Court Opinion: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion for Sept. 13

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

Diaz-Martinez v. Attorney General of the State of Colorado, et al.

Miguel Diaz-Martinez sought a certificate of appealability to appeal the district court’s denial of his application for relief under 28 U.S. Code 2254. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a certificate of appealability and dismissed the matter.

According to the opinion, the relevant facts are set forth in the 2020 Colorado Court of Appeals decision People v. Miguel Angel Diaz-Martinez. Diaz-Martinez was charged with 43 counts of various sexual offenses. Two weeks before trial he pleaded guilty to nine of the counts. Several weeks later he moved to withdraw his guilty plea on the grounds he didn’t understand the plea agreement, his attorneys coerced him into pleading guilty and his attorneys provided ineffective assistance during the plea proceedings. Diaz-Martinez also asked the court to appoint alternate counsel. The court denied both requests and sentenced him to a 50-year term of imprisonment. The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence and the Colorado Supreme Court denied certiorari review.

Diaz-Martinez filed his 2254 application in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado. For his first claim, he argued “[t]he lack of an interpreter to assist a non-English speaking defendant in attorney-client communication[s] . . . impair[ed] the constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel.” His second claim alleged the trial court violated his constitutional rights when it excluded him from a bench conference. His third claim alleged the trial court erred by “summarily denying” his ineffective assistance claims without first appointing alternate counsel to investigate. 

The district court denied the claims on the merits and dismissed the case with prejudice; it also denied Diaz-Martinez’s request for a certificate of appealability.

A certificate of appealability is a jurisdictional prerequisite to appealing the denial of federal habeas relief the opinion noted, citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision Miller-El v. Cockrell. The 10th Circuit may issue a certificate of appealability only upon “a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right” the opinion explained citing 28 U.S.C. 2253(c)(2).

“We look to the District Court’s application of [The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA)] to petitioner’s constitutional claims and ask whether that resolution was debatable amongst jurists of reason,” the 10th Circuit noted citing the Miller-El decision.

Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act when a state court has adjudicated a federal claim on the merits, relief is available if the applicant establishes the state-court decision “was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States,” or “was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding” the 10th Circuit explained citing 28 U.S.C. 2254(d). The federal court must presume a state court’s factual findings to be correct unless the applicant rebuts that presumption by “‘clear and convincing evidence,’” the opinion added, citing the 10th Circuit decision Hooks v. Workman. The presumption applies to factual determinations by both state trial and appellate courts, the opinion furthered, citing the 10th Circuit decision Al-Yousif v. Trani.

After evaluation, the 10th Circuit denied a certificate of appealability, dismissed the matter and granted Diaz-Martinez’s request to add exhibits to his application.

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