United States District Court, D. Colorado
ORDER DENYING APPLICATION FOR A WRIT OF HABEAS
D. DOMENICO, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on the Application for a Writ of
Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Doc.
(“Application”) filed pro se by
Applicant Santos Joseph Torres. Applicant challenges
convictions imposed on September 4, 2014, in El Paso County
District Court, Colorado, case number 2012CR3060. Respondents
filed an Answer (Doc. 26). Applicant has not filed a Reply
(see Docket). After reviewing the record before the
Court, including the Application, Answer, and the state court
record, the Court finds and concludes that the Application
should be denied and the case dismissed with prejudice.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Colorado Court of Appeals described the factual background of
Applicant's convictions as follows:
Defendant and his girlfriend lured the victim to their motel
room where they stabbed and strangled him to death. They then
left in the victim's truck, crashing it three times.
After the first crash, the other driver called 911 to report
the second crash. The 911 operator asked if anyone was
injured, and the other driver responded that her neck was
hurt. Police found defendant the next day and transported him
to the hospital for medical treatment. There he was medically
cleared before being transferred to the police station where
he was interviewed.
At the interview, a detective read defendant his
Miranda rights. He then asked defendant if he wished
to speak with him. Defendant replied, “I don't
mind, I wish I had a lawyer present.” The detective
asked defendant to clarify his statement to which defendant
replied, “I want to talk to you.” The detective
repeated the Miranda advisement and asked defendant
to confirm that he understood the meaning of each right.
Defendant confirmed that he understood. After further
questioning, defendant confessed to killing the victim.
At trial, the jury found defendant guilty of one count of
first degree murder (after deliberation and with intent), one
count of first degree murder (felony murder), two counts of
aggravated robbery, two counts of aggravated motor vehicle
theft in the first degree, and three counts of accessory to a
crime. The court also concluded defendant's five habitual
criminal charges had been established beyond a reasonable
doubt. It then merged defendant's felony murder count
into his after deliberation murder count and entered judgment
on all remaining convictions.
(Doc. 11-1 at 2-3). The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed
the judgment “on all convictions.” (Id.
at 12). The Colorado Supreme Court denied Applicant's
Petition for Writ of Certiorari on August 21, 2017. (Doc.
commenced this § 2254 action on August 23, 2018. (Doc.
1). In the Application, he alleges three claims: 1.
“Miranda rule violation”; 2. ineffective
assistance of trial counsel; and 3. innocence “of all
state charges” due to insufficient evidence. (See
id.). As relief, he requests that the sentence be
vacated and immediate release. (Id. at 15).
February 25, 2019, the Court entered an Order to Dismiss in
Part and for State Court Record and for Answer. (Doc. 18). In
the Order, the Court permitted Applicant to withdraw Claim
Two and dismissed Claim Three in part. (Id. at 10).
Claim One and Claim Three, to the extent Claim Three argues
insufficient evidence regarding the aggravated motor vehicle
theft charge, remain for adjudication on the merits.
Answer, Respondents argue that § 2254(d) bars federal
habeas corpus relief. (Doc. 26 at 14, 20). They contend that
the Colorado Court of Appeals' determinations were
supported by the record and not objectively unreasonable.
(See id.). To date, Applicant has not filed a Reply
in support of the Application. (See docket).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court must construe Applicant's filings liberally because
he is not represented by an attorney. See Haines v.
Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); Hall v.
Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). The
Court, however, cannot be an advocate for a pro se
litigant. See Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110.
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
(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;
(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). Applicant bears the burden of proof
under § 2254(d). See Woodford v.
Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 25 (2002) (per curiam).
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, 829-30 (10th Cir. 2003).
The threshold question the Court must answer under §
2254(d)(1) is whether 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.
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 under §
2254(d)(1). See id. at 1018.
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
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.
House, 527 F.3d at 1018.
Court's inquiry pursuant to the “unreasonable
application” clause is objective. 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.
[E]valuating 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]
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. at 102. In addition, “review
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,
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 Richter, 562 U.S. at 102 (stating
“that even a strong case for relief does not mean the
state court's contrary conclusion was
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 ...