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Najera v. Sherman

United States District Court, S.D. California

April 7, 2017

JOSE NAJERA, Petitioner,
STU SHERMAN, et al., Respondents.


          Hon. Cynthia Bashant United States District Judge.

         On October 28, 2015, Petitioner Jose Najera (“Najera”), a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his March 4, 2013 conviction in San Diego Superior Court for second degree murder. (ECF No. 1 at 6.) Petitioner asserts that former California Penal Code § 22(b) (“former § 22(b)”)[1] violates federal due process by excluding relevant exculpatory evidence.

         On August 19, 2016, United States Magistrate Judge Jill L. Burkhardt issued a Report and Recommendation (“Report”) recommending that this Court deny the petition. (ECF No. 10.) Petitioner filed an Objection to the Report and Recommendation (“Objection”) in which he reasserts his claim that former § 22(b) violates due process, and also argues that the magistrate judge failed to properly review the record before reaching her legal conclusions. Petitioner also requests an evidentiary hearing. Respondents have not replied.


On the morning of April 25, 2007, Najera was driving a stolen car. He had two passengers: his friend, David Lopez, and Lopez's girlfriend, Rachel Gaxiola. At approximately 9:00 a.m., San Diego County Sheriff's deputies attempted to stop Najera's car, having received a report it was stolen. Najera initially pulled the car over to the side of the road but then made a sharp U-turn and rapidly accelerated; Najera narrowly missed oncoming traffic and drove on the wrong side of a divided roadway at speeds up to 80 miles per hour[] for just under a minute. The chase finally ended when Najera collided head-on with a 76-year-old motorist, Jean Cooke. . . .
All four people involved in the collision were taken to the hospital, where Lopez was pronounced dead. Gaxiola had several severe bone fractures; she spent the next two and a half months in the hospital and was still in “constant pain” at the time of the trial. Cooke also suffered several broken bones and a collapsed lung; she still experienced symptoms of her injuries, including difficulty standing, at the time of trial.
Najera was treated for several fractures and lacerations. Najera admitted to doctors at the hospital that he had used methamphetamine the evening before the collision and heroin approximately five hours before the collision. These admissions were confirmed by later blood tests and consistent with the fact that a usable amount of methamphetamine was found in his pants pocket.

(ECF No. 8-7 at 3-4.)

         Najera was ultimately convicted in San Diego County Superior Court of second degree murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and other charges. Najera timely filed an appeal with the California Court of Appeal on May 6, 2013. (ECF No. 8-1 at 163.) The California Court of Appeal affirmed Najera's conviction. (ECF No. 8-7 at 1-15.) Subsequently, Najera filed a petition for review in the Supreme Court of California, which summarily denied the petition on November 12, 2014. (ECF Nos. 8-8, 8-9 at 1.)

         Najera timely filed the instant Petition on October 28, 2015. (ECF No. 1.)


         A. Review of Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation

         The Court reviews de novo those portions of a report and recommendation to which objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). The Court may “accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” Id. But the statute makes clear that “the district judge must review the magistrate judge's findings and recommendations de novo if objection is made, but not otherwise.” United States v. Reyna-Tapia, 328 F.3d 1114, 1121 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc) (emphasis in original); see also Schmidt v. Johnstone, 263 F.Supp.2d 1219, 1226 (D. Ariz. 2003) (concluding that where no objections were filed, the district court had no obligation to review the magistrate judge's report de novo). “Neither the Constitution nor the statute requires a district judge to review, de novo, findings and recommendations that the parties themselves accept as correct.” Reyna-Tapia, 328 F.3d at 1121. This legal rule is well-established in the Ninth Circuit and this district. See Wang v. Masaitis, 416 F.3d 992, 1000 n.13 (9th Cir. 2005) (“Of course, de novo review of a[n] R & R is only required when an objection is made to the R & R.”).

         B. Federal Habeas Review

         The power of a federal court to grant habeas relief on behalf of state prisoners is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”). See Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 326-27 (1997). Under AEDPA, a habeas petition will not be granted on any claim adjudicated on the merits in state court, unless that adjudication: (1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented at the state court proceeding. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); see also Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 7-8 (2002).

         For purposes of AEDPA, the phrase “clearly established federal law” means “the governing principle or principles set forth by the Supreme Court at the time the state court renders its decision.” Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 72 (2003). A state court decision is “contrary to” clearly established federal law if it applies a rule that contradicts governing Supreme Court law, or if it confronts a set of facts that is “materially indistinguishable” from a decision of the Supreme Court, but reaches a different result. Brown v. Payton, 544 U.S. 133, 141 (2005) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)). A state court decision involves an “unreasonable application” of clearly established federal ...

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