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LALL v. BURGE

March 12, 2004.

RAM LALL, a/k/a BAHADAR BOODRAM, Petitioner, -against- JOHN BURGE, Superintendent, Auburn Correctional facility Respondent


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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

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. Page 2

  BACKGROUND

  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). Page 3

  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.

  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).

  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 Page 4 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, 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, 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 Page 5 claim-even if ...


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