Sifuentes v. Brazelton, C 09–2902 PJH

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
Writing for the CourtPHYLLIS J. HAMILTON
Citation4 F.Supp.3d 1181
PartiesMiguel Galindo Sifuentes, Petitioner, v. P. Brazelton, Warden, Respondent.
Docket NumberNo. C 09–2902 PJH,C 09–2902 PJH
Decision Date03 December 2013

4 F.Supp.3d 1181

Miguel Galindo Sifuentes, Petitioner,
v.
P. Brazelton, Warden, Respondent.

No. C 09–2902 PJH

United States District Court, N.D. California.

Filed December 3, 2013


[4 F.Supp.3d 1192]


Evan Tsen Lee, Hastings College of Law, San Francisco, CA, for Petitioner.


ORDER CONDITIONALLY GRANTING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

PHYLLIS J. HAMILTON, United States District Judge

Petitioner Miguel Galindo Sifuentes, a California prisoner currently incarcerated at Pleasant Valley State Prison, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Respondent P. Brazelton filed an answer on April 26, 2013, and Sifuentes filed a traverse on June 24, 2013. The court determines that the matter is suitable for decision without oral argument. Having reviewed the parties' papers and the record, and having carefully considered the relevant legal authorities, the court CONDITIONALLY GRANTS the petition.

BACKGROUND
I. Factual Summary

The following summary of the evidence presented at trial is taken directly from the opinion of the court of appeal affirming Sifuentes's judgment and conviction. Mot. Dismiss, Ex. 1 (People v. Vasquez, et al., No. A102559 (Cal.Ct.App. Jan. 31, 2006)) (“Slip op.”).

At approximately 10:50 p.m. on December 11, 1998, defendants Ruben Eliceo Vasquez, Hai Minh Le and Miguel Galindo Sifuentes went into the Outback Restaurant in Dublin to commit a robbery. Sifuentes entered the restaurant and asked for a table. He told the server that he was waiting for friends and ordered a soda. Approximately a half hour later, the server prompted Sifuentes to place an order. Sifuentes was subsequently presented with a bill. He told the server that he needed to get money from his car. As he was about to leave the restaurant, Vasquez and Le entered. Le pulled out a pellet gun and marched a departing customer back into the restaurant, telling him, “This is what I do.” Defendants spread out through the restaurant and commandeered the remaining customers and employees to the kitchen area. In the process, Vasquez robbed a man of his wallet.

Vasquez was armed with a nine-millimeter semiautomatic pistol, while Sifuentes and Le were armed with pellet guns. In the kitchen, Vasquez demanded money and fired his gun into a fryer on one side of the kitchen. Vasquez took the manager to his office where he stuffed his pockets with money from the cash drawer. While they were in the office, the telephone rang. Vasquez threatened the manager to tell the police that everything was alright or he would be killed. The manager complied with Vasquez's order. Meanwhile, an employee called 911 and hung up as defendants ordered the employees and customers into the restaurant's walk-in refrigerator. Another employee was able to activate a security device before placed in the refrigerator.

Deputy Sheriff Angela Schwab responded to the 911 call but was told by the dispatch operator that the restaurant manager had reported that everything was okay. Schwab entered the restaurant and was surprised by Vasquez. Vasquez pointed his gun at Schwab and demanded that she give him her gun. After he hit Schwab in the face, he took her gun. Le put a gun to her back and he and Sifuentes walked her to the back of the restaurant.

Sheriff's Deputy John Monego arrived on the scene. As he was entering a door to the restaurant, Vasquez shot him. Vasquez fired additional shots at Monego after he had fallen to the ground. The police

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recovered four expended cartridges in the foyer of the restaurant and three others outside the door to the restaurant, all shot from Vasquez's pistol. Defendants fled the scene and were apprehended shortly thereafter.

II. Procedural History

In February 2003, Sifuentes and his two codefendants, Vasquez and Le, were convicted in the Alameda County Superior Court of the first degree murder of Deputy Monego. The jury also found true that Sifuentes was armed with a firearm. The prosecution sought the death penalty against Sifuentes, but the jury did not find true the special circumstances charged against him. Sifuentes was sentenced to 26 years to life in prison. Sifuentes, Vasquez and Le filed a consolidated appeal to the California Court of Appeal, which affirmed the convictions on January 31, 2006. Sifuentes filed a petition for review in the California Supreme Court, which summarily denied review on May 17, 2006. Mot. Dismiss, Ex. 3.

Sifuentes filed a habeas petition in this court and moved for a stay to allow him to exhaust some of his claims in state court. By order entered September 17, 2007, the court stayed the habeas proceedings to allow Sifuentes to present his unexhausted claims in state court. Sifuentes v. Hedgpeth, No. C 07–4465 PJH (PR) (N.D.Cal. Sept. 17, 2007).

Sifuentes filed a pro se habeas petition in the Alameda County Superior Court, which denied the petition on October 31, 2007. Mot. Dismiss, Ex. 4. Sifuentes also filed an unsuccessful habeas petition in the court of appeal, and on October 3, 2008, filed a habeas petition in the California Supreme Court, which denied the petition on May 20, 2009. Mot. Dismiss, Ex. 5.

Sifuentes, then appearing pro se, filed a new federal habeas corpus petition on June 29, 2009. The court dismissed an amended petition and second amended petition with leave to amend. Sifuentes filed a third amended petition on October 25, 2010. By order entered April 13, 2012, the court dismissed two of the claims from the third amended petition and issued an order to show cause on the remaining 21 claims. Sifuentes then filed a motion for leave to file a fourth amended petition, which the court denied by order entered August 8, 2012.

Counsel for Sifuentes filed a notice of appearance on August 10, 2012. Subsequently, on August 21, 2012, the court granted Sifuentes's stipulated request for leave to file a fourth amended petition and set related deadlines. On October 28, 2012, Sifuentes filed a request for a three-month extension to file the fourth amended petition, and then filed a fourth amended petition on November 1, 2012. By order dated November 2, 2012, the court denied Sifuentes's request for an extension of time, and deemed the fourth amended petition, filed on November 1, 2012, to be the operative petition.1 The fourth amended petition alleged five claims for habeas relief: (1) that Sifuentes' rights to due process, equal protection, and fair trial under the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments were violated when the prosecution peremptorily challenged nine potential jurors on the basis of their race; (2) that his rights to due process, equal protection, and fair trial under the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments were violated when the trial court excused for cause two potential jurors on the basis of their race; (3)

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that application of California's felony murder rule to Sifuentes violated the Eighth Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause; (4) that application of California's felony murder rule violated Sifuentes's right to a jury trial because it enabled the judge, rather than the jury, to determine malice aforethought, an element of the charge; and (5) that Sifuentes's due process and fair trial rights were violated when several jurors regularly slept through key portions of his trial.

On November 29, 2012, respondent filed a motion to dismiss, which was submitted on the briefs. By order entered February 12, 2013, the court granted the motion to dismiss the procedurally defaulted claims three and four and denied the motion to dismiss the mixed petition. The court ordered Sifuentes either to request a stay and abeyance to exhaust claim five, or to dismiss that claim and proceed with claims one and two.

On March 4, 2013, Sifuentes filed a voluntary dismissal of claim five and a request for leave to file a motion for reconsideration of the order dismissing claims three and four. By order entered March 27, 2013, the court denied Sifuentes' request for leave to file a motion for reconsideration and set a briefing schedule on the remaining habeas claims. Respondent filed an answer and supplemental exhibits (“Supp.Ex.”) comprising the record of jury voir dire and juror questionnaires. See doc. nos. 56, 57. Sifuentes filed a traverse on June 24, 2013. The matter is now fully briefed and submitted.

ISSUES

Sifuentes asserts the following two claims for relief:

(1) that his rights to due process, equal protection, and fair trial under the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments were violated when the prosecution peremptorily challenged nine potential jurors on the basis of their race;

(2) that his rights to due process, equal protection, and fair trial under the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments were violated when the trial court dismissed potential jurors by granting the prosecutor's challenges for cause without questioning the potential jurors.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A district court may not grant a petition challenging a state conviction or sentence on the basis of a claim that was reviewed on the merits in state court unless the state court's 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.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). The first prong applies both to questions of law and to mixed questions of law and fact, Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 407–09, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000), while the second prong applies to decisions based on factual determinations, Miller–El v. Cockrell (“Miller–El I”), 537 U.S. 322, 340, 123 S.Ct. 1029, 154 L.Ed.2d 931 (2003).

A state court decision is “contrary to” Supreme Court authority, that is, falls under the first clause of § 2254(d)(1), only if “the state court arrives at a...

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