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Lam v. Gower

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 5, 2017

SAMUEL LAM, Petitioner,
BARNES GOWER, Warden, Respondent.



         Petitioner is a California state prisoner proceeding pro se with an application for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The action proceeds on the petition filed on August 12, 2014, ECF No. 1, which challenges petitioner's 2012 conviction for domestic violence offenses. Respondent has answered, ECF No. 13, and petitioner has filed a traverse, ECF No. 15. Petitioner seeks relief on the sole ground that his rights under the Confrontation Clause were violated by the admission of statements made to a responding police officer by the non-testifying complainant.


         I. Proceedings In the Trial Court

         A. Pretrial Proceedings

         Petitioner was charged in Sacramento County Superior Court with (1) inflicting corporal injury on a cohabitant in violation of Cal. Penal Code § 273.5(a); (2) assault with a deadly weapon in violation of Cal. Penal Code § 245(a)(1); (3) false imprisonment in violation of Cal. Penal Code § 236; and (4) brandishing a firearm in violation of Cal. Penal Code §417(a)(2). CT 21-23 (Amended Felony Complaint).[1]

         Both the defense and the prosecution filed motions regarding the admissibility of statements the complaining witness had made to a responding police officer. CT 135-45 (prosecution trial brief and motions in limine); CT 147-58 (defense trial brief and motions in limine). The prosecution was unable to locate the victim for purposes of trial, and sought to present the testimony of the officer regarding her statements. CT 139. The trial court conducted a hearing pursuant to Cal. Evid. Code § 402, at which Officer Daguman testified. RT 19-55.[2]The court ruled that the victim's statements were admissible as spontaneous statements, and that their admission would not violate defendant's rights under the Confrontation Clause because the statements were made in an emergency situation. RT 48-49 (finding no Crawford violation).

         Jury trial commenced on April 23, 2012. CT 133.

         B. The Evidence Presented At Trial[3]

         1. Prosecution Case

         Virgilio Manganaan testified that he was sitting outside a neighbor's open garage on the evening of July 23, 2011, when a young woman came running up asking for help. The petitioner was chasing her in his car. The woman said “Help me, help me” and “Call the cop[s].” Petitioner stopped his car and got out. He appeared angry, and the woman was crying and seemed frightened. She said “He's gonna kill me.” The witness did not want to involve himself by calling 911, but did so after the woman repeatedly asked him to. A recording of the 911 call was played for the jury. Mr. Manganaan did not see any violence by petitioner against the woman, or hear any threats.

         Officer Rodjard Daguman, of the Elk Grove Police Department, testified that he responded on the evening of July 23 to a call regarding a domestic disturbance on Jenny Lynn Way. Officers were already on the scene when he arrived, and he was informed that one of the involved parties was being detained. Officer Daguman spoke to Shoua Yang, who was sitting in the open garage of a neighbor. Ms. Yang had been crying and appeared afraid. She had bruises and scratches all over her face, and bruises were also visible on her arms, legs, knees, shoulders and back. Photographs of Ms. Yang's injuries were introduced into evidence. Ms. Yang told Officer Daguman that one bruise had been caused by petitioner hitting her with a metal pole. Another injury was the result of petitioner grabbing her by the bra strap and trying to rip her bra off.

         Ms. Yang's account to Officer Daguman was not chronological or cohesive. She was crying, speaking fast, and “all over the place” in recounting what was going on between herself and the petitioner. Officer Daguman thought that she was probably under the influence of methamphetamine, but she responded appropriately to questions and her answers made sense.

         Ms. Yang said that she had been in a dating relationship with petitioner for two years, and had lived with him for about a year. The incident that precipitated the 911 call on July 23 began when Yang entered the garage of their house, where petitioner was. Petitioner called Yang over, but she refused to go to him. Petitioner became angry, walked over to Yang, grabbed her by the shoulder and tried to choke her. Ms. Yang broke away and left the house. She returned later, and as she approached the house petitioner came after her. When she saw him she fled in the other direction, to the neighbor's house.

         The incident involving her bra strap had occurred three days earlier. On that previous evening petitioner had also hit her over the back of the head and shoulders with two wooden chairs. Ms. Yang reported that on numerous occasions petitioner had used handcuffs to secure her against her will to a car seat or other auto parts that were inside the house. Petitioner had also struck her with a fist on numerous occasions. On the night of July 22, petitioner had hit her with a metal pole. That same night, she was wakened from sleep by petitioner using a 12-inch knife to slash into the bed where she was sleeping. Photographs of the mattress were entered into evidence. Ms. Yang said that petitioner had pointed a gun at her on both the 20th and the 22nd. On an unspecified date or dates, petitioner had told her that if she left the residence or called the police, he would kill her. Ms. Yang feared for her safety. She said that there were guns and a machete in the house.

         At some point after initially speaking with Ms. Yang, Officer Daguman went into petitioner's residence and saw car parts including bumpers and bucket seats in the family room. Handcuffs were found in the bedroom that petitioner shared with Yang. Officers also found a metal pole, firearms, a knife, and a machete.

         Officer Brandon Holly testified that when he arrived at the Jenny Lynn Way address, petitioner was being detained by other officers on the sidewalk outside the house. Petitioner was placed into the patrol vehicle immediately upon his arrival. Officer Holly made contact with petitioner, and Officer Daguman talked to Shoua Yang. It was Officer Holly's impression that Ms. Yang was possibly under the influence of methamphetamine and that petitioner, who was calm, was possibly “coming down.” Ms. Yang gave permission for Officer Holly to search the residence. In various locations within the house he found two handguns, ammunition, a “samurai style knife, ” a machete, handcuffs, and a metal pole. Ms. Yang said that petitioner had hit her on the back and shoulders with the metal pole. She identified one of the handguns as the gun petitioner had pointed at her.

         Officer Holly questioned petitioner as he sat in the back of the patrol vehicle. After waiving his Miranda rights, petitioner said that he and Ms. Yang had lived together at the house for seven or eight months, and both used methamphetamine on a regular basis. Petitioner said that Ms. Yang had videotaped him and lied to him, and that he had responded on numerous occasions by hitting, slapping, punching and handcuffing her. He admitted having pointed a gun at her many times. He stated repeatedly that he loved Ms. Yang and had not been trying her hurt her on these occasions, but was just trying to get her to talk to him. Ms. Yang never fought back or physically assaulted him. Petitioner said that on the previous night he had hit Ms. Yang, stabbed the bed next to where she was lying, and handcuffed her to a chair against her will. He said that he was not trying to hurt her, but was trying to scare her so that she would talk to him. He had pointed a loaded gun at her on the previous night, but did not recall whether he made verbal threats. A week earlier he had threatened to kill her if she ever left him. He denied striking her with the metal pole. He stated that on the day of July 23 there had been no altercation, but that Ms. Yang had run out of the house and he had tried to get her to come back.

         Ms. Yang did not testify.

         2. Defense Case

         Petitioner's father, Bien Lam, testified that in July of 2011 he was living part-time with petitioner and Ms. Yang in the house on Jenny Lynn Way. He never witnessed any violence between petitioner and Ms. Yang, or saw him restrain her with handcuffs. He never heard any threats, and Ms. Yang never told him that she was being hurt. Sometimes the elder Mr. Lam would find Ms. Yang crying, but she would not tell him why. Sometimes she talked out loud to herself as if she was talking to another person, but no one was there.

         C. Outcome

         On April 27, 2012, the jury found petitioner guilty on all counts. CT 234-35. Judgment and sentence were pronounced on August 8, 2012. CT 274. Petitioner was sentenced to a prison term of five years and four months. Id.

         II. Post-Conviction Proceedings

         Petitioner timely appealed, and the California Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of conviction on December 10, 2013. Lodged Doc. 7. The California Supreme Court denied review on April 9, 2014. Lodged Doc. 11. The instant federal petition, dated April 28, 2014, was docketed on August 12, 2014. ECF No. 1.


         28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), provides in relevant part as follows:

(d) An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim -
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

         The statute applies whenever the state court has denied a federal claim on its merits, whether or not the state court explained its reasons. Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 785 (2011). State court rejection of a federal claim will be presumed to have been on the merits absent any indication or state-law procedural principles to the contrary. Id. at 784-785 (citing Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 265 (1989) (presumption of a merits determination when it is unclear whether a decision appearing to rest on federal grounds was decided on another basis)). ...

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