June 20, 2006, Butler filed another Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Sacramento County Superior Court that was denied on August 8, 2006. On August 22, 2006, petitioner filed another Petition in the Third Appellate District of the California Court of Appeal. This Petition was denied on April 24, 2006. On September 6, 2006, petitioner filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in the California Supreme Court. On March 21, 2007, the California Supreme Court denied the petition.

Petitioner filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Eastern District of California on June 26, 2007. The case was reassigned to this Court on January 22, 2009. Respondent admits that Petitioner has exhausted his claims for relief.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In a habeas proceeding filed under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), the Court of Appeal's decision on the merits is entitled to deference. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); Luna v. Cambra, 306 F.3d 954, 960 (9th Cir. 2002). Under the AEDPA, a petitioner must demonstrate that the state court's adjudication of the merits 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 resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1); See Lockyer v. Andrade, 123 S.Ct. 1166, 1172-73 (2003). Federal courts do not review state evidence law, but rather only consider whether the petitioner's conviction violated constitutional norms. Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991); Jammal v. Van De Kamp, 926 F.2d 918, 919 (9th Cir. 1991).

IV. EXCLUSION OF NAVARRO'S STATEMENT

Petitioner claims that the trial court erroneously excluded Navarro's confession in violation of his constitutional rights to due process and to present a defense under the 5th and 14th Amendments. (Dkt. #1)

A. Factual Background

When petitioner was arrested, deputies found a cellular telephone and a set of keys in his hand, as well as a used methamphetamine pipe, Ziploc baggies, plastic baby bottle bags, and $590 in cash in his pocket. (Dkt. #23) A search of the car revealed two bags of methamphetamine concealed in a blue and white aerosol can with a false bottom. One bag weighed 28.9 grams and the other weighed 1.52 grams.

After the methamphetamine was found in petitioner's car, Navarro asked Detective O'Keefe to talk to petitioner. O'Keefe granted her request, and their hushed conversation lasted four to five minutes. The police did not hear what was said in the conversation.

After the conversation, Navarro told O'Keefe that the methamphetamine found in the car belonged her, and she was arrested. Navarro then gave a written statement at the jail that was similar to the one told to police after she was arrested. However, these statements contained numerous inconsistencies with what the deputies found at the scene.

B. Procedural Background

The trial court held a hearing under California Evidence Code §402, to determine the admissibility of the statement. At the hearing, Navarro asserted her Fifth Amendment privilege and refused to testify. The court found Navarro was unavailable as a witness. The defense requested Navarro's hearsay statement be admitted as declaration against interest. The prosecution argued that the timing of and the inconsistencies in the statement made it too unreliable to qualify as a declaration against interest under California Evidence Code §1230. The trial court agreed, and refused to admit the statement.

The Court of Appeal also rejected petitioner's claim that the exclusion of Navarro's admission violated his rights to due process and to present a defense. The Court of Appeal found petitioner forfeited his due process argument under California's contemporaneous objection rule by failing to raise that argument in the trial court. In addition, the Court of Appeal found that the evidence was properly excluded since it was unreliable.

C. Analysis

1. Petitioner's Claim is Procedurally Barred

Petitioner's claim is procedurally barred from federal habeas review. The Court of Appeal found that Butler forfeited his due process claim because he did not raise the constitutional issue in the trial court. The Ninth Circuit has found California's "contemporaneous objection rule" to be an adequate procedural bar. Hines v. Enomoto, 658 F.2d 667, 673 (9th Cir. 1981). Therefore, federal habeas relief based on a procedurally defaulted claim is barred unless Petitioner is able to demonstrate a miscarriage of justice or cause and actual prejudice to excuse his default of the claim. See Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750-51 (1991).

To demonstrate cause in federal court, petitioner must show that some objective factor external to the defense prevented petitioner from complying with state procedural rules relating to the presentation of his claims. McCleskey v. Zant, 499 U.S. 467, 493-94 (1991). Petitioner has not demonstrated cause for failing to object to the trial court's exclusion of Navarro's statement based on a due process violation.

Petitioner has also failed to demonstrate actual prejudice or that a fundamental miscarriage of justice will result if this claim is barred. Accordingly, this claim is ...


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