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Pardeep Singh v. Raul Lopez

April 6, 2012

PARDEEP SINGH, PETITIONER,
v.
RAUL LOPEZ, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Timothy J Bommer United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Petitioner is a state prisoner and is proceeding through counsel with a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1), Petitioner and Respondent consented in May 2011 to have a United States Magistrate Judge conduct all further proceedings in this case.

Petitioner was convicted by a jury of seven counts of attempted murder and one count of shooting from a vehicle. He received a sentence of 170 years to life plus life with the possibility of parole on his convictions. Petitioner raises two claims in this federal habeas petition. First, Petitioner asserts that his Constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments were violated when the state court denied his request for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence ("Claim I"). Second, Petitioner asserts that trial counsel was ineffective ("Claim II"). For the following reasons, the habeas petition will be denied.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND*fn1

This case involves a nighttime drive-by shooting of several people in a parking lot of a Stockton restaurant on May 14, 2006.

The story begins earlier that day, at a kabaddi tournament in Stockton. Kabaddi is a rugby-like game, popular with Punjabi and Sikh cultures.

Defendants Pardeep and Kulwant [FN 1] attended the tournament, and were seen throughout the day disputing the tournament committee's decision to bar a particular player. Defendant Pardeep confronted Satwinder G. (also known as "John"), and defendant Kulwant threatened a committee member, Manjit U., over this issue. Satwinder is a longtime kabaddi supporter and an apparently prominent, wealthy member of the Sikh/Punjabi community.

[FN 1] Because many of the people involved in this case share the same last names, for clarity we will use first names.

Later in the day, a physical fight broke out at the tournament. On one side of the scuffle were defendants and two of their friends, Sarwan S., who had a knife, and "Happy," who brandished a gun. After the fight, defendant Pardeep told committee member Manjit that "[w]e're not going to let [Satwinder] take the cup [first-place trophy] today no matter what happens." But that is what happened, as the team sponsored by Satwinder won the tournament. Many of the eyewitnesses to this fight were also eyewitnesses and/or victims in the later shooting, and at least two of these eyewitnesses (Gurdev A. and Belhar R.) actually fought against defendants' faction.

At the tournament, it was announced there would be a post-tournament dinner at the Sansar Restaurant in Stockton. And after that dinner ended around 11:15 p.m, Satwinder, along with eight other people who had been at the tournament, walked out to the restaurant's parking lot. At this point, a slow-moving silver BMW drove by and its front and rear passengers discharged a barrage of gunfire at Satwinder's group.

Four of the people in Satwinder's group -- Satwinder himself, Gurdeep S., Raghbir S., and Belhar R. -- all of whom knew both defendants, positively identified defendants as the shooters. Two others Gurdev A. and Gulwinder S. -- identified defendant Kulwant as a shooter.

The defense highlighted inconsistencies between these testimonial identifications and some statements provided to law enforcement. For example, Satwinder initially stated to law enforcement that he did not see what the shooters were wearing, but several hours later described defendant Pardeep's attire; Gurdeep, while being treated at the hospital, did not identify defendants and said he was unable to get a good look at the shooters; Raghbir, while also at the hospital being treated, was unable to describe the vehicle involved though he did so at trial; Belhar told officers at one point he did not know the people who were shooting (language comprehension may have been an issue here); and Gurdev gave inconsistent statements as to defendant Pardeep being a shooter. Furthermore, Satwinder was close with all of these eyewitnesses. One other individual Santokh J., who owned the Sansar Restaurant and who was not close with these eyewitnesses, also witnessed the shooting. He was standing near Satwinder, and was shot three times. Although Santokh could not identify the shooters, he heard Satwinder mention the names "Kulwant and Pardeep" right after the bullets flew. Moreover, Santokh had told a police officer that one of the shooters was an Indian male wearing an orange or yellow t-shirt (which matched the description for both defendants).

A "tip" led officers to the silver BMW, and the car was towed to a Department of Justice (DOJ) crime lab on May 16. The car was apparently owned by a friend of defendants and sold about a month after the shooting. [FN 2] A DOJ firearms expert and a DOJ fingerprint expert did not obtain from the car any inculpatory evidence within their respective realms, but both experts noted that the car had been recently cleaned thoroughly.

[FN 2] The friend was Jasvir G., who was also charged with the crimes. These charges, however, were dismissed after the preliminary hearing.

Cell phone records for defendants were introduced. In addition to listing calls made and received, cell phone records can show the approximate location of a cell phone, which links to the nearest cell tower during calls. Defendant Kulwant's records displayed a 7:23 p.m. call on May 14 linked to a tower near the kabaddi tournament, and calls at 10:51 and 10:52 p.m. that night linked to another tower within a half mile of the Sansar Restaurant (these two tower sites are on opposite sides of Stockton -- Charter Way and near Hammer Lane, respectively). Defendant Pardeep's records show a flurry of seven calls between his cell phone and one particular phone number between 10:57 p.m. and 11:26 p.m. on May 14. Defendant Pardeep's cell phone received calls from this number again at 11:27, 11:33 and 11:44 p.m. The Sansar Restaurant shooting was first reported in a 911 call at 11:32 p.m.

There was also evidence that defendant Pardeep had changed his appearance after the incident and before his trial -- he shaved his long beard and discarded his turban.

The defense theory was that Satwinder G. is a powerful figure in the Sikh community who wanted defendants blamed for the shooting after they had insulted him at the kabaddi tournament, and that the other witnesses felt obliged to support Satwinder because they knew him well. In support of this defense, defendants, as noted, highlighted some inconsistencies between eyewitness testimony and statements to law enforcement. Additionally, defendant Pardeep offered Sarwan S. as an alibi witness (Sarwan effectively testified he was with Pardeep for most of the May 14 night, but this defense was undercut by Sarwan's additional testimony that he did drop Pardeep off at Pardeep's home earlier that night and by Pardeep's phone records indicating that Pardeep's cell phone called Sarwan's cell phone at 9:02 p.m.). The defense also questioned the lighting conditions at the site of the shooting, and noted that Satwinder had launched his own investigation into the shooting even though he had positively identified defendants as the shooters to the police.

In rebuttal, Manjit U. testified that Sarwan S. came to the Sansar restaurant after the shooting and told him, "I tried to stop them [i.e. Kulwant, Pardeep and Happy], but they wouldn't stop.

People v. Singh, No. C058988, 2010 WL 765453, at *1-2 (Cal. Ct. App. 3d Dist. Mar. 8, 2010).

III. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

After Petitioner was convicted and sentenced, he filed a direct appeal to the California Court of Appeal. Petitioner raised one issue in that appeal, specifically, whether the trial court improperly denied his request to admit evidence of third-party culpability. On March 8, 2010, the California Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment.

As Petitioner was proceeding with his direct appeal, he also filed separate state petitions for writ of habeas corpus. In those petitions, Petitioner asserted the claims he raises in this federal petition. In June and August 2009, the San Joaquin County Superior Court denied Petitioner's state habeas petitions in written opinions.*fn2 The California Court of Appeal summarily denied the state habeas petition on November 25, 2009. The California Supreme Court summarily denied the state habeas petition on July 28, 2010.

In April 2011, Petitioner filed the instant federal habeas petition. Respondent answered the petition in June 2011. ...


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