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Noriega v. Davis

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, San Antonio Division

May 2, 2017

ARTURO NORIEGA, TDCJ No. 1890548, Petitioner,
LORIE DAVIS, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent.


          XAVIER RODRIGUEZ United States District Judge.

         Before the Court are Petitioner Arturo Noriega's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Docket Entry "DE" 1) and Respondent's Answer (DE 7) thereto. Petitioner has paid the applicable filing fee for this cause and is proceeding pro se.

         In October 2013, Noriega entered an open plea of guilty in Bexar County to felony murder and was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment. He now challenges the constitutionality of his state court conviction and sentence, arguing that (1) his plea of guilty was involuntary due to the ineffective assistance of his trial counsel; (2) he received ineffective assistance on direct appeal by counsel's failure to adequately brief the harm analysis of his Fourth Amendment claim; and (3) his Fourth Amendment claim was erroneously denied on direct appeal. Having reviewed the record and pleadings submitted by both parties, the Court concludes Petitioner is not entitled to relief under the standards prescribed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

         I. Background

         On the evening of September 4, 2011, Noriega ran a red light and crashed into a vehicle driven by Richard Casas, who later died as a result of his injuries. Noriega was transported to a local hospital where his blood was drawn on two occasions-the first by emergency room personnel in the ordinary course of evaluating and treating him, and the second at the direction of law enforcement pursuant to Texas's implied-consent law codified in Texas Transportation Code § 724.012(b). The test results from each of these blood draws indicated Noriega's blood-alcohol level was at least twice the legal limit of .08, and that he tested positive for cocaine. On May 6, 2013, Noriega was charged by indictment with felony murder, intoxication manslaughter, and manslaughter, and the use of a deadly weapon was alleged for the purpose of enhancing the punishment.[1] (DE 8-3 at 6-7).

         Prior to trial, Noriega attempted to suppress the results of the warrantless blood draw taken by law enforcement officials, arguing no exigent circumstances existed as an exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment and that § 724.012(b) is unconstitutional and does not provide an exception to the warrant requirement. Following an extensive hearing on the matter held September 30, 2013 (DE 8-6 at 11-48), the trial court denied Noriega's motion to suppress the blood-draw evidence. (DE 8-3 at 75-78). On October 2, 2013, Noriega pleaded guilty to felony murder and, after a separate punishment proceeding, was sentenced to life imprisonment. State v. Noriega, No. 2013-CR-4087 (175th Dist. Ct, Bexar Cnty., Tex. Oct. 4, 2013).

         On direct appeal to the Fourth Court of Appeals, Noriega challenged the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress, arguing the admission of the blood-draw evidence at punishment quantified the degree of his intoxication and thus resulted in a life sentence. Although rejecting the State's argument that § 724.012(b) dispenses with the warrant requirement, the court of appeals nonetheless concluded that, "even if the trial court erred in denying [Noriega]'s motion to suppress the results of the statutory blood draw based on the existence of exigent circumstances, [Noriega] was not harmed." Noriega v. State, 2014 WL 7339735, No. 04-13-744-CR (Tex. App.-San Antonio, Dec. 23, 2014, pet. ref d). After first observing that, during closing arguments at the punishment phase, the State did not mention Noriega's blood-alcohol level but instead reminded the jury of his three previous convictions for driving while intoxicated, the court of appeals stated its disbelief that the jury would have assigned much weight to the statutory blood-draw evidence in light of the other extensive evidence of his intoxication. Id. The court described this evidence in detail:

In this case, on the morning of the accident, [Noriega] was in a bunkhouse shared with other men on his oil field crew. [Noriega] admitted he started drinking Natural Light "tall boys" (either the sixteen- or twenty-four-ounce size) at about 9:00 a.m. After he finished his first beer, he drank a second beer, and then a third. [Noriega] said that at about 11:45 a.m., he left the bunkhouse to buy a twelve-pack of Bud Light beer for himself. [Noriega] could not remember if he put the beer into the refrigerator, but he did remember drinking at least one can, after which he used cocaine. [Noriega] could not remember what time he left the bunkhouse to drive back to San Antonio, but he thought it was in the afternoon. [Noriega] said the beer was in the back of his truck, and the only beer can in the cab of the truck was the one empty Bud Light can he had taken with him from the bunkhouse. [Noriega] did not remember drinking any more than four beers. [Noriega] admitted he was intoxicated, but not to what extent.
Dr. John Eastridge, the emergency room physician who treated [Noriega] when he was brought to the hospital, testified about the blood draw that was taken from [Noriega] as part of an initial physical evaluation. Eastridge said [Noriega] tested positive for both alcohol and cocaine. Although Eastridge could not quantify the cocaine results, he said [Noriega]'s blood results showed an alcohol concentration at three times the legal limit. The accident happened at 5:24 p.m., and this blood draw was taken at 6:53 p.m., approximately ninety minutes after the accident.
The jury heard five different witnesses who testified they smelled alcohol on [Noriega]'s breath immediately after the accident. Four of these witnesses also stated they saw anywhere from two to five empty beer cans inside [Noriega]'s vehicle. One of the paramedics who treated [Noriega] at the scene said [Noriega] admitted to drinking three beers before the accident. Several witnesses stated [Noriega]'s speech was slurred, and he was uncooperative and belligerent with the first responders. Other drivers at the scene said [Noriega] was driving at a high rate of speed and two drivers who were behind [Noriega] said he never braked before running the red light.
One of the paramedics, Saul Obregon, testified [Noriega] knew he had been in an accident, but did not know what happened. Obregon said that during the ride to the hospital in the ambulance, [Noriega] was uncooperative, attempted to remove the cardiac monitor electrodes, did not want the blood pressure cuff on his arm, and attempted to pull out the IV. Obregon did not believe [Noriega]'s behavior was consistent with having drunk only the three beers [Noriega] admitted to drinking. Clint Fallen, a San Antonio police officer dispatched to the scene of the accident, said he first approached [Noriega] while EMS was attending to him. Fallen said [Noriega] was "very belligerent, " did not want anyone to touch him, was flailing his arms about, and was cussing. When Fallen asked [Noriega] what happened, [Noriega] said "that f**king idiot pulled in front of him." When Fallen asked [Noriega] if he was aware of the other driver's condition and when told how badly the other driver was injured, [Noriega] said "I don't f**king care."
We conclude the jury could infer the degree of [Noriega]'s intoxication from this circumstantial evidence and thereby assess the appropriate level of punishment. Therefore, on this record, we can conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the alleged error did not contribute to [Noriega]'s punishment.


         The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused Noriega's petition for discretionary review on April 22, 2015. Noriega v. State, No. 0210-15 (Tex. Crim. App.). On March 7, 2016, Noriega filed a state habeas corpus application, which the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals later denied without written order on August 17, 2016, on the findings of the trial court without a hearing. The instant federal petition was filed a month later on September 12, 2016.

         II. Standards of Review

         A. Review of State Court Adjudications

         Noriega's federal petition is governed by the heightened standard of review provided by the AEDPA. 28 U.S.C.A. § 2254. Under § 2254(d), a petitioner may not obtain federal habeas corpus relief on any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court proceedings, unless the adjudication of that claim either: (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. Brown v. Payton, 544 U.S. 133, 141 (2005). This intentionally difficult standard stops just short of imposing a complete bar on federal court relitigation of claims already rejected in state proceedings. Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011) (citing Felker v. Turpin, 518 U.S. 651, 664(1996)).

         A federal habeas court's inquiry into unreasonableness should always be objective rather than subjective, with a focus on whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law was "objectively unreasonable" and not whether it was incorrect or erroneous. McDaniel v. Brown,558 U.S. 120 (2010); Wiggins v. Smith,539 U.S. 510, 520-21 (2003). Even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable, regardless of whether the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion itself. Richter, 562 U.S. at 102. Instead, a petitioner must show that the decision was objectively unreasonable, which is a "substantially higher threshold." Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007); Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75-76 (2003). So long as "fairminded jurists could disagree" on the correctness of the state court's decision, a state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief. Richter, 562 U.S. at 101 (citing Yarborough v. Alvarado,541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). In other words, to obtain federal habeas relief on a claim previously adjudicated on the merits in state ...

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