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Esquibel v. Burtlow

United States District Court, D. Colorado

December 9, 2019

MARK A. ESQUIBEL, Applicant,



         Applicant, Mark A. Esquibel, has filed, pro se, a second amended Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Doc. No. 8) challenging the validity of his criminal conviction in the District Court of Arapahoe County, Colorado. Having considered the Respondents' Answer (Doc. No. 29) and the state court record, the Court will deny the second amended Application.[1]

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         In July 2010, Mr. Esquibel was convicted by a jury of aggravated motor vehicle theft, criminal mischief, and reckless driving. (Doc. No. 15-1 at 22; No. 15-2 at 2). He was adjudicated a habitual offender and sentenced to an aggregate prison term of 24 years. (Doc. No. 15-1 at 20; Doc. No. 15-2 at 2). The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed Mr. Esquibel's convictions in People v. Mark Anthony Esquibel, No. 11CA0411 (Colo.App. Jan. 10, 2013) (unpublished) (Doc. No. 15-2). Mr. Esquibel's petition for certiorari review was denied by the Colorado Supreme Court on September 16, 2013. (Doc. No. 15-4).

         Mr. Esquibel filed a motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Colo. Crim. P. Rule 35(c) on February 12, 2014. (Doc. No. 15-1 at 18). The motion was denied on January 1, 2018, following an evidentiary hearing. (Doc. No. 15-1 at 17). The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's order in People v. Mark Anthony Esquibel, No. 17CA0380 (Colo.App. Dec. 20, 2018) (unpublished). (Doc. No. 15-3). Mr. Esquibel did not seek certiorari review in the Colorado Supreme Court.

         Mr. Esquibel initiated this § 2254 proceeding on March 4, 2019. He filed a second amended application on April 10, 2019, asserting the following claims for relief:

(1) The trial court violated Mr. Esquibel's Fourth Amendment rights when the court failed to order the suppression of a key found near him at the time of his arrest. (ECF No. 8 at 7).
(2) Post-conviction counsel was constitutionally ineffective in connection with the post-conviction evidentiary hearing. (Id. at 11).
(3) Mr. Esquibel's 24-year sentence violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. (Id. at 15).
(4) Mr. Esquibel was denied a fair trial when the trial court allowed the admission of the following highly prejudicial and irrelevant evidence: (a) a police officer's testimony about his encounter with Mr. Esquibel, which omitted the information that the encounter resulted in an arrest which was later deemed illegal; (b) testimony from Mr. Esquibel's former employer that Mr. Esquibel stopped working for him when he “went to jail”; and, (c) testimony about a recorded jailhouse conversation in which Mr. Esquibel suggested manufacturing an alibi. (Id. at 16-18).

         In a Pre-Answer Response, Respondents conceded that this action is timely under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1) and that Mr. Esquibel exhausted available state court remedies for claims 3 and 4(c). (Doc. No. 15 at 4, 14). Respondents argued, however, that claim 2 failed to state a basis for federal habeas corpus relief, see Id. at 3, and that claims 1, 4(a) and 4(b) were procedurally defaulted, id. at 11, 13-14.

         In an August 14, 2019 Order to Dismiss in Part, the Court dismissed claims 1, 2, 4(a) and 4(b) and directed Respondents to answer the merits of claims 3 and 4(c). (Doc. No. 26).

         The Court addresses claims 3 and 4(c) below.

         II. Applicable 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 of the relevant state court decision. See Greene v. Fisher, 565 U.S. 34 (2011). Clearly established federal law Arefers 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 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, 562 U.S. at 101 (internal quotation marks 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.” Cul ...

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