beyond a reasonable doubt. (Tr. 646-47, 663-64, 666-67). The trial court made it clear that the defense was under no obligation to come forward with any evidence and that the burden of proof always remained squarely on the prosecution. (Tr. 646-47, 657). Finally, the trial court instructed the jury that the summations were not evidence and that the jury was the sole judge of the facts. (Tr. 653). In view of the trial court's charge, McEachin suffered no prejudice from any allegedly improper comments made by the prosecution.
Additionally, even if any of the prosecutor's comments had exceeded the bounds of a fair prosecutorial summation, the evidence of McEachin's guilt was overwhelming. In light of the compelling testimony of several eyewitnesses as well as police officers, and the stolen property found in McEachin's possession, McEachin's conviction -- even absent the alleged improprieties -- was certain. See Gonzalez, 934 F.2d at 424; Modica, 663 F.2d at 1181. Given the court's charge and the strength of the evidence against McEachin, the prosecutor's summation, even if improper, did not render the trial fundamentally unfair. Accordingly, McEachin's second ground for habeas relief is rejected.
C. The Trial Court's Jury Charge
McEachin asserts as his final ground for habeas relief that the trial court's charge to the jury deprived him of a fair trial. Specifically, McEachin claims that although the trial court "obliged defense Counsel's request to charge the law of duress to the jury," the trial court instructed the jury "'not to use the duress theory in [its] deliberations,' because the defense was not relying on it." (See Tr. 655-56). Additionally, McEachin claims that in its charge to the jury, the trial court marshalled the state's evidence by commenting negatively on defense counsel's opening statement.
1. The Legal Standard For Review Of State Law Claims
Mere questions of state law are not grounds for federal habeas relief. Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68, 116 L. Ed. 2d 385, 112 S. Ct. 475 (1991); Lewis v. Jeffers, 497 U.S. 764, 780, 111 L. Ed. 2d 606, 110 S. Ct. 3092 (1990) ("Federal habeas corpus relief does not lie for errors of state law."). In conducting habeas review, a federal court is limited to deciding whether a conviction violated the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2241; Rose v. Hodges, 423 U.S. 19, 21, 46 L. Ed. 2d 162, 96 S. Ct. 175 (1975) (per curiam). Errors in state jury charges are questions of state law and are therefore not reviewable on federal habeas corpus absent a showing that the jury charge deprived the defendant of a federal constitutional right. See Blazic v. Henderson, 900 F.2d 534, 540 (2d Cir. 1990); United States ex rel. Stanbridge v. Zelker, 514 F.2d 45, 50 (2d Cir. 1975).
The standard of review of state jury instructions in a habeas petition is "not whether 'the instruction is undesirable, erroneous or even universally condemned [but whether] the ailing instruction by itself so infected the entire trial that the resulting conviction violates due process.'" Wright v. Smith, 569 F.2d 1188, 1191 (2d Cir. 1978) (quoting Cupp v. Naughten, 414 U.S. 141, 146-47, 38 L. Ed. 2d 368, 94 S. Ct. 396 (1970)); see also Blazic, 900 F.2d at 541.
2. McEachin's Allegations Of Error In The Trial Court's Charge
Here, the trial court's charge to the jury regarding the affirmative defense of duress was proper. Prior to trial, defense counsel represented to the trial court that McEachin would not rely on the affirmative defense of duress, and would not request a charge on that defense; rather, the defense would simply argue that there was insufficient proof of McEachin's culpable intent. (Tr. 21).
At the same time, however, defense counsel claimed that McEachin was "forced into going along" with Maxwell. (Tr. 4). The trial court cautioned defense counsel that arguments along those lines risked raising the duress defense, which would require the court to instruct the jury on the defense of duress. (Tr. 21-23).
Despite the trial court's admonition, defense counsel in his summation compared McEachin's reaction to Maxwell to that of the security guard who happened upon the robbery: the guard was "shocked," "frightened for his life," and "not in control of his faculties," and McEachin "may not have been in control of his faculties either." (Tr. 583-85). Defense counsel rhetorically asked "why are we demanding so much more from Mr. McEachin than from the security guard." (Tr. 583). The trial court concluded that defense counsel's argument that McEachin had not voluntarily gone along with Maxwell, but had acted out of fear, alluded to a duress defense. Consequently, the trial court explained to the jury the nature of a duress defense, and instructed the jury that McEachin was not invoking such a defense and thus the jury was not to consider it. (Tr. 655-56). The trial court's instruction to the jury served to clarify that, despite defense counsel's suggestions otherwise, McEachin was not relying on a duress defense, as counsel had stated prior to trial. I find that there was no error in so instructing the jury, much less an error of constitutional magnitude.
McEachin also argues that the trial court marshalled the evidence and commented negatively on defense counsel's summation. Considering the challenged portion of the charge "in the context of the overall charge," the trial court's instructions were fair. Justice v. Hoke, 45 F.3d 33, 34 (2d Cir. 1995) (quoting Cupp v. Naughten, 414 U.S. 141, 146-47, 38 L. Ed. 2d 368, 94 S. Ct. 396 (1973)); see also Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 72, 116 L. Ed. 2d 385, 112 S. Ct. 475 (1991). While the trial court referred to some of the evidence in the case in explaining to the jury how to go about its task of applying the law to the facts, the court made it clear that it was the province of the jury to weigh the evidence (Tr. 647, 650, 652, 654, 660), and not the role of the attorneys (Tr. 652) or the court (Tr. 652). The trial court explained to the jury that it was required to afford McEachin the presumption of innocence (Tr. 646), and it explained several times that the prosecution had the burden of proving McEachin's guilt as to each element of the charged offenses beyond a reasonable doubt. (Tr. 646-47, 648). Finally, the trial court acceded to a request by defense counsel to supplement its charge by instructing the jury as follows:
Just so it's perfectly clear, I want to make certain that the jury understands that I have no opinions or views about the evidence in this case. I've not expressed any view. I don't believe I intimated any view but to the extent that you may glean something from my remarks; that is inappropriate. I have no view about the evidence in this case. The determination of the evidence in this case, and findings of fact are solely within the jury's province, and nobody else's.
(Tr. 695). Viewed as a whole, the trial court's jury charge was proper and did not deprive McEachin of a fair trial. Accordingly, McEachin's third and final ground for habeas relief is also rejected.
D. Certificate Of Appealability
As petitioner has not made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right, a certificate of appealability will not issue. 28 U.S.C. § 2253, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. See also Rodriquez v. Scully, 905 F.2d 24 (2d Cir. 1990) (per curiam) (discussing certificate of probable cause under standard prior to amendment of § 2253); Alexander v. Harris, 595 F.2d 87, 90-91 (2d Cir. 1979). This Court certifies pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) that any appeal from this order would not be taken in good faith. See Coppedge v. United States, 369 U.S. 438, 8 L. Ed. 2d 21, 82 S. Ct. 917 (1962).
For the reasons set forth above, McEachin's application for a writ of habeas corpus is denied. The petition is dismissed and a certificate of appealability will not issue.
Dated: New York, New York
January 16, 1997
United States District Judge