United States District Court, Central District of California
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS
RALPH ZAREFSKY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Petitioner, LaZerre Stewart, a state prisoner in the custody of the California Department of Corrections, filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on April 2, 2014. The parties have consented to have the undersigned conduct all proceedings in this case, including the resolution of all dispositive matters.
A Los Angeles County Superior Court jury found Petitioner guilty of assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury and misdemeanor sexual battery (Cal. Penal Code §§ 245(a)(1), 243.4(e)). (Clerk's Transcript ["CT"] 83-84.) The jury also found that Petitioner personally inflicted great bodily injury upon the victim during the commission of the assault (Cal. Penal Code § 12022.7(a)). (Id.) Petitioner subsequently admitted to having suffered a prior serious or violent felony conviction for committing a lewd or lascivious act with a child and to having served a prior prison sentence (Cal. Penal Code §§ 667, 667.5, 1170.12). Petitioner was sentenced to fourteen years in state prison. (Id. at 177.)
After exhausting his state court remedies, Petitioner filed the current Petition. Thereafter, he filed a First Amended Petition. The Court assesses the First Amended Petition pursuant to the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"). 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Under the AEDPA, a federal court shall presume that a determination of factual issues made by a State court is correct, and a petitioner has the burden of rebutting that presumption by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).
The facts underlying Petitioner's conviction are set forth in the California Court of Appeal's opinion affirming his conviction. (Lodged Doc. No. 2.) The Court of Appeal's statement of facts, summarized below, is reasonably supported by the record.
On an afternoon in May of 2011, Karen Arevalo-Garcia, a twenty-three year old woman, weighing approximately one hundred pounds and standing less than five feet tall, was riding on a public bus in Van Nuys. Petitioner, a "big guy" who weighed approximately 230 pounds, sat down next to her and spoke to her. Arevalo, who spoke only Spanish, did not understand Petitioner and tried to ignore him. Nevertheless, Petitioner continued talking to her.
When the bus reached the metro station, Arevalo transferred to a crowded Red Line train. Petitioner followed her, and stood four feet behind her. She then felt someone forcefully grab her buttocks from behind. She immediately turned around and found herself face-to-face with Petitioner. Petitioner then began tugging on Arevalo's purse, while she struggled to hold on to it. Next, Petitioner punched her in the left eye with a closed fist and left the train car. A nearby police officer, who noticed the ensuing commotion, went after Petitioner and apprehended him within ten minutes.
As a result of Petitioner's punch, Arevalo's eye became swollen and discolored. It remained black and blue for two to three weeks. She experienced immediate pain and dizziness from the punch, and she had headaches for two weeks.
Petitioner raises two separate challenges to the evidence supporting the jury's verdict. First, he maintains that the prosecutor failed to introduce sufficient evidence to prove the allegation that Petitioner inflicted great bodily injury upon his victim. In Petitioner's view, his use of force did not rise to the level of force needed to support a finding that he inflicted great bodily injury. Although Petitioner acknowledges that his attack on the victim caused her to sustain bruising and swelling in her eye and to experience prolonged headaches, he nevertheless contends that her injuries cannot support the jury's findings because they were not permanent. Additionally, he notes that the victim suffered no broken bones, lacerations, bleeding, loss of consciousness, or scarring, nor did she receive follow up medical treatment. As such, Petitioner concludes that the victim did not suffer great bodily injury as defined by California law; consequently, he believes there is no evidentiary basis to support the jury's finding that he inflicted great bodily injury.
Second, Petitioner contends that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he committed the crime of misdemeanor sexual battery. He concedes that the charged crime was committed; however, he argues that no evidence was offered to show that he - as opposed to someone else on the train - committed the criminal act. In support of this argument, he notes that no one, including the victim herself, testified that they saw him grab the victim. Instead, the evidence showed that the victim turned around after she was grabbed and saw Petitioner standing next to her. Petitioner maintains that the victim's testimony in the regard was insufficient as a matter of law to allow the jury to conclude that he was the person who grabbed her. The Court of Appeal rejected both of Petitioner's sufficiency of the evidence claims on their respective merits. As explained below, the Court of Appeal did not commit constitutional error in rejecting either claim.
Habeas relief is unavailable on a sufficiency of the evidence challenge unless "no rational trier of fact could have agreed with the jury." Cavazos v. Smith, 565 U.S., 132 S.Ct. 2 (2011) (per curiam); Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979). All evidence must be considered in the light most favorable to the prosecution. Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319. Accordingly, if the facts support conflicting inferences, reviewing courts "must presume - even if it does not affirmatively appear in the record - that the trier of fact resolved any such conflicts in favor of the prosecution, and must defer to that resolution." Id. at 326; Bruce v.Terhune, 376 F.3d 950, 957 (9th Cir. 2004) (per curiam); Turner v. Calderon, 281 F.3d ...