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CORELLA v. RICKS

March 1, 2004.

THOMAS CORELLA, -against- Petitioner, THOMAS L. RICKS, Superintendent, Upstate Correctional Facility, Respondent


The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN GLEESON, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Petitioner Thomas Corella, an inmate at the Attica Correctional Facility,*fn1 seeks habeas corpus relief from a judgment of conviction entered after a jury trial in state court. I held Page 2 oral argument by telephone conference on February 27, 2004. For the reasons set forth below, the petition is denied.

  BACKGROUND

  On June 19, 1996, Corella*fn2 attacked his brother, Victor Corella ("V. Corolla"), with a knife and stabbed him to death in their home in Staten Island. During the struggle, the brothers' mother, Ramona Corella ("R, Corella"), was slashed on the nose by Corella's knife. Corella was charged with two counts each of murder in the second degree and assault in the second degree. He was convicted by a jury of one count each of manslaughter in the first degree and assault in the third degree. On March 26, 1999, Corella was sentenced, as a persistent felony offender, to concurrent terms of imprisonment of twenty years to life for the first degree manslaughter charge and one year for the assault count.

  In June 1999, Corella appealed his judgment of conviction to the Appellate Division, Second Department, claiming that (1) he was denied a fair trial by an impartial jury as a result of the trial court's decision not to dismiss a juror; (2) the trial court's preliminary and supplemental instructions violated the mode of proceedings under state law; and (3) the trial court violated his rights under People v. Molineux, 168 N.Y. 264 (1901), by admitting evidence that Corella had, just eighteen days prior to the charged crimes, chased V. Corella and another brother down the street with a meat cleaver. The Appellate Division unanimously affirmed Corella's judgment of conviction on March 5, 2001:

  We reject the defendant's contention that the trial court erred in permitting testimony concerning a prior uncharged crime. Since the defendant claimed that he acted in self-defense, the issue of his motive Page 3 was significant. Thus, while the proffered evidence was potentially prejudicial to the defendant's case, it was highly probative in showing that the stabbing was intentional. Further, any prejudice was minimized by the trial court's instruction to the jury that the evidence was to be considered only on the issues of whether the defendant was the initial aggressor, and whether he was the first to use deadly force.

 
The defendant's remaining contentions are without merit.
  People v. Corella, 721 N.Y.S.2d 550, 551 (2d Dep't 2001) (citations omitted). Corella's application for leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals was denied on May 23, 2001. People v. Corella, 96 N.Y.2d 827 (2001) (Wesley, J.).

  In the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus, Corella raises, by reference to his Appellate Division brief, the same three claims he raised on direct appeal.

  DISCUSSION

 A. The Standard of Review

  The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") has narrowed the scope of federal habeas review of state convictions where the state court has adjudicated a petitioner's federal claim on the merits. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Under the AEDPA standard, which applies to habeas petitions filed after AEDPA's enactment in 1996, the reviewing court may grant habeas relief only if the state court's decision "was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). The Supreme Court has interpreted the phrase "clearly established Federal law" to mean "the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme Court's] decisions as of the time of the relevant state-court decision." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000); see also Gilchrist v. O'Keefe, 260 F.3d 87, 93 (2d Cir. 2001). Page 4

  A decision is "contrary to" clearly established federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court, if "the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme Court] on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the Supreme Court] has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts." Williams, 5 29 U.S. at 413. A decision is an "unreasonable application" of clearly established Supreme Court law if a state court "identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme Court's] decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of [a] prisoner's case." Id. "In other words, a federal court may grant relief when a state court has misapplied a `governing legal principle' to `a set of facts different from those of the case in which the principle was announced.'" Wiggins v. Smith, 123 S.Ct. 2527, 2535 (2003) (quoting Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 123 S.Ct. 1166, 1175 (2003)).

  Under the latter standard, "a federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather, that application must also be unreasonable." Gilchrist, 260 F.3d at 93 (citing Williams, 529 U.S. at 411); see also Yarborough v. Gentry, 124 S.Ct. 1, 4 (2003) (per curiam) ("Where . . . the state court's application of governing federal law is challenged, it must be shown to be not only erroneous, but objectively unreasonable."); Wiggins, 123 S.Ct. at 2535 (same). Interpreting Williams, the Second Circuit has added that although "[s]ome increment of incorrectness beyond error is required . . . the increment need not be great; otherwise, habeas relief would be limited to state court decisions so far off the mark as to suggest judicial incompetence." Gilchrist, 260 F.3d at 93 (citing Francis S. v. Stone, 221 F.3d 100, 111 (2d Cir. 2000)). Page 5

  This standard of review applies whenever the state court has adjudicated the federal claim on the merits, regardless of whether it has alluded to federal law in its decision. As the Second Circuit stated in Sellan v. Kuhlman:
For the purposes of AEDPA deference, a state court "adjudicate[s]" a state prisoner's federal claim on the merits when it (1) disposes of the claim "on the merits," and (2) reduces its disposition to judgment. When a state court does so, a federal habeas court must defer in the manner prescribed by 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) to the state court's decision on the federal claim — even if the state court does not explicitly refer to either the federal claim or to relevant federal case law.
261 F.3d 303, 312 (2d Cir. 2001).

  In addition, a state court's determination of a factual issue is presumed to be correct, and is unreasonable only where the petitioner meets the burden of "rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

 
However, "even in the context of federal habeas, deference does not imply abandonment or abdication of judicial review. . . . A federal court can disagree with a state court's credibility determination and, when guided by AEDPA, conclude the decision was unreasonable or that the factual premise was incorrect by clear and convincing evidence."
  Shabazz v. Artuz, 336 F.3d 154, 161 (2d ...

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