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Guevara v. Raemisch

United States District Court, D. Colorado

October 6, 2017

RICK RAEMISCH, and CYNTHIA COFFMAN, Attorney General of the State of Colorado, Respondents.


          R. BROOKE JACKSON, United States District Judge

         Applicant, Mathew Guevara, has filed an Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Docket No. 1). Respondents have filed an Answer (Docket No. 30) and Applicant was afforded an opportunity to file a Reply. The Court has considered the same, along with the state court record. For the reasons discussed below, the Application will be DENIED.

         I. Background and State Court Proceedings

         On June 10, 2010, Mr. Guevara was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder in Denver District Court Case No. 08CR6460. (ECF No. 1 at 1). He was sentenced to a prison term of life without parole. (Id.).

         In Applicant's direct appeal proceeding, the Colorado Court of Appeals summarized the relevant facts as follows:

In 2008, Guevara was charged with first degree murder and proceeded to a jury trial for stabbing J.B. (the victim). According to the trial testimony, either Guevara or Eric Candelaria, or both of them, stabbed the victim over sixty times in the back seat of a car. They dragged him to the outside of an apartment building and left him just inside the gate in sub-freezing weather. The doctor who performed the autopsy testified that the victim died predominantly from blood loss due to deep stab wounds in the neck and stomach areas, and that hypothermia possibly was a contributing factor.
The prosecution introduced Guevara's video-recorded statement to police, during which he admitted stabbing the victim twice in the stomach. It also elicited Candelaria's girlfriend's (K.L.'s) testimony that Guevara confessed to her that he committed the crime and that Candelaria was not involved. Based on this evidence, the prosecution argued that Guevara was guilty of first degree murder either as a principal or a complicitor. Guevara argued that he committed a lesser degree of murder or manslaughter, or that he acted in self-defense based on his statement to police that he stabbed the victim only two times when the victim grabbed his throat and squeezed it.

(Docket No. 9-3 at 2-3).

         Mr. Guevara's conviction was affirmed on direct appeal in People v. Matthew Joseph Guevara, No. 10CA1553 (Colo.App. July 31, 2014) (unpublished decision). (Docket No. 9-3). The Colorado Supreme Court denied Applicant's petition for certiorari review on August 24, 2015. (Docket No. 1 at 2; No. 9-5). Mr. Guevara then filed a petition for certiorari review in the United States Supreme Court, which was denied on January 11, 2016. (Docket No. 1 at 7, 11).

         Mr. Guevara initiated this action on November 23, 2016. He asserts four claims in the Application:

(1) The admission of his videotaped involuntary confession violated due process. (Docket No. 1 at 4).
(2) The evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support his conviction for first-degree murder. (Id. at 5).
(3) He was denied his constitutional right to confront a key witness at trial when the court limited his cross-examination. (Id.).
(4) The jury instruction on complicity violated his due process rights. (Id. at 6).

         In the pre-answer response, Respondents conceded that the Application was timely and that Applicant exhausted his state court remedies for claim one. (Docket No. 9). Respondents argued, however, that Applicant failed to exhaust available state remedies for claims two, three and four because he did not seek certiorari review of the claims in the Colorado Supreme Court. (Id.). In a May 1, 2017 Order, Senior Judge Lewis T. Babcock rejected Respondents' assertion of the failure-to-exhaust defense for claims two through four, concluded that the claims were exhausted, and ordered that the Application be drawn in its entirety to a presiding judge. (Docket No. 18).

         The Court reviews the merits of Applicant's claims below under the deferential AEDPA standard of review.

         II. Legal Standards

         A. 28 U.S.C. § 2254

         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). The applicant bears the burden of proof under ' 2254(d). See Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 25 (2002) (per curiam).

         The court reviews 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 the court must answer under ' 2254(d)(1) is whether the applicant 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 Supreme Court must have expressly extended the legal rule to that context.

House v. Hatch, 527 F.3d 1010, 1016 (10th Cir. 2008). If there is no clearly established federal law, that is the end of the court's inquiry pursuant to ' 2254(d)(1). See id. at 1018.

         If a clearly established rule of federal law is implicated, the court must determine whether the state court's decision was contrary to or an unreasonable application of that clearly established rule of federal law. See Williams, 529 U.S. at 404-05.

A state-court decision is contrary to clearly established federal law if: (a) “the state court applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in Supreme Court cases"; or (b) “the state court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of the Supreme Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [that] precedent." Maynard [v. Boone], 468 F.3d [665, ] 669 [(10th Cir. 2006)] (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 405). “The word 'contrary' is commonly understood to mean 'diametrically different, ' 'opposite in character or nature, ' or 'mutually opposed.'" Williams, 529 U.S. at 405 (citation omitted).
A state court decision involves an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law when it identifies the correct governing legal rule from Supreme Court cases, but unreasonably applies it to the facts. Id. at 407-08. Additionally, we have recognized that an unreasonable application may occur if the state court either unreasonably extends, or unreasonably refuses to extend, a legal principle from Supreme Court precedent to a new context where it should apply.

House, 527 F.3d at 1018.

         The federal court's inquiry pursuant to the “unreasonable application" clause is an objective inquiry. See Williams, 529 U.S. at 409-10. “[A] federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather that application must also be unreasonable." Id. at 411. “[A] decision is 'objectively unreasonable' when most reasonable jurists exercising their independent judgment would conclude the state court misapplied Supreme Court law." Maynard, 468 F.3d at 671. In addition,

evaluating whether a rule application was unreasonable requires considering the rule's specificity. The more general the rule, the more leeway courts have in reaching outcomes in case-by-case determinations. [I]t is not an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law for a state court to decline to apply a specific legal rule that has not been squarely established by [the Supreme] Court.

Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In conducting this analysis, the court “must determine what arguments or theories supported or . . . could have supported[ ] the state court's decision" and then “ask whether it is possible fairminded jurists could disagree that those arguments or theories are inconsistent with the holding in a prior decision of [the Supreme] Court." Id.

         Under this standard, “only the most serious misapplications of Supreme Court precedent will be a basis for relief under ' 2254." Maynard, 468 F.3d at 671; see also Harrington, 562 U.S. at 88 (stating that “even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable").

As a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.

Harrington, 562 U.S. at 102.

         “[R]eview under ' 2254(d)(1) is limited to the record that was before the state court that adjudicated the claim on the merits." Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011).

         The court reviews claims asserting factual errors pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2). See Romano v. Gibson, 278 F.3d 1145, 1154 n. 4 (10th Cir. 2002). Section 2254(d)(2) allows the federal court to grant a writ of habeas corpus only if the relevant state court decision was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented to the state court. Pursuant to ' 2254(e)(1), the court must presume that the state court's factual determinations are correct and the petitioner bears the burden of rebutting the presumption by clear and convincing evidence. “The standard is demanding but not insatiable . . . [because] '[d]eference does not by definition preclude relief.'" MillerBEl v. Dretke, 545 U.S. 231, 240 (2005) (quoting MillerBEl v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003)).

         B. Pro Se Litigant

         Applicant is proceeding pro se. The court, therefore, “review[s] his pleadings and other papers liberally and hold[s] them to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys." Trackwell v. United States, 472 F.3d 1242, 1243 (10th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted); see also Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520B21 (1972). However, a pro se litigant's “conclusory allegations without supporting factual averments are insufficient to state a claim on which relief can be based." Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). A court may not assume that an applicant can prove facts that have not been alleged, or that a respondent has violated laws in ways that an applicant has not alleged. Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal., Inc. v. Cal. State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983). Pro se status does not entitle a litigant to application of different rules. See Montoya v. Chao, 296 F.3d 952, 957 (10th Cir. 2002).

         III. Analysis

         A. Claim One

         For his first claim, Mr. Guevara contends that the trial court's admission of his videotaped involuntary confession to the police violated due process. (Docket No. 1 at 4). Specifically, he argues that his inculpatory statements “were involuntary due to psychological coercion and promises that confession would lead to leniency.” (Id.).

         The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees that “[n]o person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” U.S. CONST. amend. V. Further, due process prohibits conviction of a defendant based, “in whole or in part, upon an involuntary confession.” Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368, 376 (1964).

         “[C]oercive police activity is a necessary predicate to the finding that a confession is not ‘voluntary' within the meaning of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Colorado v. Connelly, 479 U.S. 157, 167 (1986). The Constitution is not “concerned with moral and psychological pressure to confess emanating from sources other than official coercion.” Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. 298, 304-305 (1985). See also Culombe v. Connecticut, 367 U.S. 568, 576 (1961) (recognizing that a confession is not involuntary where it is “naturally born of remorse, or relief, or desperation, or calculation.”).

         In Bram v. United States, 168 U.S. 532 (1897), the Supreme Court held that, for a confession to be voluntary, it may not be “extracted by any sort of threats or violence, or obtained by any direct or implied promises, however slight.” Id. at 542-43. However, the Supreme Court subsequently retreated from Bram's “but for” test by adopting a totality of the circumstances test. See Arizona v. Fulminante, 499 U.S. 279, 285-86 (1991) (recognizing that Bram does not state the standard for determining the voluntariness of a confession under current precedent; instead, voluntariness must be determined under the totality of the circumstances).

         If the totality of the circumstances of the police interrogation demonstrate that the suspect's “will has been overborne and his capacity for self-determination critically impaired, ” the confession was not voluntary. Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 225-26 (1973). See also Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428 (2000) (reaffirming that the voluntariness of a confession is based on the totality of the circumstances of the police interrogation to determine “‘whether a defendant's will was overborne, ” citing Schneckloth); Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 401 (1978).

         Factors relevant to the voluntariness analysis include the age, education and intelligence level of the defendant; whether the defendant was advised of his constitutional rights; the length of detention; the repeated and prolonged nature of the questioning; and the use of physical punishment, such as the deprivation of food or sleep. Schneckloth, 412 U.S. at 226. Threats or violence, promises of leniency, and the exertion of any improper influence are factors to be considered in determining whether a defendant's confession was coerced under the totality of the circumstances analysis. See Fulminante, 499 U.S. at 286-87; see also Sharp v. Rollings, 793 F.3d 1216, 1229 (10th Cir. 2015) (“‘Under Supreme Court and Tenth Circuit precedent, a promise of leniency is relevant to determining whether a confession was involuntary and depending on the totality of the circumstances, may render a confession coerced.'”) (quoting Clanton v. Cooper, 129 F.3d 1147, 1159 (10th Cir. 1997)).

         Without more, misrepresentations, ruses, and trickery by questioning authorities do not render an otherwise voluntary confession involuntary. Frazier v. Cupp, 394 U.S. 731, 739 (1969) (interrogator's misrepresentation to suspect that accomplice had already confessed did not render suspect's confession coerced).

         1. State court proceedings

         On direct appeal, the Colorado Court of Appeals analyzed Mr. Guevara's claim under Mincey and Connelly, as well as state court appellate cases applying the totality of the circumstances test. (See Docket No. 9-3 at 4-7). The state appellate court rejected Applicant's claim on the following grounds:

The trial court found that, under the totality of the circumstances, there was no “coercive governmental conduct in this case. Certain interrogation techniques were used to encourage the defendant to talk. Counsel has suggested that the detectives were not completely truthful in their assessment of the situation with the defendant, but that's - truthfulness is not a requirement.”[1] It added that “no promises or threats were made” and that “[t]he detective was very upfront [sic] with the defendant about the charges he was facing and the seriousness of those charges. There is simply no evidence of coercion here.”[2]
Guevara contends this ruling was in error and argues that the detectives repeatedly and insistently engaged in coercive questioning for over an hour, by making implied promises of leniency and false representations of their knowledge of the evidence against him. Thus, he argues, his statements were not the product of his free will.
Upon our review of the record, the totality of the circumstances shows that Guevara's statements were made without the presence of, or consultation with, an attorney, and were made in the context of a custodial interrogation at the police station after the waiver of his Miranda rights. Guevara had an eleventh grade education, and, although he had prior experience in the criminal justice system, he indicated that he had not previously seen a Miranda waiver form. There was no indication that Guevara was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The two detectives who interrogated him employed a conversational tone during the two hour interrogation in a small room and made no threats, but made certain statements that could be characterized as implied promises:
[Y]ou gotta' be under a lot of stress right now trying to think, “How do I get out of this?” The easiest way is just to tell us exactly what happened and why it happened.
. . .
[Y]ou're not gonna have any future by telling us these lies.
. . .
[Y]ou have a lot to lose. It sounds like you have a prospective music career, this rap you do and stuff, and you have a girlfriend and you want to have a baby and stuff, and that's what I was trying to tell you before, you can recover from this because you're a young man. You can recover from it ok?
. . .
[W]hen this goes to trial, and it is going to go, unless something changes between [sic] then and you know, you decide to talk about.
. . .
It's not going to make things worse for you. Just get it over with and you know, talk to us about it, and get on with your life. You know, so make this the starting point of coming back up and getting this behind you, you know.
. . .
I mean we can't lie to you and say you probably won't go to jail, but, you know . . . .[3]
. . .
In the present case, the detectives made statements that can be interpreted as implied promises. However, we must consider, under the totality of the circumstances, whether they played a significant role in inducing Guevara's confession ..... Guevara was properly advised of, and waived, his Miranda rights. He had prior experience in the criminal justice system. And the detectives' tone remained conversational, and they never promised Guevara specific help in exchange for his confession. [State case law citation omitted].
While we do not condone the detectives' comments, or their conduct in misrepresenting the scope of their knowledge concerning Guevara's culpability, these comments alone did not render the confession involuntary. Significantly, the overall atmosphere of the interrogation was not otherwise coercive and none of the explicit promises or other techniques condemned in [People v. Freeman, 668 P.2d 1371, 1380 (Colo. 1983)] took place here. . . . .
[As in People v. Zadran, 314 P.3d 830 (Colo. 2013)], there were no threats, the interrogation was not lengthy, Guevara was calm, and the tone was conversational. Although the detective's comment concerning Guevara's prospective career, girlfriend, and desire to have a baby might suggest an exploitation of Guevara's expressed future goals, we do not perceive the comment as coercive. . . .
Thus, we conclude that Guevara's confession was voluntary under the totality of the circumstances, and that trial court properly admitted his confession.

(Docket No. 9-3 at 7-14).

         2. Application of AEDPA standard of review

         Although the ultimate question of whether Mr. Guevara's confession was voluntary is a legal question, subsidiary issues such as whether the police threatened the Applicant or made promises of leniency are questions of fact. See Unites States v. Lopez, 437 F.3d 1059, 1064 (10th Cir. 2006) (“The district court's determination that an officer's actions amounted to a promise of leniency is a factual finding.”). See also Miller v. Fenton, 474 U.S. 104, 112 (1985).

         The Court has carefully reviewed the DVD of Applicant's videotaped police interview. The state courts' factual findings that the detectives did not threaten or make any express promises to Applicant in exchange for his confession are supported by the record and Applicant has not pointed to any clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. However, as recognized by the Colorado Court of Appeals, the detectives did make statements to Mr. Guevara that can be construed reasonably as implied promises.

         Putting aside momentarily the issue of the implied promises made to Mr. Guevara, the other circumstances of the interrogation support the Colorado Court of Appeals' determination that Applicant's confession was voluntary. At the beginning of the interview, Applicant was told that he was being charged with first degree murder and was advised of his Miranda rights. He indicated that he understood his rights and then waived them.[4] Applicant was not hand-cuffed during the interview, which lasted approximately two hours. The detectives' tone was calm and conversational throughout the interview. Mr. Guevara was lucid and responsive and nothing occurred during the interview to suggest that his level of intelligence or education rendered his statements to the detectives involuntary, or that he suffered from a mental impairment that was exploited by the detectives. And, finally, the detectives did not injure Applicant physically or deny him physical necessities. As the Colorado Court of Appeals reasonably found, these factors weigh in favor of a finding of voluntariness.

         Although the state appellate court also recognized that the detectives made some false representations of their knowledge of the evidence against Mr. Guevara, false statements about the evidence, without more, do not demonstrate that a confession was involuntary. See Frazier, 394 U.S. at 739. See also Lucero v. Kerby, 133 F.3d 1299, 1311 (10th Cir.1998) (holding that defendant's inculpatory statements were admissible even though officer made “false statements about fingerprint evidence found” at the crime scene, because “such misrepresentations, without more, do not render an otherwise voluntary confession involuntary”).

         The critical question is whether the state court reasonably determined that the detective's implied promises to Mr. Guevara during the interview were not coercive, ...

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