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Sutton v. Strack

July 30, 2008

TROY SUTTON, PETITIONER,
v.
WAYNE L. STRACK, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kimba M. Wood, U.S.D.J.

OPINION AND ORDER

Petitioner Troy Sutton ("Petitioner") brings this petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (the "Petition"). Petitioner challenges his 1991 conviction in New York State Supreme Court, New York County, for conspiracy in the second degree.

Petitioner seeks habeas relief on the grounds that: (1) he was denied effective assistance because his trial counsel ("Segal") previously represented a prosecution witness ("Logan") (the "Conflict of Interest Claim"); (2) he was denied effective assistance because Segal was under investigation for various disciplinary charges at the time of Petitioner's trial, and Segal was subsequently disciplined by the Appellate Division for numerous violations (the "Discipline Claim"); (3) the trial court improperly admitted evidence of a prior uncharged crime (the "Uncharged Crime Claim"); and (4) the trial court improperly questioned witnesses and made sarcastic comments during the trial (the "Trial Court Misconduct Claim"). (Pet. ¶ 12; D.E. 2.)

I. Procedural History

A. State Court Proceedings

On October 30, 1991, Petitioner was convicted after a jury trial in New York State Supreme Court, New York County, of conspiracy in the second degree. The trial court sentenced Petitioner to an indeterminate prison term of eight and one-third to twenty-five years. See People v. Sutton, 633 N.Y.S.2d 122, 123 (N.Y. App. Div. 1995).

Petitioner appealed his conviction to the Appellate Division, First Department. On direct appeal, Petitioner argued, inter alia, the Conflict of Interest Claim and the Uncharged Crime Claim. (See Resp't Aff. Ex. B.; D.E. 8.) On October 31, 1995, the Appellate Division unanimously affirmed Petitioner's conviction. See Sutton, 633 N.Y.S.2d at 123. Petitioner filed an application for leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals, which was denied on January 4, 1996. (See Resp't Aff. Ex. D.)

Petitioner also moved to vacate his conviction pursuant to New York Criminal Procedure Law ("CPL") § 440.10. On collateral review, Petitioner argued, inter alia, the Discipline Claim and the Trial Court Misconduct Claim. (See Pet. Ex. C.) On June 27, 1997, the trial court denied Petitioner's CPL § 440.10 motion. (See id.) Petitioner moved to appeal this decision, but his motion was denied on January 15, 1998. (See Pet. Ex. D.)

B. Federal Court Proceedings

Petitioner timely filed the Petition before this Court. On February 8, 2000, Magistrate Judge Theodore H. Katz issued a Report and Recommendation (the "Report"), familiarity with which is assumed. The Report recommended that the trial "court's failure to conduct any inquiry whatsoever [into the potential conflict of interest] requires this Court to grant the petition for habeas corpus under the Second Circuit's automatic reversal rule." (Report 23; D.E. 10.) Although the Report recommended granting the Petition based on the Conflict of Interest Claim (see Report 2, 15-24, 31), it also recommended denying the Discipline Claim (see id. at 24-28), the Uncharged Crime Claim (see id. at 28-31), and the Trial Court Misconduct Claim (see id. at 10-15).

On February 2, 2001, this Court adopted the Report's recommendation and granted the Petition based on the Conflict of Interest Claim. Specifically, the Court found that "[t]he Second Circuit firmly holds that the automatic reversal rule, as relied on in this Order, represents clearly established Supreme Court precedent as set forth in Wood, Cuyler, and Holloway." Sutton v. Strack, No. 98 Civ. 6391, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1132, at *8-9 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 8, 2001). As a result, the Court did "not find it necessary to reach the other grounds" raised in the Petition.

Id. at *9.

On March 6, 2001, Respondent Wayne L. Strack ("Respondent") appealed the Court's February 2, 2001 Order. (D.E. 16.) On March 27, 2002, the Supreme Court of the United States decided Mickens v. Taylor, 535 U.S. 162 (2002) ("Mickens"), holding in relevant part that automatic reversal is not required "when the trial court neglects a duty to inquire into a potential conflict of interest." Id. at 172, n.3 (citations omitted). In light of this holding, the Second Circuit vacated the Court's February 2, 2001 Order, and remanded the case so "that [this Court] may determine in the first instance the applicability of Mickens to [P]petitioner's case." (D.E. 21.)

This Court then (1) ordered the parties to brief whether Mickens required a different result (D.E. 22); (2) directed Respondent to submit an affidavit from Segal regarding the potential conflict at issue in the Conflict of Interest Claim (D.E. 36, 39); and (3) held two hearings to address ...


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