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James v. Smith

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

February 22, 2018

SERGIO T. JAMES, Petitioner,
RAYMOND SMITH, Warden, and HECTOR H. BALDERAS, Attorney General for the State of New Mexico, Respondents.


         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Magistrate Judge's Partial Proposed Findings and Recommended Disposition (“PF&RD”) (Doc. 15), filed November 13, 2017, and on Petitioner's Objections to that PF&RD (“Objections”) (Doc. 19), filed January 8, 2018. Because they lack merit, the Court will overrule the objections and adopt the PF&RD.

         I. Procedural History

         Sergio James (“Petitioner” or “James”) filed a single Petition Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus (“Petition”), challenging two state court convictions - in No. 382 and No. 383. Doc. 1. He asserted four grounds for relief: (1) he was denied the right to confront the confidential informant (“CI”); (2) there was insufficient evidence to convict him, 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. Id.

         In her PF&RD, Magistrate Judge Karen B. Molzen recommended against dismissal of the Petition simply because it challenged two state court convictions, reasoning that the convictions were based on virtually identical facts occurring in a two-day timespan. Doc. 15 at 3-4. However, she recommended that the Court deny habeas relief on the claims raised in Grounds One, Two, and Four of the Petition. Id. at 16-17. Finally, Judge Molzen recommended that the Court order Respondents to file a supplemental brief as to the merits of Ground Three that specifically addresses No. 383. Id.

         The parties had until November 27, 2017, to file objections to the PF&RD. Doc. 15 at 17. By December 8, 2017, no objections were filed, and the Court adopted the PF&RD. Doc. 16. However, ten days later Petitioner provided notice to the Court that he had not received a copy of the PF&RD itself and only became aware of it when he received a copy of the Order that adopted the PF&RD. Doc. 17. Accordingly, the Court vacated the Order Adopting Magistrate Judge's Partial Proposed Findings and Recommended Disposition and allowed Petitioner additional time to file objections. Doc. 18. Petitioner then filed his objections within the new time limit. Doc. 19.

         II. Legal Standard

         When a party files timely-written objections to a magistrate judge's recommendation, the district court will conduct a de novo review and “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). De novo review requires the district judge to consider relevant evidence of record and not merely to review the magistrate judge's recommendation. In re Griego, 64 F.3d 580, 583-84 (10th Cir. 1995). “[A] party's objections to the magistrate judge's [PF&RD] must be both timely and specific to preserve an issue for de novo review by the district court or for appellate review.” United States v. One Parcel of Real Prop., with Buildings, Appurtenances, Improvements, & Contents, 73 F.3d 1057, 1060 (10th Cir. 1996).

         Federal courts have statutory authority under Section 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, to issue habeas corpus relief for persons in state custody. See Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 97-98 (2011). 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 v. Workman, 689 F.3d 1148, 1163 (2012) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), (2)).

         III. Discussion

         Petitioner does not object to the Magistrate Judge's findings and recommendations on Grounds Two and Four (sufficiency of the evidence and best evidence), but does object to her findings and recommendations on Grounds One and Three (Confrontation Clause and perjured arrest warrant). See Doc. 19.

         A. Ground One: Confrontation Clause

         The trial courts in both of Petitioner's cases admitted a video which purported to show the CI engaged in a controlled buy with Petitioner. Docs. 12-1 at 53; 12-3 at 40. Petitioner first asserts that the videos do not actually show any type of drug transaction. Doc. 19 at 1-2. Therefore, he reasons, “the prejudicial effect of showing the video outweighs any probative value and the video should not have been admitted.” Id. at 2.

         It appears that Petitioner is making an argument under New Mexico Rule of Evidence 11-403, which allows a trial court to “exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of . . . unfair prejudice.” Rule 11-403 NMRA. However, Petitioner did not raise this issue in his original Petition and the Court will not consider it now. See Doc. 1. “Issues raised for the first time in objections to the magistrate judge's recommendation are deemed waived.” Marshall v. Chater, 75 F.3d 1421, 1426 (10th Cir. 1996).

         Second, Petitioner maintains that both trial courts violated his right to confront the CI, because the CI was an “adverse witness” but was not called to testify, and be subject to cross-examination, at either trial. Doc. 19 at 4. The New Mexico Court of Appeals, in contrast, determined that ...

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