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HERRERA v. ARTUZ

April 17, 2001

JUAN HERRERA, PETITIONER,
V.
CHRISTOPHER ARTUZ, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baer, District Judge.

  OPINION & ORDER

Pro se petitioner Juan Herrera seeks a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his April 13, 1993 conviction for murder in the second degree and arson in the second degree. Herrera raises the following challenges to his conviction: (1) that the state trial court erred in admitting evidence of petitioner's threatening gesture to a State's witness, (2) that the court's erroneous Sandoval ruling prevented him from testifying at trial, and (3) that the court's sentence was excessive. For the following reasons, the petition is dismissed.

BACKGROUND

On February 24, 1992, petitioner was convicted of murder in the second degree N.Y. Penal Law § 125.25[1], and arson in the second degree, N.Y. Penal Law § 150.15. The judge sentenced petitioner, a second violent felony offender, to consecutive prison terms of twenty-five years to life imprisonment for the second degree murder count and twelve and a half to twenty-five years for the second degree arson count.

Evidence introduced at trial established that petitioner shot and killed Roberto Carrion, his roommate and brother-in-law, in their apartment on February 14, 1992. After the murder, Herrera set the apartment on fire and left the building. When he returned, he alerted the Housing Police to the fire and allowed the police to enter the apartment. After the fire department arrived and extinguished the fire, a firefighter discovered Carrion's partially burned body in a rear bedroom of the apartment. An autopsy revealed that the cause of death was three gunshot wounds, two to the head and one to the left forearm.

While the fire department and the police investigated the scene, petitioner made several unsolicited statements to various police officers regarding his whereabouts earlier that morning. An autopsy conducted on Carrion's body revealed he had been shot at a time when petitioner claimed he and Carrion had been alone in the apartment. Other evidence implicated petitioner including a fresh burn on his arm that he claimed he received a week earlier while cooking.

Before trial, the court considered whether evidence of petitioner's prior convictions was admissible for impeachment purposes. See People v. Sandoval, 34 N.Y.2d 371, 357 N.Y.S.2d 849, 314 N.E.2d 413 (1974). After reading petitioner's rather extensive criminal history into the record, the trial court ruled that petitioner's 1998 conviction for arson in the second degree was admissible for impeachment purposes but the court forbid any inquiry into the underlying facts and circumstances of the conviction.

Herrera did not testify at trial but rested his defense on a challenge to the reliability of the State's witnesses. The jury found petitioner guilty of murder in the second degree and arson in the second degree. On appeal, Herrera argued that the trial court had erred in admitting evidence of an alleged threatening gesture he made to one of the witnesses, had erroneously ruled that evidence of prior crimes was admissible for impeachment purposes, and had abused its discretion in sentencing him to consecutive terms. The Appellate Division rejected Herrera's arguments and unanimously affirmed his conviction. See People v. Herrera, 245 A.D.2d 12, 665 N.Y.S.2d 643 (1997). Petitioner filed an application for leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals, but his application was denied without comment on June 8, 1998. See People v. Herrera, 92 N.Y.2d 853, 677 N.Y.S.2d 83, 699 N.E.2d 443 (1998). On April 1, 1999, Herrera filed this petition.

DISCUSSION

I. Standard of Review

A federal court's review of state proceedings on a habeas petition is limited. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) precludes federal habeas relief unless a federal court finds that the state court's adjudication of the merits of the claims either:

(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)(1), (2); see also Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 390, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000); Mitchell v. Herbert, No. 97 Civ. 5128, 1998 WL 186766, at*2 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 16, 1998). Petitioners bear the burden of proving violations of federal law by a ...


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