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Carbajal v. Williams

United States District Court, D. Colorado

October 10, 2019




         Applicant, Dean Carbajal, is a prisoner in the custody of the Colorado Department of Corrections. Mr. Carbajal has filed pro se on August 28, 2018 an Amended Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (the “Amended Application”). Docket No. 9. Mr. Carbajal is challenging the validity of his conviction and sentence in the District Court for the City and County of Denver, Colorado, Case Number 10CR3824. On May 17, 2019, Respondents filed an Answer to Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus (the “Answer”). Docket No. 40. On August 20, 2019, Mr. Carbajal filed Applicant Dean Carbajal's Traverse to State's Answer (the “Traverse”). Docket No. 63. On August 22, 2019, Mr. Carbajal filed a Motion for Leave to Correct Petitioner's Traverse Via Errata Sheet, Docket No. 64, asking the Court to consider additional exhibits he intended to submit with the Traverse. That motion will be granted.

         After reviewing the record, including the Amended Application, the Answer, the Traverse, and the state court record, the Court concludes Mr. Carbajal is not entitled to relief.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following background information is taken from the opinion of the Colorado Court of Appeals on direct appeal.

The defendant, Dean Carbajal, and the victim dated for almost a year before they broke up in early 2010. Soon after the breakup, a court issued a protection order, prohibiting Carbajal from contacting the victim. Yet, Carbajal followed the victim for the next few months, showing up at her house and workplace. One night, Carbajal went to the victim's house and, according to her neighbors, was holding a knife, threatening to kill himself. The victim's neighbor called the police, who later found and arrested Carbajal.
A jury found Carbajal guilty of five counts of protection order violation, five counts of violating bail bond conditions, two counts of burglary, two counts of criminal trespass, one count of kidnapping, and two counts of harassment by stalking.

         Docket No. 21-5 at 2. Mr. Carbajal also was convicted on two habitual criminal counts and he was sentenced to a total term of 151.5 years in prison. The judgment of conviction was affirmed on direct appeal. See id.

         Mr. Carbajal asserts five claims in the Amended Application. He contends in claim one that he was denied due process and that his rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments were violated because the Denver District Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over his case. In claim two, he contends that admission of various out-of-court statements at trial violated his confrontation rights under the Sixth Amendment and the Colorado Constitution as well as his rights to due process and a fair trial under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. In claim three, he contends he was denied due process and a fair trial in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments because the trial judge was biased against him. Mr. Carbajal contends in claim four that joinder of the charges and denial of a severance violated his rights to due process and a fair trial under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Finally, he contends in claim five that denial of his motion to compel a psychological examination of the victim violated his rights to due process and a fair trial under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.


         The Court must construe the Amended Application and other papers filed by Mr. Carbajal 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). However, the Court 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. Carbajal bears the burden of proof under § 2254(d). See Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 25 (2002) (per curiam).

         The Court's inquiry is straightforward “when the last state court to decide a prisoner's federal claim explains its decision on the merits in a reasoned opinion.” Wilson v. Sellers, 138 S.Ct. 1188, 1192 (2018). “In that case, a federal habeas court simply reviews the specific reasons given by the state court and defers to those reasons if they are reasonable.” Id. When the last state court decision on the merits “does not come accompanied with those reasons” or “consist[s] of a one-word order, such as ‘affirmed' or ‘denied,' . . . the federal court should ‘look through' the unexplained decision to the last related state-court decision that does provide a relevant rationale [and] presume that the unexplained decision adopted the same reasoning.” Id. The presumption may be rebutted “by showing that the unexplained affirmance relied or most likely did rely on different grounds than the lower state court's decision, such as alternative grounds for affirmance that were briefed or argued to the state supreme court or obvious in the record it reviewed.” Id.

         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. See 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, the Court “owe[s] 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, the Court “must uphold the state court's summary decision unless [the Court's] independent review of the record and pertinent federal law persuades [the Court] 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.

         The threshold question the Court must answer under § 2254(d)(1) is whether Mr. Carbajal 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.

House, 527 F.3d at 1018.

         The 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 “only if all fairminded jurists would agree that the state court got it wrong.” Stouffer v. Trammel, 738 F.3d 1205, 1221 (10th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted). Furthermore,

[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.

Richter, 562 U.S. at 101 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted; alterations in original). 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 existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.

Richter, 562 U.S. at 103.

         Section 2254(d)(2) allows the 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 presumes the state court's factual determinations are correct and Mr. Carbajal bears the burden of rebutting the presumption by clear and convincing evidence. The presumption of correctness applies to factual findings of the trial court as well as state appellate courts. See Al-Yousif v. Trani, 779 F.3d 1173, 1181 (10th Cir. 2015). The presumption of correctness also applies to implicit factual findings. See Ellis v. Raemisch, 872 F.3d 1064, 1071 n.2 (10th Cir. 2017). “The standard is demanding but not insatiable . . . [because] ‘[d]eference does not by definition preclude relief.'” Miller-El v. Dretke, 545 U.S. 231, 240 (2005) (quoting Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003)).

         Finally, the Court's analysis is not complete even if Mr. Carbajal demonstrates the existence of a constitutional violation. “Unless the error is a structural defect in the trial that defies harmless-error analysis, [the Court] must apply the harmless error standard of Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619 (1993).” Bland v. Sirmons, 459 F.3d 999, 1009 (10th Cir. 2006); see also Davis v. Ayala, 135 S.Ct. 2187, 2197 (2015) (“For reasons of finality, comity, and federalism, habeas petitioners are not entitled to habeas relief based on trial error unless they can establish that it resulted in actual prejudice.”) (internal quotation marks omitted); Fry v. Pliler, 551 U.S. 112, 121-22 (2007) (providing that a federal court must conduct harmless error analysis under Brecht anytime it finds constitutional error in a state court proceeding regardless of whether the state court found error or conducted harmless error review). Under Brecht, a constitutional error does not warrant habeas relief unless the Court concludes it “had substantial and injurious effect” on the jury's verdict. Brecht, 507 U.S. at 637. “A ‘substantial and injurious effect' exists when the court finds itself in ‘grave doubt' about the effect of the error on the jury's verdict.” Bland, 459 F.3d at 1009 (citing O'Neal v. McAninch, 513 U.S. 432, 435 (1995)). “Grave doubt” exists when “the matter is so evenly balanced that [the Court is] in virtual equipoise as to the harmlessness of the error.” O'Neal, 513 U.S. at 435. The Court makes this harmless error determination based upon a review of the entire state court record. See Herrera v. Lemaster, 225 F.3d 1176, 1179 (10th Cir. 2000).

         If a claim was not adjudicated on the merits in state court, and if the claim also is not procedurally barred, the Court must review the claim de novo and the deferential standards of § 2254(d) do not apply. See Gipson v. Jordan, 376 F.3d 1193, 1196 (10th Cir. 2004).


         A. Claim One

         Mr. Carbajal contends in claim one that he was denied due process and that his rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments were violated because the Denver District Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over his case. According to Mr. Carbajal, the judgment of conviction in 10CR3824 is void because charges were filed against him “in the County Court in a mode not prescribed by Colorado law” and he was reprosecuted for the “identical charges in the District Court without a formal charging document.” Docket No. 9 at 34. More specifically, Mr. Carbajal contends the Denver County Court and the Denver District Court failed to follow procedures set forth in Rules 5 and 7 of the Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure for binding a case over from county court to district court. He also contends that five other county court cases (10M10759, 10CR3823, 10CR3825, 10CR3859, and 10CR3875) improperly were consolidated into case number 10CR3824. Mr. Carbajal argues that the failure to comply with state law implicates his federal constitutional right to due process because “the abusive and oppressive prosecution against Mr. Carbajal rises to the level of a fundamental defect which inherently has resulted in a complete miscarriage of justice, which is inconsistent with the rudimentary demands of fair process.” Docket No. 9 at 53-54.

         The Colorado Court of Appeals reasoned as follows in rejecting Mr. Carbajal's ...

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