Voicemail Authentication: Self-Identification + Request to Return Call to Home Number of Self-Identifier + Contents of Message = Sufficient Circumstantial Authentication

Goodrich v. Director, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 111633 (E.D. Tex. July 21, 2016):

Petitioner Joseph Glenn Goodrich, an inmate confined within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, proceeding pro se, filed this petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.

The above-styled action was referred to the undersigned magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and the Amended Order for the Adoption of Local Rules for the Assignment of Duties to the United States Magistrate Judge for findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendations for the disposition of the case.

Factual Background

Following a jury trial in the 411th District Court of Polk County, Texas, petitioner was convicted of murder. He was sentenced to 40 years of imprisonment. The conviction was affirmed by the Texas Court of Appeals for the Ninth District. Goodrich v. State, No. 09-10-00167-CR (Tex.App.--Beaumont, 2011). The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused a petition for [*2]  discretionary review. Goodrich v. State, PD-0612-11.

Petitioner subsequently filed a state application for writ of habeas corpus. The Court of Criminal Appeals denied the application without written order on the findings of the trial court without a hearing. Ex parte Goodrich, Appl. No. 78,764-01.

Grounds for Review

Petitioner asserts the following grounds for review: (1) there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction; (2) the trial court erred when a recording of a voicemail message was admitted into evidence; (3) he was denied a fair trial when the jury saw him in handcuffs and (4) he received ineffective assistance of counsel because counsel failed to: (a) conduct an investigation and interview and call witnesses and (b) find and present expert witnesses.

Evidence at Trial

The intermediate appellate court described the evidence presented at trial as follows:

   The evidence proving Goodrich's guilt is largely circumstantial. The evidence before the jury established that Goodrich had purchased drugs from Bogany on several occasions before Bogany was murdered. Approximately ten days before the murder, Goodrich and Bogany argued about a drug deal, and Goodrich told a friend that [*3]  he was going to shoot Bogany. On the day before and the day of the murder, phones available to Goodrich were used to place telephone calls to Bogany's cellular phone; on the day of the murder, there was also additional circumstantial evidence that a meeting between Goodrich and Bogany occurred around the time and at the scene of the murder. Additionally, a ballistics expert testified that shells found at the scene of the murder had been fired from the same gun as a shell from a gun known to have been in Goodrich's possession prior to Bogany's murder. After the murder, upon being initially questioned by a Texas Ranger, Goodrich denied that he knew Bogany, and denied having ever purchased drugs from him. In a subsequent interview, Goodrich admitted that he knew Bogany and admitted that he had purchased drugs from him on more than one occasion.

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Improper Admission of Evidence

During trial, a CD of a voicemail message purportedly left by petitioner for the victim was admitted into evidence.1 Petitioner contends [*11]  the voicemail message should not have been admitted because it was not properly authenticated. He states that the witnesses who were called to authenticate the voicemail were not able to testify that it was petitioner's voice on the recording.

1   The message stated: "Hey dude, it's Joe. I know its early, but my brother-in-law's down here. He wants some, uh, pretty big deal. Give me a call 365-4897. I'll keep him as long as I can. He said he's got to go somewhere later, but give me a call."

Petitioner raised this ground for review on direct appeal. In considering petitioner's claim, the intermediate appellate court stated that under Texas Rule of Evidence 901, a recording of a person's voice could be authenticated by an opinion based upon hearing the voice under circumstances connecting it with the alleged speaker. In addition, the identity of a caller could be demonstrated by self-identification coupled with additional circumstances, such as the context and time of the call, the contents of the statement and disclosure of knowledge of facts known peculiarly to the speaker. In concluding that the trial court did not err by admitting the voicemail message into evidence, the appellate court [*12]  stated:

   Here, Ron Duff, a Texas Ranger, identified a computer disc and stated that it contained the recording of a voicemail from Goodrich to Bogany. Ranger Duff copied the voicemail after being given access to it by Goodrich's [sic:  presumably the victim's] cellular-phone provider. Goodrich provided his home telephone number during an interview with the police, and records from Goodrich's cellular-phone provider tied the voicemail as originating from a call made from Goodrich's home phone. Additionally, the message identifies the caller as "Joe" and includes a request that the recipient call Goodrich's home number. Based on the evidence authenticating the message, we conclude the trial court reasonably determined that the voicemail was authentic; therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the voicemail message.

In order to be entitled to relief, petitioner must do more than show that the admission of the voicemail message violated Rule of Evidence 901. It is not the function of a federal habeas court to review a state's interpretation of its own law. Weeks v. Scott, 55 F.3d 1059, 1063 (5th Cir. 1995). Accordingly, a federal habeas court will not grant relief based upon errors in a state trial court's evidentiary rulings unless those errors [*13]  resulted in a "denial of fundamental fairness" under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Neal v. Cain, 141 F.3d 207, 214 (5th Cir. 1998). Due process is implicated only for rulings "of such a magnitude" or which are "so egregious" that they rendered a trial fundamentally unfair. Bigsby v. Dretke, 402 F.3d 551, 563 (5th Cir. 2005).

As described above, the caller on the voicemail message identified himself as "Joe" and there was evidence that the call came from petitioner's home telephone. In addition, the message asked the recipient to call petitioner's home phone number. Based on this, it cannot be concluded that the admission of the voicemail message violated Rule 901. As the admission of the voicemail message did not violate the applicable state rule of evidence, its admission could not have been so egregious as to constitute a violation of due process. As a result, the state courts' rejection of this ground for review was not contrary to, and did not involve an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law.

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