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Matta v. Filion

March 30, 2006

FELIZ MATTA, PETITIONER,
v.
GARY FILION, SUPERINTENDENT, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Hugh B. Scott

Decision & Order

Before the Court is petitioner's request for habeas corpus relief challenging his state court conviction under 28 U.S.C. § 2254.

Background

Petitioner Feliz Matta ("Matta") seeks habeas corpus relief from an August 26, 1999 conviction for murder in the second degree and gang assault in the first degree after a jury trial in New York State, Wayne County Court. As a result of his conviction, Matta was sentenced to an indeterminate term of twenty years to life with respect to the murder count, and eighteen years with respect to the assault claim.

The record reflects that Matta attended a Halloween party at the home of a friend on the evening of October 31, 1998. He left the party with a group of people from the party and encountered John Grant. According to Gregory Farnsworth, one of the party-goers who left with Matta, Grant appeared intoxicated. (R. 833)*fn1 Words were exchanged between Grant and another member of the party, Rob Lopez. Lopez pushed Grant to the ground. (R. 833-834). Several members from the party group then proceeded to attack Grant. (R. 835). Witnesses at the state court trial testified that Matta kicked Grant in the head several times. (R. 909, 984, 985). In addition, Matta admitted kicking Grant in the head in statements to the police (R. 29) and to another witness (R. 988). Grant died of internal hemorrhaging resulting from the blows to his head. (R. 1084-1085; 1110; 1142).

The petitioner asserts seven grounds for relief: (1) that a statement used at trial was taken from him in violation of his Miranda rights; (2) that the trial judge made an improper Sandoval ruling; (3) that there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction; (4) that the trial judge erred in failing to charge the jury that certain witnesses were accomplices; (5) that he was prevented from introducing evidence that someone else committed the crime; (6) that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request that the jury charge identify the witnesses as accomplices; and (7) that the sentence imposed was excessive.

Discussion

Exhaustion

Keeping with the requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b), federal courts will not consider a constitutional challenge that has not been "fairly presented" to the state courts. See Ayala v. Speckard, 89 F. 3d 91 (2d Cir. 1996), citing Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 27, 275, 92 S.Ct. 509, 512, 30 L.Ed 2d 438 (1971); Daye v. Attorney General of New York, 696 F.2d 186,191 (2d Cir. 1982) (en banc), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 1048 (1984). A state prisoner seeking federal habeas corpus review of his conviction must first exhaust his/her available state court remedies with respect to issues raised in the federal habeas corpus petition. Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509 (1982) In order to meet this requirement the Petitioner must have raised the question in a state court challenge to his/her conviction and put the state appellate court on notice that a federal constitutional claim was at issue. See Grady v. LeFerve, 846 F.2d 862, 864 (2d Cir. 1988); Petrucelli v. Coombe, 735 F. 2d 684, 688-89 (2d Cir. 1984).

It appears that the petitioner raised each of the claims presented in the instant petition at some point in his various state court proceedings (direct appeal or collateral challenges). The respondent argues that several of the issues were not fully exhausted. Notwithstanding, a decision on the merits of the petitioner's claims is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. §2254(b)(2).

Standard of Review

State court findings of "historical facts," and any inferences drawn from those facts, are entitled to a presumption of correctness. Matusiak v. Kelly, 786 F. 2d 536, 543 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 805 (1986). (See also 28 U.S.C. §2254(e)(1) which states that, "a determination of factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct".) Where the State court has reviewed an issue on the merits, in order for a petitioner to prevail in a federal habeas corpus claim, that petitioner must show that there was a violation of 2254(d). The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996*fn2 ("AEDPA"), provides that a habeas corpus petition may not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the state court's adjudication of that claim:

(1) resulted in a decision that 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) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

The petitioner has the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence. The presumption of correctness attaches to both state and trial courts and to state appellate courts. Smith v. Sullivan, 1988 WL 156668 (W.D.N.Y. 1998) (Larimer, C.J.) Nevius v. Sumner, 852 F.2d 463, 469 (9th Cir. 1988), cert. denied, 490 U.S. 1059 (1989).

AEDPA "requires federal courts 'to give greater deference to the determinations made by state courts than they are required to do under the previous law." Ford v. Ahitow, 104 F. 3d 926, 936 (7th Cir. 1997) (quoting Emerson v. Gramley, 91 F.3d 898, 900 (7th Cir. 1996)cert denied., 520 U.S. 1122, 117 S.Ct. 1260, 137 L.Ed.2d 339 (1997)); see also Houchin v. Zavaras, 107 F.3d 1465, 1470 (10th Cir. 1997) ("AEDPA increases ...


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