Delgado v. McDowell

Docket Number2:21-cv-1084 TLN DB P
Decision Date05 June 2023
PartiesEZEKIEL ISIAH DELGADO, Petitioner, v. NEIL McDOWELL, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of California



Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding through counsel with a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C §2254. Petitioner challenges his conviction imposed by the Sacramento County Superior Court in 2020 for two counts of first-degree murder with a special circumstance of multiple murders and one count of discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle. Petitioner was sentenced to a term of 100 years to life. Petitioner raises the following claims (1) his statements to police were obtained in violation of his Miranda rights; (2) his statements were obtained as the result of an unlawful arrest; (3) there was insufficient evidence of premeditation and deliberation; (4) a jury instruction on felony murder violated due process; (5) an inadequate instruction on the defense of voluntary intoxication violated due process; and (6) the cumulative effect of all errors violated due process. For the reasons set forth below, this court will recommend the petition be denied.

I. Facts Established at Trial

The California Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate District provided the following factual summary:

Near midnight on April 9 to 10, 2014, defendant, then aged 16, went with Taylor Cober and Elose Brown, purportedly to buy a small amount of marijuana. The seller (DeShawne Cannon) and his female companion (Gina Elarms) were sitting in a sedan. Brown had $40 and defendant gave Brown his wallet with $25 in it; the total was less than the agreed-upon amount of $70. Defendant told a detective he thought Cannon was reaching for a gun, so he shot him. He then shot Elarms because she could identify him, then shot Cannon again. He emptied his 10-shot pistol from behind, striking Cannon five times and Elarms at least three times. His admissions and reenactment were video recorded and shown to the jury. Defendant and Brown each claimed to have taken Elarms's purse, splitting the money contained therein.
Brown and Cober were given immunity and testified they thought the plan was to buy marijuana. Brown heard the shooting but claimed not to have seen it. Later, defendant told Brown he thought Cannon was preparing to shoot and defendant shot him to protect Brown. Cober testified defendant admitted shooting someone. In confusing passages, Cober testified there may have been mention of doing a “lick” (robbery) earlier, but he had thought it was said in jest.
There was corroborative but inconclusive testimony from two witnesses about the perceived ethnicity and clothing of people they saw leaving after the shootings. A review of defendant's telephone revealed searches for stories about the incident and inquiries about Amtrak and Greyhound schedules.
The defense theory was that defendant falsely confessed to protect his friends and earn street credibility. No robbery had been planned. At worst defendant acted rashly, not with deliberation, after he thought Cannon was going to pull a weapon. This would be voluntary manslaughter, via an imperfect self-defense theory.
The prosecutor argued for premeditated murder because defendant had time to reflect, fired at least five times at Cannon, shot Elarms at least three times, then shot Cannon again. Felony murder also could apply because from the evidence it was rational to infer a plan to rob the seller.

(ECF No. 17-13 at 3-4.[1])

II. Procedural Background
A. Judgment and Sentencing

The jury convicted petitioner of all charges: two counts of first-degree murder and one count of discharging a firearm at an occupied vehicle. In addition, the jury found true a multiplemurder special circumstance and found that petitioner personally used a firearm causing death. The trial court sentenced petitioner to prison for a total unstayed term of 100 years to life.

B. State Appeal and Federal Proceedings

On appeal, the Court of Appeal remanded to the superior court for a juvenile transfer hearing and for the superior court to exercise its discretion, pursuant to an intervening law, regarding firearm enhancements. (ECF No. 17-13 at 29.) In July 2020, the superior court affirmed the previously imposed sentence of 100 years to life. (ECF No. 17-18.) In all other respects, the Court of Appeal affirmed. (ECF No. 17-3.)

The California Supreme Court denied petitioner's petition for review without comment. (ECF No. 17-17.) Petitioner did not file any petitions for a writ of habeas corpus with the state courts.

Petitioner filed the present §2254 petition on June 21, 2021. (ECF No. 1.) After respondent filed an answer (ECF No. 16), this court granted petitioner's motion for the appointment of counsel. (ECF No. 19.) On August 8, 2022, petitioner, through counsel, filed a traverse. (ECF No. 32.)


An application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody under a judgment of a state court can be granted only for violations of the Constitution or laws of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). A federal writ is not available for alleged error in the interpretation or application of state law. See Wilson v. Corcoran, 562 U.S. 1, 5 (2010); Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S 62, 67-68 (1991); Park v. California, 202 F.3d 1146, 1149 (9th Cir. 2000).

Title 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) sets forth the following standards for granting federal habeas corpus relief:

An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim -
(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.

For purposes of applying § 2254(d)(1), “clearly established federal law” consists of holdings of the United States Supreme Court at the time of the last reasoned state court decision. Greene v. Fisher, 565 U.S. 34, 37 (2011); Stanley v. Cullen, 633 F.3d 852, 859 (9th Cir. 2011) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)). Circuit court precedent ‘may be persuasive in determining what law is clearly established and whether a state court applied that law unreasonably.' Stanley, 633 F.3d at 859 (quoting Maxwell v. Roe, 606 F.3d 561, 567 (9th Cir. 2010)). However, circuit precedent may not be “used to refine or sharpen a general principle of Supreme Court jurisprudence into a specific legal rule that th[e] [Supreme] Court has not announced.” Marshall v. Rodgers, 569 U.S. 58, 64 (2013) (citing Parker v. Matthews, 567 U.S. 37 (2012)). Nor may it be used to “determine whether a particular rule of law is so widely accepted among the Federal Circuits that it would, if presented to th[e] [Supreme] Court, be accepted as correct.” Id. at 64. Further, where courts of appeals have diverged in their treatment of an issue, it cannot be said that there is “clearly established Federal law” governing that issue. Carey v. Musladin, 549 U.S. 70, 76-77 (2006).

A state court decision is “contrary to” clearly established federal law if it applies a rule contradicting a holding of the Supreme Court or reaches a result different from Supreme Court precedent on “materially indistinguishable” facts. Price v. Vincent, 538 U.S. 634, 640 (2003) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 405-06). “Under the ‘unreasonable application' clause of § 2254(d)(1), a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from th[e] [Supreme] Court's decisions, but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.'” Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 413); Chia v. Cambra, 360 F.3d 997, 1002 (9th Cir. 2004). [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.” Williams, 529 U.S. at 411; see also Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007); Andrade, 538 U.S. at 75 (“It is not enough that a federal habeas court, in its independent review of the legal question, is left with a firm conviction that the state court was erroneous.” (Internal citations and quotation marks omitted.)). “A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as ‘fairminded jurists could disagree' on the correctness of the state court's decision.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011) (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). Accordingly, [a]s 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.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 103.

There are two ways a petitioner may satisfy subsection (d)(2). Hibbler v. Benedetti, 693 F.3d 1140, 1146 (9th Cir. 2012). He may show the state court's findings of fact “were not supported by substantial evidence in the state court record” or he may “challenge the fact-finding process itself on the ground it was deficient in some material way.” Id. (citing ...

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