United States District Court, W.D. Texas, San Antonio Division
ARTURO NORIEGA, TDCJ No. 1890548, Petitioner,
LORIE DAVIS, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
RODRIGUEZ United States District Judge.
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.
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).
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. (DE 8-3 at 6-7).
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).
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
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.
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,
Standards of Review
Review of State Court Adjudications
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)).
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 ...