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Williams v. Artus

September 13, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: VICTOR E. Bianchini United States Magistrate Judge


I. Introduction

Petitioner Antwain Williams ("Williams" or "Petitioner"), proceeding pro se, seeks a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on the basis that his state court conviction was unconstitutional. See Docket No. 1. The parties have consented to disposition of the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). Presently before the Court is Respondent's motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Docket Nos. 8-1, 8-2.

II. Factual Background and Procedural History

Following a jury trial in Ontario County Court of New York State, Williams was convicted on October 3, 2003, of charges of third degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and second degree criminal possession of a weapon. The Appellate Division, Fourth Department, of New York State Supreme Court unanimously affirmed his conviction on direct appeal on September 30, 2005. People v. Williams, 21 A.D.3d 1401 (App. Div. 4th Dept. 2005). Leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals was denied on November 22, 2005. People v.Williams, 5 N.Y.3d 885 (N.Y. 2005).

Williams filed his federal habeas petition in this Court on May 31, 2006, claiming that his conviction was unconstitutionally obtained through the state's introduction of evidence seized in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Specifically, Williams has divided his Fourth Amendment allegations into three claims alleging that his conviction was obtained: (1) by "use of evidence gained in violation of his Constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures"; (2) by "use of evidence obtained due to an unlawful arrest"; and (3) in violation of "the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine". Petition ("Pet.") at 3-4 (Docket No. 1). As Respondent points out, all three claims are based on the same allegedly unlawful arrest.*fn1 Respondent's Memorandum of Law ("Resp't Mem.") at 1-2 n.1 (Docket No. 8-2). Williams states in his petition that he exhausted his Fourth Amendment claims on direct appeal. Resp't Mem. at 1-2 (Docket No. 8-2) (citing Pet. at 2-3 (Docket No. 1)).

By Order filed June 12, 2006, the Court (Elfvin, D.J.) granted Respondent permission to file, on or before July 12, 2006, a "motion to dismiss the petition, accompanied by appropriate exhibits which demonstrate that an answer to the petition is unnecessary." See Order (Docket No. 3).*fn2 Respondent then filed a timely motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to dismiss the petition for failure to state a claim on which federal habeas relief can be granted. See Resp't Mem. at 2 (Docket No. 8-2). Respondent argues that dismissal of the petition is warranted because the petition raises only alleged violations of Williams' Fourth Amendment rights, which are not cognizable on federal habeas review under the doctrine of Stone v. Powell, 428 U.S. 465, 481-82 (1976). Respondent asserts that based the facts alleged by Petitioner, along with the trial transcripts attached to the petition and the Appellate Division's memorandum and order affirming the conviction on direct appeal "conclusively establish" that Williams "received a 'full and fair opportunity'" to litigate his Fourth Amendment claims in state court. Resp't Mem. at 3 (Docket No. 8-2). In opposing Respondent's motion, Williams concedes that he took advantage of the opportunity to assert his Fourth Amendment claims in state court but disputes the correctness of the state courts' decisions, arguing that this demonstrates that there was an "unconscionable breakdown" in the process . See Petitioner's Response ("Pet'r Resp.") (Docket No. 10); see also Petitioner's Affidavit (Docket No. 17).

III. Discussion

"[W]here the State has provided an opportunity for full and fair litigation of a Fourth Amendment claim, the Constitution does not require that a state prisoner be granted federal habeas corpus relief on the ground that evidence obtained in an unconstitutional search or seizure was introduced at his trial." Stone v. Powell, 428 U.S. at 482. The Second Circuit has explained that in Stone v. Powell, all that the Supreme Court required was that the state have provided the state prisoner the opportunity to fully and fairly litigate his Fourth Amendment claim. Gates v. Henderson, 568 F.2d 830, 839 (2d Cir. 1977) (en banc). "If the state provides no corrective procedures at all to redress Fourth Amendment violations, federal habeas corpus remains available. It may further be that even where the state provides the process but in fact the defendant is precluded from utilizing it by reason of an unconscionable breakdown in that process, the federal intrusion may still be warranted." Id. at 840. The focus of the inquiry as to whether there has been an "unconscionable breakdown" in the state's corrective process must be on "the existence and application of the corrective procedures themselves" rather than on the "outcome resulting from the application of adequate state court corrective procedures." Capellan v. Riley, 975 F.2d 67, 71 (2d Cir. 1992); see also accord Graham v. Costello, 299 F.3d 129, 134 (2d Cir. 2002) ("[O]nce it is established that a petitioner has had an opportunity to litigate his or her Fourth Amendment claim (whether or not he or she took advantage of the state's procedure), the court's denial of the claim is a conclusive determination that the claim will never present a valid basis for federal habeas relief. . . . [T]he bar to federal habeas review of Fourth Amendment claims is permanent and incurable absent a showing that the state failed to provide a full and fair opportunity to litigate the claim[.]").

Respondent argues that no "unconscionable breakdown" has occurred as Williams does not and cannot contend that New York failed to provide a corrective procedure to redress his alleged Fourth Amendment claim. See Resp't Mem. at 4 (Docket No. 8-2) (citing Pet. at 7-9, 14-15, 23; Ex. A) (Docket No. 1); see also Pet'r Resp. at 1(Docket No. ). This is because Williams actually took advantage of the opportunity to challenge the legality of his arrest by means of New York's procedure for litigating Fourth Amendment claims, embodied in N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 7 10. 10 et seq., which had been held to be "'facially adequate.'" Capellan, 975 F.2d at 70 n. 1 (quoting Holmes v. Scully, 706 F. Supp. 195, 201 (E.D.N.Y. 1989) and citing Gates, 568 F.2d at 837 & n. 4; Shaw v. Scully, 654 F. Supp. 859, 864 (S.D.N.Y. 1987)). Williams acknowledges that he had the opportunity to present, and did present, the same facts and the same arguments to the state courts that he now asserts in this federal habeas proceeding. Resp't Mem. at 4 (Docket No. 8-2) (citing Pet. at 6, 27) (Docket No. 1).

Williams asserts that his Fourth Amendment claims warrant an exception to the Stone v. Powell doctrine because "the Appellate Division neglected to address his claim of 'reasonableness' in connection with the stopping of his car via the use of explosives, along with the added fact that the Appellate Division simply affirmed the trial courts [sic] unsupported decision of probable cause to arrest." Pet'r Resp. at 1 (Docket No. ). Williams contends that the Appellate Division failed "entirely to address [his] substantial Constitutional claim" regarding the alleged use of excessive force to detain his vehicle*fn3 and that evidences an "unconscionable breakdown" in the state's corrective procedures. Id. at 3 (Docket No. ).

On direct appeal, the Appellate Division held that the "police had probable cause to believe that defendant was engaged in or about to engage in criminal activities as he approached the informant's house in a vehicle, and thus the police had probable cause to stop the vehicle[.]" People v. Williams, 21 A.D.3d at 1403. The Appellate Division further concluded, "The determination of the suppression court is entitled to great weight and we perceive no reason herein to disturb that determination." Id. (citing People v Prochilo, 41 N.Y.2d 759, 761 (N.Y. 1977)). Importantly, Williams does not contend that he was denied the opportunity to present the factual and legal grounds for his excessive force claim to the suppression court or to the Appellate Division on direct appeal. Thus, his only basis for contending that the state courts did not conduct a reasoned inquiry into his claim is that the Appellate Division did not explicitly discuss his claim of "'unreasonable search and seizure' in reference to the methods employed in stopping his car" when it affirmed the suppression court's decision regarding the search and seizure. Pet'r Resp. at 2 (Docket No. ). Second Circuit authority refutes this argument, however. In Capellan v. Reilly, the Second Circuit held that "the mere fact the Appellate Division did not explicitly address the [petitioner's Fourth Amendment] claim but rather adhered to its original outcome without comment concerning [certain case law] does not mean that the Appellate Division failed to conduct "'a reasoned method of inquiry into relevant questions of fact and law." 975 F.2d at 71 (quoting Shaw v. Scully, 654 F. Supp. at 864) (quotation omitted in original; other citation omitted)). The Second Circuit explained that were it to "infer that an unconscionable breakdown occurred . . . because the Appellate Division issued a summary affirmance rather than a written opinion," id., not only would that "reflect doubt regarding the capabilities of the New York courts as 'fair and competent forums for the adjudication of federal constitutional rights,'" id. (quoting Powell, 428 U.S. at 493 n. 35), but it would also place it "in the position of dictating to state courts that they must issue opinions explicitly addressing the issues presented or else face 'second guessing' by the federal courts[,]" id. As the court noted in Capellan, the Supreme Court has "pointedly instructed" the federal courts that they "have no power to tell state courts how they must write their opinions" and may "'not impose on state courts the responsibility for using particular language in every case in which a state prisoner presents a federal claim.'" Id. (quoting Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722 (1991)). Thus, under the authority of Capellan v. Reilly, 975 F.2d at 71, a summary affirmance in which a Fourth Amendment claim is not explicitly addressed does not prove that the state court failed to conduct an inquiry into the claim and is insufficient to establish that an "unconscionable breakdown" in the state court's corrective process occurred. The Court therefore rejects Williams' argument.

To avoid the preclusive effect of Stone v. Powell, Williams argues that he actually is "attack[ing] the procedures utilized by the State Courts in reaching the results of the decisions rendered upon his Constitutional claims" and states that "[n]ever does he attack the results reached." Pet'r Resp. at 1 (Docket No. ) (citations omitted). The remainder of Williams' pleadings belie that assertion, however. There is no question that Williams is arguing that the state courts erroneously decided his motion to suppress, and he is requesting that this Court conduct a de novo factual review of his claims. The relief requested, however, is expressly forbidden by the Stone v. Powell doctrine, as the Second Circuit has explained many times: A petitioner's mere dissatisfaction or disagreement with the outcome of a suppression motion is not sufficient to establish that an "unconscionable breakdown" occurred in the existing process in violation of the petitioner's Fourth Amendment rights under the Constitution. Capellan, 975 F.2d at 71 ("[T]o the extent that [petitioner] claims that the Appellate Division erred in its ruling . . . , this would not give us authority to review his claims since a mere disagreement with the outcome of a state court ruling is not the equivalent of an unconscionable breakdown in the state's corrective process.") (emphasis supplied); Gates v. Henderson, 568 F.2d at 840 ("Stone v. Powell . . . holds that we have no authority to review the state record and grant the writ simply because we disagree with the result reached by the state courts.").*fn4

Here, as noted above, Williams took full advantage of the available state process by presenting his Fourth Amendment claim at both the suppression hearing and on direct appeal, and he has not proved that the state courts failed to conduct a reasoned inquiry into his Fourth Amendment claims. Williams' mere disagreement with the outcome of the state courts' rulings "is not the equivalent of an unconscionable breakdown in the state's corrective process." Capellan, 975 F.2d at 72; accord, e.g., Watkins v. Perez, No. 05 Civ. 477(GEL), 2007 WL 1344163, *23 (S.D.N.Y. May 30, 2007) (holding that without more, rejection by state appellate court of petitioner's Fourth Amendment claims, is not an "unconscionable breakdown" in the state's corrective process; noting that a "habeas court cannot grant relief simply because it may disagree with the state court's resolution of the claim");; Huntley v. Superintendent, No. 9:00CV191, 2007 WL 319846, at *8 (N.D.N.Y. Jan. 30, 2007); Gonzalez v. Superintendent, Sullivan Corr. Fac., 761 F. Supp. 973, *977 (E.D.N.Y. 1991) (state court's denial of petitioner's request for a probable cause hearing on the basis that insufficient facts were asserted to warrant such a hearing did not amount to "unconscionable breakdown" in ...

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