the first degree, and one count of robbery in the first degree.
Tr. 385. Petitioner subsequently was sentenced to twenty-five
years to life on each of the three murder counts and twelve and
one-half to twenty-five years on each of the burglary and robbery
A few months later, on April 25, 1985, Petitioner offered to
plead guilty to attempted murder in the second degree, in
satisfaction of all charges contained in the indictment relating
to his escape attempt. At the plea proceeding, Judge Ain made it
clear to Harris and to Mr. Liotti that Harris needed to fully
comprehend and understand what was occurring with respect to his
plea. Plea Minutes, at 7. At the proceeding, Petitioner told the
court that he did not read or write English. Plea Minutes, at 3.
Harris' counsel had to paraphrase and explain each of the court's
questions to Petitioner, in order to make sure Harris understood
what was transpiring at the proceedings. Plea Minutes, at 8.
After this extensive proceeding, which included Petitioner's
conferences with his attorney after every question, the court was
satisfied that Petitioner "ha[d] acknowledged his guilt and [wa]s
willing to assume responsibility for it." Plea Minutes, at 22.
The court then accepted Harris' guilty plea to a charge of
attempted murder in the second degree. Plea Minutes, at 23. Judge
Ain later sentenced Petitioner to a term of imprisonment of seven
and one-half to fifteen years for this offense.
I. Timeliness of Petition
As an initial matter, the Court holds that pursuant to the
prevailing law of the Second Circuit, Harris' petition for a writ
of habeas corpus, filed in this Court on April 25, 1997, was
timely. See Clark v. Stinson, 214 F.3d 315, 319 (2d Cir. 2000)
(reiterating "the general rule that a prisoner had until April
24, 1997 to avail him or herself of habeas relief in federal
court"). The petition was received by the Pro Se Office of the
Eastern District one day after the generally applicable deadline.
However, the petition was signed by Harris on April 21, 1997, as
was Harris' application to proceed in forma pauperis. Although
the envelope in which Harris' petition was mailed is not found in
the case file maintained by the Clerk of the Court, the envelope
which contained the IFP application is attached to that
application, and is postmarked April 22, 1997.
Pursuant to the Court of Appeals' September 28, 1998 mandate,
which constitutes the law of this case, the Court must determine
whether the petition was timely filed with prison officials on or
before April 24, 1997. Given that the IFP application was
received by the Eastern District's Pro Se Office on April 24,
1997, with an April 22, 1997 postmark, and the petition itself
was received by the pro se office on April 25, 1997, it is
abundantly clear that Harris' petition was, in fact, filed with
prison officials on or before April 24, 1997. Therefore, the
Court holds that Harris' petition was timely filed pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1). The Court thus proceeds to determine the
merits of the petition.
II. Failure to Comprehend Miranda Warnings Claim
Petitioner claims that although he was administered Miranda
warnings as required by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution,
he could not understand the warnings because of his low IQ and
his history of learning disabilities. As a result of his
inability to understand the warnings he admittedly was provided,
Petitioner argues that the inculpatory statements he made should
have been suppressed, and that his waiver of the right to an
attorney was invalid. See Petition, ¶ 12.A; see also Dickerson
v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 120 S.Ct. 2326, 2336, 147
L.Ed.2d 405 (2000) (holding that the warnings required by
Miranda are constitutionally based, and upholding Miranda's
"core ruling that unwarned statements may not be used as evidence
in the prosecution's case in chief.").
Because this precise issue already has been litigated in the
courts of the State of New York, this Court's duty in analyzing
this claim is constrained by 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). This section
[a]n application for a writ of habeas corpus on
behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the
judgment of a State court shall not be granted with
respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the
merits in State court proceedings unless the
adjudication of the claim (1) resulted in a decision
that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable
application of, clearly established Federal law, as
determined by the Supreme Court of the United States;
or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an
unreasonable determination of the facts in light of
the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.
28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); see also Francis S. v. Stone,
221 F.3d 100, 107-11 (2d Cir. 2000) (analyzing federal court's standard of
review in analyzing claims previously adjudicated in state
courts); Clark, 214 F.3d at 320-21 (same).
Petitioner previously raised this exact claim to the trial
court — which held hearings on the matter — and on direct appeal
to the Appellate Division, Second Department and to the New York
Court of Appeals. The trial court issued a written decision, and
held that Harris' argument that he was too mentally feeble to
understand the Miranda warnings given by Detective Magee was
Judge Ain pointed out that (1) Harris had been arrested on
prior occasions and thus was no stranger to Miranda warnings;
(2) Harris had been represented on previous occasions by a public
defender and therefore knew that he did not have to pay for an
attorney, but that one would be appointed for him by the court;
(3) during this investigation, Harris had been provided Miranda
warnings on numerous occasions, and had the opportunity to read
those warnings from a printed police form; and (4) Harris did not
even raise his alleged confusion regarding his right to counsel
until his second interview with Dr. Feldman, and after he had
been studying the issue on his own. Judge Ain wrote that it was
"clear to this court that Harris fully and completely understood
the immediate meaning of the warnings." See Respondent's Brief
to the Appellate Division, Second Department, Appendix 2
(decision of Hon. Stuart L. Ain, dated December 4, 1984), at 7-9.
The trial court judge also pointed out that "[a]n inability to
comprehend the import of the Miranda warnings in the larger
context of criminal law generally does not of itself vitiate the
validity of the waiver." Id. at 9 (quoting People v.
Williams, 62 N.Y.2d 285, 476 N.Y.S.2d 788, 465 N.E.2d 327
(1984)). The court did not cite to any federal law in support of
the decision that Petitioner understood his constitutional rights
and that the waiver of those rights was valid.
The Second Department affirmed the trial court on this issue.
The court did not specifically address this argument on appeal,
but merely pointed out that it had considered and rejected
Harris' argument on this point. Harris' brief to the Second
Department did not cite to any federal law on this point other
than the Miranda decision itself. The appellate court likewise
failed to cite to any federal law in its decision rejecting this
claim, but did cite to the New York Court of Appeals' decision in
Williams, 62 N.Y.2d 285, 476 N.Y.S.2d 788, 465 N.E.2d 327.
In Williams, the court analyzed the validity of a waiver of a
mentally impaired defendant's rights under Miranda. Defendant
Williams was a twenty year-old, functionally illiterate,
borderline mentally retarded man who also suffered from brain
damage resulting from a car accident during his youth.
Williams, 62 N.Y.2d at 287, 476 N.Y.S.2d at 789,
465 N.E.2d 327. Compounding his difficulties, Williams also had been
hospitalized in the past for psychotic episodes. Id.
After surveying the controlling principles derived primarily
from federal law, the New York Court of Appeals held that
"[a]n individual may validly waive Miranda rights so long as
the immediate import of those warnings is comprehended,
regardless of his or her ignorance of the mechanics by which the
fruits of that waiver may be used later in the criminal process."
Williams, 62 N.Y.2d at 289, 476 N.Y.S.2d at 790, 465 N.E.2d 327
(citing Harris v. Riddle, 551 F.2d 936, 938-39 (4th Cir.
1977)). The court began with the fundamental tenet that the
validity of a defendant's waiver of his or her rights must be
knowingly and intelligently made. 62 N.Y.2d at 288, 476 N.Y.S.2d
at 790, 465 N.E.2d 327 (citing Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458,
58 S.Ct. 1019, 82 L.Ed. 1461 (1938)). The court held that this
inquiry necessarily was a factual one, and that courts must
carefully scrutinize the totality of the circumstances in
determining whether the waiver was valid. 62 N.Y.2d at 289, 476
N YS.2d at 790, 465 N.E.2d 327. An accused's mental deficiency
or cerebral infirmity is but one factor to consider. Id.
Cases from the federal courts align closely with the standards
enunciated in Williams. In fact, a recent case from the Seventh
Circuit is similar in many ways to the facts of the present case,
and clearly sets forth the relevant law on the subject. The
habeas corpus petitioner in Rice v. Cooper, 148 F.3d 747 (7th
Cir. 1998), was an illiterate and mildly retarded sixteen
year-old at the time he was arrested and questioned for the
murder of four residents of a Chicago apartment building.
Petitioner Rice had tossed a bottle of gasoline into the
building, where it exploded, setting the building on fire.
The question before the Seventh Circuit was the same as that
now before this Court: "[w]hether the incriminating statements
that [petitioner] made at the time of his arrest after waiving
his right to remain silent or consult a lawyer should have been
suppressed because of his mental condition." Id. at 750. As
pointed out by the Seventh Circuit, this issue "raises the
interesting general question of the duty, if any, of the police
to protect a mentally impaired person from incriminating
Importantly, the Miranda decision itself explicitly provides
that the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination —
composed primarily of the right to remain silent and the right to
an attorney — may be waived provided that the waiver is made
"voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently." Miranda, 384 U.S.
at 444, 86 S.Ct. 1602. In a subsequent case, the Supreme Court
identified two requirements to consider when determining whether
a waiver is valid:
First, the relinquishment of the right must have been
voluntary in the sense that it was the product of a
free and deliberate choice rather than intimidation,
coercion, or deception. Second, the waiver must have
been made with a full awareness of both the nature of
the right being abandoned and the consequences of the
decision to abandon it. Only if the totality of the
circumstances surrounding the interrogation reveal
both an uncoerced choice and the requisite level of
comprehension may a court properly conclude that the
Miranda rights have been waived.
Moran v. Burbine,