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James v. Smith

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

August 9, 2018

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

          PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION

         THIS 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. 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. On November 13, 2017, the undersigned entered a Partial Proposed Findings of Fact and Recommended Deposition (“Partial PF&RD”). Doc. 15. The Court adopted the Partial PF&RD on February 20, 2018, dismissing all but one ground for relief and ordering supplemental briefing on the remaining ground. Doc. 20. Having reviewed the supplemental submissions of the parties and the relevant law, the Court now recommends that relief be denied on the sole remaining claim.

         I. Background Facts and Procedural Posture[1]

         In his Petition Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Petitioner challenged two New Mexico state court convictions out of the Ninth Judicial District Court of New Mexico. Doc. 1 at 1. Both convictions are for trafficking a controlled substance in the first degree based upon hand-to-hand buys with a confidential informant (“CI”). The first conviction, docket number D-0905-CR-2011-00382 (“No. 382”), involved a CI buy on May 12, 2011 (Doc. 12-2 at 39-40); the second conviction, docket number D-0905-CR-2011-00383 (“No. 383”), involved a CI buy on May 11, 2011 (Doc. 1-1 at 22).

         The Petition included four grounds for relief: (1) that Petitioner was denied the right to confront the CI; (2) the jury had 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 his 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. Doc. 1. The undersigned issued a Partial PF&RD, recommending that habeas relief be denied for claims raised in Grounds One, Two, and Four of the Petition. Doc. 15 at 17. After addressing Petitioner's objections, the presiding judge adopted that recommendation. Doc. 20.

         Regarding Ground Three, in No. 382, Petitioner first raised the issue of an alleged perjured arrest warrant in his second Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus to the Ninth Judicial District Court of New Mexico.[2] Doc. 12-2 at 23-27. The state district court denied relief pursuant to a New Mexico procedural rule on second and successive petitions, Rule 5-802(I)(1) NMRA.[3] Id. Petitioner then filed a petition in federal court, including a claim for relief based on a perjured arrested warrant. The undersigned magistrate judge recommended denying relief with respect to No. 382 because the issue was decided in the state court on independent and adequate state procedural grounds. Doc. 15 at 13-14. After addressing Petitioner's objections, the presiding judge adopted that recommendation and dismissed Ground Three, specific to No. 382. Doc. 20 at 6.

         Unlike No. 382, in No. 383 Petitioner first presented the issue of the perjured arrest warrant in his only Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus to the Ninth Judicial District Court of New Mexico. Doc. 12-4 at 3-4. Accordingly, the undersigned recommended, and the presiding judge agreed, that Ground Three should not be dismissed for procedural default with respect to No. 383. See Doc. 15 at 14; Doc. 20 at 6. Instead, the Court ordered additional briefing on Ground Three, specific to No. 383. Doc. 20 at 6-7.

         In No. 383, a jury found James guilty on April 21, 2014. Doc. 12-3 at 1. The New Mexico Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction (id. at 39-46), and the New Mexico Supreme Court denied his Petition for Writ of Certiorari (id. at 69). James then filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus with the Ninth Judicial District Court of New Mexico, which the district court denied on November 2, 2014. Id. at 84-86. The New Mexico Supreme Court again denied his Petition for Writ of Certiorari (Doc. 12-4 at 26), and James then filed the instant Petition Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus here in federal district court (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, ” subject to only two exceptions. Hooks v. Workman, 689 F.3d 1148, 1163 (10th Cir. 2012).

         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.'” Id. (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)).

         To determine if a decision was contrary to or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law, 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 result 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)).

         III. ...


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