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MEACHEM v. KEANE

July 20, 1995

DARRYL MEACHEM, Petitioner, against JOHN P. KEANE, Superintendent, Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Respondent.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: KATZ

 THEODORE H. KATZ, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

 TO THE HON. SIDNEY H. STEIN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE:

 This habeas corpus action was referred to me, pursuant to an Order of Reference, for a report and recommendation in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and (C) and Rule 4 of the Southern District of New York Rules for Proceedings Before Magistrate Judges. For the reasons that follow, I recommend that the petition for a writ of habeas corpus be denied and the action be dismissed.

 BACKGROUND

 Petitioner Darryl Meachem was charged in the Supreme Court of New York County with four counts of murder in the second degree (intentional, depraved indifference, and felony murder in the course of a robbery and a burglary, in violation of New York Penal Law § 125.25), one count of robbery in the first degree (New York Penal Law § 160.15), and one count of burglary in the first degree (New York Penal Law § 140.30). See Indictment, submitted as Exhibit A to Respondent's Appendix in Support of Answer Opposing Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus ("Resp. App.").

 The charges resulted from the murder of Meachem's sister, Debra Ann Meachem, from numerous stab wounds to her neck, on May 1, 1987. (Brief for Defendant-Appellant to the Appellate Division, First Department, dated March 1992 ["Pet. App. Brief"], submitted as Resp. App. Ex. D, at 2; Transcript of Plea Proceeding ["PT."], dated December 1, 1987, submitted as Resp. App. Ex. J, at 7-8.) In a videotaped statement made several days after the murder, Meachem admitted that he had stabbed his sister while high on crack-cocaine after she refused his request for money to buy additional drugs; he then stole several items from her apartment, which he used to obtain crack-cocaine. See Transcript of Videotaped Statement, dated May 5, 1987, submitted as Resp. App. Ex. I.

 On May 18, 1987, before he was indicted, Meachem was given a competency examination, pursuant to New York Criminal Procedure Law § 730. The examining psychiatrists determined that Meachem was not fit to proceed, based upon a finding that he was acutely addicted to cocaine and psychotic as a result of the substance abuse, and that he lacked the capacity to understand the proceedings against him or to assist in his own defense. (Psychiatric Examination Reports by Howard Owens, M.D., dated May 22, 1987, and Myles S. Schneider, M.D., dated May 18, 1987, submitted as Resp. App. Ex. B.) In July, although his mental condition had improved, Meachem was still depressed, and "too preoccupied" by the homicide, the incarceration, and the indictment, to cooperate in his own defense. (Psychiatric Examination Reports by Howard Owens, M.D., dated July 24, 1987, and V. C. deMille, M.D., dated July 24, 1987 submitted as Resp. App. Ex. B.) However, after receiving psychiatric treatment at Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center, Meachem was found fit to proceed. (Report of Rhoda Rostky, C.S.W., and D.S. Bharne, M.D., dated February 25, 1988; Report of A. Hakki, M.D., dated March 4, 1988; Examination Report of Valerie C. deMille, M.D., filed May 26, 1988; Examination Report of Arthur Milone, M.D., dated May 23, 1988, all submitted as Resp. App. Ex. B.) On June 6, 1988, the trial court, granted a motion by Meachem's trial counsel to confirm the evaluation that Meachem was fit to proceed. (Brief for Respondent, submitted to Appellate Division, First Department, dated August 1992 ["Resp. App. Brief"], at 3, citing Minutes of June 6, 1988 at 2; Pet. App. Brief at 5.)

 On December 1, 1988, after the State presented evidence at a suppression hearing, Meachem agreed to enter a plea of guilty to charges of manslaughter in the second degree (N.Y. Penal Law § , 125.15(1)) and robbery in the first degree (N.Y. Penal Law 160.15(3)). *fn1" See PT. at 5-6, 8-9. Judge Berman accepted the guilty plea after extensive questioning to assure that Meachem was entering his plea knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily. (Id. at 3-15.)

 Approximately one month later, when Meachem appeared in court for sentencing, his counsel moved to withdraw the guilty plea. See Transcript of Motion to Withdraw Plea ("WT."), dated January 3, 1989, submitted as Def. App. Ex. J. After questioning Meachem as to the basis for his motion, the court granted an adjournment to allow Meachem to file pro se papers in support of the motion, and to examine the plea minutes. (Id. at 13.) On January 20, 1989, the trial judge held an informal hearing on the motion and denied Meachem's request; he sentenced Meachem to two concurrent indeterminate terms of twelve and one-half to twenty-five years for robbery in the first degree, and seven and one-half to fifteen years for manslaughter in the second degree. See Transcript of Sentencing, dated January 20, 1989 ("ST."), submitted as Def. App. Ex. J, at 23.

 Meachem appealed the conviction to the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department, claiming that: 1) the trial court erred in denying his motion to withdraw the guilty plea, because it was coerced and not knowing and intelligent; and 2) the sentence for robbery in the first degree, twelve and one-half to twenty-five years, was unduly harsh, and should be modified in the interest of justice. See Pet. App. Brief at 13-22. Appellate counsel requested that the conviction be reversed, the plea be vacated, and that the action be remanded for further proceedings; in the alternative, he asked that the case be remanded and new counsel appointed to allow for more detailed inquiry into the merits of the motion or for reconsideration of the motion. (Id. at 18-19.)

 In a unanimous decision dated October 20, 1992, the Appellate Division affirmed the trial court's Judgment. See People v. Meachem, 186 A.D.2d 448, 589 N.Y.S.2d 771 (1st Dept. 1992). The court stated, in relevant part:

 Id. Petitioner applied for leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals on the issue of the voluntariness of his guilty plea and the adequacy of the inquiry into his motion to withdraw the plea. See Letter in Support of Application for Leave to Appeal ["Leave Letter"], submitted as Resp. App. Ex. H. On December 8, 1992, the Court of Appeals denied the application. People v. Meachem, 81 N.Y.2d 764, 610 N.E.2d 400, 594 N.Y.S.2d 727 (1992).

 In the instant pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus, Meachem asserts that: (1) the trial court erred in denying his motion to withdraw his plea of guilty based upon claims of coercion and confusion; and (2) his sentence is unduly harsh and should be modified. See Habeas Petition ["Pet."], dated March 22, 1993, at 5. The State does not contest that Petitioner's first claim is exhausted, but argues that the trial court properly refused Petitioner's motion to withdraw his guilty plea, since it was entered into voluntarily and knowingly. See Answering Affirmation of Carol A. Remer-Smith ("Remer-Smith Aff."), dated October 25, 1993, P 8; Memorandum of Law in Support of Answer Opposing Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus, dated October 1993 ("Resp. Memo"), at 22-43. In addition, the State argues that Petitioner's sentencing claim is not exhausted, it does not present a federal issue cognizable on habeas review, and, even assuming that it did, it is without merit. (Remer-Smith Aff. P 9; Resp. Memo at 43-48.)

 The Suppression Hearing and Plea Allocution

 Petitioner's plea allocution followed the State's presentation of evidence at a two-day suppression hearing that was commenced on November 30, 1988. See Hearing Transcript ("HT."), dated November 30, 1988, submitted as Resp. App. Ex. J. At the hearing, police officers Georgio, Suarez, and Cruz presented testimony regarding the evidence against Meachem and the circumstances leading up to his confession. In particular, they testified about their investigation of the crime scene, including the fact that the victim's apartment was in disarray, and that part of the victim's stereo and her television set were missing. (Id. at 17-18, 24.) The officers also testified about several witnesses discovered during the course of their investigation, one of whom saw Meachem with blood on his jacket (id. at 19), and several of whom saw Meachem with a television set and what appeared to be a stereo shortly after the time of the murder (id. at 23-28). The officers further testified that, through interviews with various individuals, they learned that, soon after the incident, Meachem sold or exchanged a television set, a ring, and an item that looked like a stereo, to obtain crack-cocaine. (Id. at 26-28, 89-91, 117-18.)

 According to the officers' testimony, on May 4, Meachem's mother informed the police that Meachem was sitting in an automobile in the victim's neighborhood. (Id. at 30.) The officers approached Meachem, requested his "assistance" in the investigation, and Meachem voluntarily agreed to go to the police station to "help in any way I can". (Id. at 30-31, 74.) He appeared alert, coherent, and in good condition at all times. (Id. at 32, 75, 81, 84, 138.) At the police station, after receiving Miranda warnings, Meachem eventually made an oral confession, which he later reduced to a written statement. (Id. at 35-40, 135, 141-45.) The confession was then videotaped. (Id. at 50, 85, 155-57.)

 On December 1, 1988, the second day of the suppression hearing, the State presented Meachem's videotaped confession. (Id. at 177; PT. at 3.) In the confession, Meachem stated that he had gone to his sister's apartment seeking money for crack-cocaine when he was high on drugs, and that he argued with her about his cocaine habit, which she wanted him to end. (Resp. App. Ex. I at 5-6, 9-11.) During the argument, he picked up a knife lying near the dishes in the kitchen, and he stabbed her. (Id. at 6-8, 11-12.) He then took her television, her stereo, and additional "stuff," which he used to obtain crack-cocaine. (Id. at 9, 12, 16-19.)

 After the State finished presenting the videotaped confession, Judge Berman, who was presiding over the proceedings, asked defense counsel whether Meachem wished to reconsider his plea of not guilty in light of the evidence adduced at the suppression hearing, particularly the videotaped confession. (Pet. App. Brief at 11.) Petitioner and his counsel discussed the matter. (ST. at 11.) In the afternoon, before the hearing was completed, defense counsel withdrew his motion to suppress the evidence, Meachem told the trial court that he was giving up his right to all pretrial hearings, including the suppression ...


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