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United States District Court, E.D. New York

SEAN HALL, Petitioner,
P.W. ANNETS, Superintendent of Wallkill Correctional Facility,[fn1] Respondent.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: FREDERIC BLOCK, District Judge

*fn1 The caption of Hall's pro se petition only identifies P.W. Annetts as the respondent. The Court, on its own initiative, has determined that Annetts is the Superintendent of Wallkill Correctional Facility, and deems Hall's petition amended to name him in that capacity. The Court has subject matter jurisdiction because Hall was sentenced in the Eastern District of New York. See 28 U.S.C. § 2241(d).


  Pro se petitioner Sean Hall ("Hall") seeks a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 following his convictions in the New York Supreme Court, Kings County, for criminal possession of a weapon, two counts of assault, and reckless endangerment. Hall claims that he was deprived of due process because: (1) the Court permitted testimony regarding a threat made by Hall prior to the alleged criminal conduct; (2) the prosecutor knowingly introduced false evidence at trial; and (3) his sentence was excessive and based on erroneous information. These claims were presented to and rejected by the Appellate Division, Second Department, People v. Hall, 299 A.D.2d 493 (2d Dep't 2002), and were fully exhausted when the New York Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal. People v. Hall, 99 N.Y.2d 582 (2003). Hall also filed a § 440.10 motion, reiterating his complaint pertaining to false evidence based on newly discovered crime scene photos, which was rejected by the New York Supreme Court, People v. Hall, No. 7137-98 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Sept. 12, 2002), and was fully exhausted when the Appellate Division denied leave to appeal. People v. Hall, No. 7137-98 (2d Dep't Mar. 21, 2003).*fn2 For the reasons set forth below, Hall's petition is denied.


  Only federal issues may be raised on habeas review. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 68 (1991). Pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), when a federal claim has been "adjudicated on the merits" by a state court, the state court's decision is entitled to substantial deference. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). "[A] state court adjudicates 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." Sellan v. Kuhlman, 261 F.3d 303, 312 (2d Cir. 2001) (citations and quotations omitted). "No further adjudication of its rationale or elucidation of its reasoning process is required. In fact, an issue may be considered to be adjudicated on its merits even when the state court does not specifically mention the claim but uses general language referable to the merits." Eze v. Senkowski, 321 F.3d 110, 122 (2d Cir. 2003) (citations and quotations omitted).

  For such claims "adjudicated on the merits," habeas relief may not be granted unless the state court decision (1) was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States," or (2) was "based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). When a state court summarily denies a claim on the merits without providing its underlying rationale, "the federal court will focus its review on whether the state court's ultimate decision was an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court precedent." Sellan, 261 F.3d at 311-12.

  A state court decision is "contrary to" clearly established federal law "if the state court applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth" in Supreme Court precedent or "if the state court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme Court] and nevertheless arrives" at a different conclusion. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000). A state court decision involves an "unreasonable application" of clearly established federal law if it unreasonably applies Supreme Court precedent to the particular facts of a case. See id. at 409. This inquiry requires a court to "ask whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law was objectively unreasonable," not whether the application was erroneous or incorrect. Id. In that respect, the standard to be applied "falls somewhere between merely erroneous and unreasonable to all reasonable jurists." Jones v. Stinson, 229 F.3d 112, 119 (2d Cir. 2000) (citations and quotations omitted). However, "the increment [of incorrectness beyond error] need not be great; otherwise, habeas relief would be limited to state court decisions so far off the mark as to suggest judicial incompetence." Francis S. v. Stone, 221 F.3d 100, 111 (2d Cir. 2000) (internal citations and quotations omitted).

  A. Evidentiary Claim

  For a habeas petitioner to prevail on a claim that a state evidentiary ruling amounted to a deprivation of due process, he must show that 1) the ruling was in error, and 2) the error was so pervasive as to have denied him a fundamentally fair trial. See United States v. Agurs, 427 U.S. 97, 108 (1976); Estelle, 502 U.S. at 67-68 (no federal habeas relief for mere errors of state law); Zarvela v. Artuz, 364 F.3d 415 (2d Cir. 2004) (same); Dey v. Scully, 952 F.Supp. 957, 971 (E.D.N.Y. 1997) (same).

  Hall argues that testimony regarding the threat, a prior bad act, should have been excluded under Molineux,*fn3 or alternatively, because of its prejudicial nature. Hall's claim fails because there was no state law error, preluding an error of constitutional dimensions. The Appellate Division commented:

Contrary to the defendant's contention, the evidence that the defendant threatened to harm the victim's three-year-old daughter was necessary background material which facilitated the jury's understanding of the relationship among the parties, and helped the jury to understand the sequence of events culminating in the charged crime. Furthermore, the Supreme Court prevented any possible prejudice by giving a prompt instruction to the jury regarding the use to which it could put this evidence.
Hall, 299 A.D.2d at 493 (internal citations omitted). The Court agrees.

  B. Perjured Testimony Claims

  Hall alleges that the prosecutor knowingly introduced perjured testimony designed to mislead the jury in three instances: 1) testimony that victim customarily stored her service weapon in a "strongbox" when off-duty despite that, on the night of the alleged criminal conduct, the victim departed from that custom, 2) eyewitness testimony that was allegedly inconsistent with pre-trial statements, and 3) evidence allegedly derived from police officers' rearrangement of the crime scene. The Appellate Division summarily denied these claims on the merits. Id. ("[D]efendant's remaining contentions, including those raised in his supplemental pro se brief, are without merit."); see also Hall, No. 7137-98, at 2 (denying Hall's § 440.10 claim regarding rearrangement of the crime scene based on newly discovered crime scene photos, as "difficult to determine this inconsistency" and "of no consequence, since the significant events occurred in or near the bedroom."). Therefore, habeas relief may be granted only if the state court unreasonably applied Supreme Court precedent.

  A conviction supported by perjured testimony is analyzed under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Napue v. Illinois, 360 U.S. 264, 269 (1959). Under this standard, a conviction must be set aside if "the prosecution knew, or should have known, of the perjury," and "there is any reasonable likelihood that the false testimony could have affected the judgment of the jury." Agurs, 427 U.S. at 103.

  Even assuming arguendo that the testimony was perjured and that the prosecutor knew or should have known of the perjury, Hall cannot establish that there is a "reasonable likelihood that the false testimony could have affected the judgment of the jury." Id. With respect to the "strongbox" issue, Hall's attorney cross-examined the witnesses about the apparent inconsistency between testimony that it was the victim's custom to store her weapon in the "strongbox", and testimony that she admittedly failed to do so on the night at issue. Tr. at 205-09.*fn4 Hall's attorney also highlighted this inconsistency to the jury in his closing argument, id. at 551, effectively eliminating the likelihood that the testimony about the "strongbox" affected the jury's judgment. The same conclusion follows for the subsequent two instances of perjury alleged by Hall. Upon the Court's review of the record, these inconsistencies are minor and do not materially affect any element of the crimes; accordingly, they could not have affected the outcome.

  C. Excessive Sentence

  Hall's claim that his sentence was excessive fails because his sentence was within the range authorized by law. See White v. Keane, 969 F.2d 1381, 1383 (2d Cir. 1992) ("No federal constitutional issue is presented where [a petitioner's] sentence is within the range prescribed by state law."). Also without merit is Hall's claim that his sentence was based, in part, on inaccurate information in the presentencing report. These inaccuracies were conceded by the government and brought to the attention of the sentencing court. See Sentencing Tr. at 6-7, 11.*fn5 The sentencing court did not rely on these inaccuracies, see id. at 6-7, 12 (acknowledging the correct information after the prosecutor conceded the inaccuracies); hence, Hall's claim is denied.

  Hall also argues that he has a due process right to have accurate prison records in his prison file when such information is relied upon in his parole hearing. Even if Hall has such a due process right, the proper habeas proceeding to address this issue would be pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 after having been denied parole. See Roccisano v. Menifee, 293 F.3d 51 (2d Cir. 2002) ("Under § 2241, a prisoner may challenge the execution of his sentence, such as . . . decisions to deny parole. . . .") (internal citations and quotations omitted). CONCLUSION

  The petition is denied. A certificate of appealability will not issue because Hall has failed to make a substantial showing of the denial of a federal right. See 28 U.S.C. § 2253.


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