Mendoza v. Line, Civil Action No. 14-cv-01254-MSK

CourtUnited States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Court of Colorado
Writing for the CourtChief Judge Marcia S. Krieger
PartiesMARIO MENDOZA, Applicant, v. RICK LINE, Warden, Arkansas Valley Corr. Fac., and THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF COLORADO, Respondents.
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 14-cv-01254-MSK
Decision Date23 January 2015

RICK LINE, Warden, Arkansas Valley Corr.
Fac., and

Civil Action No. 14-cv-01254-MSK


January 23, 2015

Chief Judge Marcia S. Krieger


This matter is before the Court on the Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (ECF No. 1) ("the Application") filed pro se by Applicant Mario Mendoza. Respondents have filed an Answer to Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus (ECF No. 19) ("the Answer") and Mr. Mendoza has filed Applicant's Reply to Respondents' Answer to Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus (ECF No. 22) ("the Traverse"). After reviewing the record, including the Application, the Answer, the Traverse, and the state court record, the Court FINDS and CONCLUDES that the Application should be denied and the case dismissed with prejudice.


Mr. Mendoza is challenging the validity of his convictions and sentence in Adams County District Court case number 04CR1277. The factual background of Mr. Mendoza's crimes and convictions was summarized by the Colorado Court of Appeals in state court postconviction proceedings as follows:

At the request of the owner's girlfriend, defendant

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attempted to physically remove the victim from the owner's condominium. Defendant forced the victim from the kitchen to the living room with a rifle or shotgun, grabbed the victim in an attempt to push him out through the front door, and struck the victim in the stomach with the butt of the gun. The victim was then fatally shot once in the chest.

A jury convicted defendant of felony murder and attempted second degree kidnapping, and the court sentenced defendant to life in the custody of the Department of Corrections.

People v. Mendoza, No. 11CA1411, slip op. at 1 (Colo. App. Mar. 28, 2013) (ECF No. 11-7 at 2). The judgment of conviction was affirmed on direct appeal. See People v. Mendoza, No. 05CA1424 (Colo. App. Oct. 25, 2007) (ECF No. 11-3). On March 10, 2008, the Colorado Supreme Court denied Mr. Mendoza's petition for writ of certiorari on direct appeal. (See ECF No. 11-5.)

On December 18, 2008, Mr. Mendoza filed in the trial court a postconviction motion pursuant to Rule 35(c) of the Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure. (See ECF No. 11-1 at 8.) Counsel was appointed to represent Mr. Mendoza in the state court postconviction proceedings and counsel filed a supplemental postconviction motion. (See id. at 7-8.) Following a hearing, the trial court denied the Rule 35(c) motion. (See id. at 6.) On March 28, 2013, the Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's order denying the Rule 35(c) motion. (See ECF No. 11-7.) On December 9, 2013, the Colorado Supreme Court denied Mr. Mendoza's petition for writ of certiorari in the state court postconviction proceedings. (See ECF No. 11-9.)

The Application was filed on May 1, 2014, and Mr. Mendoza asserts five claims for relief. He contends in claim 1 that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions in violation of his right to due process. He asserts in claim 2 that the trial court failed to adequately instruct the jury on the meaning of the phrase "from one place to another" as part of the

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instruction for second degree kidnapping in violation of his right to due process. In claim 3 Mr. Mendoza contends that the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on the lesser offenses of reckless manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in violation of his constitutional right to a fair trial. He asserts in claim 4 that prosecutorial misconduct during closing arguments violated his constitutional right to a fair trial. Finally, Mr. Mendoza contends in claim 5 that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because (a) trial counsel based critical decisions regarding the theory of defense on an incorrect interpretation of the law governing attempted second degree kidnapping; (b) trial counsel failed to request proper jury instructions regarding attempted kidnapping; and (c) counsel on direct appeal failed to properly frame the claim of instructional error regarding attempted second degree kidnapping. The Court previously entered an Order to Dismiss in Part (ECF No. 17) dismissing claim 3 as unexhausted and procedurally barred.


The Court must construe the Application and other papers filed by Mr. Mendoza liberally because he is not represented by an attorney. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972) (per curiam); Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). However, the Court should not be an advocate for a pro se litigant. See Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110.

Title 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) provides that a writ of habeas corpus may not be issued with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the state court adjudication:

(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

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(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.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Mr. Mendoza bears the burden of proof under § 2254(d). See Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 25 (2002) (per curiam).

A claim may be adjudicated on the merits in state court even in the absence of a statement of reasons by the state court for rejecting the claim. Harrington v. Richter, 131 S. Ct. 770, 784-85 (2011). In particular, "determining whether a state court's decision resulted from an unreasonable legal or factual conclusion does not require that there be an opinion from the state court explaining the state court's reasoning." Id. at 784. Thus, "[w]hen a federal claim has been presented to a state court and the state court has denied relief, it may be presumed that the state court adjudicated the claim on the merits in the absence of any indication or state-law procedural principles to the contrary." Id. at 784-85. Even "[w]here a state court's decision is unaccompanied by an explanation, the habeas petitioner's burden still must be met by showing there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief." Id. at 784. In other words, the Court "owe[s] deference to the state court's result, even if its reasoning is not expressly stated." Aycox v. Lytle, 196 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 1999). Therefore, the Court "must uphold the state court's summary decision unless [the Court's] independent review of the record and pertinent federal law persuades [the Court] that its result contravenes or unreasonably applies clearly established federal law, or is based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented." Id. at 1178. "[T]his 'independent review' should be distinguished from a full de novo review of the petitioner's claims." Id.

The Court reviews claims of legal error and mixed questions of law and fact pursuant to

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28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). See Cook v. McKune, 323 F.3d 825, 830 (10th Cir. 2003). The threshold question the Court must answer under § 2254(d)(1) is whether Mr. Mendoza seeks to apply a rule of law that was clearly established by the Supreme Court at the time his conviction became final. See Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 390 (2000). Clearly established federal law "refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme] Court's decisions as of the time of the relevant state-court decision." Id. at 412. Furthermore,

clearly established law consists of Supreme Court holdings in cases where the facts are at least closely-related or similar to the case sub judice. Although the legal rule at issue need not have had its genesis in the closely-related or similar factual context, the Supreme Court must have expressly extended the legal rule to that context.

House v. Hatch, 527 F.3d 1010, 1016 (10th Cir. 2008). If there is no clearly established federal law, that is the end of the Court's inquiry pursuant to § 2254(d)(1). See id. at 1018.

If a clearly established rule of federal law is implicated, the Court must determine whether the state court's decision was contrary to or an unreasonable application of that clearly established rule of federal law. See Williams, 529 U.S. at 404-05.

A state-court decision is contrary to clearly established federal law if: (a) "the state court applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in Supreme Court cases"; or (b) "the state court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of the Supreme Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [that] precedent." Maynard [v. Boone], 468 F.3d [665,] 669 [(10th Cir. 2006)] (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 405). "The word 'contrary' is commonly understood to mean 'diametrically different,' 'opposite in character or nature,' or 'mutually opposed.'" Williams, 529 U.S. at 405 (citation omitted).

A state court decision involves an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law when it identifies the correct governing legal rule from Supreme Court cases, but unreasonably

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applies it to the facts. Id. at 407-08.

House, 527 F.3d at 1018.

The Court's inquiry pursuant to the "unreasonable application" clause is an objective inquiry. See Williams, 529 U.S. at 409-10. "[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." Id. at 411. "[A] decision is 'objectively unreasonable' when most reasonable jurists exercising their independent judgment would conclude the state court misapplied Supreme Court law." Maynard, 468 F.3d...

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