The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES H. TENNEY
Robert Ferrara ("Ferrara") brings this habeas corpus petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (1988). Ferrara was convicted in 1982 of murder in the second degree, N.Y. Penal Law § 125.25 (McKinney 1974), by a jury in the New York State Supreme Court, New York County. He was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of twenty-five years to life (Rothwax, J.). Ferrara's petition alleges that the conviction was obtained in violation of his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to the effective assistance of counsel. For the reasons set out below, the petition is denied.
In September 1982, Ferrara and Robyn Arnold were tried in New York State Supreme Court on charges of murdering Diane Delia on October 7, 1981. Delia was Ferrara's wife and Arnold's former boyfriend before Delia's sex-change. At trial, letters were introduced that Ferrara wrote from jail to prosecution witness Dominick Giorgio which implicated both Ferrara and Arnold in the murder. On October 19, 1982, Arnold was acquitted of all charges while petitioner was found guilty of murder in the second degree.
On November 16, 1982, Ferrara discharged his attorney, Robert Dilts. Under present counsel, petitioner filed a motion to set aside the verdict pursuant to New York Criminal Procedure Law § 330.30, alleging Dilts had provided ineffective representation at trial. On February 16, 1983, Judge Rothwax denied petitioner's motion before imposing a sentence of twenty-five years to life.
On appeal, petitioner challenged the proof of his guilt based on both the sufficiency of the evidence that Delia was dead when Ferrara shot her and the adequacy of his representation by Dilts. On September 30, 1986, the Appellate Division, First Department, unanimously affirmed petitioner's conviction without opinion. People v. Ferrara, 123 A.D.2d 527, 506 N.Y.S.2d 501 (1986). On January 6, 1987, the New York Court of Appeals denied petitioner leave to appeal. People v. Ferrara, 50 N.E.2d 247 (1987).
Petitioner then brought a motion to vacate the judgment pursuant to New York Criminal Procedure Law § 440.10 on the grounds that Dilts was not licensed to practice law in New York State. Judge Rothwax denied the motion on April 29, 1987, and permission to appeal the order was denied later that year. On August 26, 1991, Ferrara filed his present petition for habeas corpus relief.
The applicable standard in determining whether a defendant has been afforded effective assistance of counsel is set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 80 L. Ed. 2d 674, 104 S. Ct. 2052 (1984). In order for counsel's assistance to be found so defective as to require reversal, a defendant must show that counsel's performance was deficient and that the deficiency prejudiced the defense. Id. at 687.
Attorney Not Licensed In New York
In some Sixth Amendment contexts involving actual or constructive denials of counsel, prejudice is presumed. Id. at 692. Petitioner alleges that he was a victim of such a per se denial because his attorney was unlicensed to practice law in New York State. In support of his position, petitioner looks to the holding of United States v. Solina, 709 F.2d 160 (2d Cir. 1983), where the court found that a per se violation of the right to counsel had occurred where the defendant's counsel had repeatedly failed the New York bar examination and was not a member of any bar. Here, however, Dilts had been a member of the New Jersey bar for more than 30 years and was well familiarized with general criminal procedure because of his years spent as a county prosecutor. Additionally, according to an affidavit of the prosecutor and the affirmation of the trial judge, Dilts was admitted pro hac vice.
Even if this court were inclined to believe that Dilts' petition was flawed, this court will not extend the per se rule of Solina to find such a violation in a case where an attorney is admitted to a bar other than the forum where he conducted a defense. The language of Solina explicitly states that such a holding was not intended. See 709 F.2d at 167 & n.9 (disavowing that any technical defect in licensing would give rise to a per se violation and specifically exempting "cases as where the representative was a member of the bar of another state but had failed to seek admission pro hac vice."). Furthermore, the Second Circuit, sitting en banc, has recently noted the narrowness of Solina and other holdings providing for per se violations. See Bellamy v. Cogdell, 974 F.2d 302, 303, 306-08 (2d Cir. 1992). The court in Bellamy stated that such violations were limited only to those cases where counsel, at the time of trial, was not licensed to practice law "because of a failure ever to meet the substantive requirements for the practice of law" or where counsel was implicated in defendant's crimes. Id. at 306. Given Dilts' admission to the New Jersey bar, ...