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Pena v. Hartley

United States District Court, District of Colorado

May 20, 2015

S. HARTLEY, Warden, Arkansas Valley Corr. Fac., and THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF COLORADO, Respondents.


Wiley Y. Daniel Senior United States District Judge

This matter is before me on the Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (ECF No. 1) (the “Application”) filed pro se by Applicant, Jose Arturo Pena. Pursuant to the mandate of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, only claims 2(c) and 4 in the Application remain to be addressed on the merits. Respondents have filed an Answer to Remanded § 2254 Claims (“the Answer”) (ECF No. 40) and Mr. Pena has filed Applicant’s Traverse to Remanded § 2254 Claims (“the Traverse”) (ECF No. 43). After reviewing the record, including the Application, the Answer, the Traverse, and the state court record, I conclude Mr. Pena is not entitled to relief on his remaining claims.


Mr. Pena is a prisoner in the custody of the Colorado Department of Corrections. He is challenging the validity of his conviction and sentence in Adams County District Court case number 93CR1195.

Defendant, then eighteen, and the victim, then fourteen, had had a consensual sexual relationship. However, the victim reported that defendant raped her in August 1992, and charges with respect to that incident were pending. Defendant and his mother had attempted to persuade the victim to have the charges dismissed, and, on one occasion, the victim said that defendant physically assaulted her because the charges had not been dismissed.
On the evening of December 12, 1992, defendant and the victim left a bar together with one of defendant’s friends. Several witnesses reported seeing the three of them drive away from the bar in defendant’s truck. The victim was not seen again alive.
The day after the victim’s disappearance, defendant’s parents sold his truck. Defendant left the state approximately five days later, ultimately traveling to Mexico. Several days thereafter, land surveyors discovered the victim’s body lying in a ditch partially covered by snow. A coroner’s examination revealed that the victim had died as a result of blunt force trauma to the head.
In September 1993, defendant was charged with the victim’s murder, and a warrant for his arrest was issued. Defendant was not, however, apprehended until January 2001, when he was arrested under an assumed name at a random traffic checkpoint in New Mexico.
After signing a waiver of extradition, defendant was transported to Colorado by officers from the Adams County Sheriff’s Department. Following a trial to a jury in December 2001, he was convicted of one count of after deliberation first degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
People v. Pena, No. 02CA0413 (Colo.App. Oct. 13, 2005) (unpublished), slip op. at 1-2

(ECF No. 15-14 at 3-4). The judgment of conviction was affirmed on direct appeal.

As noted above, the only claims remaining to be considered are claims 2(c) and 4 in the Application. Mr. Pena contends in claim 2(c) that admission of evidence of his prior assaults on the victim violated his right to a fair trial. He contends in claim 4 that admission of other allegedly inadmissible and prejudicial evidence also violated his right to a fair trial.


I must construe the Application and other papers filed by Mr. Pena liberally because he is not represented by an attorney. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972) (per curiam); Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). However, I should not be an advocate for a pro se litigant. See Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110.

Title 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) provides that a writ of habeas corpus may not be issued with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the state court adjudication:

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Mr. Pena bears the burden of proof under § 2254(d). See Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 25 (2002) (per curiam).

A claim may be adjudicated on the merits in state court even in the absence of a statement of reasons by the state court for rejecting the claim. Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 98-99 (2011). In particular, “determining whether a state court’s decision resulted from an unreasonable legal or factual conclusion does not require that there be an opinion from the state court explaining the state court’s reasoning.” Id. at 98. Thus, “[w]hen a federal claim has been presented to a state court and the state court has denied relief, it may be presumed that the state court adjudicated the claim on the merits in the absence of any indication or state-law procedural principles to the contrary.” Id. at 99. Even “[w]here a state court’s decision is unaccompanied by an explanation, the habeas petitioner’s burden still must be met by showing there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief.” Id. at 98. In other words, I “owe deference to the state court’s result, even if its reasoning is not expressly stated.” Aycox v. Lytle, 196 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 1999). Therefore, I “must uphold the state court’s summary decision unless [my] independent review of the record and pertinent federal law persuades [me] that its result contravenes or unreasonably applies clearly established federal law, or is based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented.” Id. at 1178. “[T]his ‘independent review’ should be distinguished from a full de novo review of the petitioner’s claims.” Id.

I review claims of legal error and mixed questions of law and fact pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). See Cook v. McKune, 323 F.3d 825, 830 (10th Cir. 2003). The threshold question I must answer under § 2254(d)(1) is whether Mr. Pena seeks to apply a rule of law that was clearly established by the Supreme Court at the time his conviction became final. See Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 390 (2000). Clearly established federal law “refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme] Court’s decisions as of the time of the relevant state-court decision.” Id. at 412. Furthermore,

clearly established law consists of Supreme Court holdings in cases where the facts are at least closely-related or similar to the case sub judice. Although the legal rule at issue need not have had its genesis in the closely-related or similar factual context, the ...

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