United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS; AND
DENYING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY
GONZALEZ ROGERS United States District Judge.
Christopher Mancinas, a state prisoner, is currently
incarcerated at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility,
pursuant to his judgments in three cases, People v.
Christopher Mancinas, Sonoma County Superior Court Case
Nos. SCR498868, SCR590577, and SCR595589. On April 16, 2012,
in Case No. SCR595589, a Sonoma County jury convicted
Petitioner of active participation in a criminal street gang
(count four), which was in connection with the gang-related
death of a non-gang member named Dewey Tucker,  with one strike
prior conviction, one prior serious felony conviction, and
two prior prison terms. See People v. Mancinas, No.
A141759, 2017 WL 1422589, at *1-2 (Cal.Ct.App. Apr. 21, 2017,
as modified on denial of reh'g, May 16, 2017). Meanwhile,
on September 13, 2013, in Case No. SCR590577, Petitioner
pleaded no contest to possession of methamphetamine for sale,
transportation of methamphetamine, possession of cocaine, and
possession of a firearm by a felon, with one strike prior
conviction and prior prison term. See Id. at *1.
Lastly, on December 4, 2013, in Case No. SCR498868,
Petitioner pleaded no contest to assault with a deadly weapon
and admitted one strike prior conviction. See Id. On
April 9, 2014, the trial court sentenced Petitioner to an
aggregate twenty-two years in prison for the three
aforementioned cases. Id. at 2.
brings the instant pro se habeas action under 28
U.S.C. § 2254 to challenge his conviction for actively
participating in a criminal street gang in connection with
Tucker's murder in Case No. SCR595589. Dkt. 1.
read and considered the papers filed in connection with this
matter and being fully informed, the Court hereby DENIES the
petition for the reasons set forth below.
California Court of Appeal issued a published opinion,
upholding in part and reversing in part the convictions of
Petitioner's co-defendant, Raul Vega,  who was tried
separately, in which it described in detail the facts
concerning Tucker's murder on January 12, 2010. See
People v. Vega, 236 Cal.App.4th 484, 487-89 (2015).
Therefore, the Court of Appeal did not provide a more
detailed recitation of the murder in its unpublished opinion
affirming Petitioner's conviction and, instead,
summarized the facts of Petitioner's offenses in limited
context, as follows.
No. SCR595589 involves the murder of Tucker, which was
described in detail in a published opinion from this court,
where we upheld in part and reversed in part the convictions
of Raul Vega, a co-defendant of [Petitioner] who was tried
separately. (See People v. Vega (2015) 236
Cal.App.4th 484, 487-489 (Vega).)[FN5] We need not
give a more detailed recitation of the murder here. Of
course, for purposes of this appeal, we rely exclusively on
the evidence presented at [Petitioner]'s trial, which
differed significantly from the evidence presented at
Vega's trial. We therefore will discuss: (1) the evidence
presented by the district attorney in this case that we find
to be sufficient to support [Petitioner]'s conviction
under section 186.22, subdivision (a), and (2) the evidence
[Petitioner] presented in his defense. Before doing so, we
note three uncontroverted facts. First, there are two rival
factions of the Sureños (a street gang controlled by
the Mexican Mafia) in Santa Rosa, known as Varrio
Sureño Loco (VSL) and Angelino Heights (AH). Second,
[Petitioner] was a well-respected and active high-ranking
member of the Sureños gang at the time of Tucker's
murder, and although he claimed not to be a member of either
AH or VSL, he had influence with both. And third,
[Petitioner] was an FBI informant for about two years until
June 2010, although [Petitioner] was not informed of his
termination as an informant until October of that year.
[FN 5:] We cite Vega in lieu of a detailed
recitation of background facts regarding the two rival
subsets of the Sureños in Santa Rosa, the inter-gang
hostilities that led up to Tucker's murder, the letter
received by the police on January 12, 2010, identification of
the participants in Tucker's murder, the location of the
murder, and the manner in which he was killed. We do not rely
upon it as evidence of [Petitioner]'s role in the events.
1. The District Attorney's Case
In early 2010, both gangs and the police were aware some feud
or war was mounting between AH and VSL. For instance, on
January 12, 2010, the police came into possession of a letter
written by an imprisoned VSL member calling for the
assassination of three senior members of AH, as well as
[Petitioner]. This letter appeared to set the rest of the
events into motion.
Based on circumstantial evidence and impeachment of
[Petitioner]'s self-serving testimony, the district
attorney argued [Petitioner] drove to Vallejo on January 12
with other AH members to have Vega kill Ramon Ochoa or
Vicente Tapia, both high-ranking VSL members, in retaliation
for the murder of Alejandro Ortega, a member of the AH gang,
a few weeks earlier. That evening, [Petitioner] borrowed his
girlfriend Nicole Allen's car; when he returned later
that night, he told her to not talk to the police about it.
The AH gang members thought Ochoa would be at Vicente
Tapia's apartment complex on January 12. Once in Vallejo,
[Petitioner] helped Vega and another AH member obtain a
stolen vehicle to take to Tapia's apartment complex. Vega
and his companion followed a white car leaving Tapia's
apartment complex, believing Ochoa was the driver;
[Petitioner] followed close behind. After following the white
car onto the freeway, Vega ended up shooting Tucker, who was
the actual driver and is not affiliated with any gang. Among
other evidence, the district attorney used [Petitioner]'s
cell phone records and expert witness testimony to place
[Petitioner] at or near the scene of the crime.
For the next day or so following the murder, [Petitioner]
spoke with another high-ranking Sureños member and
close friend, Gerardo Hernandez, over a dozen times. In May
2010, police recovered a handgun from Hernandez's
residence that was later believed to be the weapon used in
Tucker's murder. The gun had been stolen from Arizona at
or around a time when [Petitioner] and, later, Hernandez
lived there, although there was no direct evidence tying
either to the theft. [Petitioner] also knew where the stolen
vehicle had been dumped. Expert witnesses testified that gang
members generally know which other members have weapons, and
believe the existence and handling of stolen cars are
2. [Petitioner]'s Defense
In his defense, [Petitioner] testified that on January 12 he
was not aware of what Vega and the others were planning to do
when they traveled together to Vallejo, nor when they chased
after the white car (which turned out to be Tucker's)
that left Tapia's apartment complex. Rather, [Petitioner]
claimed he traveled to Vallejo to help broker a peace deal
between the warring factions of the Sureños gang.
Indeed, [Petitioner] testified that he and Ochoa (Vega's
intended target) were “extremely close friends, ”
so he would not have participated in trying to kill Ochoa.
There was also evidence that [Petitioner] had given
Ochoa's name to the FBI as a possible suspect in the
killing of Ortega, which had started the AH-VSL feud.
[Petitioner] denied helping steal the car Vega drove to kill
Tucker, instead insisting another gang member had already
stolen the car and offered it to Vega. In addition,
[Petitioner] testified he was not at the scene when Vega shot
at the white car, but did drive up to see the aftermath a few
Mancinas, 2017 WL 1422589, at *2-3 (brackets added).
appealed his judgments in Case Nos. SCR498868, SCR590577, and
SCR595589 to the California Court of Appeal, and the three
criminal appeals were consolidated. Id. at *1.
Petitioner raised no issues in the first case, Case No.
SCR498868. Id. In Case No. SCR590577, Petitioner
requested the state appellate court to reduce his conviction
on one count of cocaine possession from a felony to a
misdemeanor and remand for resentencing under Proposition 47.
Id. And in Case No. SCR595589, Petitioner sought
reversal of his conviction for actively participating in a
criminal street gang under California Penal Code §
182.66(a) for lack of sufficient evidence. Id.
April 21, 2017, the California Court of Appeal affirmed
Petitioner's judgments in an unpublished decision.
Id. at *7. The state appellate court concluded
Petitioner's appeals in Nos. SCR498868 and SCR590577 are
procedurally barred and affirmed those convictions.
Id. at *1. The state appellate court further
concluded that substantial evidence existed to support the
conviction in Case No. SCR595589 and affirmed the conviction
in that case as well. Id. at *4-7.
Petitioner filed a petition for review, and the California
Supreme Court denied review on July 19, 2017. Resp't Ex.
L. Petitioner did not pursue collateral review in state
October 11, 2018, Petitioner filed the instant petition,
under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Dkt. 1. Petitioner raises the
same sufficiency of the evidence claim he raised on direct
appeal as to his conviction in Case No. SCR595589.
Id. at 5; Dkt. 1-1 at 53-61.
November 28, 2018, this Court issued an Order to Show Cause.
Dkt. 8. On February 27, 2019, Respondent filed an Answer.
Dkt. 15. Petitioner has not filed a Traverse, and the time to
do so has passed. The matter is fully briefed and ripe for
federal court may entertain a habeas petition from a state
prisoner “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). Under the
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act
(“AEDPA”) of 1996, a district court may not grant
a petition challenging a state conviction or sentence on the
basis of a claim that was reviewed 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). The first prong applies both to
questions of law and to mixed questions of law and fact,
see Williams (Terry) v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 407-09
(2000), while the second prong applies to decisions based on
factual determinations, see Miller-El v. Cockrell,
537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003).
court decision is “contrary to” Supreme Court
authority, that is, falls under the first clause of section
2254(d)(1), only 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 Supreme] Court has on a set of
materially indistinguishable facts.” Williams
(Terry), 529 U.S. at 412-13. A state court decision is
an “unreasonable application of” Supreme Court
authority, falling under the second clause of section
2254(d)(1), if it correctly identifies the 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. The
federal court on habeas review 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.” Id. at 411. Rather, the
application must be “objectively unreasonable” to
support granting the writ. Id. at 409.
28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2), a state court decision
“based on a factual determination will not be
overturned on factual grounds unless objectively unreasonable
in light of the evidence presented in the state-court
proceeding.” See Miller-El, 537 U.S. at 340;
see also Torres v. Prunty, 223 F.3d 1103, 1107 (9th
Cir. 2000). Moreover, “a determination of a factual
issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct,
” and the petitioner “shall have the burden of
rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and
convincing evidence.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).
determining whether a state court's decision is contrary
to, or involves an unreasonable application of, clearly
established federal law, courts in this Circuit look to the
decision of the highest state court to address the merits of
the petitioner's claim in a reasoned decision.
See Wilson v. Sellers, __ U.S. __, 138
S.Ct. 1188, 1192 (2018); LaJoie v. Thompson, 217
F.3d 663, 669 n.7 (9th Cir. 2000). Moreover, “a
determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall
be presumed to be correct, ” and the petitioner
“shall have the burden of rebutting the presumption of
correctness by clear and convincing evidence.” 28
U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).
constitutional error is established, habeas relief is
warranted only if the error had a “substantial and
injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's
verdict.” Penry v. Johnson, 532 U.S. 782,
795-96 (2001) (quoting Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507
U.S. 619, 638 (1993)).
federal habeas review, AEDPA “imposes a highly
deferential standard for evaluating state-court
rulings” and “demands that state-court decisions
be given the benefit of the doubt.” Renico v.
Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010) (internal quotation marks
omitted). In applying the above standards on habeas review,
the Court reviews the “last reasoned decision” by
the state court. See Robinson v. Ignacio, 360 F.3d
1044, 1055 (9th Cir. 2004).
there is no reasoned opinion from the highest state court to
consider the petitioner's claims, the court looks to the
last reasoned opinion. Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S.
797, 801-06 (1991); Shackleford v. Hubbard, 234 F.3d
1072, 1079 n.2 (9th Cir. 2000). Thus, a federal court will
“look through” the unexplained orders of the
state courts rejecting a petitioner's claims and analyze
whether the last reasoned opinion of the state court
unreasonably applied Supreme Court precedent. See
Ylst, 501 U.S. at 804-06; LaJoie, 217 F.3d at
669 n.7. The last reasoned decision in this case is the state
appellate court's unpublished disposition issued on April
21, 2017, which relates to Petitioner's claim in the
petition. Mancinas, 2017 WL 1422589, at *4-7.
argues that the evidence was insufficient to support his
conviction for actively participating in a criminal street
gang under California Penal Code § 186.22(a). Dkt. 1 at
5. Specifically, he contends that-where the jury acquitted
him of the three underlying felonies on which the prosecution
relied to support the active gang participation-the evidence,
consequently, was insufficient to establish the third
requirement of the substantive gang offense pursuant to
California Penal Code § 186.22(a). Dkt. 1-1, Ex. B at
59-61. Petitioner does not challenge the sufficiency of the
evidence as to the other elements of the substantive gang