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Bui v. Hedgpeth

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

June 26, 2013

RYAN BUI, Petitioner,
ANTHONY HEDGPETH, Warden, Respondent.


SUSAN ILLSTON, District Judge.

This matter concerns a petition for a writ of habeas corpus brought by a state prisoner pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner contends that his 2007 conviction on two felony counts of residential burglary and related offenses violated his constitutional rights under the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Respondent was ordered to show cause why the writ should not be granted. Respondent has filed an answer, along with a supporting memorandum of points and authorities. Petitioner has responded with a traverse, and has also filed supplemental authority with the Court. Having carefully considered the papers submitted, the Court DENIES the petition for a writ of habeas corpus, for the reasons set forth below.


I. Procedural Background

On June 15, 2007, following a jury trial in the San Mateo County Superior Court, Ryan Bui ("petitioner") was convicted of two counts of residential burglary and related offenses. On October 3, 2007, the Superior Court entered a judgment and sentenced petitioner to a total of forty-eight months to life in prison.

Petitioner appealed his conviction and sought state habeas relief in the California Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal affirmed his conviction on October 7, 2009, and petitioner's habeas petition was denied on October 30, 2009. The California Supreme Court granted review of the appellate court's affirmation of the conviction and denial of the petition for a writ. It vacated the appellate court's decision and directed it to reconsider in light of the United States Supreme Court's then-recent decision in Presley v. Georgia, 558 U.S. 209 (2010). The California Court of Appeals, on April 6, 2010, again affirmed petitioner's conviction even in light of Presley. On July 2, 2010, the California Supreme Court denied review.

Petitioner filed the instant habeas petition in this Court on July 27, 2011. He challenges his conviction on the grounds that several of petitioner's family members and/or friends were excluded from the courtroom during a portion of the voir dire proceedings. Petitioner contends that this exclusion violated his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial. Petitioner also challenges his conviction on the grounds that the trial court improperly excluded evidence, which, petitioner suggests, would have corroborated his assertion that a third-party, rather than petitioner, committed the crime charged. Petitioner asserts that this exclusion violated his right to present a defense under the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

II. Factual Background

The California Court of Appeal, upon remand, set forth the factual background of the case as follows:

On March 10, 2004, a number of homes in Foster City were burglarized. Sharon and Yao Chi reported jewelry and cash missing from their Beach Park Boulevard home that day. Police also discovered that the home of George and Pamela Hung, also of Beach Park Boulevard, was burglarized the same day.
A third homeowner, Tommy Hui, was at home on Williams Lane [on] March 10th. He heard the doorbell ring, but did not answer the door because he did not recognize the black Range Rover parked in front of his house. Ten or fifteen minutes later, Hui heard the noise of his gate opening, and then heard a metallic ringing sound. He went downstairs, and saw two men at his sliding glass door. Hui started yelling, and both men fled. Hui called [the] police, describing the black Range Rover and giving them a partial license plate number.
Foster City police officer William Sandri responded to the call. Within two minutes of receiving the call, as he headed towards Williams Lane, Sandri saw a black Range Rover matching the description given. The Range Rover was stopped at a stop sign at the corner of Edgewater Boulevard and Port Royal Avenue. Sandri observed "two light skinned males" in the vehicle, which he followed. He lost sight of the vehicle for "a minute or more, " then saw it again in front of a RadioShack store in a shopping center on Edgewater. Sandri turned on his emergency lights in order to stop the vehicle. The Range Rover turned down an alley "at a high rate of speed." Sandri pursued the vehicle, which came to a stop at the alley's dead end. The two men in the vehicle exited and fled southbound out of the parking lot. Sandri gave chase and caught up with them near the south end of the shopping center. The two men were "doubled over out of breath, " and Sandri ordered them to get on the ground. Sandri identified Bui as one of the men and Hoa Khuu as the second person.
Neither man complied with Sandri's order, instead "jump[ing a] wall" into the yard of a residence on Monterey Avenue. Sandri radioed for backup, and informed his colleagues of the direction the men were headed. Foster City police officer Mark Lee responded and met Sandri on the 1000 block of Monterey. Lee went through the backyard of a residence and saw an Asian male, later identified as Hoa Khuu, running along the water of a lagoon behind the house. Khuu first hid on a boat, then went in the water, saying to the officers "[G]o ahead and fucking shoot me." He then got out of the water and continued to run, eventually being found hiding in a garbage can.
That same day, Mary Elkington heard a noise outside her Bristol Court, Foster City home. She went outside and saw an Asian male in his 20s. She asked him what he was doing, then told him to leave. The man got down on his knee behind some trees and gestured as though "[h]e wanted [her] to be quiet." The man then got up and ran. Later, Elkington's husband found two pieces of paper in the spot where the man had hidden. One was Bui's interim driver's license, and the other was a list of names, addresses and telephone numbers. The Hung and Chi addresses were on the list, with a line through the Hung's address.
Foster City police officer Eric Egan also responded to Sandri's call. He went into the backyard of a house near Elkington's home, and saw Bui on the ground under some bushes. He told Bui to get out of the bushes and down on the ground. As Egan holstered his gun, Bui fled. Other officers joined the chase, and they and Egan "took [Bui] to the ground and placed him in handcuffs."
Khuu testified at trial that he and Mark Pham had committed the burglaries, not Bui. He claimed that Pham utilized information gleaned during his employment at a real estate firm to make the list of names and addresses found by the Elkingtons, targeting Asian families based on a belief that they kept cash in their homes. Khuu said that he and Pham asked to borrow Bui's Range Rover (which was registered to Bui's sister) on March 10th, but did not tell him they intended to commit burglaries. He also borrowed Bui's driver's license, in case the police pulled them over. Khuu stated that Bui drove him and Pham to a shopping center in Foster City, then got out of the car. Khuu told Bui they were going to visit a friend, but instead they committed the burglaries. After a homeowner chased them, they went to pick up Bui who was waiting inside the RadioShack. Pham ran into the store and got Bui. Pham got into the back seat of the Range Rover and crouched down. A police car started following them about 30 seconds after he picked up Bui. Pham then asked him to pull over and let him out of the vehicle, which he did. While the police were chasing them down the alley, Khuu gave Bui's driver's license back to him, with the paper containing the list of addresses attached.
The jury found Khuu's testimony unconvincing and, as noted previously, convicted Bui on all charged counts.

Pet., Ex. C at 2-4 (brackets in original).


This court may entertain a petition for writ of habeas corpus "in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). In reviewing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, a district court "looks to the decision of the highest state court to address the merits of a petitioner's claim in a reasoned decision." Bartlett v. Alameida, 366 F.3d 1020, 1023 (9th Cir. 2004).

This case is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), which sets out the standard of review for a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Under AEDPA, a district court may not grant a petition challenging a state conviction or sentence on the basis of a claim that was reviewed on the merits in state court unless the state court's adjudication of the claim either (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).

A state court decision is "contrary to" Supreme Court authority, that is, falls under the first clause of § 2254(d)(1), only if the state court "arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law" or "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). A state court decision is an "unreasonable application of Supreme Court authority, and, therefore, falls under the second clause of § 2254(d)(1), if it correctly identifies the 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 federal court on habeas review may not issue the writ "simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly." Id. at 411. Rather, the application must be "objectively unreasonable" to support granting the writ. See id. at 409.

"Factual determinations by state courts are presumed to be correct absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary." Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003). Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2), a state court decision "based on a factual determination will not be overturned on factual grounds unless objectively unreasonable in light of the evidence presented in the state-court proceeding." Id.; see also Torres v. Prunty, 223 F.3d 1103, 1107 (9th Cir. 2000).

In order to obtain a writ of habeas corpus from a federal district court under either prong of AEDPA, the petitioner must show that the "state court's ruling on the claim being presented... was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement." Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 786-87 (2011). This very high standard is intended to "ensure that federal habeas relief functions as a ...

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