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Henry v. Estelle

filed: May 18, 1993.

ROBERT E. HENRY, PETITIONER-APPELLEE,
v.
WAYNE ESTELLE, WARDEN, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California. D.C. No. CV-90-4064-RMT. Robert M. Takasugi, District Judge, Presiding. Original Opinion Previously Reported at:,.

Before: Betty B. Fletcher, Dorothy W. Nelson, and Melvin Brunetti, Circuit Judges. Per Curiam; Dissent by Judge Brunetti.

Author: Per Curiam

Order AMENDING OPINION and DENYING PETITION FOR REHEARING and REHEARING EN BANC and AMENDED OPINION

Per Curiam:

This is an appeal from a grant of habeas corpus by the United States District Court for the Central District of California. Petitioner Robert Henry contends that he was denied due process at his trial for child molestation because evidence of an uncharged crime was erroneously admitted and then followed by a jury instruction emphasizing that same evidence. The district court found that Henry had exhausted his state remedies and that the testimony in question was so inflammatory as to infect the entire trial and preclude fundamental fairness. We affirm.

Facts and Proceedings Below

Henry was tried for seven counts of child molestation before a jury in the Superior Court of California. He was charged with one count of molesting a boy named Andrew and six counts of molesting a boy named Michael. Henry was found guilty of the count involving Andrew, a mistrial was declared as to five of the counts and Henry was acquitted of one count. He was sentenced to six years in prison.

The incident involving Andrew allegedly occurred when Andrew was attending St. Paul's Church and Day School and Henry was the rector of the church and dean of the school. Andrew could not remember if he was in kindergarten or first grade at the time of the incident. He was ten years old and in fourth grade at the time of his testimony.

On the day in question, Andrew was apparently outside Henry's office waiting for his parents, who were late, to pick him up. Andrew testified that Henry called Andrew into his office alone and closed the door behind them. Henry allegedly told Andrew to lie on the couch and pull down his pants. Andrew stated that Henry then touched him on the penis for about three minutes. Andrew was then told to leave the office and wait for his parents.

Henry contends that molestation could not have occurred during this incident. Henry knew that Andrew's parents were late and could arrive at any moment. Furthermore, the area outside the office was normally bustling with adults and children. There was a window in Henry's office that looked out onto walkways used by the children, and observers apparently could see through the drapes on this window.

At trial, Tomoko and Tobias Yeh, members of St. Paul's Episcopal Church and parents of children who attended the school, testified for the prosecution. In April 1987, Ms. Yeh was told by the wife of the police chief that Henry was believed to have molested Andrew. The Yehs confronted Henry, who allegedly stated that something had happened but that it had been misinterpreted, and denied molesting Andrew.

After the prosecution rested and the defense presented its evidence, the prosecution moved to reopen their case in chief to present the testimony of Thomas Hackett. Hackett was prepared to testify that almost twenty years earlier Hackett's eleven-year-old son told him that Henry had touched him. When Hackett confronted Henry with the allegation, Henry allegedly responded that he had been counseling Hackett's son for an emotional problem which caused him to grab himself when nervous, and that the son was mistaken about the touching.

The trial Judge found that the exchange between Hackett and Henry resembled the meeting between the Yehs and Henry because it was a similar confrontation, with a similar denial and explanation. The Judge ruled that when the defendant used the same excuse to explain his conduct on more than one occasion, his prior statements were admissible to prove the falsity of the explanation. Henry objected that the evidence had no probative value because there was no evidence to show that the prior explanation to Hackett had, in fact, been false. Henry also objected to the prejudice caused by the introduction of the testimony. The trial Judge overruled these objections.

Hackett then testified that in 1969 his eleven-year-old son attended a church school, where Henry was rector of the church. His son informed him that he was touched by Henry, and Hackett confronted Henry with the information. Henry responded that he had been counseling the son on a problem the son had regarding his grabbing himself when he was nervous. Henry did not indicate where the son was grabbing himself, but Hackett felt Henry's intimation was that the son was grabbing his penis. Hackett testified he then told Henry that, according to his son's story, it sounded more like molestation. Henry responded that his son was "mistaken or misunderstood, words to that effect."

The trial Judge attempted to minimize the danger of the testimony by giving a cautionary jury instruction, part of which read:

Such evidence was received and may be considered by you only for the limited purpose of determining if it tends to show that the defendant's present out-of-court explanation, if you find that it was made, of his conduct, is not genuine.

When a defendant uses a similar explanation of his conduct on more than one occasion, his prior statements may, if found to have been made, show that his present explanation, if found to have been made, is not genuine.

Henry appealed his conviction to the California Court of Appeal. He argued that the introduction of the testimony was contrary to California law and that its introduction resulted in a "miscarriage of Justice" under the California Constitution, article VI, section 13. The Court of Appeal unanimously ruled that the admission of the testimony was error because Hackett's testimony was not probative of any material issue unless the jury improperly assumed the earlier accusation was false, and that the instruction, instead of alleviating the risk of error, virtually required the forbidden inference that Henry was a person of bad character or a person with a Disposition to commit bad acts. However, the majority ruled that the error was not prejudicial because it was "not reasonably probable a different result would have been reached in the absence of the admission of this evidence."

After rehearing was denied and his petition for review to the California Supreme Court was rejected, Henry filed a habeas corpus petition in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. The district court granted the petition, adopting the United States Magistrate's finding that Henry had exhausted his state remedies and that the error violated Henry's due process right to receive a fundamentally fair trial.

Standard of Review

We review de novo the district court's decision on a habeas corpus petition. Thomas v. Brewer, 923 F.2d 1361, 1364 (9th Cir. 1991).

Discussion

1. Exhaustion of state remedies.

A state prisoner must exhaust his state remedies before petitioning for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b); McQueary v. Blodgett, 924 F.2d 829, 833 (9th Cir. 1991). Principles of comity and deference underlie the exhaustion requirement, which assures that the state courts will have the first "'opportunity to pass upon and correct' alleged violations of" state prisoners' federal rights. Wilwording v. Swenson, 404 U.S. 249, 250, 30 L. Ed. 2d 418, 92 S. Ct. 407 (1971) (quoting Fay v. Noia, 372 U.S. 391, 438, 9 L. Ed. 2d 837, 83 S. Ct. 822 (1963)).

To satisfy the exhaustion requirement, the petitioner must have fairly presented the substance of his federal claim to the state courts. Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 277-78, 30 L. Ed. 2d 438, 92 S. Ct. 509 (1971). The purpose of this "fair presentation" requirement is to "provide the state courts with a 'fair opportunity' to apply controlling legal principles to the facts bearing upon his constitutional claim." Anderson v. Harless, 459 U.S. 4, 6, 74 L. Ed. 2d 3, 103 S. Ct. 276 (1982) (quoting Picard, 404 U.S. at 276-77). We have held that a federal claim "is fairly presented if the petitioner has described the operative facts and legal theory upon which his claim is based." Tamapua v. Shimoda, 796 F.2d 261, 262 (9th Cir. 1986).

There is no doubt that Henry presented the "operative facts" to the California court. The question is whether he presented the "legal theory." Henry's federal habeas claim is that the erroneous admission of evidence at his state criminal trial, followed by the jury instruction, violated his federal constitutional right to due process and was so prejudicial as to require reversal of the conviction. In his direct appeal in state court, Henry did not label his claim a federal due process violation; he argued rather that Hackett's testimony was erroneously admitted because irrelevant and inflammatory, and that its admission resulted in a "miscarriage of Justice" under the California Constitution. Cal. Const. art. VI, § 13. However, to state a federal due process claim it is not necessary to invoke "the talismanic phrase 'due process of law'" or cite "book and verse on the federal constitution;" petitioner need only make "essentially the same arguments" before the state and federal courts to exhaust a claim. Tamapua, 796 F.2d at 262-63. Thus, under Picard and Anderson, exhaustion requires only that petitioner present "the substance of the federal claim" in state court. Id. at 262. We find that Henry has done so, regarding both his argument that the erroneous admission of the testimony and the instructional error were a violation of his federal due process right and his argument that the error was so prejudicial as to warrant reversal.

As to the first point, it is well established that denial of due process in a state criminal trial "is the failure to observe that fundamental fairness essential to the very concept of Justice. [The court] must find that the absence of that fairness fatally infected the trial; the acts complained of must be of such quality as necessarily prevents a fair trial." Lisenba v. California, 314 U.S. 219, 236, 86 L. Ed. 166, 62 S. Ct. 280 (1941). Henry's federal due process claim is that the admission of Hackett's testimony, along with the instructions concerning it, deprived him of a fair trial. He argues that Hackett's testimony was not probative of any material issue in his case unless the jury assumed a fact about which it had heard no testimony: that Hackett's son's accusation was true. He further argues that the jury instructions encouraged the jury to make this impermissible, highly prejudicial assumption. His claim is thus that "there are no permissible inferences the jury may draw" from Hackett's testimony, and that it is "of such [inflammatory] quality as necessarily prevents a fair trial." Jammal v. Van de Kamp, 926 F.2d 918, 920 (9th Cir. 1991); see also Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 112 S. Ct. 475, 481, 116 L. Ed. 2d 385 (1991) (inflammatory evidence that is irrelevant may work a due process violation).

Henry made "essentially the same arguments," Tamapua, 796 F.2d at 262, in his opening brief to the California Court of Appeal. He claimed that Hackett's testimony was "not relevant - it had no tendency to prove or disprove any disputed fact that was of consequence to the determination of the action." He added that the jury instruction "compounded the error" because, in encouraging the jury to see Hackett's testimony as relevant, it "as much as said that defendant had molested [Hackett's son] 20 years before." The Court of Appeal agreed, and wrote in its Disposition that Hackett's testimony, while "inherently inflammatory," had "no probative value at all."

We reach the same Conclusion as to the essential identity of Henry's state and federal arguments regarding the prejudicial effect of the error. Under California law, a miscarriage of Justice is reversible only when "it is reasonably probable that a result more favorable to [defendant] would have been reached in the absence of the error." Watson, 299 P.2d at 254. The federal standard, recently set forth by the Supreme Court in Brecht v. Abrahamson, 123 L. Ed. 2d 353, 113 S. Ct. 1710 (1993), is phrased somewhat differently, but is essentially the same test; the Supreme Court held that in reviewing a collateral challenge based on a "trial-type" constitutional error, a federal court will not reverse the conviction unless the error "'had substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict.'" Id. at 1722 (quoting Kotteakos v. United States, 328 U.S. 750, 776, 90 L. Ed. 1557, 66 S. Ct. 1239 (1946)).

The errors that occurred at Henry's trial - the introduction of Hackett's testimony and the subsequent jury instruction - were clearly errors of the "trial type" because they "occurred during the presentation of the case to the jury". Arizona v. Fulminante, 499 U.S. 279, 111 S. Ct. 1246, 1264, 113 L. Ed. 2d 302 (1991). Therefore, under the new Brecht harmless error standard, we must inquire whether the testimony had a "substantial and injurious effect or influence" on the verdict.*fn1 This standard is similar to the Watson standard used by California courts; under both tests, reversal is required if the error had a significant inculpatory impact. When the California Court of Appeal determined that it was "reasonably probable" that Henry would have been acquitted had the ...


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