United States District Court, E.D. California
K. SINGLETON, JR., SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Maurice Johnson, a state prisoner proceeding pro se,
filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus with this Court
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Johnson is in the custody
of the California Department of Corrections and
Rehabilitation and incarcerated at Kern Valley State Prison.
Respondent has answered, and Johnson has replied.
was charged with second-degree robbery (Count 1),
second-degree commercial burglary (Count 2), and being a
felon in possession of a firearm (Count 3) in connection with
a January 2013 theft at an internet café. The
indictment also alleged that, as to Counts 1 and 2, that
Johnson was armed with a handgun and that, as to all counts,
Johnson had served three prior prison terms. Johnson pled not
guilty, denied the enhancement allegations, and proceeded to
a jury trial. On direct appeal of his conviction, the
California Court of Appeal laid out the following facts
underlying the charges against Johnson and the evidence
presented at trial:
A. The Prosecution's Case-in-Chief
On January 12, 2013, Crystal Lee was working as a clerk at
Web-Man, an internet café in Stockton. Around 11:40
p.m., Lee saw a man walk quickly or jog into an office area
towards the back of the café. Lee followed the man,
and watched him grab approximately $500 from the cash
register. Lee asked, “What are you doing?” The
man responded by pushing her into an office chair.
Frightened, Lee told the man “to do whatever he
wanted.” The man left Lee's office. Moments later,
Lee saw the man in the café, surrounded by customers.
The man broke free and fled, leaving a gun and glove near the
During the trial, Lee testified that the robber was wearing a
black hoodie, jeans and Nike shoes. The robber also wore a
glove on his right hand. The robber's face and hair were
covered, but Lee was able to see his forehead. Lee described
the robber's complexion as dark brown. Lee, who is five
feet and one inch tall, told police that the robber was five
feet and eight inches. At trial, however, she estimated that
the robber was closer to six feet three inches.
Max Haro was a customer at the internet café. Haro was
seated at a computer terminal near the front of the store.
While staring at the computer monitor, Haro saw the reflected
image of a figure moving quickly towards the office area.
Haro turned and saw someone go through the door leading
towards the office. He heard a disturbance, and rose from his
seat, positioning himself near the entrance/exit door. Haro
then saw a masked man emerge from the office area, and run
towards the door.
Haro testified that the man was wearing a long beanie, pulled
down over his face. Although the man's face was obscured,
Haro could see his eyes. Haro also testified that he could
also see dark brown dreadlocks sticking out of the man's
Haro struck the man with a closed fist. The man stumbled or
shuffled forward, and a gun fell to the floor from the area
around his waist. The man recovered and ran out of the
building. Haro picked up the gun barehanded and set it on the
counter, on top of a glove that another customer had already
placed there. The gun, which was taped around the handle,
remained on the counter, untouched, until police arrived.
Craig Lease was another customer at the internet café.
Lease saw a man come into the café and run towards the
office area. Lease testified that he saw the man make contact
with Lee, and then run towards the front door.
Lease testified that he could see the man's face, and
that he was “black.” Lease added that he was
wearing a hoodie and holding a gun in his right hand. Lease
could not see the man's hair.
Lease saw another customer (later identified as Haro) strike
the man, who fell forward, losing his grip on the gun. The
gun flew out of the man's hand, and came to rest
approximately 15 feet away. The man then ran out of the
Stockton Police Officer James Padilla responded to the
café shortly before midnight. Padilla testified that
he recovered the gun and removed several rounds of live
ammunition using his bare hands. The gun was a .32 caliber
Senior Criminalist Bob Cheseldine analyzed the gun for DNA.
Cheseldine's analysis revealed one major contributor and
two minor contributors. Most of the DNA found on the gun-93%
of the sample-belonged to the major contributor. The DNA
profile for the major contributor was uploaded into a
database, which returned a match to [Johnson].
Cheseldine also examined DNA on the ammunition found in the
gun. Cheseldine concluded that there was not enough DNA on
the ammunition to include or exclude [Johnson] as a possible
Cheseldine also examined DNA on the glove found on the floor
of the café. The glove contained a mixture from at
least three different contributors. The major contributor was
female. There was not enough DNA from the two minor
contributors to include or exclude [Johnson] as a possible
At trial, Cheseldine acknowledged that he could not tell when
DNA was deposited on an object, or who touched the object
last. Furthermore, Cheseldine acknowledged that DNA could be
transferred from one person to another person, and then to
the object. Nevertheless, Cheseldine opined that the
probability that the DNA found on the gun was from another
African American person was one in 700 quintillion.
Stockton Police Detective Phirun Var interviewed [Johnson] on
November 4, 2013. Var testified that [Johnson] stands between
five feet ten inches and six feet tall and is right-handed.
Var also testified that, at the time of the interview,
[Johnson] wore dreadlocks and “the tip of his hair was
. . . lighter than the rest of his hair.” The interview
was recorded and a redacted version played for the jury.
During the redacted recording, [Johnson] acknowledged that he
lived near the café at the time of the robbery.
[Johnson] also acknowledged that he had previously committed
robberies and had “been caught with guns.” We
discuss [Johnson's] statements regarding guns in greater
Despite these admissions, [Johnson] repeatedly denied having
committed the robbery. Even as [Johnson] denied robbing the
café, he implied that, had he intended to commit a
robbery, he would not have been caught. Specifically,
[Johnson] stated that he would have been careful to conceal
his face and dreadlocks. According to [Johnson], “First
of all, I've done robberies and I never leave my face
open.” When asked what he ordinarily uses to cover his
face, [Johnson] replied, “Anything I can find. A sheet,
a shirt, something, because this is like, these [dreadlocks]
is like, real noticeable.” When informed that witnesses
had described the robber as having dreadlocks, [Johnson]
responded that his dreadlocks were “fire red” at
the time of the robbery.
[Johnson] also suggested that he could not have committed the
crime because he would not have left his gun behind. When Var
described the gun recovered from the crime scene as
“hella crappy, ” [Johnson] responded, “I
don't care how crappy it looked. As long as it shoots,
I'm not leaving it.” When confronted with the
results of the DNA analysis, [Johnson] allowed that he might
have committed the crime, but forgot having done so, due to
his excessive drug use. When asked to explain how his DNA
came to be on the gun, [Johnson] hypothesized: “Maybe I
coulda touched it. Somebody I let use it. But then, then no,
‘cuz I want my gun back.” When pressed, [Johnson]
insisted: “I don't know. It's a good one. But I
know, I don't leave guns. I pay too much for them. For
real, I don't leave ‘em.” [Johnson] was not
able to explain how his DNA came to be on the gun.
B. [Johnson's] Motion in Limine
Out of the presence of the jury, [Johnson] moved to exclude
portions of the recorded interview, including a conversation
with Var concerning his prior possession of revolvers. The
transcript of the unredacted recording includes the following
“[VAR]: Do you own any guns?
“[JOHNSON]: Do I have any guns?
“[JOHNSON]: No. I've been caught with guns.
That's my M.O. I get caught with guns.
“[VAR]: Yeah, I read a little bit-
“[VAR]: A little bit about you. So, what kind of guns
do you usually carry? Or do you usually get caught with?
“[VAR]: Okay. What was the last revolver you had?
“[JOHNSON]: A .38? No, uh, .357.
“[VAR]: A .357?
“[JOHNSON]: I got caught with ...