was voluntarily and freely made. Alfini has presented no evidence that the police coerced her statement, and the record refutes her contention. Alfini has not met the burden of overcoming the presumption that attaches to factual findings by the trial court on this issue. See Key v. Artuz, No. 99-CV-161JG, 2002 WL 31102627 at *5-7 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 16, 2002). Accordingly, Aflini's claim involving her statement to the police is denied.
B. As to the Alleged State Procedural Law Error
Alfini argues that the trial court improperly granted two for-cause challenges made by the prosecution, in violation of N.Y.Crim. Proc. Law § 270.20(1)(b). Specifically, she asserts that the court erred by excusing prospective jurors David Murray and Thomas Murray when they both stated they could be fair and impartial. Alfini claims that this supposed error violated her Due Process rights.
"A federal court may entertain a state prisoner's habeas corpus petition only to the extent that the petition alleges custody in violation of the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States." Beverly v. Walker, 899 F. Supp. 900, 908 (N.D.N.Y. 1995) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a)). Thus, federal habeas corpus relief is not available for state law errors that do not rise to the level of federal constitutional violations. Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68, 112 S.Ct. 475, 116 L.Ed.2d 385 (1991); Smith v. Phillips, 455 U.S. 209, 211, 102 S.Ct. 940, 71 L.Ed.2d 78 (1982) (holding that nonconstitutional claims are not cognizable in federal habeas proceedings).
Alfini's claim is based entirely on an alleged state law violation. Other than asserting that the trial court's rulings violated her Due Process rights, Alfini has not alleged, much less proven, that the supposed state law error violated her federal constitutional rights. In any event, Alfini's claim is without merit. New York Criminal Procedure Law Section 270.20 states that a challenge for cause may be made if a prospective juror "has a state of mind that is likely to preclude him from rendering an impartial verdict based upon the evidence adduced at the trial." The trial court had valid reasons to excuse both prospective jurors for cause — namely, both Thomas Murray and David Murray had prior bad experiences with the police which they stated may affect their decision-making, among other factors. Thus, no procedural error occurred. See United States v. Lawes, 292 F.3d 123, 128-29 (2d Cir. 2002). Accordingly, this claim is dismissed.
C. As to the Alleged Evidentiary Error
Alfini claims that the trial court erred in allowing inflammatory photographs and a videotape of the crime scene into evidence.
As stated above, habeas corpus relief is available only where there has been a violation of a constitutional right. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 68, 112 S.Ct. 475, 116 L.Ed.2d 385 (1991). Generally, state court rulings on evidentiary matters are state law issues and do not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. Warren v. Miller, 78 F. Supp.2d 120, 134-35 (E.D.N.Y. 2000). When presenting an evidentiary ruling for federal review, a petitioner bears a heavy burden of establishing that her constitutional rights were deprived. Id.
Even an incorrect state court evidentiary ruling does not rise to the level of constitutional error necessary to warrant habeas relief, unless the error deprived Petitioner of a fundamentally fair trial. McLean v. McGinnis, 29 F. Supp.2d 83, 93 (E.D.N.Y. 1998); see also Washington v. Schriver, 255 F.3d 45, 56 (2d Cir. 2001). "Even a constitutional error does not require granting of a habeas petition unless the error `had substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict.'" McClean, 29 F. Supp.2d at 93 (quoting Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 637-38, 113 S.Ct. 1710, 123 L.Ed.2d 353 (1993)).
Here, the photographs and videotape evidence were relevant to important issues in the case, such as the nature of Fred Pardi's wounds, the location and position of his body, and the cause of his death. As such, the trial court properly admitted them into evidence. See Medina v. Artuz, 872 F. Supp. 1258, 1261 (S.D.N.Y. 1995); see also Simpson v. Portuondo, No. 01 Civ. 8744, 2002 WL 31045862, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. June 4, 2002) (citing People v. Pobliner, 32 N.Y.2d 356, 369, 345 N.Y.S.2d 482, 298 N.E.2d 637 (1973)). Alfini has not demonstrated that the trial court's rulings rose to the level of constitutional error necessary for habeas corpus relief, or that its ruling denied her of a fundamentally fair trial. Accordingly, the claim involving erroneous evidentiary rulings is denied.
D. As to the Alleged Prosecutorial Misconduct
Alfini asserts that the prosecutor committed misconduct during summation because he emphasized that Alfini blamed the crime on someone else. Specifically, the prosecutor argued that Alfini inculpated a black man, and this may have inflamed the black jurors who sat on the panel.
The standard for reviewing a claim of prosecutorial misconduct is "`the narrow one of due process, and not the broad exercise of supervisory power.'" Darden v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 168, 181, 106 S.Ct. 2464, 2471, 91 L.Ed.2d 144 (1986) (quoting Donnelly v. DeChristoforo, 416 U.S. 637, 642, 94 S.Ct. 1868, 1871, 40 L.Ed.2d 431 (1974)). Habeas corpus relief is available only where the prosecutor's remarks so infected the trial with unfairness that the resulting conviction is a denial of due process. Donnelly, 416 U.S. at 643, 94 S.Ct. 1868. A federal court must distinguish between "`ordinary trial error of a prosecutor and that sort of egregious misconduct . . . amounting to a denial of constitutional due process.'" Floyd v. Meachum, 907 F.2d 347, 353 (2d Cir. 1990) (quoting Donnelly, 416 U.S. at 647-48, 94 S.Ct. 1868). In order to show a constitutional violation, the petitioner must demonstrate that he suffered actual prejudice from the prosecutor's remarks. Tankleff v. Senkowski, 135 F.3d 235, 252 (2d Cir. 1998).
The prosecution is entitled to rebut arguments raised during defendant's summation, and may use language necessary to rebut defense counsel's view of the facts. United States v. Salameh, 152 F.3d 88, 139 (2d Cir. 1998). "Where a prosecutor's statement is responsive to comments made by defense counsel, the prejudicial effect of such objectionable statements is diminished." Pilgrim v. Keane, 2000 WL 1772653 at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 15, 2000).
Here, the prosecutor's summation did not violate Alfini's due process rights. Detective Abbondandelo testified that when he questioned Alfini at the scene, she told him that she saw a "black male walking westbound on Fifth Avenue." (T.R. of 1/25/95, at 1180). The prosecutor is entitled to fairly comment on that evidence during summation. See United States v. Tocco, 135 F.3d 116, 130 (2d Cir. 1998). Further, the prosecution's comments during closing argument were made in response to defense counsel's closing remarks. Defense counsel stated that someone other than Alfini had committed the shooting (T.R. of 1/31/95, at 1457), and the prosecution was entitled to rebut those arguments. Tocco, 135 F.3d at 130.
In any event, Alfini has not demonstrated that his trial was infected with unfairness, or that the outcome of her trial would have been different but for the alleged error. Id. In light of the ample circumstantial evidence against Alfini, including her sole presence in the house immediately before Fred Pardi's death; the physical evidence including the towel and pillow with gun holes found in her bedroom; her fingerprints on the gun; her motive to kill both Fred and Peter because of the bank funds issue; her physical presence behind Peter when he was shot; and her confession to the police, it is unlikely that the prosecutor's comments affected the verdict. Accordingly, the claim involving prosecutorial misconduct is denied.
E. As to the Alleged Jury Instruction Omissions
Alfini contends that the trial court erred by not charging the jury with both manslaughter as a lesser included offense of second degree murder and with the extreme emotional disturbance defense.
" `In order to obtain a writ of habeas corpus in federal court on the ground of error in a state court's instructions to the jury on matters of state law, the petitioner must show not only that the instruction misstated state law but also that the error violated a right guaranteed to him by federal law.'" Sams v. Walker, 18 F.3d 167, 171 (2d Cir. 1994) (quoting Casillas v. Scully, 769 F.2d 60, 63 (2d Cir. 1985)); see also Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 72, 112 S.Ct. 475, 116 L.Ed.2d 385 (1991); Cupp v. Naughten, 414 U.S. 141, 146-47, 94 S.Ct. 396, 400-01, 38 L.Ed.2d 368 (1973); DelValle v. Armstrong, 306 F.3d 1197, 1201 (2d Cir. 2002).
Further, "[w]here the claimed error is not an erroneous jury instruction but the failure to give a requested instruction, the petitioner bears a heavy burden in showing that the trial court's failure to give the instruction to the jury was an error of constitutional magnitude." Williams v. Bennett, 2001 WL 849746 at *10 (S.D.N.Y. July 27, 2001) (citing Henderson, 431 U.S. at 155, 97 S.Ct. 1730) ("An omission, or an incomplete instruction, is less likely to be prejudicial than is an actual misstatement of the law.").
Alfini has not met this heavy burden. First, Alfini has not demonstrated that she was entitled to either instruction. New York law states that the trial court may charge the jury with a lesser included offense:
if there is a reasonable view of the evidence which
would support a finding that the defendant committed
such lesser offense but did not commit the greater.
If there is not reasonable view of the evidence which
would support such a finding, the court may not
submit such lesser offense.
N.Y.Crim. Proc. Law § 300.50(1) (emphasis added); see also People v. Glover, 57 N.Y.2d 61, 63, 453 N.Y.S.2d 660, 661, 439 N.E.2d 376, 377 (N.Y. 1982) (per curiam). A reasonable view of the evidence — that Alfini fired a bullet into the back of Fred Pardi's skull — supports the finding that Alfini intended to kill him, which is the "greater" offense. Thus, the trial court properly determined that Alfini was not entitled to the instruction under New York law.
Regarding the instruction for extreme emotional disturbance defense, the trial court found no evidence to warrant the charge:
A defendant seeking to utilize this defense
must present some proof that a
temporarily remote provocative act affected
defendant at the time of the crime to such a degree
that the jury could reasonably conclude that he or
she acted under the influence of extreme emotional
disturbance. The record is devoid of such evidence.