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Hernandez v. Spearman

United States District Court, N.D. California

June 5, 2017

M.E. SPEARMAN, Defendant.



         Before the Court is Jose Enrique Hernandez's ("Petitioner") Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus. ECF No. 11. The Court will deny the Petition.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Petitioner was convicted on September 10, 2012 of attempting to commit sexual acts with a child 10 years or younger in violation of California Penal Code §§ 288.7 and 664, and 10 counts of lewd and lascivious acts upon a child under 14 in violation of California Penal Code § 288(a). The evidence admitted at trial included statements from four interviews conducted by Detective Xavier Shabazz, an investigator with the Contra Costa County Sheriffs Department. ECF No. 11 at 13, 22. Over the course of these interviews, Petitioner confessed to a substantial number of the illegal acts charged against him. Following Petitioner's conviction, the trial court sentenced him to a prison term of 84 years to life. ECF No. 1 at 6-7. The trial court also ordered petitioner to pay the two victims a total of $1, 000, 000 - $900, 000 to one victim, and $100, 000 to the other. Exh. A at 873, 880; Exh. B at 2419-20, 2435-36.

         Petitioner filed this petition on February 10, 2016.[1]ECF No. 1. On April 11, 2016 Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu issued an order to show cause as to why the petition should not be granted.[2] ECF No. 7. Respondent filed an answer to the order on June 10, 2016, ECF No. 11, and Petitioner filed a traverse on October 7, 2016, ECF No. 18.

         Petitioner now seeks habeas relief from this Court on three grounds. First, Petitioner argues his confessions were obtained through improper coercion and admitted into evidence in violation of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. Petitioner advances four reasons why the Court should conclude his confessions were involuntary and unconstitutional: (1) Detective Shabazz wrongfully appealed to Petitioner's religious beliefs; (2) the detective made improper threats or promises of leniency; (3) the detective wrongfully appealed to Petitioner's fear of losing his daughter; and (4) the totality of the circumstances shows that the confessions were involuntary. ECF No. 3 at 30-35. Second, Petitioner contends the trial court's jury instructions were constitutionally deficient because they allowed the jury to make irrational permissive inferences in violation of due process and lessened the prosecution's burden of proof. ECF No. 3 at 38. Third, Petitioner argues the $1, 000, 000 victim restitution award was not found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt and therefore violates the Sixth Amendment. ECF No. 3 at 41.

         Respondent argues that Petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief because he has not established that the state court's rejection was contrary to or an unreasonable application of established U.S. Supreme Court precedent. Furthermore, Petitioner's claim regarding victim restitution is not a cognizable theory for habeas relief. ECF No. 11 at 22, 41, 46.


         Courts may grant habeas relief only if a state court's ruling on federal constitution claims resulted in a decision that was contrary to or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law or was based on an unreasonable determination of facts. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 407-09 (2000). "Contrary to" means that the state court's ruling is "substantially different from the relevant" Supreme Court precedent, or "confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable" from a Supreme Court decision and "nevertheless arrives at a result different from [Supreme Court] precedent." Williams, 529 U.S. at 405-06. An "unreasonable application" is one where the state court "1) correctly identifies the governing rule but then applies it to a new set of facts in a way that is objectively unreasonable, or 2) extends or fails to extend a clearly established legal principle to a new context in a way that is objectively unreasonable." DeWeaver v. Runnels, 556 F.3d 995, 997 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Hernandez v. Small, 282 F.3d 1132, 1142 (9th Cir. 2002)).

         A federal court "must defer to the state court's factual findings unless a defect in the process is so apparent that 'any appellate court. . . would be unreasonable in holding that the state court's factfinding process was adequate.'" Id. (quoting Taylor v. Maddox, 366 F.3d 992, 1000 (9th Cir. 2004)). A state court decision is not unreasonable merely because the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion. State court decisions are presumed correct unless rebutted by clear and convincing evidence. Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003). The standard for evaluating a state court's ruling is "highly deferential" and the state court must be given the benefit of the doubt, and the Petitioner has the burden of showing that the state court decision is objectively unreasonable. Cullen v. Pinholster, 131 S.Ct. 1388, 1398(2011) (quoting Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002)). A prisoner can obtain habeas relief only if he can show the error had a "substantial and injurious effect" on the verdict. Inthavong v. Lamarque, 420 F.3d 1055, 1059 (9th Cir. 2005).


         The Court addresses Petitioner's three arguments in turn and concludes Petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief.

         A. Petitioner's Confessions

         Petitioner argues that his statements to Detective Shabazz were involuntary because the detective's investigative tactics were coercive. ECF No. 3 at 29. "A finding of coercive police activity is a prerequisite to a finding that a confession was involuntary under the federal and state Constitutions." People v. McWhorter, 47 Cal.4th 318, 347 (2009) (quoting People v. Benson, 52 Cal.3d 754, 778 (1990)). A confession is involuntary if obtained by threats or violence, by any direct or implied promises of leniency, or by exertion of improper influence. Id. The Court of Appeal rejected Petitioner's position that his statements were involuntary. See ECF No. ...

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