United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division
ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS
LUCY H. KOH, District Judge.
Petitioner Shawn Paul Hedlin ("Petitioner"), a state prisoner, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. ECF No. 1 ("Pet."). Petitioner asks this Court to vacate his conviction and sentence on two grounds: (1) that the prosecutor unconstitutionally struck jurors on the basis of race; (2) that Petitioner was denied a fair trial because the prosecutor engaged in prosecutorial misconduct by introducing gang evidence in violation of the state trial court's in limine rulings. Id. After considering the briefs and underlying record, the Court DENIES the petition.
On the night of January 30, 2005, Petitioner and his brother forcibly entered an apartment in San Francisco and shot three people, killing one. Petitioner is now serving two consecutive life sentences and a sentence of 50 years to life, plus 22 years for enhancements. See People v. Hedlin, 2010 WL 5384268 (Cal.Ct.App. Dec. 29, 2010) (" Hedlin "). Petitioner contends that his conviction and sentence should be set aside because (1) the prosecution unconstitutionally eliminated jurors on the basis of race; and (2) the prosecutor engaged in prosecutorial misconduct by introducing gang evidence in violation of the state trial court's in limine rulings.
A. State Trial Court Proceedings
1. Jury Selection Proceedings
During jury selection proceedings, the prosecutor used two of his preemptory challenges to strike the only two African-American prospective jurors: Mr. Parker, a priest, and Ms. Walker, a social worker. Hedlin, 2010 WL 5384268 at *5-6. After the prosecutor struck Mr. Parker and Ms. Walker, the defense counsel raised an objection under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), and People v. Wheeler, 22 Cal.3d 258 (1978), claiming that the strikes were racially motivated. Hedlin, 2010 WL 5384268 at *6. The state trial court determined that the defense counsel had made a prima facie showing of racial discrimination, and asked the prosecutor to justify striking Mr. Parker and Ms. Walker. Id. The prosecution then stated:
[W]e have a priest who is in the business of saving souls that works for convicts not victims, but people who have been charged with a crime or convicted of a crime in order to save their soul, who was excluded. If he was not African American, neither defense attorney would think twice about the prosecution excusing that person.
The same situation exists as to Miss Walker. If she was not African American no defense attorney would reasonably credibly with a straight face argue with the prosecution getting rid of a juror like that, so touched by the criminal justice system, to have cousins who were victims of crimes, but also defendants of shootings and murder and attempted murder, as well as an uncle who is low and behold innocent in her mind and falsely convicted and having served 12 years in prison or jail or wherever he was, to then expect that she would be a fair and impartial juror to the prosecution. They would never make the argument with a straight face.
ECF No. 13-2 ("Transcript"), 341:25-342:17. The prosecution also pointed out that Ms. Walker was single, unmarried, and works with disabled people. Id. at 342:20-21. The prosecutor noted that Ms. Walker was struck for similar reasons that other jurors were struck. He stated:
That doesn't make [Ms. Walker] a good prosecution witness for the same reason it didn't make Miss Wagner who is a teacher and out to help people, Miss Gegaregian who is a teacher that helps people. Mr. Parker falls into the same category. Miss Worthington who helps people, Miss MacKowski could also fall in that same category.... I don't need anyone that has any sympathy frankly for people generally or certainly who may find someone or find anything sympathetic about either one of these defendants. As for Miss Walker... I have enough doubt that she wouldn't be willing to believe police officers or the prosecution because of living in Bay View Hunters Point, which for the record is a gang infested violent section of San Francisco, where the police are challenged every day, they are shot at, they don't have the support of the community.... [M]aybe that would make her a good prosecution witness, but I have no reason to think that or believe that necessarily in a vacuum.
Id. at 342:22-343:25.
After considering the matter, the state trial court judge stated that "the Court holds all these lawyers in high esteem... I do not for a moment believe that [the prosecutor] had in any way, shape or form any... untoward motives seeking to exclude members of a cognizable group." Id. at 345:23-346:3. The state trial court judge then went on to note that "[Mr. Parker] indicated that he volunteered at the San Bruno jail... counseling, administering to defendants who are incarcerated there." Id. at 346:5-8. As to Ms. Walker, the state trial court judge noted that "there are a bevy of reasons why she might have been excused." Id. at 346:10-11.
2. The Prosecutor's Opening Statement
Before the trial, the prosecution moved to admit evidence that Petitioner, his brother, and the victims were all members of the Lomitas Park Locos, a local gang. ECF No. 7-5, 65-68 (People's Motion Regarding Introduction of Status as Gang Members). The prosecutor contended that the gang evidence was relevant to explain why certain victims were reluctant to testify. Id. The state trial court deferred its decision on whether to admit the evidence until witness testimony made "gang membership relevant." Id. at 73-74 (Minute Order). The state trial court excluded "other evidence of any other type of gang activity or membership either by the defendant or any witness" absent a further hearing on the relevance of the evidence. Id. The state trial court did not specify whether its order applied solely to evidence of the defendants' and witnesses' gang membership, or whether its order applied to evidence of the victims' gang membership as well. Id.
Prior to opening statements, the state trial court judge instructed the jurors that "[y]ou must base the decisions you make on the facts and the law.... you must determine the facts from the evidence received in the trial and not from any other source." ECF No. 13-6 ("Transcript"), 199:11-14. In addition, the state trial court judge noted that "[a]n opening statement is not evidence." Id. at 203:19-20.
In his opening statement, the prosecutor made the following remarks:
Good morning to everyone. They didn't execute the person they intended. You see, the target in the morning of January 31st, 2005, was a person by the name of Eduardo Zaparolli. Instead, they killed Gregorio Chicas on the way to get Mr. Zaparolli.
At that time in January, Mr. Zaparolli was living with Mr. Chicas... in an apartment... in South San Francisco.... With them in the apartment were their two girlfriends. Eduardo Zaparolli's girlfriend, Nelia Lopez, Gregory Chicas' girlfriend was Jeanette Briones.... They are all living together in this apartment. They are all working and they all knew each other or somehow were involved with the local gang called the Lomitas Park Locos, it's a Sureño gang.
Mr. Zaparolli and Mr. Chicas had been active, Mr. Chicas may have been getting a little old for it, Mr. Zaparolli not so much. So that night in January on the 31st, the early morning hours, a couple of things brought the Hedlin brothers to that apartment.
You see not only did the four people inside the apartment know each other, all four of those people knew the Hedlin brothers and knew them quite well. Had met them, had been out with them, been in the streets, been in their homes, been in their family homes. The Hedlins had been in that apartment before.
Id. at 204:4-205:5.
After the opening statement, the Petitioner and his brother moved for a mistrial on the grounds that the prosecutor's reference to gang membership violated the court's in limine ruling. Id. at 224:8-19. According to the defendants, the prosecutor's opening statement implied that the defendants were gang members. Id. at 226:22-25. The prosecutor contended that he thought the order excluded references ...