Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Branch v. State

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

June 4, 2019

CHRISTOPHER BRANCH, Petitioner,
v.
STATE OF NEW MEXICO, et al., Respondents.

          PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION

          GREGORY B. WORMUTH, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Petitioner's application for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Doc. 1. Having reviewed the petition and Respondents' answer (doc. 11), I find that the claims raised do not justify habeas relief. I therefore RECOMMEND that the Court DENY Petitioner's application and DISMISS his claims with prejudice.

         I. Background of Proceedings

          Mr. Branch was convicted in state court on July 14, 2008, of the following offenses: murder in the first degree, aggravated battery against a household member, aggravated assault against a household member, aggravated assault, and aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer. See doc. 11-1 at 1-2, Exhibit A. He was sentenced at that time to life for first-degree murder, three years for aggravated battery against a household member, and eighteen months each for the offenses of aggravated assault against a household member, aggravated assault, and aggravated fleeing. Id. at 2. In addition, due to his prior convictions, the sentences for aggravated battery against a household member, aggravated assault against a household member, aggravated assault, and aggravated fleeing were enhanced by four years each. Id. at 3. Mr. Branch's convictions were upheld by the New Mexico Supreme Court on direct appeal. See doc. 11-1 at 112-29, Exhibit J; doc. 11-2 at 25, Exhibit L (denying motion for rehearing).

         On June 13, 2011, Mr. Branch filed a petition for habeas corpus in the First Judicial District of New Mexico. Doc. 11-2 at 27, Exhibit N. This petition was denied in the First Judicial Court on December 18, 2014. Doc. 11-2 at 60, Exhibit T. However, upon Mr. Branch's petition for certiorari review, the New Mexico Supreme Court ordered the State of New Mexico to respond on the issue of whether

Petitioner's double jeopardy rights were violated when he was convicted of first-degree murder under a general verdict that included a theory of felony murder, without vacating the conviction of any offense that could have served as the predicate felony.

Doc. 11-2 at 77 - 78, Exhibit V. In its response, the State conceded that the predicate felonies of aggravated battery against a household member, aggravated assault against a household member, and aggravated assault should be vacated to avoid violating Mr. Branch's rights under the Double Jeopardy Clause. See doc. 11-2 at 84, Exhibit W. The State therefore requested a limited remand for the entry of an amended judgment and sentence. Id. at 85.[1]

         On July 29, 2015, the New Mexico Supreme Court granted Mr. Branch's petition and remanded to the First Judicial District Court for entry of an amended judgment and sentence, vacating Mr. Branch's convictions on counts II, III, and IV. Doc. 11-2 at 115- 16, Exhibit Z; doc. 11-2 at 117, Exhibit AA. The First Judicial District Court subsequently entered an Amended Judgment and Sentence on December 8, 2015, reducing Mr. Branch's convictions to murder in the first degree and aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer. Doc. 11-3 at 1-2, Exhibit BB. The amended order sentenced Mr. Branch to life for first-degree murder, and eighteen months plus a four-year habitual offender enhancement for aggravated fleeing. Id. at 2-3.

         On December 23, 2015, Mr. Branch filed another petition for writ of habeas corpus in state court, this time proceeding pro se. Doc. 11-3 at 5, Exhibit CC. Relevant to the petition now before this Court, he requested relief on the specific bases, inter alia, of double jeopardy and admission of his prior felony convictions at trial. Id. at 8. The First Judicial Court denied his petition on May 26, 2016, doc. 11-3 at 28, Exhibit EE, and the New Mexico Supreme Court denied certiorari review on July 24, 2017, doc. 11-3 at 133, Exhibit GG.

         Mr. Branch then filed the instant petition for writ of habeas corpus in this Court on July 24, 2017. Doc. 1. In response to the Court's Order to Cure Defects (doc. 2), he completed an amended petition in the correct form. Doc. 4. Respondents timely filed their answer, per the Court's order, on March 26, 2019. Doc. 11. Mr. Branch's application is now before the Court.

         II. Current Petition

         Facially, the instant application for writ of habeas corpus raises four grounds for relief. Doc. 4. In their answer, however, Respondents construe Mr. Branch's petition as raising only two issues: double jeopardy and admission of prior convictions. Doc. 11 at 3-4. The Court must therefore determine the actual nature and number of the grounds for relief alleged. Mr. Branch's amended petition asserts the following:

Ground One: Double Jeopardy. My murder was upheld after my predicate felonies which may have served in the conviction of felony murder were dismissed[.]
Ground Two: Predicate Offense to Felony Murder. Predicate offenses may have served in the conviction of felony 1st degree murder[.]
Ground Three: Harmless Error Analysis. My prior convictions were raised illegally which is now automatically nothing to do with my present case[.]
Ground Four: Double Jeopardy. My murder is being upheld after the predicate felonies to felony murder were dismissed which I was never fairly tried or convicted as if these predicate felonies were dismissed I was never awarded a fair trial cause the predicate felonies dismissed could have been used in the conviction of my murder.

Doc. 4 at 5-10.

         Respondents would subsume Grounds One, Two, and Four into a single double jeopardy claim. See doc. 11 at 3 (characterizing Mr. Branch as “arguing that…he has been subjected to double jeopardy because his first-degree murder conviction was upheld while convictions for the predicate felonies were vacated (Grounds 1, 2, and 4)”). The undersigned agrees that Grounds One, Two, and Four are closely related. However, Mr. Branch chose not to characterize Ground Two (“Predicate Offense to Felony Murder”) as a double jeopardy claim, indicating that he may have intended to raise a different legal issue. Therefore, the undersigned treats Ground Two as a potentially separate ground for relief. Because Grounds One and Four appear to be functionally identical, they will be addressed simultaneously under the heading of double jeopardy.

         III. Applicability of § 2254(d)

         Mr. Branch petitions the Court for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”). Because § 2254(d) applies more stringent requirements to claims previously adjudicated on the merits in state court, “it is important whether a federal claim was ‘adjudicated on the merits in ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.