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Armendariz v. Moya

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

July 16, 2019

MICHAEL ARMENDARIZ, Petitioner,
v.
STANLEY MOYA, et al., Respondents.

          PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION

          HONORABLE CARMEN E. GARZA CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Petitioner Michael Armendariz' Petition Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody (the “Petition”), (Doc. 1), filed December 7, 2018; Respondents' Answer to Michael Armendariz's pro se Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (the “Response”), (Doc. 13), filed April 15, 2019; and Mr. Armendariz' Reply Brief (the “Reply”), (Doc. 20), filed June 18, 2019. In addition, Mr. Armendariz filed two supplements in support of his Petition, (Doc. 5) and (Doc. 8), and Respondents filed transcripts from the state district court, (Doc. 14). Chief United States District Judge William P. Johnson referred this case to the undersigned to perform legal analysis and recommend an ultimate disposition. (Doc. 21). Having considered the parties' filings and the relevant law, the Court RECOMMENDS that Mr. Armendariz' Petition, (Doc. 1), be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART as set forth below.

         I. Background

         On August 11, 2003, a jury found Mr. Armendariz guilty of: first-degree murder (willful and deliberate); attempt to commit first-degree murder; aggravated battery; tampering with evidence; and possession of a firearm by a felon. (Doc. 13-1 at 1). Mr. Armendariz was sentenced to life imprisonment plus thirteen years. Id. at 2. These charges arose from Mr. Armendariz fatally shooting off-duty police officer Damacio Montano and wounding off-duty police officer Eric Montano during a fight in the parking lot of a sports bar in Los Lunas, New Mexico, on October 6, 2002. (Doc. 13 at 2). The two officers were brothers. Mr. Armendariz alleges the Montano brothers were beating his friend, Nestor Chavez, and he claims he shot the men in self-defense and in defense of Mr. Chavez. Id.

         Mr. Armendariz filed a direct appeal with the New Mexico Supreme Court in which he raised two arguments: (1) the trial court erred by preventing him from introducing evidence of Damacio Montano's violence against his wife; and (2) Mr. Armendariz' convictions for both aggravated battery and attempted murder of Eric Montano violated the prohibition against double jeopardy. (Doc. 13-1 at 67-103). On August 3, 2006, the New Mexico Supreme Court affirmed Mr. Armendariz' convictions, holding that the instances of Damacio Montano's past behavior were not admissible for the offered purpose and there was no double jeopardy violation. State of New Mexico v. Armendariz, 2006-NMSC-036, 141 P.3d 526; (Doc 13-1 at 132-157).

         On June 6, 2007, Mr. Armendariz filed a pro se state habeas petition, (Doc. 13-2 at 1-59), which was amended by counsel on July 20, 2010, (Doc. 13-2 at 60-106); (Doc. 13-3); (Doc. 13-4); (Doc. 13-5); and (Doc. 13-6). In the state habeas petition, Mr. Armendariz raised claims of prosecutorial misconduct, insufficiency of the evidence, and ineffective assistance of counsel. (Doc. 13-1 at 4-12); (Doc. 13-2 at 61-105); (Doc 13-3 at 4-33). Specifically, Mr. Armendariz argued the state engaged in prosecutorial misconduct by: (1) suppressing, losing, or destroying the original surveillance videotape from the bar; (2) suppressing and destroying blood evidence; (3) contaminating the scene of the crime; and (4) planting evidence. (Doc. 13-2 at 61, 74-87, 100-105). Mr. Armendariz further argued there was not sufficient evidence to convict him because: (1) no fingerprint or ballistic testing was done on the murder weapon; (2) he might not have fired the fatal bullet; (3) an investigator's analysis indicated the surveillance video showed something different than what was presented at trial; (4) the timing of the events shows that Mr. Armendariz could not have formed the requisite intent to commit first-degree murder; and (5) panic prevented Mr. Armendariz from deliberating before firing his weapon. (Doc. 13-3 at 4-14). Finally, Mr. Armendariz argued his counsel was ineffective because he: (1) failed to adequately investigate video, blood, and ballistics evidence, and crime scene procedures; (2) failed to conduct sufficient pre-trial interviews; and (3) excluded Mr. Armendariz from a conference where the trial court rejected Mr. Armendariz' request to fire his counsel. Id. at 14-33.

         On July 19, 2018, the state court held a hearing on the issues raised in Mr. Armendariz' habeas corpus petition at which Mr. Armendariz and his attorney presented a witness and several exhibits. (Doc. 13-7 at 100); (Doc. 13-8 at 6). Considering the pleadings, Mr. Armendariz' offer of proof at the hearing, and the transcript from the jury trial, the state court denied Mr. Armendariz' habeas petition, (Doc. 13-8 at 6-16), as well as his motion to reconsider, id. at 48. Mr. Armendariz then filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the New Mexico Supreme Court, id. at 49-61, which was denied on November 19, 2018, id. at 62.

         On December 7, 2018, Mr. Armendariz filed his Section 2254 Petition, raising twelve claims. (Doc. 1). First, he claims the state violated his constitutional rights by: (1) failing to preserve blood evidence; (2) losing or destroying the original surveillance video; (3) contaminating the scene of the crime; and (4) planting evidence. Id. at 6-8, 9-12, 21-24 (Grounds One, Three, Nine and Ten). Next, Mr. Armendariz claims his counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate blood and video-surveillance evidence. Id. at 8-9, 12 -13 (Grounds Two and Four). He also claims the trial court erred by: (1) allowing a witness to narrate a composite surveillance video as it was played for the jury; (2) holding an important meeting outside of Mr. Armendariz' presence; and (3) excluding evidence of Damacio Montano's prior violent conduct. Id. at 14-15, 19-21, 24-26 (Grounds Five, Eight, and Eleven). Finally, Mr. Armendariz claims: he has new, exculpatory witness testimony, id. at 15-17 (Ground Six); there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction for first-degree murder, id. at 17-19 (Ground Seven); and his convictions for aggravated battery and attempted murder violate double jeopardy, id. at 26-27 (Ground Twelve).

         Respondents do not dispute that Mr. Armendariz has exhausted available state court remedies as to all of his claims, and state the claims may be evaluated on their merits. (Doc. 13 at 5). However, Respondents contend Mr. Armendariz is not entitled to relief on his claims. Id. at 9-27.

         II. Analysis

         A. Governing Law and Standards of Review

         “A pro se litigant's pleadings are to be construed liberally.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). Despite liberal construction of a pro se litigant's pleadings, however, courts cannot “assume the role of advocate” for him. Id. Courts “are not required to fashion [a pro se party's] arguments for him where his allegations are merely conclusory . . . and without supporting fact[s].” United States v. Fisher, 38 F.3d 1144, 1147 (10th Cir. 1994).

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, a person in state custody may petition a federal court for relief on the ground that his detention violates the United States' Constitution or laws. § 2254(a). A petition under § 2254 may not be granted unless the state court judgment: (1) resulted in a decision contrary to or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law as determined by the United States Supreme Court; or (2) resulted in a decision based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented. §§ 2254(d)(1)-(2). Federal courts must presume factual findings are correct, and a petitioner must present clear and convincing evidence to rebut that presumption. § 2254(e)(1).

         A state court decision is “contrary to” clearly established law if it: (1) “applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth” in Supreme Court cases; or (2) if it “confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable” from a Supreme Court decision and “nevertheless arrives at a result different from” the Supreme Court decision. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000). Similarly, a state court decision constitutes an “unreasonable application” of federal law when a state “unreasonably applies” Supreme Court precedent “to the facts of a prisoner's case.” Id. at 409. The state court decision must be more than incorrect or erroneous. Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010). “Rather, the application must be ‘objectively unreasonable.'” Id. (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 409). This imposes a “highly deferential standard of review, ” and state court decisions must be given the benefit of the doubt. Id.

         B. Whether Mr. Armendariz is Entitled to Relief Under § 2254

         Mr. Armendariz claims that the state violated his constitutional rights by failing to properly handle evidence, (Doc. 1 at 6-8, 9-12, 21-24) (Grounds One, Three, Nine and Ten); his counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate blood and video-surveillance evidence, (id. at 8-9, 12-13) (Grounds Two and Four); the trial court committed errors which violated his constitutional rights, (id. at 14-15, 19-21, 24-26) (Grounds Five, Eight, and Eleven); he has new, exculpatory witness testimony, (id. at 15-17) (Ground Six); there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction for first-degree murder, (id. at 17-19) (Ground Seven); and his convictions for aggravated battery and attempted murder violate double jeopardy, (id. at 26-27) (Ground Twelve). Respondents deny Mr. Armendariz is entitled to relief on any of these claims. The Court will address each claim in turn, discussing the parties' arguments, the state courts' findings and holdings, clearly established federal law, and whether Mr. Armendariz is entitled to relief.

         1. Preservation/Destruction of Evidence Claims

         Mr. Armendariz claims the state violated his constitutional rights by: (1) failing to preserve blood evidence from Nestor Chavez's clothing (Ground One); (2) losing or destroying the original surveillance videotape (Ground Three); (3) destroying evidence by contaminating the scene of the crime (Ground Nine); and (4) planting evidence (Ground Ten). (Doc. 1 at 6-8, 9-12, 21-24).

         Under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, criminal prosecutions must comport with prevailing notions of fundamental fairness. California v. Trombetta, 467 U.S. 479, 485 (1984). This standard of fairness requires that criminal defendants be afforded a meaningful opportunity to present a complete defense. Id. With respect to the preservation and destruction of evidence, the government is required to preserve evidence that might be expected to play a significant role in the defendant's defense. Id. at 488. “To meet this standard of constitutional materiality, evidence must both possess an exculpatory value that was apparent before the evidence was destroyed, and be of such a nature that the defendant would be unable to obtain comparable evidence by other reasonably available means.” Id. at 489 (internal citation omitted).

         Although the government has a duty to disclose material, exculpatory evidence, the issue is different when the government fails to preserve “potentially useful evidence.” Arizona v. Youngblood, 488 U.S. 51, 57 (1988) (citing Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963)). In such cases, a defendant can establish a due process violation only if he can show that the government acted in bad faith in failing to preserve the evidence. Id. at 58. The inquiry into bad faith “must necessarily turn on the police's knowledge of the exculpatory value of the evidence.” Id. at 58. However, the “mere fact that the government controlled the evidence and failed to preserve it is by itself insufficient to establish bad faith.” Riggs v. Williams, 87 Fed.Appx. 103, 106 (10th Cir. 2004) (citing Youngblood). “This is true even if the government acted negligently . . . or even intentionally, so long as it did not act in bad faith.” Id.

         a. Blood Evidence

         Mr. Armendariz claims that Nestor Chavez was severely beaten by the Montano brothers and the state failed to collect and preserve blood evidence from Mr. Chavez' clothing. (Doc. 1 at 6-7, Ground One); (Doc. 8 at 1). Mr. Armendariz contends this evidence could have been used to support his defense that he shot the Montano brothers in defense of Mr. Chavez. (Doc. 1 at 6-7).

         Respondents argue there was no dispute at Mr. Armendariz' trial that there was a “brawl” leading up to the shooting or that Mr. Chavez was injured and bleeding. (Doc. 13 at 17). Therefore, Respondents contend the blood evidence would have been cumulative to the witnesses' testimony and not particularly useful to the jury in determining whether Mr. Armendariz acted with deliberate intent instead of in self-defense or in defense of Mr. Chavez. Id. at 17-18. Moreover, Respondents state Mr. Armendariz has not made a showing of bad faith which is required for him to prove a due process violation for potentially useful evidence. Id. at 18.

         In his Reply, Mr. Armendariz states Damacio Montano's attack on Mr. Chavez “was what caused the appearance of immediate danger, death, or great bodily harm to Mr. Chavez and myself.” (Doc. 20 at 2). He further states “[e]very witness to the shooting or events immediately prior to, was either asked to characterize the fight or they described the fight and were asked to elaborate as to the characterization.” Id. Therefore, he argues the blood evidence was needed to resolve the dispute between the defense's witnesses and the state's witnesses regarding the severity of the fight. Id. at 3.

         In considering this claim in Mr. Armendariz' state habeas petition, the state district court noted that conflicting evidence was presented at trial regarding whether the Montano brothers were trying to subdue Mr. Chavez after being attacked by him, or if they were the aggressors and were beating him. (Doc. 13-8 at 9, 13). Nevertheless, the state court found that Mr. Armendariz' claim that the state failed to collect and preserve blood evidence from Mr. Chavez' clothing was “full of speculation about what the police may have done” and has no merit. Id. at 15.

         In his Petition, Mr. Armendariz does not establish that evidence from Mr. Chavez' clothing would have changed the outcome of his trial. Instead, evidence from Mr. Chavez' shirt at most would have been cumulative to multiple witnesses' testimony that Mr. Chavez had been beaten and was bleeding. See, e.g., (Doc. 14-5 at 43-48, 68-74) (testimony that the Montano brothers attacked and badly beat Nestor Chavez, Mr. Chavez “had blood all over the front of his face coming down, ” and Damacio Montano bit Mr. Chavez in the back). Moreover, Mr. Armendariz does not argue, and the record does not indicate, that the state acted in bad faith in failing to preserve evidence from Mr. Chavez' clothing. The Supreme Court has held that, although the state has a duty to disclose material exculpatory evidence, for evidence that “could have been subjected to tests, the results of which might have exonerated the defendant, ” the government's failure to preserve does not violate due process unless a defendant can show bad faith. Youngblood, 488 U.S. at 58-59 (“Police do not have a constitutional duty to perform any particular tests.”). Therefore, the Court finds that the state court's decision on this claim was consistent with the components of Youngblood and was not based on an unreasonable determination of the facts. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Accordingly, the Court recommends this claim be denied.

         b. Surveill ...


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