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United States District Court, Southern District of New York

April 7, 2003


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shira A. Scheindlin, United States District Judge


Archie Cosey, proceeding pro se, petitions this Court for a writ of habeas corpus under section 2254 of Title 28 of the United States Code. For the reasons set forth below, the petition is denied.


On October 15, 1998, Cosey appeared before the Honorable Leslie Crocker Snyder in New York State Supreme Court, New York County, and pleaded guilty to one count of Conspiracy in the First Degree*fn1 and one count of Murder in the Second Degree.*fn2

See 10/15/98 Plea Hearing ("Plea"), Ex. F to Memorandum of Law in Support of Answer Opposing Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus ("Opp. Mem."), at 66. The plea was taken in exchange for a promise from the court to sentence Cosey to concurrent indeterminate prison terms of from twenty-five years to life in prison. See id. at 66-67. Less than one month later, on November 10, 1998, Cosey appeared with his attorney before Judge Snyder and filed a pro se motion to withdraw his guilty plea.*fn3

See 11/10/98 Withdrawal of Plea Hearing ("Withdrawal Hearing"), Ex. G to Opp. Mem. Cosey asserted that he had been coerced into accepting the plea offer and that his counsel had provided ineffective assistance.*fn4 See id. at 80-84; Opp. Mem. at 7-10.

Judge Snyder, in responding to Cosey's allegations, called it "the most outrageous application [she had] ever heard." See Withdrawal Hearing at 84. Without granting an evidentiary hearing, Judge Snyder concluded that Cosey had entered his guilty plea knowingly and voluntarily. Judge Snyder based this conclusion on Cosey's plea allocution and the fact that he never reported any threats to his family to either his attorney or the District Attorney. See id. She denied Cosey's motion to vacate his plea and sentenced Cosey to twenty-five years to life. See Opp. Mem. at 10.

On appeal to the Appellate Division, First Department, Cosey claimed that the trial court had abused its discretion in denying his motion without conducting a hearing. On September 27, 2001, the appellate court unanimously affirmed Cosey's conviction. See People v. Cosey, 730 N.Y.S.2d 434 (1st Dep't. 2001). The appellate court held that Judge Snyder "properly exercised [her] discretion in denying [Cosey's] application to withdraw his guilty plea after affording [Cosey] a full opportunity to present his claims." Id. Furthermore, the appellate court noted that Judge Snyder properly concluded that Cosey's plea was voluntary and his "vague and unsubstantiated" claim that his plea had been coerced was "contradicted by his plea allocution." Id. The New York Court of Appeals denied Cosey leave to appeal on November 9, 2001. See People v. Cosey, 737 N.Y.S.2d 56 (2001).

Cosey now seeks habeas relief asserting that the trial court abused its discretion in failing to grant a hearing on his claim that his guilty plea was coerced.


A. Cosey Raises No Constitutional Claim

In determining whether federal habeas relief is available, a federal court will only review allegations of deprivations of federal rights. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a) (providing that habeas corpus relief in the federal courts is available to a state prisoner "only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States"). Cosey's habeas petition alleges that the trial court abused its discretion in failing to grant him an evidentiary hearing on his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. His petition does not allege that any federal right was violated by the denial of the evidentiary hearing. Because Cosey's claim alleges no violation of a federal right, there can be no federal habeas relief. See Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107, 119 (1982). However, even if Cosey's petition is construed as asserting a constitutional violation, it must nonetheless be denied.

B. Cosey's Due Process Claim in State Appeal

Although Cosey alleges in his petition that the trial court abused its discretion in not awarding him a hearing based on his claim of a coerced guilty plea, because he is proceeding pro se, his petition must be "liberally construed in his favor." Simmons v. Abruzzo, 49 F.3d 83, 97 (2d Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). While he never explicitly raises a Fifth Amendment claim, it is possible that Cosey's claim that he was denied an evidentiary hearing rests on his right to due process.

1. Exhaustion Requirement

A state prisoner seeking federal habeas review of his conviction must first exhaust all available state remedies. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A). State court remedies will not be deemed exhausted until the habeas petitioner has given the highest state court of competent jurisdiction a fair opportunity to consider his federal claim by informing it of both the factual and legal premises of the claim. See Daye v. Attorney General of the State of New York, 696 F.2d 186, 191 (2d Cir. 1982) (en banc). State court remedies are exhausted when the claim has been "fairly presented" to the state courts allowing them the "first opportunity to hear the claim sought to be vindicated in a federal habeas corpus proceeding." Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275-76 (1971). A federal habeas petitioner must have alerted the state courts that a federal constitutional claim is at issue. See Jones v. Vacco, 126 F.3d 408, 413-14 (2d Cir. 1997). The constitutional nature of a claim may be "fairly present[ed]" to the state courts "without citing chapter and verse of the Constitution" if the defendant "(a) [relies] on pertinent federal cases employing constitutional analysis, (b) [relies] on state cases employing constitutional analysis in like fact situations, (c) [asserts] the claim in terms so particular as to call to mind a specific right protected by the Constitution, [or] (d) [alleges] a pattern of facts that is well within the mainstream of constitutional litigation." Daye, 696 F.2d at 194.

Assuming, arguendo, that Cosey's claim is based on a violation of the Fifth Amendment right to due process, that claim is exhausted.*fn5 Although Cosey's claim does not explicitly invoke "due process" or the Fifth Amendment, his claim that he should have been awarded an evidentiary hearing after alleging that his guilty plea was coerced may be construed to raise a due process claim. See Daye, 696 F.2d at 194. Because the state appellate court ruled on the identical claim presented here, the claim is exhausted notwithstanding Cosey's failure to give it a constitutional label.

2. Standard of Review

Where a petitioner's claim was adjudicated on the merits in state court, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act provides that habeas relief will not be granted unless the state court decision was (1) "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States," or (2) "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). The Supreme Court has held:

Under the "contrary to" clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by this Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than this Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Under the "unreasonable application" clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from this Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.
Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000). Furthermore, a state court's decision is not an unreasonable application of federal law if the state court's analysis was "erroneous" or "incorrect." Id. at 411. A state court's application of a federal rule must be "objectively unreasonable" in order to justify habeas relief under section 2254. Id. at 409.

There is no Supreme Court decision that establishes a due process right to an evidentiary hearing where a defendant attempts to withdraw his guilty plea.*fn6 Although this Court might have exercised its discretion differently in light of Cosey's allegations, the state court decision denying Cosey an evidentiary hearing was not contrary to, nor did it involve an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court. Therefore, Cosey's petition must be denied.


For the foregoing reasons, the petition is denied. There is the question of whether to grant a certificate of appealabilty. For a certificate of appealabilty to issue, the petitioner must make a "substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right." 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). "[A] `substantial showing' does not compel a petitioner to demonstrate that he would prevail on the merits, but merely that the issues involved in his case `are debatable among jurists of reason; that a court could resolve the issues [in a different manner]; or that the questions are adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed further.'" Lucidore v. New York State Div. of Parole, 209 F.3d 107, 112 (2d Cir. 2000) (quoting Barefoot v. Estelle, 463 U.S. 880, 893 n. 4 (1983) (internal quotation marks omitted) (emphasis and alteration in original)). In sum, "`[w]here a district court has rejected the constitutional claims on the merits, the showing required to satisfy § 2253(c) is straightforward: The petitioner must demonstrate that reasonable jurists would find the district court's assessment of the constitutional claims debatable or wrong.'" Rudenko v. Costello, 286 F.3d 51, 79 (2d Cir. 2002) (quoting Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484 (2000)). Cosey has made no such showing in this case. Accordingly, this Court denies a certificate of appealabilty and certifies that any appeal would not be taken in good faith within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1915. The Clerk is directed to close this case.


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