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Torres v. Williams

United States District Court, D. Colorado

August 21, 2019

SANTOS JOSEPH TORRES, Applicant,
v.
DEAN WILLIAMS, [1] Executive Director, Colorado Department of Corrections, MIKE ROMERO, Warden of Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility, and PHILIP J. WEISER, the Attorney General of the State of Colorado, Respondents.

          ORDER DENYING APPLICATION FOR A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

          DANIEL D. DOMENICO, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Doc. 1)[2] (“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.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The 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. 11-3).

         Applicant 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).

         On 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. (Id.).

         In the 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).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The 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.

         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). 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, 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. 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 under § 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.

House, 527 F.3d at 1018.

         The 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] 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. 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, 181 (2011).

         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 Richter, 562 U.S. at 102 (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 ...

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