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Garcia v. Blades

United States District Court, D. Idaho

August 22, 2016

RANDY BLADES, Respondent.



         Pending before the Court is Petitioner Armando Garcia’s Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, which challenges Petitioner’s Ada County convictions, in two separate cases, of two counts of trafficking in heroin. (Dkt. 3.) Petitioner has also filed a document entitled “Amended Petition” (Dkt. 12), but this document does not appear to assert separate constitutional claims. Rather, it contains arguments in support of the four claims included in Petitioner’s initial Petition.[1] Respondent has construed the “Amended Petition” in such a manner, and Petitioner has not objected to that construction. (See Dkt. 16, 19.) Because the “Amended Petition” is better characterized as a supplement to the initial Petition, the Court will consider it as such and will treat both the initial petition (Dkt. 3) and the supplement (Dkt. 12) as the operative Petition in this case, considering all of the arguments in both documents offered in support of the claims listed in the Petition.

         Petitioner’s claims are now fully briefed.[2] The Court takes judicial notice of the records from Petitioner’s state court proceedings, which have been lodged by Respondent. (Dkt. 11, 15.) See Fed. R. Evid. 201(b); Dawson v. Mahoney, 451 F.3d 550, 551 (9th Cir. 2006).

         All parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all proceedings in this case in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73. (Dkt. 14.) Having carefully reviewed the record in this matter, including the state court record, the Court concludes that oral argument is unnecessary. See D. Idaho L. Civ. R. 7.1(d).

         Accordingly, the Court enters the following Order denying habeas corpus relief.


         In Ada County Case No. CR-FE-2008-00062 (“the first case”), Petitioner was charged, by indictment, with conspiracy to traffic in heroin, in violation of Idaho Code § 37-2732B(a)(6)(C). (State’s Lodging A-5 at 206; C-3 at 4-5.) That charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and requires that the defendant have trafficked in at least 28 grams of heroin. Idaho Code § 37-2732B(a)(6)(D). (See also State’s Lodging A-3 at 17-18; A-5 at 206, 219-20.)

         Petitioner was later charged, by indictment, in Ada County Case No. CR-FE-2008-17452 (“the second case”), with trafficking in at least two grams, but less than seven grams, of heroin. (State’s Lodging A-1 at 8-9.) Under Idaho Code § 37-2732B(a)(6)(A), the mandatory minimum sentence for a conviction on the charge in this second case was three years in prison. (See also State’s Lodging A-5 at 219-20.)

         The two cases against Petitioner were consolidated. (Id. at 22.) Pursuant to a plea agreement, Petitioner agreed to plead guilty-in the first case-to an amended information charging him with trafficking in a quantity of heroin (at least 7 grams, but less than 28 grams) that subjected him to a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison, pursuant to Idaho Code § 37-2732B(a)(6)(B), rather than the 15-year minimum sentence Petitioner would receive if he were convicted of the charge in the original indictment. (State’s Lodging A-5 at 206, 211-12, 219; C-3 at 4-5.) Petitioner also agreed to plead guilty-in the second case-to the trafficking charge that, pursuant to Idaho Code § 37-2732B(a)(6)(A), carried a mandatory minimum sentence of three years in prison. (Id. at 6-7; State’s Lodging A-1 at 148-49.)

         Petitioner’s guilty pleas were entered following a plea colloquy during which Petitioner testified he understood that the court was not bound by any sentencing agreement and that the court could impose “any sentence up to the maximum”-which was life imprisonment. (State’s Lodging A-5 at 220.) Petitioner received a unified sentence of 30 years in prison with 15 years fixed in the first case, and a concurrent unified sentence of 30 years in prison with 3 years fixed in the second case. (State’s Lodging A-7 at 2, A-1 at 157.) Petitioner later filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea, which the judge denied after an evidentiary hearing. (State’s Lodging A-6.)

         Petitioner appealed in the second case, but not the first.[3] He argued that his sentence was an abuse of discretion and that the trial court should have granted his motion to dismiss for vindictive prosecution. (State’s Lodging at B-1, B-3.) The Idaho Court of Appeals affirmed, and the Idaho Supreme Court denied further review. (State’s Lodging B-4, B-6.)

         Petitioner then filed a petition for postconviction relief in state court, asserting (1) breach of the plea agreement, and (2) ineffective assistance of trial counsel based on (a) counsel’s alleged lies, which “got [Petitioner] to plead under false pretenses and manipulation” (thereby rendering his plea involuntary), (b) counsel’s failure to file a notice of appeal in the first case, and (c) counsel’s failure to argue “5th Amend. violation, coercion to make statement, No notification of [Miranda], and waiver.” (State’s Lodging C-1 at 7-8.)

         After counsel was appointed to represent Petitioner, Petitioner filed an affidavit- entitled “2nd Affidavit of Facts in Support of Post-Conviction Petition” (“Second Affidavit”)-asserting numerous additional claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel, including that counsel failed (1) “to adequately investigate possible suppression issues on the warrantless search & seizure, ” (2) to investigate “the fact that the confidential informant may have tampered with the evidence & the chain of custody may have been affected, ” (3) to investigate “whether there was adequate probable cause for the traffic stop, ” and (4) to investigate “whether or not surveillance footage of the parking lot where the stop occurred may have revealed suppression issues.” (Id. at 61-62.) The state district court dismissed all of these claims on the merits. (Id. at 149-58.)

         Petitioner appealed, including in his opening brief only his claim that his counsel was ineffective with respect to the plea agreement. (State’s Lodging D-1.) However, in his reply brief on appeal from the dismissal of the postconviction petition, Petitioner referred to his Second Affidavit-which included the four additional claims just described-and attached both that affidavit and his original postconviction petition to the reply brief. (State’s Lodging D-3.) The Idaho Court of Appeals denied, on the merits, the claims included in the initial petition-breach of the plea agreement and ineffective assistance based on counsel’s (a) alleged lies, “false pretenses and manipulation” that supposedly led Petitioner to plead guilty, (b) failure to file a notice of appeal in the first case, and (c) failure “to argue 5th Amend. violation, coercion to make statement, No notification of [Miranda], and waiver.” (State’s Lodging D-4 at 3-6 (footnote omitted).)

         The court of appeals also denied, on the merits, all of the ineffective assistance of counsel (“IAC”) claims included in the Second Affidavit, stating that Petitioner had not submitted “admissible evidence supporting (or explaining) his claims, which are merely conclusory allegations.”[4] (Id. at 6.) The Idaho Supreme Court denied review. (State’s Lodging D-7.)

         In his federal Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Petitioner brings the following claims:

Claim 1: Petitioner’s guilty plea was involuntary, because allegedly “tricked” Petitioner into signing the plea agreement “via coersion [sic], out and out lies, and manipulation.” This claim includes an assertion that his trial counsel was ineffective in his representation of Petitioner.
Claim 2: Petitioner received ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of Sixth Amendment, based on counsel’s failure to investigate alleged Fifth Amendment violations, with respect to “potentially coerced statements made by petitioner, ” including “Miranda, coercion, and waiver.”
Claim 3: Petitioner received ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment, based on counsel’s failure (i) to “thoroughly and adequately investigate proper suppression issues associated with a warrantless search, ” (ii) to investigate “chain of custody issues, ” or (iii) to investigate whether “there was adequate probable cause” to stop Petitioner’s vehicle.[5]
Claim 4: Petitioner received ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment, based on counsel’s failure to investigate surveillance footage.

(Dkt. 3 at 6-9; Dkt. 19 at 5.)


         The Idaho Court of Appeals denied all of Petitioner’s claims on the merits. (State’s Lodging D-1, D-3, D-4.) Thus, the Court will review the merits of these claims under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

         1.Standard of Law for Merits Review

         Federal habeas corpus relief may be granted on claims adjudicated on the merits in a state court judgment when the federal court determines that the petitioner “is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Under § 2254(d), as amended by the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), federal habeas relief is further limited to instances where the state court’s adjudication of the petitioner’s 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). Although a federal habeas court reviews the state court’s “last reasoned decision” in determining whether a petitioner is entitled to relief. Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 804 (1991), a state court need not “give reasons before its decision can be deemed to have been ‘adjudicated on the merits’” under § 2254(d). Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 100 (2011).

         When a party contests the state court’s legal conclusions, including application of the law to the facts, § 2254(d)(1) governs. That section consists of two alternative tests: the “contrary to” test and the “unreasonable application” test.

         Under the first test, a state court’s decision is “contrary to” clearly established federal law “if the state court applies a rule different from the governing law set forth in [the Supreme Court’s] cases, or if it decides a case differently than [the Supreme Court] [has] done on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.” Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 694 (2002). Stated more simply, “Section 2254(d) applies regardless of the procedures employed or the decision reached by the state court, as long as a substantive decision was reached.” Teti v. Bender, 507 F.3d 50, 57 (1st Cir. 2007).

         Under the second test, to satisfy the “unreasonable application” clause of § 2254(d)(1) the petitioner must show that the state court-although identifying “the correct governing legal rule” from Supreme Court precedent-nonetheless “unreasonably applie[d] it to the facts of the particular state prisoner’s case.” Williams (Terry) v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 407 (2000). “Section 2254(d)(1) provides a remedy for instances in which a state court unreasonably applies [Supreme Court] precedent; it does not require state courts to extend that precedent or license federal courts to treat the failure to do so as error.” White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1706 (2014).

         A federal court cannot grant habeas relief simply because it concludes in its independent judgment that the decision is incorrect or wrong; rather, the state court’s application of federal law must be objectively unreasonable to warrant relief. Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003); Bell, 535 U.S. at 694. If there is any possibility that fair-minded jurists could disagree on the correctness of the state court’s decision, then relief is not warranted under § 2254(d)(1). Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011). The Supreme Court has emphasized that “even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court’s contrary conclusion was unreasonable.” Id. (internal citation omitted). To be entitled to habeas relief under § 2254(d)(1), “a state prisoner 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 for fairminded disagreement.” White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Though the source of clearly established federal law must come only from the holdings of the United States Supreme Court, circuit precedent may be persuasive authority for determining whether a state court decision is an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent. Duhaime v. Ducharme, 200 F.3d 597, 600-01 (9th Cir. 2000). However, circuit law may not be used “to refine or sharpen a general principle of Supreme Court jurisprudence into a specific legal rule that [the Supreme] Court has not announced.” Marshall v. Rodgers, 133 S.Ct. 1446, 1450 (2013).

         The United States Supreme Court has clarified “that review under § 2254(d)(1) is limited to the record that was before the state court that adjudicated the claim on the merits.” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 180 (2011). This means that evidence not presented to the state court may not be introduced on federal habeas review if a claim was adjudicated on the merits in state court and if the underlying factual determination of the state court was not unreasonable. See Murray v. Schriro, 745 F.3d 984, 999 (9th Cir. 2014).

         When a petitioner contests the reasonableness of the state court’s factual determinations, the petitioner must show that the state court decision was based upon factual determinations that were “unreasonable . . . in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2). A “state-court factual determination is not unreasonable merely because the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.” Wood v. Allen, 130 S.Ct. 841, 849 (2010). If the factual findings of the state court are not unreasonable, those findings must be presumed correct pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). Pirtle v. Morgan, 313 F.3d 1160, 1167 (9th Cir. 2002).

         The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has identified five types of unreasonable factual determinations that result from procedural flaws that occurred in state court proceedings: (1) when state courts fail to make a finding of fact; (2) when courts mistakenly make factual findings under the wrong legal standard; (3) when “the fact-finding process itself is defective, ” such as when a state court “makes evidentiary findings without holding a hearing”; (4) when courts “plainly misapprehend or misstate the record in making their findings, and the misapprehension goes to a material factual issue that is central to petitioner’s claim”; or (5) when “the state court has before it, yet apparently ignores, evidence that supports petitioner’s claim.” Taylor v. Maddox, 366 F.3d. 992, 1000-01 (9th Cir. 2004). As stated above, reasonable state court findings of fact are presumed to be correct, and the petitioner has the burden of rebutting this presumption by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

         This strict deferential standard of § 2254(d) applies to habeas claims, except in the following narrow circumstances: (1) where the state appellate court did not decide a properly-asserted federal claim; (2) where the state court’s factual findings are unreasonable under § 2254(d)(2); or (3) where an adequate excuse for the procedural default of a claim exists. Pirtle, 313 F.3d at 1167. In those narrow circumstances, the federal district court reviews the claim de novo. In such a case, as in the pre-AEDPA era, a district court can draw from both United States Supreme Court and well as circuit precedent, limited only by the non-retroactivity rule of Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989).

         Under de novo review, if the factual findings of the state court are not unreasonable, the Court must still apply the presumption of correctness found in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1) to any facts found by the state courts. Pirtle, 313 F.3d at 1167. Contrarily, if a state court factual determination is unreasonable, the federal court is not limited by § 2254(d)(2) or (e)(1). Rather, the federal district court may consider evidence outside the state court record, except to the extent that § 2254(e)(2) might apply. Murray v. Schriro, 745 F.3d 984, 1000 (9th Cir. 2014).

         Then, even if a petitioner succeeds in demonstrating a constitutional error in his conviction, he is entitled to federal habeas relief only if he “can establish that [the error] resulted in ‘actual prejudice.’” Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 637 (1993). Under the Brecht standard, an error is not harmless and habeas relief must be granted only if the federal court has “grave doubt about whether a trial error of federal law had substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury’s verdict.” O’Neal v. McAninch, 513 U.S. 432, 436 (1995) (internal quotation marks omitted). A “reasonable possibility” of prejudice is insufficient. Brecht, 507 U.S. at 637.

         2.Clearly-Established Law Regarding Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that a criminal defendant has a right to the effective assistance of counsel in his defense. The standard for ineffective assistance of counsel claims was identified in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). A petitioner asserting ineffective assistance of counsel must show that (1) “counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the ‘counsel’ guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment, ” and (2) those errors “deprive[d] the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.” Id. at 687.

         Whether an attorney’s performance was deficient is judged against an objective standard of reasonableness. Id. at 687-88. A reviewing court’s inquiry into the ...

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