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Renteria v. Smith

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

February 23, 2018

CORNELIUS RENTERIA, Petitioner,
v.
RAYMOND SMITH, Warden Respondent.

          PROPOSED FINDINGS OF FACT AND RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Petition Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus (“Petition”) (Doc. 1), filed by Cornelius Renteria (“Petitioner”) on September 25, 2017, and fully briefed December 29, 2017 (Docs. 9, 11). The Honorable M. Christina Armijo 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.[1] The Court recommends that relief be denied.

         I. Background Facts and Procedural Posture[2]

         On March 27, 2013, Petitioner attacked his ex-girlfriend in her home and pointed a gun at her daughter. Doc. 9-1 at 20-22. The Doña Ana County Magistrate Court issued a criminal complaint for attempted first degree murder, willful and deliberate, on March 28, 2013, and Petitioner was arrested. Doc. 9-1 at 18-24. On April 11, 2013, the grand jury returned an indictment, charging Petitioner with seven counts: Count 1, attempted first degree, felony murder; Count 2, aggravated burglary, armed after entry; Count 3, aggravated assault, with a firearm enhancement; Count 4, negligent child abuse, with a firearm enhancement, a third degree felony; Count 5, possession of a firearm or destructive device by a felon; Count 6, tampering with evidence; and Count 7, tampering with evidence. Doc. 9-1 at 13-15. On April 29, 2014, the State filed a Notice of Intent to Seek Firearm Enhancements on Counts 1, 3 and 4.[3] Doc. 9-1 at 26-27. Further, on April 30, 2014, the State filed a Motion to Amend the Grand Jury Indictment, adding alternative theories on Counts 1 and 2. Doc. 9-1 at 28-29. The State sought to add the alternative theories of attempted willful and deliberate murder to Count 1 (indicted as attempted felony murder) and armed upon entry to Count 2 (indicted as armed after entry). Doc. 9-1 at 28.

         Petitioner's trial began on May 5, 2014. Doc. 9-1 at 47. Shortly after the jury was selected and sworn in, the trial judge heard arguments and allowed the State to amend the grand jury indictment, adding alternative theories on Counts 1 and 2 and a firearm enhancement to Count 1. Doc. 9-1 at 65, 49-50, 51-52. On May 8, 2014, the jury returned a verdict, convicting Petitioner on four counts: Count 1, attempted first degree murder, willful and deliberate, with a firearm enhancement (Doc. 9-1 at 1, 7, 43); Count 2, aggravated burglary, armed upon entry (Doc. 9-1 at 1, 7, 44); Count 4, negligent child abuse with a firearm enhancement (Doc. 9-1 at 7, 42, 45); and Count 5, possession of a firearm by a felon (Doc. 9-1 at 1, 7-8, 46).

         After trial, the State filed a Supplemental Criminal Information of Petitioner's prior convictions, in support of a habitual offender enhancement. Doc. 9-1 at 53-54. The information included Petitioner's prior conviction of child abuse. Doc. 9-1 at 54. Petitioner admitted the allegations in the supplemental information, Doc. 9-1 at 58, and the sentencing judge enhanced Count 4, negligent child abuse, from a third degree felony (as indicted) to a second degree felony. Doc. 9-1 at 1, 7, 65-66. The trial court entered its judgment and sentence on August 6, 2014, sentencing Petitioner to 34.5 years of imprisonment.[4] Doc. 9-1 at 1-6.

         Petitioner appealed to the New Mexico Court of Appeals on August 28, 2014. Doc. 9-1 at 59-60. He argued that the trial court erred by allowing the amended indictment, which included alternative theories on Counts 1 and 2 and the firearm enhancement on Count 1, and by sentencing him to intentional, third degree child abuse, instead of negligent, second degree child abuse. Doc. 9-1 at 66. The New Mexico Court of Appeals remanded for the limited purpose of correcting a clerical error in the judgment (intentional to negligent child abuse), but otherwise affirmed Petitioner's conviction. Doc. 9-2 at 30. The New Mexico Supreme Court denied Petitioner's Petition for Writ of Certiorari on June 11, 2015. Doc. 9-2 at 48-49.

         On May 27, 2016, Petitioner sought collateral relief and filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus to the Third Judicial District Court of New Mexico. Docs. 9-3 at 1-23; 9-4 at 7-15. The trial court dismissed the petition (Doc. 9-4 at 43), and the New Mexico Supreme Court again denied certiorari (Doc. 9-4 at 79). Petitioner then filed this federal Petition pursuant to Section 2254. Doc. 1.

         II. Legal Standard

         Federal 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. Therefore, 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)). In analyzing the state court's decision, this Court may only review the record that was before the state court and all factual findings are presumed correct unless rebutted by “clear and convincing evidence.” Id. (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)).

         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 (10th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted); 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)).

         First, 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)). The state court is not required to cite to, or even be aware of, Supreme Court decisions, “so long as neither the reasoning nor the results of the state-court decision contradicts them.” Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002).

         Second, “[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 petitioner's case.'” Hooks, 689 F.3d at 1163 (quoting Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520 (2003)). AEDPA precludes issuance of a writ simply because the federal court concludes in its independent judgment that the state court applied the federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Byrd, 645 F.3d at 1166. Instead, the application must also be “objectively unreasonable.” Id. As long as “fairminded jurists could disagree” as to the correctness of the state court's decision, Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004), this “‘highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings[ ]' . . . demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.” Hooks, 689 F.3d at 1163 (quoting Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002)).

         Finally, even if a federal habeas court finds that the state court decision was contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law, habeas relief may not issue unless the violation is of a sort that warrants such relief. See e.g., Williams, 529 U.S at 375 (“It is, of course, well settled that the fact that constitutional error occurred in the proceedings that led to a state-court conviction may not alone be sufficient reason for concluding that a prisoner is entitled to the remedy of habeas.”); Wilson v. Sirmons, 536 F.3d 1064, 1073 (10th Cir. 2008) (“If we find that the state court erred, we still must determine whether the error is a structural defect ‘in the constitution of the trial mechanism, which def[ies] analysis by “harmless-error” standards.'”) (quoting Arizona v. Fulminante, 449 U.S. 279, 309 (1991)), rehearing en banc granted on separate issue, 549 F.3d 1267 (10th Cir. 2008).

         For federal habeas claims not adjudicated on the merits in the state courts, the court must review the claim de novo and the deferential standards of Section 2254(d) do not apply. ...


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