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HILL v. MILLER

United States District Court, E.D. New York


April 8, 2005.

ANTHONY HILL, Plaintiff,
v.
DAVID L. MILLER, Superintendent of Eastern New York Correctional Facility Defendant.

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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Pro se petitioner, Anthony Hill ("Hill"), seeks a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 following his conviction in New York Supreme Court, Queens County, on one count each of Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Third Degree and Resisting Arrest, and two counts of Assault in the Second Degree. Hill presents three claims: (1) that the weapons-possession charge was based on an illegal search and seizure, in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (2) that the evidence at trial was legally insufficient to support his convictions for assault and resisting arrest; and (3) that the trial court improperly instructed the jury regarding the crimes of assault and resisting arrest. These claims were presented to the Second Department, which rejected the first two on the merits and the third as unpreserved, see People v. Hill, 731 N.Y.S.2d 741 (2d Dept. 2001), and became fully exhausted when Hill's application for leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals was denied. See People v. Hill, 97 N.Y.2d 705 (2002). For the reasons set forth below, his petition is denied.

  I.

  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). For such claims, 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).

  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) (citations and quotations omitted).

  A. Fourth Amendment

  In Stone v. Powell, 428 U.S. 465 (1976), the Supreme Court held that "where the State has provided an opportunity for full and fair litigation of a Fourth Amendment claim, a state prisoner may not be granted federal habeas corpus relief on the ground that evidence obtained in an unconstitutional search or seizure was introduced at his trial." Id. at 494-95. Thus, Stone bars habeas review of claims that evidence seized should have been suppressed as fruit of an illegal arrest. See Pina v. Kuhlmann, 239 F.Supp. 2d 285, 289 (E.D.N.Y. 2003) ("It is well settled that [Fourth Amendment] claims are not cognizable for habeas corpus review where a State has provided a full and fair opportunity to litigate this issue."). Following Stone, review of Fourth Amendment claims in habeas petitions is permissible only: "(a) if the state has provided no corrective procedures at all to redress the alleged fourth amendment violations; or (b) if the state has provided a corrective mechanism, but the defendant was precluded from using that mechanism because of an unconscionable breakdown in the underlying process." Capellan v. Riley, 975 F.2d 67, 70 (2d Cir. 1992).

  New York has a corrective procedure for Fourth Amendment violations, which is facially adequate. See id. at 70 n. 1. Indeed, Hill availed himself of that procedure by making a motion to suppress the gun recovered from him during his arrest, which the trial court denied after a hearing, and by appealing that denial. Further, having reviewed the record, the Court concludes that there was no unconscionable breakdown in the underlying process. Hill's Fourth Amendment claim for habeas relief is, therefore, barred by Stone.

  B. Sufficiency of the Evidence

  With respect to Hill's contention that the evidence supporting his convictions for assault and resisting arrest was insufficient, under clearly established Supreme Court precedent, a conviction is supported by sufficient evidence if, "after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979). A habeas petitioner challenging the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction "bears a very heavy burden." Ponnapula v. Spitzer, 297 F.3d 172, 179 (2d Cir. 2002). He must show that the verdict was so clearly against the weight of the evidence that "no rational trier of fact could have found proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.'" Einaugler v. Supreme Court of the State of New York, 109 F.3d 836, 839 (2d Cir. 1997) (quoting Jackson, 443 U.S. at 324). When considering the petitioner's claim, the Court "must look to state law to determine the elements of the crime[,]" Ponnapula, 297 F.3d at 179.

  Hill's assault conviction was for violation of New York Penal Law 120.05(3), under which a person is guilty of Assault in the Second Degree when "[w]ith intent to prevent a . . . police officer . . . from performing a lawful duty . . . he causes physical injury to such . . . police officer[.]" His resisting-arrest conviction was for violation of New York Penal Law § 205-30, under which a person is guilty of resisting arrest "when he intentionally prevents or attempts to prevent a police officer or peace officer from effecting an authorized arrest of himself[.]" Hill contends that the evidence in support of the "lawful duty" element of assaulting a police officer and the "effecting an authorized arrest" element of resisting arrest was insufficient to support his convictions.

  With respect to those elements, the Second Department determined that the following evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support findings that the officers who arrested Hill were performing their lawful duty and effecting an authorized arrest:

Police officers observed that a pocket of the defendant's down jacket was weighted down with a gun-shaped object. The officers stopped to inquire of the defendant, who fled. While chasing the defendant, the officers saw the defendant draw a gun from his pocket. Two of the officers were injured while attempting to arrest the defendant.
Since the initial stop was justified by the reasonable suspicion that the defendant possessed a gun, the police were justified in pursuing the defendant when he fled and then displayed a weapon.
Hill, 731 N.Y.S.2d at 742 (internal citations omitted). This determination was neither an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court precedent nor based on an unreasonable application the law to the facts. Moreover, having reviewed the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, the Court concludes that the evidence was more than sufficient to support Hill's convictions for assault and resisting arrest.

  C. Jury Instructions

  With respect to Hill's contention that the trial court improperly instructed the jury, the Second Department rejected this contention as "unpreserved for appellate review." Hill, 731 N.Y.S.2d at 742. In support of this conclusion, it cited New York C.P.L. § 470.05(2), New York's contemporaneous-objection rule, which preserves for appellate review only those questions of law as to which "a protest . . . was registered, by the party claiming error, at the time of such ruling or instruction or at any subsequent time when the court had an opportunity of effectively changing the same." The Court's review of the record confirms that, despite being afforded several opportunities by the trial court to lodge any objections to its jury instructions, Hill failed to do so.

  It is well established that New York C.P.L. § 470.05(2) is an adequate and independent state procedural rule. See, e.g., Bossett v. Walker, 41 F.3d 825, 829 n. 2 (2d Cir. 1994). "In all cases in which a state prisoner has defaulted his federal claims in state court pursuant to an independent and adequate state procedural rule, federal habeas review of the claims is barred unless the prisoner can demonstrate cause for the default and actual prejudice as a result of the alleged violation of federal law[.]" Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750 (1991). Hill offers no justification for his default; nor does he articulate how he was prejudiced. Accordingly, this claim is procedurally barred.

  In any event, even if the claim were not procedurally barred, it would fail on the merits. "In order to obtain a writ of habeas corpus in federal court on the ground of error in a state court's instructions to the jury on matters of state law, the petitioner must show not only that the instruction misstated state law but also that the error violated a right guaranteed to him by federal law." Casillas v. Scully, 769 F.2d 60, 63 (2d Cir. 1985). In reviewing an allegedly improper jury charge, the Court must view the instruction in its total context; thus, the question is "whether the ailing instruction by itself so infected the entire trial that the resulting conviction violates due process." Cupp v. Naughten, 414 U.S. 141, 147 (1973).

  Here, Hill claims that with respect the charge of Second Degree Assault, the trial court should have instructed the jury that the government was required to prove that he knew that the individuals he injured were police officers. See People v. Pineiro, 497 N.Y.S.2d 460, 461 (2d Dept. 1986) (holding that trial court erred by "fail[ing] to instruct [the jury] on any of the elements of the . . . crime of assault with intent to prevent a police officer from performing his duty. Specifically, there was no instruction that in order for defendant to be found guilty of attempt[ed] assault in the second degree, defendant must have known that [the individual he attempted to assault] was a police officer[.]"). Here, although the trial court's instruction did not explicitly reference knowledge, the jurors were instructed that in order to find Hill guilty of Second Degree Assault, the prosecution must prove that he "acted with intent to prevent a police officer from performing a lawful duty," that the officers were police officers, and that Hill caused them physical injury. Trial Transcript ("Tr.") at 544, 545 (emphasis added). Knowledge that an individual is a police officer is implicit in the concept of "intent" to prevent a police officer from performing a lawful duty. In addition, with respect to the resisting-arrest charge, the trial court instructed the jury that the prosecution must prove that, "at the time he fled" the officers, Hill "knew" that one of them was a police officer. Tr. 550-51. Thus, viewing the instruction in its total context, it is clear that the jury was informed that the prosecution must prove that Hill knew the individuals he injured to be police officers. Accordingly, the Court cannot conclude that his conviction for assaulting those officers violated due process.

  CONCLUSION

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

  SO ORDERED.

20050408

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