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Castaneda v. Davis

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, El Paso Division

July 24, 2019

PATRICIO ALEJANDRO CASTANEDA, TDCJ No. 1978092, Petitioner,
v.
LORIE DAVIS, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          FRANK MONTALVO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Petitioner Patricio Alejandro Castaneda seeks a writ if habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Pet'r's Pet., ECF No. 3. Castaneda challenges Respondent Lorie Davis's custody over him based on a conviction for assault on a public servant in El Paso County, Texas. Davis contends the Court should deny the petition because, where Castaneda's claims are not procedurally barred, he fails to show that the state court's rejection of his claims was objectively unreasonable. Resp't's Answer, ECF No. 30. After reviewing the record and for the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that Castaneda is not entitled to federal habeas relief. Consequently, the Court will deny his petition and, additionally, deny him a certificate of appealability.

         BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         A grand jury indicted Castaneda for assault on a public servant, in violation of Texas Penal Code §§ 22.01(a)(1) and (b)(1). Clerk's R (Cause Number 20100D04935, 41st Judicial District Court, El Paso County, Texas), ECF No. 31-11, p. 7 (Indictment). With the indictment, the State filed a notice of enhancement and habituation advising the trial court it would seek an enhanced punishment based on Castaneda's prior convictions for importing marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 952, in United States v. Castaneda, EP-97-CR-825-H-1 (W.D. Tex. Mar. 16, 1998), and misprision of a felony, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 4, in United States v. Castaneda, EP-03-CR-317-KC-2 (W.D. Tex. Mar. 1, 2010). Id., pp. 28-29, 134-35, 142-43 (Notice of Enhancement and Habituation). Castaneda pleaded not guilty, waived his right to a jury, and appeared before the trial court for a bench trial.

         At trial, the State called two witnesses: the victim, Officer Miguel Garza, and his supervisor, Corporal Frank Hernandez. Garza testified he worked as a corrections officer at the El Paso County Jail Annex (EPCJA) on October 3, 2010. See Castaneda v. State, 08-14-00192-CR, 2016 WL 4447576, at *l-*2 (Tex. App.-El Paso Aug. 24, 2016, pet. ref d). He decided to write up Castaneda for crossing a yellow line and banging on a guard station window because he wanted a wrist band for commissary privileges. Garza also claimed Castaneda threatened him by saying "[w]hen I see you out there, I'm going to f-k you up." He attempted to handcuff Castaneda, but Castaneda would not cooperate. Garza reported Castaneda turned around and hit him on his upper right side with his left forearm. Garza added he subsequently gained control of Castaneda with Hernandez's help and placed Castaneda in a cell for violent prisoners. Hernandez testified he saw Garza scuffle with Castaneda. He specifically recalled observing Garza's body move upward, as if he had been hit, during the interaction.

         Castaneda was found guilty as charged on June 25, 2014. Clerk's R., ECF No. 31-11, p. 171 (J. of Conviction by Court-Waiver of Trial). He pleaded true to the two enhancements during the sentencing phase. He was sentenced to twenty-five years in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

         On appeal, Castaneda complained (1) the evidence was legally insufficient to support his conviction, and (2) he was denied the effective assistance of counsel at the guilt/innocence phase of his bench trial. Castaneda maintained his trial counsel failed to advocate for him at trial; present a justification defense; argue for a lesser-included offense; or adequately present a closing argument. The Eighth Court of Appeals in El Paso overruled Castaneda's objections and affirmed his conviction and sentence on August 24, 2016. Castaneda, 2016 WL 44475 76.

         Castaneda raised three issues in his state application for a writ of habeas corpus. First, he claimed the judgment was void because the notice of enhancement and habituation mischaracterized his prior federal conviction for misprision of a felony as a felony. Ex parte Castaneda, WR-87, 643-01, ECF No. 31-20, p. 1 (Appl. for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Oct. 17, 2017). Second, he maintained the trial court could not under Texas law use his prior federal convictions to enhance his state sentence. Id., at p. 3. Finally, he asserted his counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to investigate his criminal history and file appropriate motions based on the illegal sentencing enhancements. Id., at p. 5. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied his application without a written order on January 3, 2018. Id., ECF No. 31-16, at p. 1 (Action Taken, Jan. 3, 2018).

         Castaneda raises five issues in his federal petition. Pet'r's Pet. at 6-7, ECF No. 3. First, he claims the judgment is void because the notice of enhancement and habituation mischaracterized his prior federal conviction for misprision of a felony as a felony. Second, he maintains his counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to investigate his criminal history and file appropriate motions based on the illegal sentencing enhancements. Third, he asserts his counsel provided ineffective assistance by not challenging the legal sufficiency of the evidence. Fourth, he argues he was ineligible to receive the twenty-five sentence assessed because the State mischaracterized his prior misdemeanor conviction for misprision of a felony. Finally, he maintains the indictment was flawed because it mischaracterized his prior conviction for misprision of a felony as a felony, and because his prior conviction for importation of marijuana could not be used for an enhancement of his state sentence.

         APPLICABLE LAW

         "[C]ollateral review is different from direct review," and the writ of habeas corpus is "an extraordinary remedy," reserved for those petitioners whom "society has grievously wronged." Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 633-34 (1993). It "is designed to guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice system." Id. (citing Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 332, n.5 (1979) (Stevens, J., concurring)). It provides an important, but limited, examination of an inmate's conviction and sentence. See Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011) ("[S]tate courts are the principal forum for asserting constitutional challenges to state convictions.").

         As a result, the federal habeas courts' role in reviewing state prisoner petitions is exceedingly narrow. "Indeed, federal courts do not sit as courts of appeal and error for state court convictions." Dillard v. Blackburn, 780 F.2d 509, 513 (5th Cir. 1986). They must generally defer to state court decisions on the merits. Moore v. Cockrell, 313 F.3d 880, 881 (5th Cir. 2002). And they must defer to state court decisions on procedural grounds. Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 729-30 (1991); Muniz v. Johnson, 132 F.3d 214, 220 (5th Cir. 1998). They may not grant relief to correct errors of state constitutional, statutory, or procedural law, unless a federal issue is also present. Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991); West v. Johnson, 92 F.3d 1385, 1404 (5th Cir. 1996).

         A. Unadjudicated Claims

         A state prisoner must exhaust available state remedies before seeking federal habeas corpus relief, thereby giving the state the opportunity to pass upon and correct alleged violations of its prisoners' federal rights. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1) (explaining that habeas corpus relief may not be granted "unless it appears that... the applicant has exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State"); Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 29 (2004); O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 842 (1999).

         If a state prisoner presents unexhausted claims, the federal habeas court may dismiss the petition. Whitehead v. Johnson, 157 F.3d 384, 387 (5th Cir. 1998) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A); Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 519-20 (1982)). If a state prisoner presents a "mixed petition" containing both exhausted and unexhausted claims, the federal habeas court may stay the proceedings or dismiss the petition without prejudice to allow the petitioner to return to state court and exhaust his claims. Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 278 (2005); Pliler v. Ford, 542 U.S. 225, 227 (2004). Alternatively, the federal habeas court may deny relief on an unexhausted or mixed claim on the merits, notwithstanding the petitioner's failure to exhaust the remedies available in state court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(2). A federal habeas court may grant relief on an unexhausted or procedurally defaulted claim only if the petitioner demonstrates cause for the default and actual prejudice arising from the default-or shows the failure to consider the claim would result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice. Coleman, 501 U.S. at 749-50; Barrientes v. Johnson, 221 F.3d 741, 758 (5th Cir. 2000). This means that before a federal habeas court may grant relief on an unexhausted claim, the petitioner must show that some objective, external factor prevented him from complying with the state procedural rule. Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1, 13-14 (2012). When reviewing an unexhausted claim on the merits, the deferential standard of review does not apply. Instead, the federal habeas court examines unexhausted claims under a de novo standard of review. Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 185-86 (2011); Carty v. Thaler, 583 F.3d 244, 253 (5th Cir. 2009).

         B. ...


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