United States v. Rivera ( 2015 )

  •                                                                                      FILED
                                                                             United States Court of Appeals
                             UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS                          Tenth Circuit
                                       FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT                      December 15, 2015
                                                                                 Elisabeth A. Shumaker
                                                                                     Clerk of Court
               Plaintiff – Appellee,
    v.                                                              No. 15-2165
                                                   (D.C. Nos. 1:14-CV-00996-LH-KBM and
     WARREN RIVERA,                                         1:11-CR-01204-LH-1)
                                                                  (D. New Mexico)
               Defendant - Appellant.
                                    ORDER DENYING
                             CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY *
    Before KELLY, LUCERO and McHUGH, Circuit Judges.
           Warren Rivera, a federal prisoner appearing pro se, seeks a certificate of
    appealability (COA) to appeal the district court’s dismissal of his motion for relief under
    28 U.S.C. § 2255. We deny the request for COA and dismiss the appeal.
           On April 4, 2011, Mr. Rivera got into an argument with his girlfriend, Valentina
    Gonzalez. Ms. Gonzalez called her parents, who were on their way to Mr. Rivera’s
    apartment to babysit Ms. Gonzalez’s daughter. Her mother called 911 to report the
    dispute. When Ms. Gonzalez’s parents arrived at Mr. Rivera’s apartment building, they
            This order is not binding precedent, except under the doctrines of law of the case,
    res judicata, and collateral estoppel. It may be cited, however, for its persuasive value
    consistent with Federal Rule Appellate Procedure 32.1 and 10th Circuit Rule 32.1.
    found him arguing with Ms. Gonzalez in the street. Ms. Gonzalez’s father confronted
    Mr. Rivera, who produced a pistol from his waistband and threatened to kill her father.
    Mr. Rivera then grabbed Ms. Gonzalez and walked to a bus stop, leaving her parents
    behind. Ms. Gonzalez’s mother again called 911.
           A police officer responding to the call drove to the bus stop, where he found
    Mr. Rivera and Ms. Gonzalez. As the officer got out of his vehicle, he saw Mr. Rivera
    hand something to Ms. Gonzalez. The officer restrained both Mr. Rivera and Ms.
    Gonzalez, and in doing so found a pistol in Ms. Gonzalez’s waistband. She later testified
    Mr. Rivera foisted the pistol on her when the officer arrived.
           A grand jury returned a single-count indictment charging Mr. Rivera with being a
    felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2).
    Before trial, the Government filed a motion in limine, seeking to admit the recorded 911
    calls as evidence. In the face of Mr. Rivera’s objections, the government withdrew its
    request to admit the first 911 call and the district court denied the Government’s motion
    with respect to that recording. The district court admitted the second 911 call at trial, and
    the Government played the recording for the jury. While the audio of the second 911 call
    was playing, however, two jurors were inadvertently given a transcript of the first 911
    call. The error came to light when the jurors sent a note to the court stating, “Two of the
    jurors inadvertently saw a transcript of [the] first telephone call to 911. If it was
    introduced as evidence, they would like to have that transcript now.” The court responded
    with a curative instruction, stating, “The transcript referred to was not admitted in
    evidence. It may not be considered in your deliberations.” Trial counsel did not request a
    mistrial at that time.
           The jury returned a guilty verdict, and Mr. Rivera’s trial counsel moved for a
    mistrial. The district court denied the motion on two grounds: first, that the motion was
    not timely filed and, second, that Mr. Rivera had failed to demonstrate any prejudice
    resulted from the error that was not cured by the district court’s curative instruction.
    Mr. Rivera appealed his conviction, and a panel of this court affirmed in an unpublished
    decision. United States v. Rivera, 554 F. App’x 735, 736 (10th Cir. 2014).
           Mr. Rivera then filed this § 2255 motion, alleging four instances of ineffective
    assistance of trial and appellate counsel and a claim of cumulative error. The district
    court denied relief on all claims and denied a COA. Mr. Rivera now seeks a COA to
    appeal only one of the issues raised below: his claim that trial counsel rendered
    ineffective assistance by failing to timely move for a mistrial.
           In the context of a § 2255 motion, we will issue a COA “only if the applicant has
    made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right.” 28 U.S.C.
    § 2253(c)(2). A defendant can make such a showing by demonstrating “that reasonable
    jurists could debate whether (or, for that matter, agree that) the [motion] should have
    been resolved in a different manner or that the issues presented were adequate to deserve
    encouragement to proceed further.” Slack v. McDaniel, 
    529 U.S. 473
    , 484 (2000)
    (internal quotation marks omitted). “Such a showing is made only where a prisoner
    demonstrates that jurists of reason would find it debatable that a constitutional violation
    occurred, and that the district court erred in its resolution.” United States v. Pinson, 584
    3 F.3d 972
    , 975 (10th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). Unless we grant a
    COA, we lack jurisdiction to consider the merits of a § 2255 appeal. See Miller-El v.
    537 U.S. 322
    , 342 (2003).
           Because Mr. Rivera’s § 2255 motion raises claims of ineffective assistance of
    counsel, we must analyze his claim in light of the two-part test for ineffective assistance
    established in Strickland v. Washington, 
    466 U.S. 668
     (1984). Under Strickland, a
    defendant must show (1) “that counsel’s performance was deficient” and (2) “that the
    deficient performance prejudiced the defense.” Id. at 687. To satisfy the first element, a
    defendant must demonstrate “that counsel’s representation fell below an objective
    standard of reasonableness.” Id. at 688. For the second element, a defendant “must show
    that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the
    result of the proceeding would have been different.” Id. at 694. Because a defendant must
    satisfy both Strickland elements to succeed on an ineffective-assistance claim, we are free
    to consider the elements in any order and need not address both “if the defendant makes
    an insufficient showing on one.” Id. at 697.
           Mr. Rivera argues his trial counsel performed deficiently by failing to move for a
    mistrial before the jury rendered its verdict. And, indeed, the trial court ruled it lacked the
    power to entertain a postverdict motion for a mistrial, relying on the Ninth Circuit’s
    decision in United States v. Alvarez-Moreno for the proposition that “Federal Rule of
    Criminal Procedure 26.3 ‘does not state explicitly that mistrial can be declared only
    before a verdict is rendered or a judgment entered, but that limitation is clearly the
    implicit assumption.’” (Quoting 
    657 F.3d 896
    , 900 (9th Cir. 2011).) But even if we
    determined Mr. Rivera’s trial counsel performed deficiently by failing to move for a
    mistrial before a verdict was returned, we cannot conclude Mr. Rivera was prejudiced by
    that failure because the district court nevertheless considered the motion for mistrial and
    found it without merit.
           Mr. Rivera asserts the district court’s ruling that it lacked the power to grant a
    mistrial after the verdict was rendered “implies that the court may have granted the
    motion had it been properly raised.” But the record belies this assertion. In ruling on the
    motion for mistrial, the district court explained “even if the Court could consider the
    Motion, it would have to be denied for the reasons stated in the Memorandum Opinion
    and Order addressing Defendant’s Refiled Motion for a New Trial.” In that order, the
    district court explained that “Defendant has made no effort to inform the Court what
    harm, if any, resulted” from the jurors’ exposure to the unadmitted transcript. The district
    court also ruled that “any possible harm was cured by the Court’s response to the Jury:
    ‘The transcript referred to was not admitted in evidence. It may not be considered in your
    deliberations.’” The district court therefore ruled that a mistrial was not warranted.
           The district court’s orders unambiguously demonstrate it would have denied
    Mr. Rivera’s motion for a mistrial irrespective of whether it was timely filed.1 Mr. Rivera
    was therefore not prejudiced by his counsel’s failure to timely file the motion, because he
    cannot demonstrate “the result of the proceeding would have been different” had counsel
             We note that, in the context of an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim, the
    correctness of the district court’s ruling on the motion for a mistrial is not before us.
    Rather, we consider only whether counsel’s allegedly deficient performance—failure to
    timely file the motion—had any effect on the outcome.
    timely filed. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. Because Mr. Rivera cannot demonstrate
    prejudice on his Strickland claim, he has not “made a substantial showing of the denial of
    a constitutional right.” 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). Accordingly, we deny Mr. Rivera’s
    request for a COA and dismiss this appeal.
                                                    ENTERED FOR THE COURT
                                                    Carolyn B. McHugh
                                                    Circuit Judge