The opinion of the court was delivered by: Whitman Knapp, District Judge.
Petitioner Ignacio Reynoso applies for habeas corpus pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For reasons which follow, we deny his
Petitioner was convicted of manslaughter in the first degree
after a jury trial before the Hon. Vincent A. Vitale in the New
York State Supreme Court for the County of the Bronx. The
Appellate Division, First Department, affirmed without opinion.
People v. Reynoso (1st Dept. 1987) 133 A.D.2d 1019, 519
N YS.2d 989. The New York Court of Appeals affirmed with a
memorandum opinion. People v. Reynoso (1988) 73 N.Y.2d 816, 537
N YS.2d 113, 534 N.E.2d 30. Petitioner is currently serving an
8 1/3 to 25 year sentence at Great Meadow Correctional Facility
in Comstock, New York.
In his habeas application, petitioner contends that the trial
judge made errors of state law rising to constitutional
dimension by failing to charge the jury on justification, and
by precluding certain evidence that he contends would have
supported such a defense. New York law requires that a
justification charge be given where there exists "a reasonable
view of the evidence from which a jury could conclude that the
defendant's acts were justified." Blazic v. Henderson,
900 F.2d 534, 540 (2d Cir. 1990).
In determining whether that standard has been met, we must
view the evidence adduced at trial in the light most favorable
to petitioner. See People v. McManus (1986) 67 N.Y.2d 541, 549,
505 N.Y.S.2d 43, 48, 496 N.E.2d 202, 206; People v. Steele
(1970) 26 N.Y.2d 526, 529, 311 N.Y.S.2d 889, 891-92,
260 N.E.2d 527, 528-29. Contrary to our assertion at oral argument, we
must also consider the challenged evidentiary rulings. If, on
evidence available to him, petitioner would have been
constitutionally entitled to a justification charge, the
erroneous exclusion of any such evidence could not have been a
legitimate basis for depriving him of that right.
A. The Evidence Adduced at Trial
The evidence relevant to the constitutional question before
us was provided by: Lepido Vargas, manager of a bodega that
petitioner visited moments before the incident in question;
Betsy Montero, Maria Diaz and Iris Nieves, three women who were
friends of Victor Soriano (the deceased) and witnessed the
incident; and Jay Friedman, a police officer who arrived at the
scene shortly after the incident. Their testimony established
At approximately 11:30 P.M. on November 17, 1984, the
deceased, Montero, Diaz and Nieves were standing in front of a
bodega at 728 Courtlandt Street between 155th and 156th Streets
in the South Bronx. The deceased was arguing with Montero, his
girlfriend. Petitioner passed the group without incident, and
made his way to a bodega further down the street to pick up
some money that was owing to him. When he reached that bodega,
its manager told him to come back in a few minutes. Petitioner
left the bodega and again passed the deceased, who was still
arguing with Montero. The deceased pointed his finger at
petitioner and said in Spanish, "I want to talk to you,
faggot." The deceased, who was "very angry," also demanded that
petitioner stop smiling at him and keep out of his business.
Petitioner said nothing and continued on his way.
After petitioner had passed, the deceased went into the
bodega at 728 Courtlandt Avenue. Petitioner started back up the
street to the other bodega. The deceased emerged from the 728
Courtlandt Avenue bodega when petitioner was about eight to ten
The deceased advanced toward petitioner, again telling him to
stay out of his business and again declaring that he "wanted to
talk" to him. Petitioner moved back, saying that he did not
want to talk, and urging the deceased not to come near him.
According to Diaz, the deceased then began point and to make
circular motions with his hands.
B. The Challenged Evidentiary Rulings
There can be no doubt that the court properly precluded
petitioner's sister from testifying that, several hours after
the shooting, petitioner had told her that he had believed the
deceased to have been armed. Clearly, the testimony was
hearsay, offered for the truth of the matter asserted. Nor
could the statement have been admitted as evidence of
petitioner's state of mind. The state of mind exception to the
hearsay rule relates only to a declarant's mental condition at
the time the ...