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Juarez v. Frauenheim

United States District Court, E.D. California

August 31, 2017

MARTIN JUAREZ, Petitioner,
SCOTT FRAUENHEIM, Warden, Respondent.



         Petitioner is currently in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation serving a sentence of 45 years-to-life for convictions of sexually abusing three girls. Petitioner has filed the instant habeas petition challenging his conviction. The Court finds that the state court rejections of his claims were not contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, Supreme Court precedent and recommends the petition be DENIED.


         In March 2014, Petitioner was convicted in the Kern County Superior Court of one count of continuous sexual abuse (Cal. Penal Code § 288.5(a)), and two counts of committing a lewd act upon a child (Cal. Penal Code § 288(a)). People v. Juarez, 2016 WL 1128492, at *1 (Cal.Ct.App. Mar. 22, 2016). Allegations were found true that each offense had been committed against multiple victims. Id. On April 2, 2014, Petitioner was sentenced him to a total indeterminate prison term of 45 years-to-life. Id.

         Petitioner appealed to the California Court of Appeal, Fifth Appellate District (“Fifth DCA”). Id. While the appeal was pending, Petitioner filed a habeas petition in the Kern County Superior Court. (Doc. 7-10 at 1.[1]) The superior court denied the petition in a reasoned decision on October 21, 2015. (Doc. 7-10 at 1.) On March 22, 2016, the Fifth DCA issued its opinion affirming the judgment. Juarez, 2016 WL 1128492, at *1. Petitioner filed a habeas petition in the California Supreme Court on September 15, 2016. (Doc. 7-11 at 1.) The petition was summarily denied on November 16, 2016. (Doc. 7-11 at 1.)

         On February 21, 2017, Petitioner filed the instant petition for writ of habeas corpus in this Court. (Doc. 1.) Respondent filed an answer on April 4, 2017. (Doc. 8.) Petitioner filed a traverse to Respondent's answer on May 5, 2017. (Doc. 9.)


The Court adopts the Statement of Facts in the Fifth DCA's unpublished decision.[2]
On June 24, 2013, defendant was charged with sexually abusing his wife's two granddaughters and grandniece between 2006 and 2011. Each girl was under the age of 13 at the time of the abuse. At trial, all three victims testified defendant approached them and engaged in inappropriate conduct with them while they were staying at his house, outside Delano, California. The first victim testified defendant touched her breasts and vagina on numerous occasions between 2007 and 2009, and would force her to touch his penis by forcefully manipulating her arm, while at the same time he touched her genitals. The second victim testified that on one occasion, in either 2010 or 2011, defendant touched her vagina and attempted to make her touch his penis, but she was able to run away. The third victim testified that in 2009 defendant approached her from behind and put his hands under her shirt and rubbed her breasts. In an instance of uncharged misconduct, the People presented the testimony of another teenage girl who testified that in 2009 defendant had approached her in his home and rubbed her inner thigh. There were no witnesses to these events.

Juarez, 2016 WL 1128492, at *1.


         A. Jurisdiction

         Relief by way of a petition for writ of habeas corpus extends to a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court if the custody is in violation of the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); 28 U.S.C. § 2241(c)(3); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 375 n. 7 (2000). Petitioner asserts that he suffered violations of his rights as guaranteed by the United States Constitution. The challenged conviction arises out of the Kern County Superior Court, which is located within the jurisdiction of this court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); 28 U.S.C.§ 2241(d).

         On April 24, 1996, Congress enacted the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), which applies to all petitions for writ of habeas corpus filed after its enactment. Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320 (1997) (holding the AEDPA only applicable to cases filed after statute's enactment). The instant petition was filed after the enactment of the AEDPA and is therefore governed by its provisions.

         B. Legal Standard of Review

         A petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) will not be granted unless the petitioner can show that the state court's adjudication of his 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.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 70-71 (2003); Williams, 529 U.S. at 412-413.

         A state court decision is “contrary to” clearly established federal law “if it applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [the Supreme Court's] cases, or “if it confronts a set of facts that is materially indistinguishable from a [Supreme Court] decision but reaches a different result.” Brown v. Payton, 544 U.S. 133, 141 (2005) (citing Williams, 529 U.S. at 405-406).

         In Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011), the U.S. Supreme Court explained that an “unreasonable application” of federal law is an objective test that turns on “whether it is possible that fairminded jurists could disagree” that the state court decision meets the standards set forth in the AEDPA. The Supreme Court has “said time and again that ‘an unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of federal law.'” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 203 (2011). Thus, a state prisoner seeking a writ of habeas corpus from a federal court “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 of fairminded disagreement.” Harrington, 562 U.S. at 103.

         The second prong pertains to state court decisions based on factual findings. Davis v. Woodford, 384 F.3d 628, 637 (9th Cir. 2003) (citing Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322 (2003)). Under § 2254(d)(2), a federal court may grant habeas relief if a state court's adjudication of the petitioner's claims “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.” Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520 (2003); Jeffries v. Wood, 114 F.3d 1484, 1500 (9th Cir. 1997). A state court's factual finding is unreasonable when it is “so clearly incorrect that it would not be debatable among reasonable jurists.” Jeffries, 114 F.3d at 1500; see Taylor v. Maddox, 366 F.3d 992, 999-1001 (9th Cir. 2004), cert.denied, Maddox v. Taylor, 543 U.S. 1038 (2004).

         To determine whether habeas relief is available under § 2254(d), the federal court looks to the last reasoned state court decision as the basis of the state court's decision. See Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 979, 803 (1991); Robinson v. Ignacio, 360 F.3d 1044, 1055 (9th Cir. 2004). “[A]lthough we independently review the record, we still defer to the state court's ultimate decisions.” Pirtle v. Morgan, 313 F.3d 1160, 1167 (9th Cir. 2002).

         The prejudicial impact of any constitutional error is assessed by asking whether the error had “a substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict.” Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 623 (1993); see also Fry v. Pliler, 551 U.S. 112, 119-120 (2007) (holding that the Brecht standard applies whether or not the state court recognized the error and reviewed it for harmlessness).

         C. Review of Petition

         The instant petition presents the following grounds for relief: 1) The state court's decision finding that the erroneous instruction to the jury under CALJIC No. 2.50.01 was harmless is objectively unreasonable; 2) There was insufficient evidence to support his convictions; and 3) Ineffective assistance of counsel deprived Petitioner of his federal constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial.

         1. Claim One - Instructional Error

         Petitioner first claims the trial court erred by instructing the jury with CALJIC No. 2.50.01 because, he asserts, the instruction improperly allowed for currently charged offenses to be used as propensity evidence. He asserts that the alleged offenses were too dissimilar or remote to be used as propensity evidence and improperly lowered the state's burden of proof. He contends the state court's finding that the error was harmless was objectively unreasonable and requires reversal.

         a. State Court Decision

         Petitioner raised this claim on direct review. In the last reasoned decision, the Fifth DCA denied the claim as follows:

         At the conclusion of defendant's trial, the court instructed the jury with CALJIC No. 2.50.01 as follows:

“In determining whether defendant has been proved guilty of any sexual crime of which he is charged, you should consider all relevant evidence[, ] including whether the defendant committed any other sexual crimes[, ] whether charged or uncharged[, ] about which evidence has been received. The crimes charged in Counts 1, 2, and/or 3, may be considered by you in that regard[.] [A]ny conduct made criminal by Penal Code [s]ection 647.6 [ (a) ](1). The elements of this crime are set forth elsewhere in these instructions.
“If you find by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant committed any such other sexual offense, you may[, ] but are not required to [, ] infer that the defendant had a disposition to commit sexual offenses. If you find the defendant had this disposition, you may[, ] but are not required to [, ] infer that he was likely to commit and did commit the crime or crimes of which he is accused. However, even though you find by preponderance of the evidence that the defendant committed other sexual offenses, that is not sufficient by itself to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed the charged crimes you are determining.
“If you determine an inference properly can be drawn from this evidence, this inference is simply one item for you to consider[, ] along with all other evidence[, ] in determining whether the defendant has been proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the charged crimes that you are determining. You must not consider this evidence for any other purpose.” (Italics added.)
Defendant contends that CALJIC No. 2.50.01 violates his right to due process since, in addition to permitting the jury to consider previously uncharged offenses as evidence of his propensity to commit currently charged offenses, it also allowed the jury to consider currently charged offenses as propensity to commit other currently charged offenses as well. The California Supreme Court rejected an identical argument in People v. Villatoro (2012) 54 Cal.4th ...

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