from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Texas
DAVIS, HIGGINSON, and WILLETT, Circuit Judges.
WILLETT, CIRCUIT JUDGE
jury took just 24 minutes to convict Roberto Sanchez of
murder for chasing down unarmed Sergio Gonzalez and stabbing
him in the heart. In this federal habeas action, Sanchez
claims his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of
counsel was violated because his trial attorney failed to
object when the prosecution asked a witness whether Sanchez
was in the United States legally. (He was not.) Even if the
nonobjection constituted ineffective assistance, Sanchez
cannot show prejudice-a "reasonable probability"
that his trial would've gone better had his lawyer spoken
up. Evidence of Sanchez's guilt was overwhelming, to put
it mildly, including his bragging "it felt good to kill
somebody" immediately after he killed somebody. Sanchez
is not entitled to habeas relief, and we AFFIRM.
The Murder, The Trial, The Appeals, and Then Habeas
years ago, Roberto Sanchez went to a Fort Worth nightclub
where his two cousins worked. At closing time, one of his
cousins told a customer with whom she'd been talking that
she was getting a ride with Sanchez. Frustrated, the customer
confronted Sanchez and his cousins in the parking lot as they
prepared to drive away, banging on their car window. Sanchez
got out and drew a knife. The unarmed customer fled. Sanchez
chased him, caught him, and stabbed him. According to
Sanchez's cousins, he then returned to the car
"happy," boasting "it felt good to kill
refused the State's plea deal-25 years-despite knowing
that his cousins would testify. At trial, the prosecution had
this exchange with one cousin:
Q. And did you-how old were you when you met Roberto?
A. Ever since I was a baby. I don't recall since I was a
Q. Did you both live in Honduras together?
A. No. He was living in a little town and I was living in
Q. So you were living in different towns, but they were
nearby in Honduras?
A. Yes, yes.
Q. And did you come here before or after he did?
A. I came-I came here first.
Q. And are you aware, is Roberto Sanchez here legally or
A. Well, illegal, he doesn't have papers.
lawyer didn't object to this mention of Sanchez's
immigration status, and the topic never came up again. After
closing arguments, the jury deliberated 24 minutes before
sentencing deliberations, the jury sent this note: "If
[Sanchez] is ever released on parole, will [he] remain in our
country, or would he be deported back to Honduras?" The
court replied that it was "not able to supply additional
information," and the jury sentenced him to 70 years in
appeal, Sanchez argued that the trial court should've
declared a mistrial when the prosecution asked whether
Sanchez was in the country "legally or illegally."
The state appellate court disagreed, citing Sanchez's
failure to timely object.
exhausting direct appeals, Sanchez filed a state habeas
application asserting, among other things, ineffective
assistance of counsel. In an affidavit, Sanchez's trial
counsel insisted his nonobjection was strategic-that Sanchez,
if he took the stand, would've been "up front and
truthful" about his unlawful status in hopes of
appearing credible and forthright to the jury. The plan was
for Sanchez to admit it "on his own" to bolster his
believability, particularly since counsel wanted Sanchez to
testify in support of various defenses and also intended to
cross-examine the cousins on whether their incriminating
testimony was coerced with threats of deportation. The lawyer
added that he stood ready to object if the question arose
state trial court denied Sanchez's habeas application,
holding there was no deficient performance (counsel's
"chosen defense was the result of reasonable trial
strategy") and no prejudice (no "reasonable
probability that the result of the proceeding would have been
different had counsel objected to a single reference to
[Sanchez's] illegal status"). On appeal, the Texas
Court of Criminal Appeals denied the application without
then filed a federal habeas petition, raising the same
ineffective-assistance claim. The district court held that
Sanchez was not entitled to habeas relief and denied him a
certificate of appealability (COA).
denying relief, the district court determined that the state
court reasonably applied the Supreme Court's decision in
Strickland,  noting:
• the "overwhelming evidence of [Sanchez's]
• the prosecution didn't "predicate its trial
strategy or shape its closing argument around [his