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Perkins v. McGinnis

September 10, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Denise Cote, District Judge


Rondelle Perkins ("Perkins") brings this timely pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his conviction on one count of Attempted Murder in the Second Degree, N.Y. Penal Law §§ 110.00, 125.25(1), one count of Assault in the First Degree, id. § 120.10(1), one count of Robbery in the Second Degree, id. § 160.10(1), and one count of Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree, id. § 265.03(2), principally based on the prosecutor's exercise of a single peremptory challenge at trial. This case was referred to Magistrate Judge Douglas F. Eaton for a report and recommendation ("Report"). The Report was issued on June 27, 2008, and it recommends that the writ be denied and the petition dismissed on the ground that Perkins' claims are without merit. This Opinion adopts the Report.

I. Background

The evidence at trial established the following:

On October 19, 2000, Earl Harrell confronted Perkins and Rodney Bailey in a "drug den" apartment at 518 West 148th Street in Harlem and complained that Perkins and Bailey were competing with him in the drug trade. After a struggle, Harrell was shot and his jewelry was removed from his body. Following an investigation, Perkins and Bailey were arrested and charged with one count of second degree attempted murder, two counts of first degree robbery, one count of second degree robbery, two counts of first degree assault, and one count of second degree criminal possession of a weapon.

A joint trial commenced in the New York Supreme Court, New York County, before Justice Budd G. Goodman, on April 3, 2002. Before jury selection began, the prosecutor filed a motion seeking the admission of uncharged crimes evidence against Perkins. The prosecutor sought to introduce evidence of Perkins' drug dealing at the incident location and his possession of a .38 caliber black revolver at the incident location one to two weeks before Harrell was shot. The prosecutor argued that the evidence was admissible to establish Perkins' intent to cause serious physical injury or death to Harrell, Perkins' motive and opportunity to commit the crime, the relationship between Perkins and Harrell, and the identity of Perkins. According to the prosecutor, the evidence would also serve to rebut any self-defense claim Perkins might make at trial. Counsel for Perkins objected to the prosecutor's motion, contending that the evidence was inadmissible both because it was irrelevant and because it was unduly prejudicial. The court granted the prosecutor's motion, finding that the probative value of the evidence outweighed any prejudice and that the evidence was "necessary to complete the narrative and to provide a complete and accurate picture of the events which led to the crimes charged."

During jury selection, the first voir dire panel contained eighteen jurors, two of whom were Hispanic and one of whom was African American. These three jurors are at issue in Perkins' petition. Prospective juror Donna Lopez, who is Hispanic, affirmed that there was no reason why she could not serve as a juror in this case, that she had no problem with the trial schedule, and that she could speak and understand English. She stated that her stepson had been convicted of a felony and was currently imprisoned, but that his predicament would not affect her ability to serve as a juror. Under questioning by defense counsel, Lopez stated that she believed her stepson had been falsely accused of a crime, which made her "[v]ery upset" and "angry."

Prospective juror Albert Dearmas, who is Hispanic, also affirmed that he was capable of serving on the jury. He stated that he did not have any problem "relating" to Lopez's statement that she believed that her son had been falsely accused of a crime. During its examination of Dearmas, the court explored a concern that Dearmas was ineligible for jury service because he did not live in New York County. It was determined, however, that Dearmas lived in the Marble Hill neighborhood, which, the court found, "is considered part of Manhattan . . . for jurisdictional purposes."

Prospective juror Libby Rockington, who is black, stated that she was capable of serving on the jury. She informed the court that she had been arrested when she was younger for disorderly conduct, but she had "gotten over" that arrest. She also described an extensive professional background and outside interest in law, medicine, and forensics, but confirmed that she would keep her specialized medical knowledge to herself during jury deliberations.

The prosecutor struck Lopez, Dearmas, and Rockington using peremptory challenges, and defense counsel raised a Batson challenge. The court observed that each of the three challenged jurors was either black or Hispanic, and asked the prosecutor "to explain to this Court why you've challenged those jurors since there's no other blacks or Hispanics on the panel." The prosecutor explained that he struck Lopez because she had stated that her son had been falsely accused of a crime. The court said that it understood the objection, and that it didn't "have a problem" striking Lopez. As to Dearmas, the prosecutor stated, "I don't think he was attentive and paid attention [sic], and he continued to rattle off questions and five jurors told him to stop talking . . . ." As to Rockington, the prosecutor stated that she "got her information from TV" and that his perception was that Rockington was "someone who was a little bit out there."

Counsel for Perkins contended that the prosecutor had not provided sufficient, race-neutral reasons for striking Dearmas and Rockington.*fn1 At this point, the trial judge stated that he was going to "exercise some discretion here":

I can understand that Mr. Dearmas was a little spaced out. However, I don't see any purpose for excusing Ms. Rockington at all. I'm going to overrule the People's challenge and she will be seated as a juror.

The Batson colloquy concluded with the judge's statement.

Among other evidence adduced by the prosecution at trial, Harrell testified and identified Perkins and Bailey as his assailants. Bailey, Harrell testified, shot him in the chest, and Perkins removed jewelry from his neck and fingers. When he was arrested, Bailey was wearing Harrell's stolen necklace. Two other eyewitnesses also identified Bailey and Perkins as the assailants; one of them testified that he saw Perkins hand Bailey a black revolver before Bailey shot ...

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