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Coles v. Laclair

June 26, 2009

DEVON COLES, PETITIONER,
v.
DARWIN LACLAIR, RESPONDENT.



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

MEMORANDUM DECISION

Petitioner Devon Coles, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, filed a petition for habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Sanchez is currently in the custody of the New York Department of Correctional Services, incarcerated at the Great Meadow Correctional Facility. Respondent has answered; Coles has replied.

I. BACKGROUND/PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

After a jury trial Coles was convicted in the Albany County Court of Murder in the Second Degree (N.Y. Penal Law § 125.25(2)). The trial court sentenced Cole to an indefinite term of imprisonment of 25 years to life. Coles timely appealed his conviction to the New York Appellate Division, Third Department, which affirmed his conviction on March 9, 2006, and the New York Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal on June 14, 2006.*fn1 Coles timely filed his petition for relief in this Court on October 16, 2006.

II. GROUNDS RAISED/DEFENSES

In his petition, Coles raises two grounds: (1) denial of effective assistance of counsel; and (2) juror misconduct in failing to truthfully disclose her employment during voir dire. Respondent asserts that both grounds are unexhausted. Respondent asserts no other affirmative defense.*fn2

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Because Coles filed his 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 court was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States" at the time the state court rendered its decision or "was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding."*fn3 The Supreme Court has explained that "clearly established Federal law" in § 2254(d)(1) "refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme Court] as of the time of the relevant state-court decision."*fn4 Thus, where holdings of the Supreme Court regarding the issue presented on habeas review are lacking, "it cannot be said that the state court 'unreasonabl[y] appli[ed] clearly established Federal law.'"*fn5

When a claim falls under the "unreasonable application" prong, a state court's application of the Supreme Court precedent must be objectively unreasonable, not just incorrect or erroneous.*fn6 The Supreme Court has made clear that the objectively unreasonable standard is a substantially higher threshold than simply believing the state court determination was incorrect.*fn7 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.*fn8

In applying this standard, this Court reviews the last reasoned decision by the state court.*fn9

Under AEDPA, the state court's findings of fact are presumed to be correct unless the petitioner rebuts this presumption by clear and convincing evidence.*fn10

IV. DISCUSSION

Ground 1: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

Coles argues that trial counsel was ineffective when he attempted to introduce potentially exculpatory evidence in the form of a hearsay statement, the admissibility of which was contrary to well-established rules of evidence. The ...


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