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Cuevas v. Beard

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 28, 2017

JEFFREY BEARD, Respondent.



         Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis with a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner challenges a judgment of conviction entered against him on February 7, 2011 in the San Joaquin County Superior Court on counts of lewd and lascivious acts on a child under the age of fourteen. He seeks federal habeas relief on the grounds that the trial court erred when it: (1) admitted evidence of petitioner's prior uncharged crimes, and (2) instructed the jury with CALCRIM No. 318 on the use of a witness's pretrial statements. Both parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge.

         Upon careful consideration of the record and the applicable law, the undersigned will deny petitioner's application for habeas corpus relief.


         In its unpublished memorandum and opinion affirming petitioner's judgment of conviction on appeal, the California Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate District provided the following factual summary:

33-year-old Robert Wolfe, a friend of defendant's, was regularly having sex with 13-year-old Jane Doe. Wolfe introduced Doe to defendant. Defendant was approximately 32 years old when he met Doe. Doe testified to seven sexual encounters with defendant.
The first encounter occurred at defendant's apartment. Wolfe directed Doe into defendant's bedroom and told her to disrobe. Both men lay on the bed wearing only their shirts. Doe had intercourse with Wolfe while defendant lay next to them. After Wolfe finished and left the room, defendant had intercourse with Doe from behind. Then Wolfe reentered the room and orally copulated defendant. Doe had not wanted to have sex with defendant; she did not care about him and only had sex with him to please Wolfe.
The second encounter occurred a couple of months later in Wolfe's apartment. Defendant was there to smoke marijuana with Wolfe and Doe. Wolfe brought out pornographic magazines and played pornography on his computer and television. Defendant pushed Doe into the kitchen, pulled down her pants, and had intercourse with her from behind. Wolfe pointed a digital camera at them, but Doe did not know if he was actually taking pictures.
The third encounter took place at defendant's apartment. Wolfe, Doe, and defendant were on defendant's couch. Doe orally copulated Wolfe while defendant had intercourse with Doe from behind. There was a video camera on a coffee table in the room pointed at the three of them. Doe believed the camera was running because the camera's light was on. Doe went into the bathroom to clean herself. As she left the bathroom, she saw defendant shredding the video tape from the video camera in a paper shredder.
The fourth encounter occurred when defendant was driving Doe home. Defendant pulled into a parking lot. He wanted to have sex with her, but she did not. She orally copulated him instead.
The fifth encounter occurred in defendant's apartment. Wolfe and his wife had moved into the apartment in December 2006, and Doe would spend the night there on occasion. One night, defendant came home from work while on break. Doe was sleeping on the couch. Defendant woke her and had sex with her. Doe said the incident “kind of felt like rape.... I didn't want it to happen and I was sleeping. It just didn't feel right to me.” Doe did not do anything to stop defendant because she was afraid of saying no.
The sixth encounter occurred on another night when Doe was staying at defendant's apartment with Wolfe and his wife. Doe went into defendant's bedroom to ask him for some headache medicine.
Defendant awoke and forced her into his bathroom. He pushed her face first against the wall. He pulled her pants down a little bit. She felt his penis against her. She was able to get away, and she ran out of the bathroom.
The seventh incident took place at a house to which defendant had moved. Wolfe took Doe to the house. They went into defendant's bedroom, and both Wolfe and defendant had intercourse with her.
Doe testified she was high on drugs every time she had sex with Wolfe and defendant.[fn 1]
Pursuant to Evidence Code section 1108, the prosecution presented evidence of defendant's prior sexual relationships with two teenage girls. G.C. was 14 years old and defendant was 17 years old when they met. They began dating when she was 15. At 16, she became pregnant with defendant's child. The child was born in 1994.
M.R. met defendant when she was 15 years old, and he was 21 years old. At 16, she became pregnant with defendant's child. The child was born in 1997.
[fn 1] Wolfe pleaded guilty to molestation charges. He testified for the prosecution.

People v. Cuevas, No. C067437, 2014 WL 2211860, at *1-2 (Cal.Ct.App. 2014).[1]


         The Court of Appeal set out the procedural history of the case in the trial court:

The trial court declared a mistrial in defendant's first trial, as the jury was unable to reach a verdict. In the second trial, the jury convicted defendant of three counts of committing lewd and lascivious acts on a child under the age of 14 years (Pen.Code, § 288, subd. (a)), and found true the allegations that defendant engaged in substantial sexual conduct with a child under the age of 14. (Pen.Code, § 1203.066, subd. (a)(8).) It acquitted defendant of an additional count of lewd and lascivious acts on a child and a count of using a minor under the age of 14 to perform an obscene act. (Pen.Code, § 311.4, subd. (c).)
The trial court sentenced defendant to a state prison term of 12 years, calculated as follows: the upper term of eight years on one of the lewd conduct counts, plus consecutive two years for each of the remaining lewd conduct counts.

Id. at *2.

         In his appeal, petitioner argued the trial court erred when it (1) admitted evidence of petitioner's prior uncharged crimes, and (2) instructed the jury with CALCRIM No. 318 on the use of a witness's pretrial statements. (AOB (LD 1).[2]) The Court of Appeal rejected those claims. Cuevas, 2014 WL 2211860. Petitioner filed a petition for review with the California Supreme Court in which he asserted the same two claims. (LD 5.) The California Supreme Court denied review. (LD 6.)


         An application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody under a judgment of a state court can be granted only for violations of the Constitution or laws of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). A federal writ is not available for alleged error in the interpretation or application of state law. See Wilson v. Corcoran, 562 U.S. 1, 5 (2010); Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991); Park v. California, 202 F.3d 1146, 1149 (9th Cir. 2000).

         Title 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) sets forth the following standards for granting federal habeas corpus relief:

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.

         For purposes of applying § 2254(d)(1), “clearly established federal law” consists of holdings of the United States Supreme Court at the time of the last reasoned state court decision. Greene v. Fisher, 565 U.S. 34, 37 (2011); Stanley v. Cullen, 633 F.3d 852, 859 (9th Cir. 2011) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)). Circuit court precedent “‘may be persuasive in determining what law is clearly established and whether a state court applied that law unreasonably.'” Stanley, 633 F.3d at 859 (quoting Maxwell v. Roe, 606 F.3d 561, 567 (9th Cir. 2010)). However, circuit precedent may not be “used to refine or sharpen a general principle of Supreme Court jurisprudence into a specific legal rule that th[e] [Supreme] Court has not announced.” Marshall v. Rodgers, 133 S.Ct. 1446, 1450 (2013) (citing Parker v. Matthews, 567 U.S. 37 (2012)). Nor may it be used to “determine whether a particular rule of law is so widely accepted among the Federal Circuits that it would, if presented to th[e] [Supreme] Court, be accepted as correct.” Id. at 1451. Further, where courts of appeals have diverged in their treatment of an issue, it cannot be said that there is “clearly established Federal law” governing that issue. Carey v. Musladin, 549 U.S. 70, 76-77 (2006).

         A state court decision is “contrary to” clearly established federal law if it applies a rule contradicting a holding of the Supreme Court or reaches a result different from Supreme Court precedent on “materially indistinguishable” facts. Price v. Vincent, 538 U.S. 634');">538 U.S. 634, 640 (2003) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 405-06). “Under the ‘unreasonable application' clause of § 2254(d)(1), a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from th[e] [Supreme] Court's decisions, but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.'” Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 413); Chia v. Cambra, 360 F.3d 997, 1002 (9th Cir. 2004). “[A] federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather, that application must also be unreasonable.” Williams, 529 U.S. at 411; see also Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007); Lockyer, 538 U.S. at 75 (“It is not enough that a federal habeas court, in its independent review of the legal question, is left with a firm conviction that the state court was erroneous.” (Internal citations and quotation marks omitted.)). “A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as ‘fairminded jurists could disagree' on the correctness of the state court's decision.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011) (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)).

         Accordingly, “[a]s a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 103. There are two ways a petitioner may satisfy subsection (d)(2). Hibbler v. Benedetti, 693 F.3d 1140, 1146 (9th Cir. 2012). He may show the state court's findings of fact “were not supported by substantial evidence in the state court record” or he may “challenge the fact-finding process itself on the ground it was deficient in some material way.” Id. (citing Taylor v. Maddox, 366 F.3d 992, 999-1001 (9th Cir. 2004)); see also Hurles v. Ryan, 752 F.3d 768, 790-91 (9th Cir. 2014) (If a state court makes factual findings without an opportunity for the petitioner to present evidence, the fact-finding process may be deficient and the state court opinion may not be entitled to deference.). Under the “substantial evidence” test, the court asks whether “an appellate panel, applying the normal standards of appellate review, ” could reasonably conclude that the finding is supported by the record. Hibbler, 693 F.3d at 1146 (9th Cir. 2012).

         The second test, whether the state court's fact-finding process is insufficient, requires the federal court to “be satisfied that any appellate court to whom the defect [in the state court's fact-finding process] is pointed out would be unreasonable in holding that the state court's fact-finding process was adequate.” Hibbler, 693 F.3d at 1146-47 (quoting Lambert v. Blodgett, 393 F.3d 943, 972 (9th Cir. 2004)). The state court's failure to hold an evidentiary hearing does not automatically render its fact finding process unreasonable. Id. at 1147. Further, a state court may make factual findings without an evidentiary hearing if “the record conclusively establishes a fact or where petitioner's factual allegations are entirely without credibility.” Perez v. Rosario, 459 F.3d 943, 951 (9th Cir. 2006) (citing Nunes v. Mueller, 350 F.3d 1045, 1055 (9th Cir. 2003)). If a petitioner overcomes one of the hurdles posed by section 2254(d), this court reviews the merits of the claim de novo. Delgadillo v. Woodford, 527 F.3d 919, 925 (9th Cir. 2008); see also Frantz v. Hazey, 533 F.3d 724, 735 (9th Cir. 2008) (en banc) (“[I]t is now clear both that we may not grant habeas relief simply because of § 2254(d)(1) error and that, if there is such error, we must decide the habeas petition by considering de novo the constitutional issues raised.”). For the claims upon which petitioner seeks to present evidence, petitioner must meet the standards of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2) by showing that he has not “failed to develop the factual basis of [the] claim in State court proceedings” and by meeting the federal case law standards for the presentation of evidence in a federal habeas proceeding. See Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 186 (2011).

         The court looks to the last reasoned state court decision as the basis for the state court judgment. Stanley, 633 F.3d at 859; Robinson v. Ignacio, 360 F.3d 1044, 1055 (9th Cir. 2004). “[I]f the last reasoned state court decision adopts or substantially incorporates the reasoning from a previous state court decision, [this court] may consider both decisions to ‘fully ascertain the reasoning of the last decision.'” Edwards v. Lamarque, 475 F.3d 1121, 1126 (9th Cir. 2007) (en banc) (quoting Barker v. Fleming, 423 F.3d 1085, 1093 (9th Cir. 2005)). “When a federal claim has been presented to a state court and the state court has denied relief, it may be presumed that the state court adjudicated the claim on the merits in the absence of any indication or state-law procedural principles to the contrary.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 99. This presumption may be overcome by showing “there is reason to think some other explanation for the state court's decision is more likely.” Id. at 99-100 (citing Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 803 (1991)). Similarly, when a state court decision on a petitioner's claims rejects some claims but does not expressly address a federal claim, a federal habeas court must presume, subject to rebuttal, that the federal claim was adjudicated on the merits. Johnson v. Williams, 133 S.Ct. 1088, 1091 (2013).

         A summary denial is presumed to be a denial on the merits of the petitioner's claims. Stancle v. Clay, 692 F.3d 948, 957 & n. 3 (9th Cir. 2012). Where the state court reaches a decision on the merits but provides no reasoning to support its conclusion, a federal habeas court independently reviews the record to determine whether habeas corpus relief is available under § 2254(d). Stanley, 633 F.3d at 860; Himes v. Thompson, 336 F.3d 848, 853 (9th Cir. 2003). “Independent review of the record is not de novo review of the constitutional issue, but rather, the only method by which we can determine whether a silent state court decision is objectively unreasonable.” Himes, 336 F.3d at 853 (citing Delgado v. Lewis, 223 F.3d 976, 981 (9th Cir. 2000)). This court “must determine what arguments or theories . . . could have supported, the state court's decision; and then it must ask whether it is possible fairminded jurists could disagree that those arguments or theories are inconsistent with the holding in a prior decision of th[e] [Supreme] Court.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 102. The petitioner bears “the burden to demonstrate that ‘there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief.'” Walker v. Martel, 709 F.3d 925, 939 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting Richter, 562 U.S. at 98).

         When it is clear, however, that a state court has not reached the merits of a petitioner's claim, the deferential standard set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) does not apply and a federal habeas court must review the claim de novo. Stanley, 633 F.3d at 860; Reynoso v. Giurbino, 462 F.3d 1099, 1109 (9th Cir. 2006); Nulph v. Cook, 333 F.3d 1052, 1056 (9th Cir. 2003).


         Petitioner raises two claims in his habeas petition here. First, he contends that admission of evidence of other uncharged crimes under California Evidence Code § 1108 violated his due process and equal protection rights. He further argues that § 1108 is unconstitutional. Second, petitioner claims jury instruction CALCRIM No. 318, regarding the use of a witness's prior statements as evidence, violated his due process rights to a fair trial.[3] Each claim is addressed below.

         I. Admission of Evidence of Prior Uncharged Crimes

         Petitioner argues that the prior uncharged acts were so dissimilar from the crimes at issue that they were not probative and were unduly prejudicial. Specifically, petitioner points out that the prior acts occurred when he was much younger and the girls involved were near his age. In addition, the amount of time that had passed since those prior acts contributed to their lack of probative value. (Pet. for Review (LD 5) at 5-8.) Petitioner further argues that California Evidence Code § 1108 is unconstitutional. Section 1108 permits the introduction of evidence of prior sexual offenses in a trial for a sexual offense so long as the probative value of the evidence outweighs its potential for prejudice under California Evidence Code § 352.[4]

         A. Factual Background

         The prosecution presented the testimony of two women who had sexual relationships with petitioner when they were minors. First, G.C. testified that in 1993 when she was fifteen years old and petitioner was eighteen years old, they had a sexual relationship that resulted in a pregnancy. When she was sixteen and he was nineteen, G.C. gave birth to a son. (RT 170-171.) She testified that when she started dating petitioner, he was out of high school. (RT 174.) Second, M.R. testified that she met petitioner in early 1996 when she was fifteen years old and he was twenty-one. (RT 176-177.) ...

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