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U.S.A. EX REL. SABELLA v. FOLLETTE

August 3, 1970

U.S.A. ex rel. Dominick SABELLA, Petitioner,
v.
Hon. H.W. FOLLETTE, Warden, Green Haven State Prison, Stormville, N.Y., Respondent


Edelstein, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: EDELSTEIN

EDELSTEIN, District Judge.

Petitioner, Dominick Sabella, was indicted for first degree robbery in February 1964. Thereafter, petitioner had two trials in the Suffolk County Court of New York on that indictment. The first, from June 22 to July 9, 1964, ended with the jury unable to arrive at a unanimous verdict with regard to Sabella. The second trial, from November 16 to 19, 1964, resulted in conviction. Subsequently, the Appellate Division reversed and ordered a new trial on the ground that petitioner had not been afforded opportunity to cross-examine a key prosecution witness. *fn1" On or about February 16, 1966, a superseding indictment was returned against petitioner for reasons not specified in the papers. *fn2" Petitioner's third trial, also in the Suffolk County Court, from March 9 to 26, 1966, ended in petitioner's conviction. On or about April 22, 1966, a sentence of 15 to 30 years was imposed for that conviction, to run concurrently with a sentence imposed on that same date of 2 1/2 to 5 years for an apparently unrelated offense. *fn3" Petitioner's robbery conviction was affirmed without opinion by the Appellate Division *fn4" and, in turn, unanimously by the Court of Appeals. *fn5"

 Following the affirmance in the Appellate Division, but prior to that by the Court of Appeals, petitioner filed a petition for a writ of error coram nobis in the Suffolk County Court in or about the middle of 1967. *fn6" Petitioner alleged two grounds: (1) that defendant's retained counsel during his second trial on the robbery was threatened with disbarment through an intermediary of the District Attorney which allegedly caused his attorney to rest prematurely defendant's case; and (2) that there were simultaneously present before the Grand Jury on February 16, 1966, three police officers "who gave testimony in each other's presence." On July 20, 1967, the Suffolk County Court denied petitioner's coram nobis application. Petitioner then sought to appeal that denial to the Appellate Division, and on September 14, 1967, the Appellate Division assigned Oscar Bloom, Esq. to assist petitioner's appeal. The brief for this appeal was not filed until two years later, on or about September 4, 1969. Presumably out of an increasing sense of frustration and impatience with assigned counsel's lengthening delay in perfecting his appeal, petitioner, on or about July 10, 1969, applied to the Supreme Court of Dutchess County for a writ of habeas corpus. That application raised the two grounds set forth in his original coram nobis petition, together with the additional charge of inadequate assistance of counsel to perfect his coram nobis appeal. The habeas corpus application was denied on August 28, 1969. On November 19, 1969, petitioner filed the present application for a writ of habeas corpus "pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241(D)." *fn7" Shortly thereafter, on December 1, 1969, the Appellate Division affirmed the Suffolk County Court's denial of the coram nobis.8

 Exhaustion of Remedies

 On the facts presented, the threshold determination is whether under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, the applicant has "exhausted all the remedies available in the courts of the State, or that there is either an absence of available State corrective process or the existence of circumstances rendering such process ineffective to protect the rights of the prisoner." *fn9" The availability of state remedies is determined with reference to the facts existing at the time the application is filed; *fn10" for our purposes, the measuring date becomes November 19, 1969. *fn11" As of that date, the time in which to appeal the denial of his state habeas corpus application had expired; *fn12" thus, as to that petition, circumstances existed rendering such process ineffective. However, the same cannot be said of petitioner's coram nobis application. On November 19, 1969, that appeal was still pending in the Appellate Division, which decision was not rendered until December 1, 1969, as of which date petitioner still had thirty days in which to seek leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals. *fn13" Thus, as of November 19, 1969, -- and for approximately 43 days thereafter -- petitioner had not exhausted his state remedies, and, on this basis alone, the court can dismiss the instant petition. *fn14" However, the doctrine of exhaustion of state remedies is bottomed on considerations of comity and is not jurisdictional in nature. *fn15" The presence of compelling factors have, on occasion, warranted departure from otherwise rigid application of the doctrine. *fn16" Such circumstances exist here. On or about January 1, 1970, the thirty-day period in which Sabella might have sought leave to appeal his coram nobis to the Court of Appeals expired. That time limit is jurisdictional, inflexible, and binding on the state courts. *fn17" At this point, with respect to coram nobis, circumstances have rendered state court corrective processes unavailable; to remit petitioner to those remedies would be a hollow exercise in futility. The fact that New York's highest court would now be foreclosed from hearing that appeal sounds the death knell to the otherwise essential considerations of comity. And in the absence of factors which would persuade this court that petitioner deliberately bypassed these state court procedures, *fn18" the court finds that petitioner has exhausted his state court remedies within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 2254. *fn19"

 Claims Asserted by Petitioner

 Petitioner's application is predicated on three grounds. In order, these are: (quoted in full)

 "(A) Petitioner has been denied the adequate and competent assistance of assigned counsel to perfect an appeal in the Appellate Court;

 "(B) That retained counsel during petitioner's second trial on the robbery was threatened with disbarment if he continued with the trial;

 "(C) That there were unauthorized persons present in the Grand Jury room when on February 16, 1966, the superseding indictment was found."

 Inadequate Representation by Counsel in Petitioner's Coram Nobis Appeal

 Petitioner's claim of inadequate assistance of counsel for his coram nobis appeal is bottomed on the following contentions: (1) that it took assigned counsel two years from the date of his assignment to file the appellate brief, and then only when prodded by petitioner's state habeas application; (2) that counsel failed to contact certain witnesses for possible affidavits in connection with that appeal; and (3) that the appeal brief prepared by counsel was practically identical with petitioner's original application, prepared without the assistance of counsel.

 At the outset, it appears that petitioner is laboring under a misconception with regard to the right to the assistance of counsel secured by the Sixth Amendment. Although this right has been held applicable to state criminal proceedings *fn20" as well as to direct appeals therefrom, *fn21" it has not, as yet, been extended to collateral proceedings of either an original or appellate nature in either federal or state courts. *fn22" These collateral proceedings, even though arising from underlying criminal convictions, are considered civil in character, and therefore beyond the pale of the Sixth Amendment. *fn23" Accordingly, petitioner's first claim does not present a constitutional question.

 However, assuming arguendo the contrary, the court finds that petitioner has not met the extremely heavy burden *fn24" which falls upon one seeking to prove inadequate assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment. The standard imposed is a stringent one, and, by analogy to trial situations, petitioner must show that the representation by counsel rendered his appeal a farce, a mockery of justice or something equivalent thereto. *fn25" Placing to one side for the moment the two-year delay contention, it is clear that the "witness-claim" has no merit. First, petitioner has not attempted in any way to disclose either the identity or materiality of the witnesses he claims were not contacted. Consequently, his contention at the very most amounts to nothing more than a complaint that counsel erred in choosing not to contact certain unnamed persons. The contention fails not only because of its wholly conclusory nature, but also because ...


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