Mitchell v. Martel, 20-04294 BLF (PR)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
PartiesRUBEN MITCHELL, Petitioner, v. MICHAEL MARTEL, Warden, Respondent.
Docket Number20-04294 BLF (PR)
Decision Date11 July 2022


MICHAEL MARTEL, Warden, Respondent.

No. 20-04294 BLF (PR)

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 11, 2022



Petitioner has filed a pro se amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his 2016 criminal conviction. Dkt. No. 6 (“Amended Petition”). Respondent filed an answer on the merits. Dkt. No. 12 (“Answer”). Petitioner did not file a traverse, although given an opportunity to do so. For the reasons set forth below, the petition is DENIED.


A jury convicted Petitioner of kidnapping (count 1); assault with a firearm (count 2); torture (count 3); rape by a foreign object acting in concert (count 4); assault with a deadly weapon, a hunting knife (count 5); attempted pandering by procuring (count 6); and human trafficking for commercial sex (count 7).[1] See Dkt. No. 21 at 46-50; Dkt. No. 21-2 at 2-5; see also Cal. Pen. Code, §§ 206, 207, 236.1(b), 245(a)(1)-(2), 264.1, 266i(a)(1), 289(a).


Petitioner was sentenced to 45 years to life in state prison, comprised of 25 years to life on count 4 (penetration with a foreign object acting in concert), 20 years on count 7 (human trafficking), and a life term on count 3 (torture). Dkt. No. 21-1 at 11.

On May 14, 2019, the California Court of Appeal (“state appellate court”) affirmed the judgment. See Dkt. No. 30-2 at 242-65; see also People v. Mitchell, No. A150156, A150433, 2019 WL 2098789 (Cal.Ct.App. May 14, 2019) (unpublished). On August 21, 2019, the California Supreme Court summarily denied a petition for review. Dkt. No. 30-2 at 339.

When the last state court to adjudicate a federal constitutional claim on the merits does not provide an explanation for the denial,” the federal court should ‘look through' the unexplained decision to the last related state-court decision that does provide a relevant rationale.” Wilson v. Sellers,---U.S.--, 138 S.Ct. 1188, 1192 (2018). “It should then presume that the unexplained decision adopted the same reasoning.” Id. Here, the California Supreme Court did not provide an explanation for its denial of the petition for review. See Dkt. No. 30-2 at 339. Petitioner did not argue that the California Supreme Court relied on different grounds than the state appellate court. See generally, Am. Pet. Accordingly, this Court will “look through” the California Supreme Court's decision to the state appellate court's decision. See Skidmore v. Lizarraga, No. 14-CV-04222-BLF, 2019 WL 1245150, at *7 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 18, 2019) (applying Wilson).

Petitioner filed the instant federal habeas petition on June 29, 2020 and is proceeding on an amended petition filed on September 9, 2020. See Dkt. Nos. 1, 6. Petitioner does not present his arguments in the Amended Petition. Instead, he submits and relies on his briefs filed in the California Court of Appeal and the California Supreme Court. See generally, Am. Pet. (Dkt. No. 6 at 33-80; Dkt. No. 6-1 at 1-74).



The following background facts are from the opinion of the state appellate court on direct appeal:

Trial Overview

A. Prosecution Evidence

In May 2013, Booker and Beasley were pimps in Oakland Beasley and Mitchell were rap artists, and appeared in a music video together. 17-year-old Jane Doe was a prostitute in Oakland. Doe did not have a pimp but knew of pimps in the area, including Booker and Beasley. Booker wanted Doe to “prostitute for him” but she refused
On June 2, 2013, Doe and Beasley “hung out” and had sex. The next day, Beasley planned to drive Doe “out of town,” where she would work as a prostitute. Doe, however, changed her mind and asked Beasley to drop her off near her house. Beasley did not drop Doe off. Instead, he took her to several other locations, eventually stopping the car on an isolated road, near a corner where Booker was standing with three or four men, including Mitchell. One man saw Doe and said, “ ‘There goes that bitch.' ” The men pointed at Doe. Then they got into a car.
Beasley drove away, but shortly thereafter, Booker's car arrived. Booker, Mitchell, and others got out of the car and approached Beasley's car. Booker had a Glock handgun. Booker and the other men dragged Doe out of Beasley's car. Doe screamed for help, but Beasley did not assist her. Doe felt Beasley had set her up because he let the men drag her out of the car.
Booker “beat [Doe] up” with his gun, striking her multiple times in the face. Doe's “head was busted” and she lost “so much blood.” Booker also put his gun in Doe's mouth and told her to “ ‘[s]hut up.' ” Then he and several other men grabbed Doe by her hair and threw her in the trunk. The car stopped at Booker's apartment, and Booker dragged Doe inside.
There were “a lot of people” in the apartment, including defendants. [FN 2] People in the apartment were “talking shit” to Doe; Mitchell and others told Doe she “should have just been a ho[]” and Mitchell screamed, “ ‘Why don't you just ho[.]' ” Doe was thrown to the ground and hit several times. As she was beaten, the men told her: “You gotta make money for us[.]” Then Doe “blacked out.” When she regained consciousness, her neck, arms, and legs were bound with duct tape. A makeshift blindfold had been placed over her head, but it came off. Booker and another man “started cutting” Doe with a machete, first on her breast, then on her back, leg, and stomach.
[FN 2] Doe told the police Mitchell was in the apartment. At trial, Doe identified a photograph of Mitchell, but she could not identify him in the
courtroom because he was wearing glasses and he had changed his hairstyle. As Doe and Mitchell were being transported to court during trial, Doe identified Mitchell. She told the sheriff's deputy “ ‘That's the guy that did this to me. That's the guy that raped me[,]' ” and the deputy confirmed it was Mitchell. At one point during her trial testimony, Doe said she thought Mitchell “was just sitting on the couch,” in the apartment, but acknowledged she could not “remember all of the details” about the ordeal.
Booker said, “ ‘Bitch, you gone [sic] make my money' ” and “ ‘I am going to kill you bitch if you don't make my money.' ” Booker put his gun in Doe's vagina and threatened to kill her if she screamed, saying “ ‘My trigger finger is itching.' ” Beasley watched. He did not help Doe.
Doe drifted in and out of consciousness. Her head was “busted open” and she was “losing a lot of blood.” Doe's eyes were swollen shut. She awoke in a bedroom-“naked and cut up”- on top of black garbage bags. She was still duct taped, but “there was so much blood that [her] arms got loose[.]” Doe removed a window screen and jumped out of a window. Still naked, Doe made her way to a nearby driveway and hid underneath a parked car. A man saw Doe, gave her a shirt, and called the police. The man told the police that two men with guns had been looking for Doe, and identified Booker as one of the men.
About five minutes later, the police arrived and found Doe under the car. She was “terrified. She was very, very scared and kept asking [the police officer] to get her out of there.” Doe begged the officer to help her and said a man was “trying to kill [her]” and that he lived nearby. Doe's face was swollen and bleeding. She had duct tape around her neck. Doe showed the police the car used to kidnap her and the apartment where she was held. She gave the police the name “Paul,” identified Booker's picture, and said he had been “seeking her to prostitute for him” and that he tried to kill her. Doe also told the police someone was “looking for her” and that “these guys had lots of guns.” [FN 3] Doe was taken to the hospital, where she gave a statement. She was “very shaken, very upset.” A medical examination confirmed Doe's account of her injuries.
[FN 3] The court admitted a recording from a police officer's body camera. When she gave the police a statement, Doe lied about various details because she was afraid.
The car used to kidnap Doe belonged to Booker. In the apartment, police found a box containing Booker's wallet and personal documents, including his birth certificate. Police also found a roll of duct tape, black trash bags, a long-bladed knife,
and Glock handgun ammunition. In a bedroom, there was blood on a window sill. The window screen was on the ground, below the window.
Latent prints were found on an inside layer of the duct tape used to secure Doe's blindfold. Seven prints “were of sufficient quality and quantity” and had “enough unique detail” to be presented to a fingerprint examiner. Some of the prints were palm prints. Kimberly Lankford, a latent print examiner, identified one of the palm prints as belonging to Mitchell. Another criminalist verified Lankford's identification.
Shortly before trial, Beasley asked Doe: “Please don't snitch on me. Don't tell on me.”
B. Defense Evidence
Ralph Haber, Ph.D., testified as an expert for Mitchell regarding fingerprint identification. He stated the latent print matched to Mitchell lacked “many reliable features” and was “harder to justify . . . as a palm rather than just a piece of a fingerprint.” Dr. Haber opined the “print that was lifted wasn't good enough” to make an identification. He did not analyze the print himself; he did not attempt to verify Lankford's work. Dr. Haber acknowledged the Oakland Police Department crime lab is accredited and that he had not reviewed the process the lab used to verify prints.
The court admitted a 2014 booking photo of Mitchell with no face tattoo. A witness for Beasley corroborated Doe's description of the

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