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Williams v. Grounds

United States District Court, C.D. California, Western Division

June 11, 2015

CHARLES WILLIAMS, Petitioner,
v.
RANDY GROUNDS, Warden, Respondent.

OPINION AND ORDER

DOUGLAS F. McCORMICK, Magistrate Judge.

I.

BACKGROUND

A. Procedural History

1. Petitioner's Conviction and Sentence

On December 12, 2011, a jury convicted Petitioner Charles Williams of 12 counts of robbery, also finding that Petitioner personally used a firearm while committing the offenses. Respondent's Notice of Lodging, Lodged Document ("LD") 1, 2. The trial court sentenced Petitioner to 26 years in state prison. LD 1, 3.

2. The Federal Petition

On July 30, 2013, Petitioner filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in this Court. Dkt. 1 ("Petition"). On December 18, 2013, Respondent moved to dismiss the Petition on the basis that Petitioner had not exhausted his state-court remedies with respect to three claims. Dkt. 17. After Petitioner failed to file an opposition to Repsondent's motion, this Court directed Petitioner to either (a) file a stay-and-abeyance claim if he believed he could make the necessary showing for such relief, (b) file an amended petition that deleted the unexhausted claims, or (c) show cause in writing why the petition should not be dismissed without prejudice for failure to exhaust state-court remedies. Dkt. 25 at 5.

Petitioner elected to file an amended petition that deleted his unexhausted claims. On June 30, 2014, Petitioner filed a first amended petition. Dkt. 28 ("FAP"). The FAP raises the following claims for relief: (1) Petitioner's rights to due process and equal protection were violated by the absence of any African-American jurors; (2) at the preliminary hearing, the witnesses were all sitting together in the courtroom when the judge took the bench; (3) the trial judge allowed the jurors to work on crossword puzzles and read during breaks in testimony; (4) juror bias; (5) the evidence was insufficient to support Petitioner's robbery convictions; (6) Petitioner's Sixth Amendment right to confrontation was violated; (7) Petitioner's trial counsel and appellate counsel provided ineffective assistance; (8) Petitioner is actually innocent of the charged crimes; and (9) Petitioner's conviction and sentence constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. FAP at 5, 10-35.

3. Petitioner's Direct Appeal and State Habeas Proceedings

On direct appeal, Petitioner's counsel submitted a brief pursuant to People v. Wende, 25 Cal.3d 436 (1979), in which counsel indicated that there were no arguable issues to raise on appeal and requested that the court conduct an independent review of the record. LD 4. Petitioner also submitted his own supplemental brief that raised four of the issues raised here. LD 5. The California Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment in a reasoned decision that reached the merits of all four claims raised by Petitioner. LD 6.

On April 26, 2013, Petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the California Supreme Court in which he raised the claims raised in the FAP. LD 7. The California Supreme Court denied the petition with citations to People v. Duvall, 9 Cal.4th 464, 474 (1995); In re Waltreus, 62 Cal.2d 218, 225 (1965); In re Dixon, 41 Cal.2d 756, 759 (1953); In re Swain, 34 Cal. 2d 300, 304 (1949); and In re Lindley, 29 Cal.2d 709, 723 (1947). LD 8.

B. Summary of the Evidence Presented at Trial

The underlying facts are taken from the unpublished opinion of the California Court of Appeal.[1] Unless rebutted by clear and convincing evidence, these facts are presumed correct. Tilcock v. Budge, 538 F.3d 1138, 1141 (9th Cir. 2008); 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (e)(1). Because Petitioner has raised a claim of insufficient evidence, the Court has independently reviewed the record. Jones v. Wood, 114 F.3d 1002, 1008 (9th Cir. 1997).

1. The Prosecution Case

On December 26, 2010, Francisco Merino was working as a cashier at Shawn's Market. Three African-American men, one of whom was armed with a gun, entered the store. The gunman, Petitioner, pointed the weapon at Merino and told him not to move. As Petitioner held Merino at bay, one of Petitioner's companions took over $1, 000 from the register, cigarettes, and liquor. Merino's coworker saw what was occurring and approached the register. Petitioner's other accomplice pulled a gun and chased the coworker into a bathroom on the premises.
On January 9, 2011, Ana Ornales Madallana and Reina Ramos were working as cashiers at Virgil Farm Market. Two men approached the cash registers and one of them jumped over the counter and yelled at the women to open their respective registers. He removed cash from each of the registers. The second man, Petitioner, stood in front of the counter and pointed a gun at the victims.
On January 12, 2011, Sushanta Halder and his wife were working at Tripti Market. Three African-American men entered the store. Petitioner produced a gun and told Halder and his wife not to move. The other two men came behind the counter and took money and cigarettes.
On January 12, 2011, Segeun Park was the cashier at Virgil Square Market. Petitioner pointed a gun at Park and told him not to move. Two African-American males got on the counter and took money and cigarettes.
On January 15, 2011, Yadin Taracena was working at Advance America, a payday loan company. Also present were her manager, Ingris Martinez, and a customer, Karla Henriquez. Three African-American men entered the store. The men began asking about applying for a loan. One of the three, Petitioner, pulled a gun and told everyone not to move. The other two men jumped over the counter and took money. The men also took Henriquez's purse and wallet.
On January 28, 2011, Oscar Blanco was working as a cashier at Neida's 99 Cent Store. A customer, Jose Lopez, was near the counter. Two African-American men entered the store. One of the men, Petitioner, approached the counter, pulled out a gun, and told Blanco that this was a robbery and demanded all of the money. Blanco handed Petitioner money from the register. The second man took Blanco's and Lopez's wallets.
All of the robberies were recorded on security cameras and the videos were played for the jury.

LD 6 at 2-3.

II.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Petitioner's state habeas petition in which he presented the claims in his federal Petition was denied by the California Supreme Court on procedural grounds. See LD 8. Where there is no state-court decision on the merits of a federal claim, this Court reviews the claim de novo. Cone v. Bell, 556 U.S. 449, 472 (2009); see also Answer at 14 (conceding that review is de novo). Under de novo review, Petitioner bears the burden of demonstrating that he is "in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 468-69 (1938); see also 28 U.S.C. §§ 2241(c)(3), 2254(a).

III.

DISCUSSION

A. Unconstitutional Jury Composition

Petitioner, who is African-American, argues that his constitutional rights were violated because there were no African-Americans on his jury panel. Petitioner alleges that, compared to the demographic make-up of Los Angeles County, the fact that there were no African-American jurors must mean that African-American ...


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