The opinion of the court was delivered by: Parker, District Judge.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
Anthony Santorelli filed this Petition for a writ of habeas corpus
challenging his 1998 conviction on charges of tampering with physical
evidence. For the reasons set forth below, the Petition is denied.
Petitioner was tried in Supreme Court, Westchester County on four
counts of tampering with physical evidence, namely, the bloody clothing
worn by the killers of Louis Balancio — a knifing victim — on
February 4, 1994. An FBI agent witnessed the Petitioner disposing of
bloody clothes in two plastic trash bags behind a fast food restaurant in
the Bronx hours after Balancio was murdered. The results of tests
conducted in the FBI laboratory revealed that petitioner's fingerprints
were found both on the inside and the outside of one of the bags. Tests
further confirmed that the blood on the clothing was that of Balancio.
On March 19, 1998, Petitioner was found guilty on all four counts, and
was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 1 and 1/3 to 4 years. The
judgment of conviction was stayed pending appeal by order of the New York
Appellate Division upon $350,000 bail. The Appellate Division affirmed the
conviction on December 6, 1999, and the New York Court of Appeals
followed by affirming on October 26, 2000. Petitioner was ordered to
surrender on November 1, 2000.
Petitioner filed an emergency petition in federal court for a stay of
his sentence pending a determination of his federal habeas claim.
Following a hearing before Part I Judge Lewis Kaplan on October 31,
2000, Petitioner was granted a temporary stay from the execution of
judgment pending a further hearing on his stay application. The
application was granted by this Court on November 15, 2000, staying the
execution of his sentence pending an expedited determination of this
habeas Petition on the merits.
Mr. Santorelli sets forth a single exhausted claim as the basis of his
habeas Petition — namely, that the state trial judge, Justice James
Cowhey, incorrectly instructed the jury on the meaning of "reasonable
doubt," depriving him of his federal constitutional rights to due
process. In his charge, Justice Cowhey instructed the jury, in relevant
You do not have to believe that he is guilty to such
a degree that there can be no possibility of doubt
about it. The law does not require that because
nothing in this life is so absolutely certain that it
can be proven that completely; but you do [sic], if
you're going to convict the defendant after being
satisfied of his guilt in a way that leaves you
without any reasonable doubt of it. Those words
"reasonable doubt" means nothing more or less than the
two words themselves mean.
Now in order to understand this term "proof beyond a
reasonable doubt," I am going to approach its
definition both from the positive as well as from the
negative point of view.
Firstly, from the negative point of view, I will
tell you what the term is not. The term does not refer
to just any kind of a doubt, such as a mere whim, a
guess, a surmise or even a feeling that the accused
may not be guilty. . . . It is not a requirement of
proof beyond all doubt. It is not a requirement of
proof to some kind of mathematical or scientific
certainty. On the other hand, it's not proof that the
defendant is guilty by a mere preponderance of the
weight of credible evidence.
Now having indicated to you what that term is not,
we shall now approach the definition from the positive
point of new. And I will tell you what reasonable
doubt is. A reasonable doubt is a doubt which you
conscientiously have at the use of your power of
reasoning which arising [sic] out of the credible
evidence or lack of credible evidence. It is a doubt
for which you have a reason. And when you're convinced
that you have no doubt in reason of the defendant's
guilt then that is sufficient and you must render a
Transcript of Proceedings, at 1016-19 (emphasis added).
In particular, Petitioner contends that because of the underlined
portions of the charge above — that a reasonable doubt "goes a good
deal further" than a fleeting or minimal doubt, and is "a good deal more
than a mere possibility" — the jury was ...