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Ruiz v. Fischer

May 10, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garaufis, United States District Judge.


Petitioner Luis Eduardo Buenos Ruiz ("Buenos Ruiz" or "Petitioner") brings this habeas corpus petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, alleging that he is being held in state custody in violation of his federal constitutional rights, and seeking to overturn his October 15, 2002 conviction for Manslaughter in the First Degree (New York Penal Law ("Penal Law") § 125.25(1)), and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree (Penal Law § 265.03(2)).For the reasons set forth below, the petition is DENIED.

I. Background

At about 1:00 a.m. on January 14, 2001, Petitioner was driving a blue Jeep, and collided with Joseph Coll's parked car in front of Coll's apartment on Weirfield Street in Brooklyn. (Trial transcript ("Tr.") at 174-75.) After an argument, during which Petitioner punched Coll in the face, Coll's relatives came to his aid. (Id. at 64, 79, 91, 114-19, 121-23, 179.) Petitioner left the scene, ran up the street, and returned a few minutes later with a man wearing white clothes. (Id. at 67, 70, 95, 119, 127-29, 185-86, 229, 232-33.) Petitioner displayed a gun in his waistband to the people assembled in the street. (Id. at 96, 187, 233, 253-54.) He then moved closer to Coll, and fired one shot from thirty-five feet away, hitting Coll in the chest and killing him. (Id. at 71-74, 85, 97-99,130-31, 144-45, 187-88, 190, 230, 233-34, 237, 249, 255, 271-73.) At trial, over objection, Detective Marcos Martinez ("Detective Martinez") testified that he recovered the blue Jeep, ran a license plate check on the vehicle, and learned that it was registered in Newark, New Jersey. (Id. at 282-83.) He went to the address, had a conversation with Eric Balenzuela ("Balenzuela"), and obtained a photograph of Petitioner from him. (Id.)

Following a jury trial, Petitioner was convicted as noted above. The jury acquitted Petitioner of two counts of Murder in the Second Degree (Penal Law §§ 125.25(1), (2)). He was sentenced to a prison term of fifteen years for first-degree manslaughter, and three and one-half years for second-degree possession of a weapon, to be served consecutively.

Petitioner was appointed appellate counsel, who filed a brief on Petitioner's behalf alleging that: 1) he was denied his right of confrontation by the admission of evidence that a non-testifying witness had inferentially implicated him in the shooting; 2) his right to due process was violated by comments made by the prosecutor in summation; and 3) the imposition of consecutive sentences was illegal. (See Brief for Defendant-Appellant ("Pet. Br."))

In a decision dated October 24, 2004, the Appellate Division, Second Department, unanimously affirmed petitioner's conviction, holding that the Confrontation Clause was not violated because the evidence was admitted "for the purpose of explaining the sequence of events leading to the defendant's apprehension." People v. Buenos Ruiz, 784 N.Y.S.2d 558 (2d Dept. 2004). Additionally, the court found that the sentence was neither illegal nor excessive. Id. Petitioner sought leave to appeal this decision to the Court of Appeals, which was denied on December 29, 2004. People v. Buenos Ruiz, 4 N.Y.3d 747 (2004).

In pro se papers dated December 27, 2005, Petitioner filed the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging the same claims he advanced on appeal to the Second Department. On April 14, 2006, the Government filed its opposition.

II. Discussion

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a), federal habeas review is available for a state prisoner "only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." Errors of state law are not subject to federal habeas review. See, e.g., Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991). To be entitled to habeas relief, a petitioner must first demonstrate that the conviction resulted from a state court decision that violated federal law. See, e.g., id. at 68.

In addition, a petition for a writ of habeas corpus may not be granted with respect to any claim that has been "adjudicated on the merits" in a state court unless the state court's adjudication:

(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.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

For a claim to be "adjudicated on the merits" within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), it must "finally resolv[e] the parties' claims, with res judicata effect," and it must be "based on the substance of the claim advanced, rather than on a procedural, or other, ground." Sellan v. Kuhlman, 261 F.3d 303, 311 (2d Cir. 2001). As long as "there is nothing in its decision to indicate that the claims were decided on anything but substantive grounds," a state court decision will be considered to be "adjudicated on the merits" even if it fails to mention the federal claim and no relevant federal case law is cited. See Aparicio v. Artuz, 269 F.3d 78, 94 (2d Cir. 2001); accord Jimenez v. Walker, 458 F.3d 130, 147 (2d Cir. 2006) ("When applying § 2254(d)'s 'unreasonable application' clause to silent state-court opinions, we review outcomes, not reasoning.") (citing Sellan, 261 F.3d at 311-12), cert. denied, 127 S.Ct. 976 (2007); Rosa v. McCray, 396 F.3d 210, 220 (2d Cir.) ("This standard of review applies whenever the state court has adjudicated the federal claim on the merits, regardless of whether the ...

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