The opinion of the court was delivered by: VICTOR BIANCHINI, Magistrate Judge
Petitioner, Richard J. Snitzel ("Snitzel"), filed this pro se
petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254
challenging his conviction in Monroe County Court on four counts
of sexual abuse and one count of endangering the welfare of a
child following a guilty plea. The parties have consented to
disposition of this matter by the undersigned pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 636(b).
At the outset, the Court notes that Snitzel is no longer in
state custody, having completed his six year term of
incarceration. "The federal habeas statute gives the United
States district courts jurisdiction to entertain petitions for
habeas relief only from persons who are `in custody in
violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United
States.'" Maleng v. Cook, 490 U.S. 488, 490 (1989) (quoting
28 U.S.C. § 2241(c)(3) (emphasis in original) and citing
28 U.S.C. § 2254(a)). The Supreme Court has "interpreted the statutory
language as requiring that the habeas petitioner be `in custody'
under the conviction or sentence under attack at the time his
petition is filed." Maleng, 490 U.S. at 490-91 (citing Carafas
v. LaVallee, 391 U.S. 234, 238 (1968)).
In the present case, Snitzel filed his federal habeas petition
on May 9, 2001. He was released from custody on March 31, 2003.
Thus, because Snitzel was incarcerated at the time he filed his
habeas petition, he fulfills the "in custody" requirement of
28 U.S.C. § 2241, and the Court has jurisdiction to hear this case.
Furthermore, the Court finds that Snitzel's habeas petition has
not been rendered moot by the fact that he has been
unconditionally released from prison. See, e.g., Geraci v. Sheriff, Schoharie County Jail,
2004 WL 437466, at *2 (N.D.N.Y. Feb. 20, 2004) (citing Spencer,
523 U.S. 1, 12 (1998) ("[I]t is an `obvious fact of life that
most criminal convictions do in fact entail adverse collateral
legal consequences.'") (quoting Sibron v. New York,
392 U.S. 40, 55 (1968)). Thus, Snitzel is entitled to have this Court
consider his habeas petition on the merits.
FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Snitzel was indicted on four counts of first degree sexual
abuse and one count of endangering the welfare of a child. The
charges stemmed from Snitzel's having subjected a twelve-year-old
girl to sexual contact by forcible compulsion. Specifically, the
People alleged that Snitzel put his hand on the complainant's
breast, put his mouth on her breast, and, on two separate
occasions, grabbed her wrist and placed her hand on his penis.
The sexual abuse occurred at Snitzel's residence, which he shared
with the complainant's father, while the complainant and her
brother were visiting their father for the weekend.
At the arraignment in Monroe County Court, defense counsel
informed the court that Snitzel rejected the People's offer of a
four-year sentence in return for a guilty plea. Counsel stated,
"Mr. Snitzel does maintain his innocence." May 21, 1997
Arraignment Transcript at 3. The matter proceeded to trial, which
commenced on July 28, 1997. That day, during jury voir dire,
Snitzel changed his mind and decided to plead guilty in exchange
for a sentence promise from the court.
During his sworn factual colloquy, Snitzel admitted that he
used force to touch the complainant's breasts with his hands and
mouth and that he forced her touch his penis. See July 28, 1997
Plea Transcript at 4-6. In return for his plea, Snitzel received
a sentence promise of six years. Snitzel was adjudicated a second
felony offender and was sentenced as promised on September 3,
1997, to a term of incarceration of six years on each of the four
counts of sexual abuse and one year on the child endangerment
count. All sentences were set to run concurrently.
On direct appeal, Snitzel's appellate counsel challenged the
severity of the negotiated sentence. Snitzel submitted a pro se supplemental brief in
which he argued that his sentence was harsh and excessive, that
he did not receive meaningful representation from his defense
counsel, and that he was coerced into pleading guilty. The
Appellate Division, Fourth Department, unanimously affirmed his
conviction on March 29, 2000. People v. Snitzel, 270 A.D.2d 836
(4th Dept. 2000). The New York Court of Appeals denied leave
to appeal on May 15, 2000. People v. Snitzel, 95 N.Y.2d 804
This federal habeas petition followed in which Snitzel raises
the following claims: (1) his guilty plea was unlawfully induced
and based on erroneous information from defense counsel; (2) he
received constitutionally ineffective representation because
counsel failed to investigate his case and interview witnesses,
failed to make motions, and failed to pursue plea offers; and (3)
his sentence was harsh and excessive. For the reasons set forth
below, Snitzel's § 2254 petition is denied.
Before seeking a writ of habeas corpus in federal court, a
petitioner must exhaust all available state remedies either on
direct appeal or through a collateral attack of his conviction.
28 U.S.C. § 2254(b); Bossett v. Walker, 41 F.3d 825, 828 (2d
Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1054 (1995). The exhaustion
of state remedies requirement means that the petitioner must have
presented his constitutional claim to the highest state court
from which a decision can be obtained. See Morgan v. Bennett,
204 F.3d 360, 369 (2d Cir. 2000) (citing Grey v. Hoke,
933 F.2d 117, 119 (2d Cir. 1991)). A claim is properly ...