The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN GLEESON, District Judge
Petitioner Ram Lall, an inmate at the Auburn Correctional Facility,
seeks habeas relief from a judgment of conviction entered after a jury
trial in state court. I held oral argument on March 12, 2004. For the
reasons set forth below, the petition is denied.
On the afternoon of November 29, 1996, undercover police officers
observed Lall selling crack cocaine to two men in South Jamaica, Queens.
The first sale occurred in front of an apartment building at 88-09 148th
Street. The second sale occurred fifteen to twenty minutes later in the
lobby of the same building. Both buyers were arrested by a backup team of
police officers, and both were in possession of crack cocaine. Lall, who
matched the description of the seller provided by the undercover officer,
was arrested in the lobby of the building. No drugs were recovered from
Lall. Lall was charged with two counts of criminal sale of a controlled
substance in the third degree. A jury convicted him of both counts on
October 30, 1997. Lall was sentenced, as a second felony offender, to
concurrent prisons terms of from five to ten years.
Lall appealed his conviction to the Appellate Division, Second
Department, claiming that the trial court improperly qualified Detective
Dennis Wilson, a police officer who was a member of the arresting backup
team, as an expert and allowed him to explain to the jury why no drugs
were recovered from Lall when he was arrested. Lall argued that this
error deprived him of his right to a fair trial and suggested that he had
employed a "stash." On May 21, 2001, the Appellate Division affirmed
Lall's judgment of conviction, holding, in full: "Contrary to the
defendant's contention, the Supreme Court properly admitted limited
expert testimony concerning the general practices of drug dealers."
People v. Lall, 726 N.Y.S.2d 868, 868 (2d Dep't 2001)
(citations omitted). The New York Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal
on August 24, 2001. People v. Lall, 96 N.Y.2d 920 (2001);
People v. Boodram, 96 N.Y.2d 916 (2001).
In the instant petition, Lall claims that (1) the evidence presented at
trial was insufficient to sustain his conviction; (2) his trial attorney
provided ineffective assistance; and (3) Detective Wilson was improperly
qualified as an expert.
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, 529 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) f
quoting Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 123 S.Ct. 1166,
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, 157 L.Ed.2d 1, 7 (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)).
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 ...