United States District Court, C.D. California
November 21, 2014
JOEL SOSA CARDOSO, Petitioner,
J. SOTO, Warden, Respondent
Joel Leal Cardoso, Petitioner, Pro se, Lancaster, CA.
For J Soto, Warden, Respondent: Angela M Borzachillo, CAAG - Office of Attorney General, San Diego, CA.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
HON. MICHAEL R. WILNER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
This Report and Recommendation is submitted to the Honorable Beverley Reid O'Connell, United States District Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and General Order 05-07 of the United States District Court for the Central District of California.
I. SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATION
This is a state habeas action. Petitioner contends that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction for attempted murder. However, the state court decision denying this claim was neither contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law. As a result, the Court recommends that the petition be denied.
II. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
This case involves a dispute between drug dealers. The two victims failed to pay Petitioner, their distributor, for cocaine that they intended to resell to others. For this reason (or others proffered by the prosecution at trial), Petitioner confronted the victims at gunpoint and pursued them in a high-speed chase through the streets of Indio. The chase ended after Petitioner shot an assault rifle through the windows of the victims' car.
A jury convicted Petitioner of attempted murder and related weapons and drug charges. Because the jury concluded that Petitioner committed the attempted murder in a willful, deliberate, and premeditated fashion, the trial court sentenced Petitioner to a term of life in state prison. The appellate court affirmed Petitioner's conviction in a reasoned, unpublished decision. (Lodgment # 7.) The state supreme court denied review without comment. (Lodgment # 9.) This federal action followed.
A. Standard of Review Under AEDPA
Petitioner's claims are subject to the provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). Under AEDPA, federal courts may grant habeas relief to a state prisoner " with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings" only if that adjudication:
(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).
In a habeas action, this Court generally reviews the reasonableness of the state court's last reasoned decision on a prisoner's claims. Murray v. Schriro, 746 F.3d 418, 441 (9th Cir. 2014). Here, the state appellate court's opinion (Lodgment # 7) stands as the last reasoned decision on Petitioner's claim. That decision will be reviewed for reasonableness. Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 803-04, 111 S.Ct. 2590, 115 L.Ed.2d 706 (1991); Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 131 S.Ct. 770, 784, 178 L.Ed.2d 624 (2011).
Overall, AEDPA presents " a formidable barrier to federal habeas relief for prisoners whose claims have been adjudicated in state court." Burt v. Titlow,
__ U.S. __, 134 S.Ct. 10, 16, 187 L.Ed.2d 348 (2013). The federal statute presents " a difficult to meet [ ] and highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, which demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt." Cullen v. Pinholster,
___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 1388, 1398, 179 L.Ed.2d 557 (2011) (quotations omitted). On habeas review, AEDPA places on a prisoner the burden to show that the state court's decision " was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement."
Richter, 131 S.Ct. at 786-87.
Put another way, a state court determination that a claim lacks merit " precludes federal habeas relief so long as fairminded jurists could disagree" on the correctness of that ruling. Id. at 786. Federal habeas corpus review therefore serves as " a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal." Id.
B. Sufficiency of Evidence
Petitioner contends that there was insufficient evidence to establish that he committed the shooting in a premeditated manner. From this, he argues that he should not have been subject to an enhanced penalty for attempted murder under California Penal Code section 664.
The evidence at trial established that Petitioner was a low-level drug trafficker. He supplied cocaine to the two victims (street-level dealers) on credit. The dealers frequently failed to pay Petitioner on time for the drugs. Additionally, the jury heard evidence that the victims' roommate stole a handgun from Petitioner's car; the victims assumed that Petitioner blamed them for the theft. (Lodgment # 2, 1RT at 84, 92, 136, 140, 152.)
During closing argument, the prosecutor stated that Petitioner wanted " revenge" for these grievances. (Id., 3RT at 535.) On the evening of the shooting, the victims were sitting in their vehicle in the parking lot of a convenience store. Petitioner was in the back of another car that pulled up next to the victims. Petitioner pointed an assault rifle at the victims. The victims drove out of the parking lot and down the street at approximately 80 miles per hour. Petitioner's vehicle followed them, making several U-turns to continue to pursue the victims. Petitioner's vehicle ultimately caught up to the victims. Petitioner then shot the weapon into the victims' vehicle from his car. (Id., 1RT at 52-77.)
The police later recovered an assault weapon, magazine, and ammunition from Petitioner's vehicle and apartment. (Id., 1RT at 197-99.) In a Mirandized interview with police, Petitioner admitted chasing after and shooting at the victims. (Id.,
2RT at 252-53.) Petitioner stated that he " was fed up" with the victims. Petitioner also acknowledged that he " wanted to hit" the victims when he shot at their car. (Id.)
On direct appeal, the appellate court concluded that sufficient evidence supported the jury verdict. The Court conducted a broad survey of state law regarding proof of premeditation in attempted murder and analogous first degree murder cases. (Lodgment # 7 at 9-16.) The court found that the proof of Petitioner's motive for shooting at the victims (revenge for stealing drugs or a gun from Petitioner), arming himself with an assault weapon, and engaging in a high-speed chase before shooting into the passenger compartment of the victims' car " clearly demonstrate the necessary preexisting reflection to support a finding of premeditation and deliberation." (Id. at 12.)
2. Relevant Law
Under the Due Process Clause, a criminal defendant may be convicted only by proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute a charged crime or enhancement. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979). The relevant issue under Jackson " is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. at 319 (emphasis in original). Under Jackson, the only question to be asked about a jury's finding is whether it was " so insupportable as to fall below the threshold of bare rationality."
Coleman v. Johnson, __ U.S. __, 132 S.Ct. 2060');"> 132 S.Ct. 2060, 2065, 182 L.Ed.2d 978 (2012) (per curiam). On habeas review, a federal court's consideration is limited to the determination of whether the state court analysis -- which itself is deferential to a jury's verdict -- was " objectively reasonable."
Cavazos v. Smith, __ U.S. __, 132 S.Ct. 2, 4, 181 L.Ed.2d 311 (2011) (quotation omitted). As a result, Jackson claims " face a high bar in federal habeas proceedings because they are subject to two layers of judicial deference."
Coleman, 132 S.Ct. at 2062.
In applying the Jackson standard, the federal court must refer to the substantive elements of the criminal offense as defined by state law. Jackson, 443 U.S. at 324 n.16. A federal court sitting in habeas review generally is " bound to accept a state court's interpretation of state law." Butler v. Curry, 528 F.3d 624, 642 (9th Cir. 2008). California law applies a sentencing enhancement when a jury finds that an attempted murder was " willful, deliberate, and premeditated." Cal. Penal C. § 664. Evidence establishing these components of the enhancement may include proof of: (1) planning activity; (2) a motive to kill, such as a prior relationship between defendant and the victim; and (3) the manner of the killing. People v. Anderson, 70 Cal.2d 15, 26-34, 73 Cal.Rptr. 550, 447 P.2d 942 (1968); People v. Felix, 172 Cal.App.4th 1618, 1626, 92 Cal.Rptr.3d 239 (2009). Under California law, premeditation and deliberation can occur in a brief interval. The test " is not time, but reflection, " as " [t]houghts may follow each other with great rapidity and cold, calculated judgment may be arrived at quickly." People v. Osband, 13 Cal.4th 622, 697, 55 Cal.Rptr.2d 26, 919 P.2d 640 (1996).
Petitioner contends that there was insufficient proof to show that he committed the shooting in a premeditated manner. He argues that the chance nature of the encounter with the victims and the quick sequence of the events that followed refute the finding of premeditation.
On doubly-deferential habeas review -- that is, deferring to the state appellate court decision, which itself deferred to the jury's fact-finding -- the Court concludes that Petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief. The appellate court analyzed Petitioner's sufficiency-of-evidence claim by reference to state law analogues of Jackson. (Lodgment # 7 at 8.) In its reasoned decision interpreting California law, the court concluded that the jury heard sufficient evidence to establish that Petitioner acted with the requisite deliberation and premeditation to support the attempted murder verdict.
The appellate court gave detailed consideration to the proof that Petitioner acted in manner that reflected the cold and calculated manner of the shooting. The appellate court emphasized the extensive history between Petitioner and his drug-dealing cohorts, which provided Petitioner with an understandable motive for deliberately shooting at them. The court also recounted the evidence that Petitioner pointed his assault weapon at the victims in a parking lot, did not shoot at them in that well-lit location, but chose to pursue the victims through the neighborhood. The appellate court determined that the " very nature and duration of the car chase" and the deliberate firing of the weapon at the car demonstrated that Petitioner planned to shoot at the victims. (Lodgment # 7 at 12.) The state court concluded that this evidence was sufficient to establish the Anderson factors as a matter of state law.
On federal habeas review, the Court finds no constitutional error.
Coleman, 132 S.Ct. at 2062. The state court fairly summarized the key facts in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict. The state court then gave a reasoned explanation of the adequacy of the trial proof under relevant substantive state law precepts that this federal court may not revisit. The state court expressly held that a reasonable jury could find that Petitioner acted in a premeditated manner when he armed himself and shot at the victims after the high-speed chase. That decision was not an unreasonable application of the Jackson standard of review. As such, there was no " extreme malfunction" of the criminal justice system that warrants habeas relief. Richter, 131 S.Ct. at 786.
IT IS THEREFORE RECOMMENDED that the District Judge issue an order: (1) accepting the findings and recommendations in this Report; (2) directing that judgment be entered denying the Petition; and (3) dismissing the action with prejudice.