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Michael John Huggins v. R. Lopez

January 18, 2012




Petitioner, Michael John Huggins, is a state prisoner proceeding pro se witha petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner is currently serving a determinate sentence of seventeen years and four months following his 2007 convictions in the Yuba County Superior Court for two counts of voluntary manslaughter with penalty enhancements as to each count for use of a firearm. Here, Petitioner challenges the constitutionality of his convictions.


Petitioner presents several grounds for relief. Specifically, the claims are as follow: (1) The trial court erred by failing to instruct on involuntary manslaughter as a lesser included offense.

(2) The trial court erred by refusing a pinpoint instruction on self-defense.

(3) The trial court erred by excluding photographic evidence of weapons found at the crime scene.

Petitioner's first and second grounds for relief both present challenges to the jury instructions, and thus will be addressed together in section (V)(A), below. Petitioner's remaining third ground for relief will be addressed individually in section (V)(B). Based on a thorough review of the record and applicable law, it is recommended that each of Petitioner's claims be denied.


The basic facts of Petitioner's crime were summarized in the unpublished opinion of the California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, as follow:

In September 2005, defendant lived at 3112 Black Eagle Drive in Antelope with his girlfriend, Angelic Rampone, Matt Griffin, Griffin's girlfriend, Amy Butler, and two others not implicated in this matter. Other acquaintances who frequented the house included defendant's cousin, Dustin Sparks, and Levill Hill.

Approximately one to two weeks before September 26, 2005, Hill, Griffin, Butler, Rampone, and defendant discussed stealing marijuana. Butler mentioned there were two people she knew from high school, Chris Hance and Scott Davis, who lived in Olivehurst and grew marijuana. Butler said the men guarded the marijuana plants, were good fighters and had guns. The five hatched a plan whereby Butler would lure Hance and Davis away from the property and the others would sneak onto the property and steal the plants.

The property mentioned by Butler was located at 5108 Chestnut in Olivehurst. It contained a house and a trailer at the end of a driveway behind the house. Twelve feet from the trailer door were nine marijuana plants surrounded by tobacco plants. Chris Hance and Scott Davis resided in the trailer. Chris's father, Michael Hance, lived in the house with Chris's mother and sister. Michael Hance had a medical marijuana recommendation.

At or shortly after 9:00 p.m. on the day they hatched their plan, defendant and the others drove to Olivehurst in two cars. Butler proceeded to the property alone but was able to lure only Davis from the property. Meanwhile, Hill, Griffin and defendant walked past the front of the property and on to a store down the street, while Rampone waited in the car for a message from Butler. When the three men learned Butler had not been able to lure both guards away, they decided to abandon their plan and return to the car. As they walked past the property, they saw a man standing by a gate with a dog. They asked him where they might buy some "hard alcohol" and then returned to the car. They drove back to Antelope where they met up with Butler.

In the early morning hours of September 27, 2005, Hill, Griffin, Rampone and defendant decided to return to the Olivehurst property and try again to steal the marijuana. On this occasion, the plan was to enter the property over a fence in the rear and steal the plants without the guards' knowledge. However, they also brought rope and duct tape to tie up the guards if necessary. On the way to the property, they picked up Dustin Sparks.

As before, Rampone waited in the car while the others walked by the property. Defendant carried a handgun in his waistband and a "[c]op flashlight." Defendant told Hill he had the flashlight in order to pretend he was a police officer. When the four reached the property, they observed it was "lit up like a Christmas tree." Stopping at a nearby apartment complex, they again agreed to abandon their plan.

What happened thereafter is subject to conflicting testimony. Levill Hill testified for the prosecution that defendant and Sparks started back toward the car, followed by Griffin and Hill. However, when the latter two reached the property, they saw defendant kneeling by a car with Sparks standing nearby. Hill asked defendant what he was doing and defendant said, "We're going to do it." Hill said, "No, you're not" and began walking away.

As Hill looked back towards the property, he saw defendant walk through a gate onto the property while Sparks remained at the gate. Defendant went around the north side of the home and out of sight. Hill heard defendant say "Marysville Police or Yuba Police" and that he was looking for Scott or Davis. Someone came out of the house and hit Sparks. Hill heard a gunshot, and he and Griffin ran to the car. While they were running away, Hill heard someone scream.

Michael Hance testified that, at approximately 3:00 a.m. on September 27, he was lying on a couch in the house talking with his son when they heard a gate open. Chris Hance got up and went out the front door toward the gate to investigate. Michael heard someone say say, "Yuba County Sheriff's. Get on the ground" and then heard scuffling. He heard a shot and a little later heard someone say, "I'm here for Scott Davis. I want Scott Davis."

Thinking the police had arrived, Michael got up, grabbed his medical marijuana paperwork, and walked to the back door. There he heard yelling and saw the defendant walk into the trailer with his right hand up and something in his hand. Michael heard some more yelling and then one or two shots. He started walking toward the trailer to see what was happening. Just then, Chris Hance ran by and said, "They're not the police, Dad. They're not." Chris ran on to the trailer and Michael followed.

Michael then saw his son, Davis and defendant come out of the trailer. Davis was holding his neck, moved off to the right, and fell to the ground. Chris Hance and defendant were fighting on the ground when Michael saw a flash and heard a bang. At that point, Michael went inside the trailer and grabbed a shotgun. When he came back outside, Michael saw defendant get up from the ground and say to Chris, "Stay on the ground. Sheriff's Department. Stay on the ground." Chris Hance again told his father defendant was not a police officer. Michael pointed the shotgun at defendant and asked for identification. Defendant fled.

Michael Hance called 911 at 3:02:48 a.m. When the police arrived on the scene, they found a dog lying on the driveway that had been shot and Davis lying face down near the trailer. Davis too had been shot and was dead. The officers found Chris Hance lying nearby face up. He had been shot and was "bleeding profusely," but was still alive. Hance later died of his wounds.

When defendant and the others returned home, defendant looked scared, agitated and irritable and immediately locked the doors and windows. Because defendant had left the flashlight at the scene, he asked Butler to make up a story for the authorities that, when Butler went to the property the first time, she left the flashlight behind. Butler also concocted a story with Griffin that defendant had gone to the property with her the first time and they met with the victims, smoked marijuana, and discussed defendant and Butler buying marijuana.

The authorities found the flashlight at the scene. Fingerprints taken from it matched defendant. They also found a piece of a shirt clutched in Davis's hand. The remainder of the shirt was found at defendant's residence several days later. The authorities found one shell casing just inside a closet door in the trailer and three other casings outside. They recovered three bullets, one each from the dog, Hance, and Davis. All three had been shot from the same gun. The fourth bullet was never found. They found no signs of a struggle inside the trailer.

Defendant testified on his own behalf and provided a much different description of the events after he entered the property. Defendant said that when the four of them decided not to go through with the theft because the place was too lit up, he told them he was going to try to buy some marijuana. Therefore, when he entered the property, that was his intent. Defendant testified that he told Sparks to wait at the gate, walked to the front door of the house, and knocked. Receiving no response, defendant walked back to the gate and told Sparks to remain there while he checked to see if anyone was in the trailer.

Defendant walked down the driveway toward the trailer. According to defendant, the trailer door was open and there was light coming from inside. When defendant got about half way to the trailer, he heard someone yell, "[g]o get him." Defendant yelled that he was there to talk to Scott Davis. Defendant saw a big dog emerge from the trailer door and come toward him, growling and bearing [sic] its teeth. Defendant began backing away. The dog jumped at him, and defendant stumbled backward, pulled the gun out and shot the dog. The dog yelped and ran away.

At that point, defendant tried to retreat from the property. However, as he reached the corner of the house, he encountered a man holding a gun. The man grabbed defendant's shoulder and pushed the gun into his face. Defendant put his hands into the air, holding his own gun in one hand and the flashlight in the other. The man spun defendant around and put his gun to the back of defendant's ear. The man said, "You shot my fucking dog" and "You're going to fucking die." He began moving defendant toward the trailer.

When they reached the trailer, the man said to defendant, "Get your ass in the fucking trailer." Defendant saw another man standing in the trailer. Defendant refused to go inside. He dropped the flashlight, spun around, and knocked the man's gun away from his face. They struggled for control of the gun. As they moved away from the trailer entrance and the man got the gun back in defendant's face, defendant fired his own gun to try to distract the man. Defendant tried to fire again but his gun jammed. They fell to the ground, where defendant worked to "clear" his gun. By the time defendant succeeded in doing so, the man was on top and behind defendant pushing him to the ground. Defendant reached around behind him, pushed the gun into the man and fired.

The man fell off defendant. Defendant got up and started running away. However, the other man jumped on defendant and knocked him to the ground, causing defendant to drop his weapon. Defendant eventually succeeded in retrieving his weapon, rolled over and shot the man. Defendant pulled himself free. However, because the man still had hold of defendant's shirt, a portion of it tore away.

As defendant began to depart, he encountered Michael Hance pointing a shotgun at him. Defendant pulled his gun up and said, "Yuba County Sheriff. Get down." When Michael lowered his gun, defendant turned and ran. Defendant eventually caught up with the others in the car and returned to the Antelope property.

Defendant testified that his original idea was to buy marijuana and resell it. According to defendant, it was Hill who suggested stealing the marijuana instead. Defendant had money to buy the marijuana, but the others did not. Defendant testified that, on the first occasion, when they encountered the man at the gate of the property, they had asked about buying some marijuana. According to defendant, the man said he knew where they could get some but his "home boy" was not around so they would have to come back later.

Defendant further testified that, on the second occasion, he asked again about buying the marijuana but Butler insisted on stealing it. Nevertheless, defendant brought money along with him. Defendant said that, when they arrived in Olivehurst, he opened the glove box of the car and discovered the handgun. According to defendant, Hill said he had put the gun there. When the defendant went to put it back, Rampone said she did not want the gun with her, so defendant put it in his waistband.

As indicated above, defendant was charged with two counts of felony murder during the commission of either robbery or burglary. The jury found defendant not guilty of murder but convicted him on both counts of the lesser included offense of voluntary manslaughter. The jury also found defendant personally used a firearm in connection with each offense (§ 12022.5). He was sentenced on count one to the middle term of six years plus an enhancement of 4 years for the weapon use. He was sentenced on count two to a fully consecutive term of six years plus a one-third enhancement of one year, four months, for a total of 17 years, four months.

People v. Huggins, 2009 WL 774512, *1-*4.

Petitioner timely appealed his convictions to the California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District. The court affirmed his convictions with ...

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