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CARTER v. SCULLY

August 23, 1990

ROBERT CARTER, PETITIONER,
v.
CHARLES J. SCULLY, SUPERINTENDENT; GREENHAVEN CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; ROBERT ABRAMS, ATTORNEY GENERAL, STATE OF NEW YORK; JOHN SANTUCCI, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, COUNTY OF QUEENS, RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLAUGHLIN, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Petitioner, pro se, seeks a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons discussed below, the motion is denied.

FACTS

On December 15, 1978, petitioner pled guilty in New York Supreme Court, Queens County, to second degree murder. N YPenal Law § 125.25 (McKinney 1987). Petitioner was subsequently sentenced to serve a term of twenty years to life imprisonment. The Appellate Division affirmed. People v. Carter, 73 A.D.2d 953, 424 N.Y.S.2d 15 (2d Dep't), leave to appeal denied, 49 N.Y.2d 892, 427 N.Y.S.2d 1029, 405 N.E.2d 239 (1980), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 861, 101 S.Ct. 164, 66 L.Ed.2d 77 (1980).

Petitioner, having exhausted his available state remedies, raises four grounds in support of his motion for federal habeas corpus relief: (1) ineffective assistance of counsel; (2) failure of the trial court to apprise petitioner of an "intoxication defense" prior to accepting his guilty plea; (3) the prosecutor's breach of the plea bargain in requesting the maximum sentence; and (4) the plea was not voluntary.

DISCUSSION

I. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

To successfully establish ineffective assistance of counsel, petitioner must prove that (1) counsel's errors fall below an objective standard of reasonableness, and (2) but for counsel's errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 694, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 2068, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984).

Petitioner argues that his counsel, before both the trial court and on appeal, failed to demonstrate petitioner's mental incapacity to enter a voluntary guilty plea. In addition, petitioner argues that counsel failed to raise the defense of intoxication.

A. Mental Incapacity to Enter a Guilty Plea

The well established test for "determining the validity of a guilty plea is `whether the plea represents a voluntary and intelligent choice among the alternative courses of action open to the defendant.'" Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 56, 106 S.Ct. 366, 369, 88 L.Ed.2d 203 (1985) (quoting North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 31, 91 S.Ct. 160, 164, 27 L.Ed.2d 162 (1970)); see also Santobello v. New York, 404 U.S. 257, 261, 92 S.Ct. 495, 498, 30 L.Ed.2d 427 (1971).

If a defendant's mental capacity at the time of a plea is at issue, obvious concerns arise over whether the plea is voluntary and knowing. The question is whether or not a judge should proceed, and "the test must be whether [the defendant had] sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding [as well as having had] a factual understanding of the proceedings against him." Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402, 403, 80 S.Ct. 788, 789, 4 L.Ed.2d 824 (1960); Matusiak v. Kelly, 786 F.2d 536, 543 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 805, 107 S.Ct. 248, 93 L.Ed.2d 172 (1986).*fn1 The record at hand does not establish that petitioner lacked the ability to enter a knowing and voluntary guilty plea or that he could not communicate with his lawyer about the facts of his case.

Petitioner's claim of mental incapacity stems, literally, from a shot to the head. Respondent's Brief at A21. During the commission of the crime, petitioner received a gunshot wound. Plea tr. Nov. 16 at 8. At petitioner's behest, the trial court ordered a psychiatric examination to determine if the injury had affected his competence to stand trial. The results of the examination, conducted by two court-appointed psychiatrists, concurred with the opinion of petitioner's own counsel; all agreed that he was fit to stand trial. Motion tr. Sept. 29 at 5.

Although it was determined that petitioner may have suffered a possible loss of memory in certain "well defined areas," the record clearly indicates that he had a superb recollection of the circumstances surrounding his crime. Plea tr. Nov. 16 at 8-9. Petitioner's active participation in the plea bargaining and aggressive questioning of ...


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