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CATALA v. BENNETT

July 21, 2003

VICTOR CATALA, PETITIONER,
v.
FLOYD BENNETT, SUPERINTENDENT, ELMIRA CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: VICTOR Marrero, District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

Pro se petitioner Victor Catala ("Catala"), incarcerated at New York State's Elmira Correctional Facility ("Elmira") following his conviction on a guilty plea for murder and other charges, seeks a writ of habeas corpus (the "Petition") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Catala claims that: (1) by fraudulently misrepresenting themselves, police officers coerced him into giving a videotaped confession despite his request for counsel; (2) his Fourteenth Amendment Due Process rights were violated when he was not allowed to testify before the grand jury by which he was indicted; (3) the state court incorrectly interpreted the New York State First Degree Murder statute; (4) his guilty plea is constitutionally invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment because he did not enter it knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently; (5) he received ineffective assistance of counsel; and (6) his sentence was excessive and thus constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The State of New York (the "State") filed an opposition on behalf of respondent Floyd Bennett, the Superintendent of Elmira. For the reasons set forth below, the Petition is DENIED.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

On July 30, 1997, Catala pled guilty to a six-count indictment (the "Indictment") before the County Court, Rockland County (the "Trial Court") and was convicted of Murder in the First Degree (New York Penal Law § 125.27[1][a][vii][b]); two counts of Murder in the Second Degree (New York Penal Law § 125.25[1], [3]); Attempted Murder in the Second Degree (New York Penal Law § 110/125.25[3]); Burglary in the First Degree (New York Penal Law § 140.30[3]); and Assault in the Second Degree (New York Penal Law § 120.05[2]). Catala was sentenced to concurrent indeterminate prison terms of from twenty-five years to life on the three murder charges, from twelve and one-half to twenty-five years on the attempted murder and burglary charges, and from three and one-half to seven years on the assault charge.

Catala's conviction arose from the events of September 5, 1996, when Catala — after breaking into his estranged girlfriend Sonya Bailey's ("Bailey") apartment in Spring Valley, New York at 2:05 a.m. — stabbed Bailey to death and attempted to kill Bailey's former boyfriend, Jeffrey Fuller ("Fuller"). Catala and Bailey had lived together until August 19, 1996, when Bailey was arrested for stabbing Catala in the finger after a fight between Catala and Fuller. After the arrest, Bailey was released on bail while Catala returned to the Bronx to live with his mother. Catala did not pursue the charges against Bailey and the matter was dropped.

Almost three weeks later, in the early morning of September 5, 1996, Catala arrived at Bailey's apartment. While the State and Catala offer differing versions of what transpired next, it is undisputed that Catala's presence — wanted or unwanted — eventually led to a struggle with Bailey, and ended with his stabbing Bailey twenty-one times in the neck and chest area. Catala also engaged in a fight with Fuller, who may have been trying to protect Bailey, and stabbed Fuller as well. Bailey died at an area hospital shortly after the attack. Catala was arrested later that day at his family's home in the Bronx. At the police station, Catala confessed to the murder and all other charges alleged in the Indictment.

At Catala's arraignment proceedings on September 26, 1996, the prosecution withdrew its notice of its intention to seek the death penalty. At the same proceedings, Catala moved, inter alia, to suppress his statements. The Trial Court granted a hearing on the matter, but on June 9, 1997, before the hearing could be held, Catala pled guilty to all charges in the Indictment.

One month later, on July 9, 1997, Catala reversed this decision and moved to withdraw his plea before the scheduled sentencing date. By Decision and Order, dated July 27, 1997, the Trial Court denied Catala's motion on the grounds that Catala had knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily entered into his guilty plea, and that the record did not support his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. On July 30, 1997, the Trial Court sentenced him as described above.

Catala appealed his conviction to the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division (the "Appellate Division"), which affirmed the conviction. See People v. Catala, 686 N.Y.S.2d 311 (App.Div.2d Dept. 1999). The judgment became final (the "Final Judgment") on September 23, 1999, when the New York Court of Appeals (the "Court of Appeals") denied Catala's application for leave to appeal. See People v. Catala, 697 N.Y.S.2d 875 (N.Y. 1999).

Almost a year after the Final Judgment, Catala filed, pursuant to New York Criminal Procedure Law ("CPL") § 440.10, a post-conviction motion, dated August 17, 2000, to vacate the judgment of conviction (the "Post-Conviction Motion"). By Decision and Order dated November 27, 2000, the Trial Court denied the Post-Conviction Motion. Catala then filed an application for a certificate granting leave to appeal the Trial Court's decision, which the Appellate Division denied on April 2, 2001 (the "Denial"). Catala subsequently filed the instant Petition, dated August 23, 2001, with this Court on September 4, 2001.

II. DISCUSSION

A. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") placed "new constraint on the power of a federal habeas court to grant a state prisoner's application for a writ of habeas corpus with respect to claims adjudicated on the merits in state court." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000). One of the new restrictions imposed by AEDPA is a one-year statute of limitations on all petitions for a writ of habeas corpus filed after the effective date of AEDPA, ...


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