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Gosal v. McDowell

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 24, 2019

NEIL MCDOWELL, 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 his conviction imposed by the Sacramento County Superior Court in 2013 for second degree murder, for which he received a sentence of 35 years to life in prison. Petitioner alleges here that the trial court committed prejudicial error by incorrectly instructing the jury. For the reasons set forth below, this Court will recommend that the petition be denied.


         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         The California Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate District provided the following factual and procedural summary:

A. Evidence at Trial
On the weekend of August 30 and 31, 2008, a festival was held at the Bradshaw Sikh Temple in Sacramento, which was attended by several hundred people. The festival provided for games of field hockey, basketball, track and field, and cricket in nearby areas.
Defendant testified that in 2004 he lived in Elk Grove, which is where he became friends with Amandeep Dhami (Dhami). In 2006 defendant moved to Indiana. While in Indiana, defendant received threatening telephone calls from one Lahdi in California because defendant had refused to help Lahdi's friends in a criminal matter. Defendant stayed in touch with Dhami and was aware that Dhami was having problems with Poma, who knew Lahdi. Defendant learned that there was to be a meeting between Dhami and Poma on Saturday, August 30. Thinking this would be a good opportunity talk things over, defendant flew to Sacramento on that Saturday with a scheduled return flight for the following day around noon. Dhami and his friend Navi picked up defendant at the airport Saturday evening and, after making a few short stops, they drove to the Gun Room, where Navi was to buy ammunition. However, because Navi did not have identification defendant bought the ammunition, which consisted of a large quantity of bullets of various calibers. The meeting with Poma did not take place so defendant went to a motel room with Dhami and others where they hung out.
The next day, defendant's ride to the airport failed to show and he missed his scheduled flight. Dhami eventually picked defendant up and the two decided to go to the festival. Defendant put his duffle bag in the passenger seat of Dhami's sport utility vehicle (SUV) and saw a black backpack behind the seat. The two drove to the festival, parked, and walked to a drink stand. Defendant denied that either he or Dhami took anything out of the SUV and he denied having a gun or seeing Dhami with one. About 20 or 30 minutes later, while Dhami and defendant were walking to talk to some men, someone yelled Dhami's nickname and 15 to 20 men, among whom was Alvinder Khangura (Alvinder), were looking at them. Defendant recognized some of the men as the ones giving Dhami trouble.
As the men walked toward Dhami and defendant, Dhami said to Alvinder, “[W]hat's up bro?” Alvinder replied, “[N]o, bro, ” and punched Dhami in the face, and the men continued to advance toward defendant and Dhami. Dhami pulled a gun and the men with Alvinder backed up a few steps. A man in a white shirt pulled a gun, Alvinder hit Dhami again, the men started toward Dhami. Defendant heard three or four shots and the men started hitting Dhami and defendant. Someone struck defendant on the back of his head, causing him to stumble into Dhami who then handed defendant a second gun. Defendant tried to persuade the men not to fight, but they continued to beat him. Defendant backed up, fired about three shots into the ground, and then ran for the parking lot. As he ran, he threw away the gun and the keys to the SUV. Defendant was caught and beaten some more after which he was taken back to the festival area where he was held and later arrested.
The prosecution's evidence regarding the shooting was considerably different than defendant's version. Tajinder Uppal testified that he was at the festival on Sunday, about 1:00 p.m., and was returning to his truck to stow his gear after having played field hockey when he saw defendant drive into the parking lot in Dhami's SUV. Defendant and Dhami got out of the SUV, opened both rear passenger doors, and appeared to get something from the vehicle. As defendant and Dhami walked toward the fields, Uppal did not see anything in their hands. Uppal started walking toward the temple when he heard gunshots and saw people chasing defendant.
Manwinder Singh Mavi (Mavi) testified that he was at the festival with his friends Sahibjeet Singh, Alvinder, and Poma watching a cricket match when he saw defendant and Dhami come through the main entrance and walk toward them. When defendant and Dhami were about 10 feet from Mavi's group, Dhami angrily and loudly cursed Poma and Poma's sister. Neither Poma nor anyone else argued back. Mavi saw Dhami and defendant each pull out a gun and start shooting in the direction of Mavi's group. Dhami fired several shots, ran out of ammunition, and tried to pull out another gun. After Dhami and defendant ran out of ammunition they ran but were caught by some of the men. Dhami was able to get into a car and escape. Defendant was caught, beaten, and then held for the arrival of law enforcement. Poma was fatally shot and died at the scene, and Sahibjeet Singh was seriously wounded.
Law enforcement agents searched the festival area. Beneath a Camry in the parking lot they found a .44-caliber revolver and a black backpack. The backpack contained five boxes of various calibers of ammunition, each of which bore a price sticker indicating it was purchased from the Gun Room. The revolver was loaded with .41-caliber bullets whose head stamps matched the head stamps of a box of .41-caliber head stamps found in the backpack.

People v. Gosal, No. CO74473, 2015 WL 3563543, at *1-2 (Cal.Ct.App. June 9, 2015).

         II. Direct Review

         Petitioner sought review in the California Court of Appeal Third Appellate District, which affirmed the conviction and sentence on June 9, 2015, through a reasoned decision. Lodged Docs. (“LD”) 13, 17. He then sought review in the California Supreme Court, which summarily denied review on August 12, 2015. LD 18-19.

         III. Collateral Review

         Petitioner filed this petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2254 on October 7, 2015, and Respondent filed an Answer on August 31, 2016. (ECF Nos. 1, 14.) Petitioner filed a traverse on November 10, 2016. (ECF No. 19.)


         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 ...

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