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Scott v. Perez

July 22, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James K. Singleton, Jr. United States District Judge


Petitioner Maijia Scott, a state prisoner appearing pro se, has petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner is currently in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services incarcerated at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.


Scott was convicted, upon a guilty plea, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Schenectady County, to Murder in the Second Degree (New York Pen. Law § 125.25(1), Hindering Prosecution in the First Degree (N.Y. Pen. Law § 205.65), and four counts of Tampering with Physical Evidence (N.Y. Pen. Law § 215.40(2)). On January 10, 2000, the court sentenced Scott to 20 years to life imprisonment on the second-degree murder charge, to be served concurrently with two and one-third to seven years imprisonment on the first-degree hindering prosecution charge, and one and one-third to four years imprisonment on the four counts of evidence tampering.

Scott appealed her conviction to the Appellate Division, Third Department, which affirmed her conviction and sentence on February 24, 2005, and the New York Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal on December 5, 2005. People v. Scott, 790 N.Y.S.2d 286 (N.Y.A.D.), lv. denied, 843 N.E.2d 1166 (N.Y. 2005) (Table). Scott timely filed her petition in this Court on November 7, 2006.


Because Scott filed her petition after April 24, 1996, it is governed by the standard of review set forth in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Consequently, this Court cannot grant relief unless the decision of the state courts was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States" or "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); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405--406 (2000); see Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 70-73 (2003) (explaining this standard). In applying this standard, this Court reviews the last reasoned decision by the state court, Jones v. Stinson, 229 F.3d 112, 118 (2d Cir. 2000), which in this case was that of the Appellate Division affirming Scott's conviction. In addition, the state court's findings of fact are presumed to be correct unless Scott rebuts this presumption by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003). Where there is no reasoned decision of the state court addressing the ground or grounds raised by Scott on the merits and no independent state grounds exist for not addressing those grounds, this Court must decide the issues de novo on the record before it. See Spears v. Greiner, 459 F.3d 200, 203-04 (2d Cir. 2006).

To the extent that Scott alleges errors of state law, they are beyond the purview of this Court in deciding a petition for federal habeas corpus relief. This Court may only address violations of federal law. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67--68 (1991) ("We have stated many times that federal habeas corpus relief does not lie for errors of state law. Today, we reemphasize that it is not the province of a federal habeas court to re-examine state-court determinations on state-law questions.") (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). It is a fundamental precept of dual federalism that the states possess primary authority for defining and enforcing the criminal law. See Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107, 128 (1982). It is also presumed that the state court knew and correctly applied state law. See Walton v. Arizona, 497 U.S. 639, 653 (1990), overruled on other grounds by Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002).

Finally, in a federal habeas proceeding, the standard under which this Court must assess the prejudicial impact of constitutional error in a state-court criminal trial is whether the error had a substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict. Fry v. Piler, 551 U.S. ___, ___, 127 S.Ct. 2321, 2328 (2007) (adopting the standard set forth in Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 637--38 (1993)).


In her petition Scott raises seven grounds: (1) "defense counsel failed to protect [her] rights when [she] was coerced [into waiving her right to] a suppression hearing"; (2) that defense counsel did not "effectively represent [her] during sentencing"; (3) her plea was not knowingly, willingly, and intelligently made because she pled guilty because she was instructed to do so by her defense counsel, she did not understand the charges or her sentence, and the prosecutor threatened her with a sentence of 64 years to life sentence; (4) she "plead[ed] guilty to unindicted crimes" concerning "the attempted murder of Katrina Walton"; (5) defense counsel was ineffective because he failed to notify petitioner of her right to appeal; (6) her guilty plea allocution did not make out the elements of intentional murder; and (7) the indictment contained "multiplicitous and duplicitous" counts.

Respondent contends that four of Scott's claims are unexhausted and procedurally barred: The first, second, and fifth because they were not properly raised in her application for leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals and the seventh because it was not raised in constitutional terms before either the Appellate Division or in her application for leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals.


A. Guilty Plea

Three grounds relate to Scott's guilty plea: (1) whether it was freely and voluntarily given; (2) she pleaded guilty to a crime for which she was not indicted; and (3) her plea allocution failed to make out the elements of an intentional murder. Relevant excerpts from the ...

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