The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN GLEESON, District Judge
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
oral argument by telephone conference on February 27, 2004. For the
reasons set forth below, the petition is denied.
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
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
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.
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).
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.
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 ...