299 F.Supp.2d 1 (2004) | Cited 1 time | D. Massachusetts | January 23, 2004


The Petitioner William Rodriguez ("Rodriguez") was convicted by aMassachusetts jury of various crimes related to the shooting of VictorOrtega ("Ortega"). On appeal to the Massachusetts Appeals Court,Rodriguez raised three claims, but the convictions were affirmed in allrespects. See Commonwealth v. Rodriguez, 762 N.E.2d 328, 328(Mass.App.Ct. 2002). Rodriguez appealed two of the three claims to theSupreme Judicial Court ("SJC"); both were denied. See Commonwealth v.Rodriguez, 768 N.E.2d 1086, 1086 (Mass. 2002). Rodriguez then filed a prose petition for habeas corpus in this Court alleging the same two claimshe raised in the SJC. The first claim is that the trial court erred innot granting Rodriguez's motion for a finding of not guilty, or,alternatively, his motion for a new trial. The second claim is that thetrial court erred in allowing a hispanic juror to be randomly selected asan alternate. For the following reasons, Rodriguez's petition isdismissed.Page 2


Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, "habeas relief is available only if thestate court's decision, on any issue it actually decided, was contraryto, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly establishedFederal Law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States."Epsom v. Hall, 330 F.3d 49, 52 (1st Cir. 2003) (citation and quotationmarks omitted). The government's initial argument is that the petitionmust be dismissed because Rodriguez failed to allege a violation offederal law in his habeas petition. The government argues thatRodriguez's habeas petition raises only violations of state law.

The Supreme Court has explained that it is an essential element "of thedue process guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment that no person shallbe made to suffer the onus of a criminal conviction except uponsufficient proof." Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 316 (1979)(emphasis added). The government's position in this case is thatRodriguez's habeas petition challenges only the weight, and not theconstitutional sufficiency of the evidence against him. The basis for thegovernment's position is that one of the claims in Rodriguez's habeaspetition is that the trial court erred in denying his motion for a newtrial. Under Massachusetts law, a trial court may award a new trial ifthe verdict, although supported by legally sufficient evidence, wasnevertheless against the weight of the evidence. See Commonwealth v.Doucette, 559 N.E.2d 1225, 1226 (Mass. 1990). A federal court reviewing ahabeas petition is concerned only with the sufficiency of the evidence,not its weight. Indeed, a federal court reviewing a habeas petition mustusually accept the evidence in the light most favorable to thegovernment. See Ortiz v. Dubois, 19 F.3d 708, 717 (1st Cir. 1994).Accordingly, this Court dismisses Rodriguez's claim that the trial courterred by not granting a motion for a new trial because the verdict wasagainst the weight of the evidence.Page 3

Rodriguez, however, raises other claims. He explicitly alleges that thetrial judge erred in denying his motion for a finding of not guiltybecause the evidence against him was not legally sufficient. In decidinga motion for a finding of not guilty, a Massachusetts court does notconsider "the weight or integrity of the evidence, but instead mustassess the legal sufficiency of the evidence by the standard set out inCommonwealth v. Latimore, 393 N.E.2d 370 (1979)." Commonwealth v.Washington, 736 N.E.2d 396, 398 (Mass.App.Ct. 2000) (quoting Doucette,559 N.E.2d at 1226). Latimore, in turn, states that the Massachusettssufficiency of the evidence standard is "substantially comparable" to thesufficiency of the evidence standard established by the Supreme Court inJackson, 393 N.E.2d at 375. In Jackson the Supreme Court stated, "a stateprisoner who alleges that the evidence in support of his state convictioncannot be fairly characterized as sufficient to have led a rational trierof fact to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt has stated a federalconstitutional claim." 443 U.S. at 321. That is precisely what Rodriguezdid in his habeas petition. Therefore, this Court concludes thatRodriguez's petition properly raises a federal sufficiency of theevidence claim.

The government's second line of defense is that even if Rodriguez'spetition properly raised a violation of federal law, he failed to exhaustthe claim in state court. However, a federal claim is consideredexhausted when a petition asserts "a state law claim that is functionallyidentical to a federal claim." Scarpa v. DuBois, 38 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir.1994); see also Nadworny v. Fair, 872 F.2d 1093, 1099-1100 (1st Cir.1989). As already explained, Rodriguez's motion seeking a finding of notguilty involved a fundamentally identical standard as a federal DueProcess claim. Rodriguez's sufficiency of the evidence claim is deemedexhausted and this Court proceeds to the merits.Page 4

A federal court reviewing a sufficiency of the evidence claim must ask"whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to theprosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essentialelements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Jackson, 443 U.S. at319 (emphasis in original). "This standard must be applied with specificreference to the elements of the offense as defined by state law."Ortiz, 19 F.3d at 717 (citation and quotation marks omitted). Rodriguezwas convicted of armed assault with intent to murder,, § 18(b), assault and battery with a dangerous weapon,Mass.Gen.L. ch. 265, § 15A(b), and carrying a firearm without alicense, Mass.Gen.L. ch. 269, § 10(a). The crimes were in relation toan incident that involved the shooting of Ortega in the head at pointblank range. Ortega had been spending time with a young woman who had atone point dated Rodriguez's brother. At trial, Ortega testified thatRodriguez was the shooter. Rodriguez's defense was that his brother didthe shooting.

After reviewing the elements of the relevant crimes, it is clear thatOrtega's in-court identification of Rodriguez as the shooter issufficient to support the convictions. The Supreme Court has stated thateyewitness testimony is sufficient to satisfy due process, even if thattestimony is contradicted or impeached. See Tibbs v. Florida, 457 U.S. 31,45 n.21 (1982). Therefore, the SJC's denial of Rodriguez's appeal was notcontrary to, nor did it involve an unreasonable application of, clearlyestablished federal law. See Allison v. Ficco, 284 F. Supp.2d 182, 193(D.Mass. 2003) (stating that "eyewitness evidence alone was sufficient toestablish" guilt for purposes of habeas review). Rodriguez's sufficiencyof the evidence claim is dismissed.Page 5


Rodriguez's final claim is that his Sixth Amendment rights wereviolated when a hispanic juror was randomly selected as an alternate atthe close of evidence pursuant to Massachusetts statutory law. SeeMass.Gen.L. ch. 234 § 26B. There is no allegation that the selectionprocess failed to conform with the requirements of the statute. Rodriguezsimply claims that the trial judge should have taken measures to preventthe hispanic juror from being selected as an alternate. The Supreme Courthas stated that "[d]efendants are not entitled to a jury of anyparticular composition." Holland v. Illinois, 493 U.S. 474, 483 (1990)(quoting Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U.S. 522, 538 (1975)). Federal lawrequires that only the jury pool be reasonably representative of thecommunity; individual juries need not. See United States v. Royal,174 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir. 1999). Rodriguez's petition does not allege anyimproprieties with regard to the pool used to select the jury in thiscase. The petitioner's Sixth Amendment claim is dismissed.Page 1

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