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Narcisse v. Fox

United States District Court, N.D. California

November 13, 2019

ROBERT W. FOX, Respondent.




         Djoliba Narcisse, a prisoner currently incarcerated at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, filed this pro se action for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Respondent has filed an answer and Mr. Narcisse has not filed a traverse. Mr. Narcisse's petition is now before the Court for review on the merits. For the reasons discussed below, the petition for writ of habeas corpus will be denied.


         Mr. Narcisse was charged in Contra Costa Superior Court with aggravated mayhem, mayhem, assault with a deadly weapon, and various related enhancements. CT 176-177. The California Court of Appeal summarized the trial testimony as follows:

Narcisse stabbed a woman outside a Pinole bar in the early morning hours of November 11, 2011, cutting her from the middle of her forehead, through her left ear, and down to her neck behind her ear. The incision was life threatening. It caused a significant loss of blood, required surgery, and left the victim with a visible scar and hearing problems. At trial, witnesses provided contrasting versions of exactly what happened.
According to the victim, she first encountered Narcisse the previous summer at the same bar when she was there with her companion. On that occasion, Narcisse followed the victim and her companion out of the bar, asked the victim for her phone number, persisted in soliciting the number even after the victim refused to give it, and prevented the victim and her companion from getting into their car until someone who was with Narcisse persuaded him to give up. The victim stated that she saw Narcisse about two other times at the same bar, these times without incident, before the night of the stabbing.
The victim testified that on the night of the stabbing, Narcisse bumped into her inside the bar “with force, pow” while she was standing still. The victim told him, “That's not how you say excuse me to somebody, ” and Narcisse responded, “If you want to make it up out of here alive, I suggest you leave now.” The victim testified that she was somewhat upset by the encounter but did not take Narcisse seriously. She went outside to calm down, smoked a cigarette, then reentered the bar.
The victim and her companion decided to leave the bar around 1:45 a.m., and they saw Narcisse holding a knife and arguing loudly in the parking lot with another woman. The victim told the woman with Narcisse that she “could do better.” Narcisse then said to the victim, “Shut up or I'll kill you, bitch, ” and around that time, the victim's companion asked Narcisse (in a joking tone, according to the victim) what he planned to do with his knife. The victim and her companion then started to walk away toward the companion's car, when Narcisse stabbed the victim from behind. The victim tried to fight him off but fell to the ground, and Narcisse kneeled over her. The victim's companion screamed at Narcisse to get off the victim, hit him, and said she was going to call the police. Narcisse went toward the victim's companion with his knife, but he then ran away.
*2 Other witnesses provided different accounts of the night's events, and some of their testimony supported a theory that Narcisse may have acted in self-defense. The woman who was with Narcisse outside the bar testified that she did not see him with a knife that night, although she acknowledged that he owned a knife and often carried it with him for use in the outdoors. According to her, the victim and her companion walked by, gave Narcisse a “really, really, nasty, mean look, ” and the victim looked as if she disliked Narcisse. She stated that the victim and her companion jumped Narcisse from behind after he told her (the woman he was with) that the victim and her companion were “crazy.” Narcisse testified on his own behalf. He denied stabbing the victim, bumping into her in the bar, or saying anything rude or insulting to her. He stated that he had previously owned a knife, but he had lost it and did not have one with him that night. He testified that the victim and her companion walked past him after the bar closed and yelled profanities at him and the woman he was with. He stated that the victim's companion grabbed a flint that was hanging out of his pocket on his keychain, and he responded by clutching her hand. Narcisse testified that the companion left after a brief struggle, but about a minute later he “got hit upside the head a whole bunch of times” from behind with what felt like a hard object. He crouched, then fell to the ground after his left knee hit the car in front of him.
He testified that he then crawled in between two cars while the victim and her companion “kicked and stomped on” him.²
[Footnote 2:] A police officer testified that when Narcisse was taken into custody three days after the stabbing, he showed no physical signs that he had been in a fight.
Narcisse claimed that he was eventually able to stand up, grabbed the victim by her throat, pushed her against a wall, grabbed her left wrist, and “begged her to stop, stop hitting me.” Whereas both the victim and her companion testified that neither one of them was armed, Narcisse testified that the victim's companion had a knife and told him, “I'm gonna cut you, motherfucker.” He testified that he let go of the victim and kicked the victim's companion to prevent her from cutting him, and the victim cut the back of his jacket with a box cutter. He stated that he then punched the victim in the face, and she fell into her companion (who still had a blade in her hand) and onto the ground. He took that as his “cue to get out of there” and left the scene, not realizing that the victim was bleeding or severely injured. Narcisse theorized at trial that the victim's companion accidentally cut the victim when she fell onto her, and his trial attorney argued this theory to the jury during closing arguments.
The woman with Narcisse in the parking lot testified that she saw blood on the ground after the fight, but she “never saw any cuts, ” and she did not know how the bloody wounds were inflicted. The prosecution played for the jury a recording of an interview the police had with this woman shortly after the incident. According to a transcript of the recording, the woman told an officer that “they really did attack him” and that Narcisse “really was defending himself.” She also said that Narcisse did “too much defending” and that she had yelled at the top of her lungs at him to “get off of her [the victim].” She also told the officer that “he was attacked by two women. He did defend himself. I mean, there's no doubt that he, in my opinion, went way overboard” but that “he did not instigate this.”

People v. Narcisse, 2013 WL 5675920, *1-2 (Cal.Ct.App. Oct. 18, 2013).

         A. Procedural History

         On September 12, 2012, a jury found Mr. Narcisse guilty of mayhem (Cal. Penal Code § 203) and assault with a deadly weapon (Cal. Penal Code § 245(a)(1)). CT 176-177. The jury also found that Mr. Narcisse personally used a knife, a deadly weapon (Cal. Penal Code § 12022(b)(1)) in both counts, and that he personally inflicted great bodily injury (Cal. Penal Code § 12022.7(a)) in the assault. Id. The jury found him not guilty of aggravated mayhem. Id. On November 9, 2012, the trial court sentenced him to nine years in state prison. CT 422.

         Mr. Narcisse appealed. The California Court of Appeal affirmed his conviction. Narcisse, 2013 WL 5675920. The California Supreme Court summarily denied the petition. Docket No. 28-3, at 142. Mr. Narcisse then filed his federal habeas petition, which was stayed to allow him to present unexhausted claims in state court. Docket Nos. 1, 5. Mr. Narcisse filed two habeas petitions in the state court, both of which were denied. Docket No. 28-3, at 90-94, 248-255. The stay of his federal petition having been lifted, the Court now turns to the merits of Mr. Narcisse's three cognizable claims. His claims are: (1) the use of the CALCRIM 3472 jury instruction on self-defense violated his right to due process because there was no evidence to support the instruction; (2) the use of the CALCRIM 3471 jury instruction on self-defense violated his right to due process because there was no evidence to support the instruction; and (3) his sentence violated his right to due process and his right to a jury trial because the sentence exceeded the maximum sentence the Legislature intended. Docket No. 25.


         This Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this action for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. This action is in the proper venue because the petition concerns the conviction and sentence of a person convicted in Contra Costa County, California, which is within this judicial district. 28 U.S.C. §§ 84, 2241(d).


         This Court may entertain a petition for writ of habeas corpus “in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a).

         The Antiterrorism And Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”) amended § 2254 to impose new restrictions on federal habeas review. A petition may not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the state court's 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.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

         “Under the ‘contrary to' clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000).

         “Under the ‘unreasonable application' clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.” Id. at 413. “[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.” Id. at 411. “A federal habeas court making the ‘unreasonable application' inquiry should ask whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law was objectively unreasonable.” Id. at 409.

         The state-court decision to which § 2254(d) applies is the “last reasoned decision” of the state court, if there is a reasoned decision. See Ylst v. Nunnemaker,501 U.S. 797, 803-04 (1991). When confronted with an unexplained decision from the last state court to have been presented with the issue, “the federal court should ‘look through' the unexplained decision to the last related state-court decision that does provide a relevant rationale. It ...

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