The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN GLEESON, District Judge
Petitioner Ronald Curtis, an inmate at the Sing Sing
Correctional Facility, seeks habeas relief from a judgment of
conviction entered on a plea of guilty in state court. I held
oral argument today and now, for the reasons set forth below,
deny the petition.
Curtis was indicted on myriad burglaries of commercial
establishments and private residences, the details of which are
set out at length in the affidavit submitted by respondent in opposition to Curtis's petition. It is enough to
say here that the indictment alleged seven burglaries committed
between August and November 2000. Curtis was charged with two
counts of burglary in the second degree, seven counts of burglary
in the third degree, one count of grand larceny in the second
degree, two counts of grand larceny in the third degree, four
counts of grand larceny in the fourth degree, seven counts of
petit larceny, two counts of criminal trespass in the second
degree, seven counts of criminal trespass in the third degree,
and four count of criminal mischief in the fourth degree.
On March 28, 2001, Curtis, represented by counsel, pleaded
guilty to two counts of burglary in the second degree in full
satisfaction of the indictment:
THE COURT: Now, by withdrawing your . . . plea [of
not guilty], you understand one of two things will
ultimately happen here. If you successfully complete
the DTAP*fn1 program, which is 18 to 24 months
in duration, if you comply with all the conditions
they impose and the Court imposes and you're not
rearrested for anything, then you will be able to
take your felony plea back and all the charges on the
indictment will be dismissed outright; is that your
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
THE COURT: The second thing that may happen, and
everybody knows that I will not hesitate to do this
given the charges and your record, I will impose
fifteen years if you violate these conditions, you
will not be allowed to take your plea back and go to
trial, I will impose the fifteen years incarceration.
Do you understand that?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
THE COURT: Do you have any questions about this
THE DEFENDANT: No.
THE COURT: Have you had enough time to discuss it
fully with your attorney?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes. (Plea Tr. at 3-4.) Curtis also waived his right to
appeal. After being advised of the rights he was
waiving, Curtis allocuted to the two burglary counts,
entered a plea of guilty, and was adjudicated a
second felony offender.
On April 4, 2001, Curtis was released from incarceration and
placed in the Samaritan Village residential drug treatment
program. On June 4, 2001, Curtis was allowed to leave that
facility to visit his child. He did not return, thereby violating
the terms of his release and plea. The next day, the court was
informed that Curtis had absconded and issued a warrant for his
arrest. On July 3, 2001, Curtis was involuntarily returned to
court on the warrant and remanded.
Despite the violation, the state agreed to have Treatment
Alternatives to Street Crime ("TASC") arrange for Curtis to
enroll in another drug treatment program. Therefore, on September
17, 2001, Curtis was again released to TASC and assigned to the
J-Cap residential drug treatment program. That same day, however,
Curtis left the program without permission and against clinical
advice, thereby violating the terms of his release and plea a
second time. Curtis was arrested on September 24, 2001,
independent of his criminal case, as a result of an altercation
with a drug dealer. On September 26, 2001, Curtis was returned to
court and remanded to await sentencing. The court also ordered
that a presentence report be prepared.
When Curtis appeared for sentencing on January 9, 2002, the
state asked the court to impose the maximum sentence of fifteen
years in prison. Curtis's counsel requested that Curtis be given
another chance to participate in a drug treatment program. The
The defendant pled guilty before me; at the time
there w[ere] seven separate incidents charged on the
indictment, seven burglary charges, two [of] which
were residential burglaries it seems and the balance
of them were commercial burglaries. The Defendant does have a
number of contacts with the criminal justice system
and the People's policy is to offer maximum time when
there is more than two violent felony offenses on an
We worked very hard with you[,] Mr. Curtis[,] to try
to get you on the right path and you violated the
terms of the program on two occasions; you were given
[an] opportunity to go back because nobody really
wanted to impose a very stiff jail sentence; so
everything was done to see you were given every
opportunity to work the program.
. . . .
There is basically no reason whatsoever to impose the
minimum, given two prior contacts, seven charges
here. The first time he left the program he was I
think he was allowed a visit, he didn't return; the
second time he was admonished it would be the last
chance. He was released, left the same day he was
released. . . . Apparently he was arrested on a
felony offense and . . . brought back here on the
Is there anything you wish to say[,] Mr. Curtis[,] at
all on your behalf before I impose sentence?
THE DEFENDANT: Just at the time I was given the
second program I was not aware I would have to cut my
hair until I got on the outside, when [I] got there . . .
they asked me are you going to cut your hair,
said I wasn't sure if going to cut your hair, going
to cut it off or go back to jail. We wasn't sure when
I got there that's when I knew that I was going to
cut my hair off; my religious belief I don't cut my
hair; said they don't care about that, going to cut
your hair or you leave. I said I'll not cut my hair.
I feel probably I made a mistake by not doing that.
Everything came about because of my hair.
THE COURT: You came back here with a new arrest, no
effort for you to reach out to anyone with respect to
[this] issue; this issue was never raised previously
about your hair. Frankly, Mr. Curtis, I don't buy it,
hair cut versus 15 years in jail.
THE DEFENDANT: I was not thinking, your Honor.
THE COURT: Yeah, entered seven locations without
permission or authority to do so as well. I don't see
a whole lot of reason any, real mitigation. Fifteen
years is stiff; so in light of that I'm going to
impose sentence of 12 years on each count Burglary
Second degree, this sentence is to run concurrently
with one another [sic].
(Sent. Tr. at 3-4, 6-8.)
Curtis appealed his conviction and sentence to the Appellate
Division, Second Department, claiming: (1) His right to freedom
of religion was violated when he was forced to choose between participating in a treatment program and adhering
to his religious beliefs; (2) he was not informed prior to
pleading guilty that he would be required to cut his hair as a
condition of drug treatment; and (3) his sentence was excessive.
The Appellate Division affirmed Curtis's conviction and sentence,
holding, "The defendant's contentions are either unpreserved for
appellate review or waived pursuant to the terms of his
negotiated plea agreement. In any event, his contentions are
without merit." People v. Curtis, 766 N.Y.S.2d 891, 891 (2d
Dep't 2003). Leave to appeal was denied. People v. Curtis,
1 N.Y.3d 596 (2004) (Kaye, C.J.).
In the instant petition, Curtis raises a different
freedom-of-religion claim. He argues that the sentencing court
denied him his right to due process by imposing sentence "without
making a determination as to which conditions of the treatment
program violated" his right to freedom of religion. (Pet'r Mem.
Law at 7.)
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."*fn2 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,
539 U.S. 510, 520 (2003) (quoting Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63,
123 S. Ct. 1166, 1175 (2003)).
However, there is "force" to the argument "that if a habeas
court must extend a rationale before it can apply to the facts at
hand then the rationale cannot be clearly established at the time
of the state-court decision"; "[§] 2254(d)(1) would be undermined
if habeas courts introduced rules not clearly established under
the guise of extensions to existing law." Yarborough v.
Alvarado, 124 S. Ct. 2140, 2150-51 (2004). The Supreme Court has
concluded, however, that while "the difference between applying a
rule and extending it is not always clear," "[c]ertain ...