United States District Court, D. New Mexico
SERGIO T. JAMES, Petitioner,
RAYMOND SMITH, Warden, and HECTOR H. BALDERAS, Attorney General for the State of New Mexico, Respondents.
PARTIAL PROPOSED FINDINGS OF FACT AND RECOMMENDED
MATTER comes before the Court on the Petition Under 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State
Custody (“Petition”) (Doc. 1), filed by
Sergio T. James (“Petitioner”) on March 22, 2017,
and fully briefed August 14, 2017 (Docs. 12, 14).
The Honorable Judith C. Herrera referred this case to me to
conduct hearings, if warranted, including evidentiary
hearings, and to perform any legal analysis required to
recommend to the Court an ultimate disposition of the case.
Doc. 4. Having reviewed the submissions of the
parties and the relevant law, the Court finds that it is able
to make a decision based on the current record. The Court
recommends that relief based on Grounds One, Two, and Four of
the Petition be denied. As discussed below, further briefing
is required on Ground Three.
Background Facts and Procedural
challenges two New Mexico state court convictions out of the
Ninth Judicial District Court. Doc. 1 at 1. Both
convictions are for trafficking controlled substances in the
first degree based upon hand-to-hand buys with a confidential
informant (“CI”). The first conviction in docket
number D-0905-CR-2011-00382 (“Case No. 382”)
involved a CI buy on May 12, 2011; the second conviction in
docket number D-0905-CR-2011-00383 (“Case No.
383”) involved a CI buy on May 11, 2011.
No. 382, a jury found Petitioner guilty on December 18, 2012.
On appeal, the New Mexico Court of Appeals affirmed the
conviction, and the Supreme Court denied his Petition for
Writ of Certiorari. Petitioner then sought collateral relief
by filing a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus with the Ninth
Judicial District Court of New Mexico. The district court
denied his Petition, and he then filed a Motion for
Reconsideration and a yet second Petition for Writ of Habeas
Corpus. The district court denied the reconsideration motion
and dismissed the second Petition Once again, the New Mexico
Supreme Court denied a Petition for Writ of Certiorari.
No. 383, Petitioner was found guilty on April 21, 2014,
following a jury trial. Once again, the New Mexico Court of
Appeals affirmed his conviction, and the New Mexico Supreme
Court denied his Petition for Writ of Certiorari. Petitioner
then filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus with the
Ninth Judicial District Court of New Mexico that was denied
by the district court on November 2, 2014. The New Mexico
Supreme Court then denied his Petition for Writ of
This Federal Petition Addresses Two State Court
initial matter, Respondents argue that the Petition should be
dismissed without prejudice because Petitioner is using a
single habeas corpus petition to challenge state court
convictions in both Case No. 382 and No. 383. Respondents
assert that 28 U.S.C § 2254 allows challenges of only a
single state action, as exemplified through the statute's
use of singular words such as “the judgment” and
“a decision.” Doc. 12 at 15-16.
Section 2254 does reference a challenge to a single action,
the Court recommends allowing Petitioner to go forward with
this action challenging two state court convictions because,
as both Petitioner and Respondents concede, the convictions
stem from a common set of facts. See Doc. 1 at 1
(Petition) (“Cases arise out of events that are
similar, ongoing actions, however, they were separated by the
State and tried separately.”); Doc. 12, ¶
2 (Respondents' Answer) (“A review of the record
for both cases . . . does seem to support that one set of
common facts gave rise to the separate prosecutions.”).
on May 11 and May 12, 2011, agents set up and executed nearly
identical controlled buys with the same CI. During both
transactions, agents gave the CI $100 and instructed him to
purchase crack cocaine from Petitioner at Petitioner's
residence. On both occasions, agents searched the CI and his
vehicle before he left, and the CI was recorded driving to
and from the residence. Similar video recordings show the CI
entering the residence, engaging in small talk, and leaving.
Upon return to the agents, the CI was searched, and the CI
presented the agents with crack cocaine.
Guerra v. Mott, a petitioner presented a Section
2254 petition to the United States District Court for the
District of Kansas, which challenged three state court
convictions. No. 13-3211-SAC, 2014 WL 201012, at *1 (D. Kan.
Jan. 17, 2014). The court suggested that two of the
convictions, attempt to commit sexual exploitation of a child
and rape, happened at the same time and were related, while
the third conviction, battery against a corrections officer,
happened at a different time. Id. at *1 & n.2.
The court dismissed the petition for the “unrelated
battery” but allowed a single petition for the other
two convictions to go forward. Id. at *1. Similar to
Guerra, the convictions challenged by Petitioner
arose from the same drug trafficking investigation and
operation and involved a common set of facts very near in
time. The Court therefore recommends that the Court allow the
single petition for the two related convictions.
asserts four grounds for relief: (1) Petitioner was denied
his right to confront the CI; (2) there was insufficient
evidence to convict Petitioner, in violation of his right to
due process; (3) the arresting agent obtained the warrant for
Petitioner's arrest on perjured information, in violation
of Petitioner's right to due process; and (4) the trial
court erred in admitting a copy of a video recording without
requiring the State to produce the original recording.
courts have statutory authority under Section 2254, as
amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act
of 1996 (“AEDPA”), to issue habeas corpus relief
for persons in state custody. See Harrington v.
Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 97-98 (2011). AEDPA
“circumscribes our review of federal habeas claims that
were adjudicated on the merits in state-court
proceedings.” Hooks v. Workman, 689 F.3d 1148,
1163 (10th Cir. 2012). AEDPA does not require that a state
court provide a statement of reasons. “The statute
refers only to a ‘decision, ' which resulted from
an ‘adjudication.'” Harrington, 562
U.S. at 98.
even if the state court failed to provide an opinion stating
its reasoning, as long as the state court has made a
determination on the merits, Section 2254(d) bars
relitigation of that claim in a federal habeas action,
subject to only two exceptions. Id. A federal court
may grant relief from a state court decision only where a
petitioner demonstrates that the trial court's resolution
of his claims was “‘contrary to, or involved an
unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law,
as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States'
or ‘was based on an unreasonable determination of the
facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court
proceeding.'” Hooks, 689 F.3d at 1163
(quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), (2)).
two-step inquiry under Section 2254(d)(1), the threshold
question asks whether the applicant is seeking to invoke a
rule of law that was clearly established by the Supreme Court
at the time the conviction became final. Byrd v.
Workman, 645 F.3d 1159, 1165 (2011); see also
Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 390 (2000). If the law
was clearly established, then the court determines whether
the state court decision was “contrary to or involved
an unreasonable application of that clearly established
law.” Byrd, 645 F.3d at 1165 (quoting
Turrentine v. Mullin, 390 F.3d 1181, 1189 (10th
Cir.2004) (internal quotations omitted)). A state-court
decision is “contrary to” clearly established law
“if the state court applies a rule different from the
governing law set forth” by the Supreme Court or
“if it decides a case differently than [the Supreme
Court has] done on a set of materially indistinguishable
facts.” Hooks, 689 F.3d at 1163 (quoting
Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 694 (2002)). “A
state-court decision is an ‘unreasonable
application' of clearly established federal law when the
state court ‘identifies the correct governing legal
principle from th[e Supreme] Court's decisions but
unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of