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Walker v. Zon

July 13, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge



Petitioner Calvin Walker ("Walker" or "Petitioner") filed this pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his conviction in Erie County Court. Petitioner claims that (1) the trial jury reached its verdict against the weight of the evidence, (2) he was denied effective assistance of counsel in that his attorney was subject to a conflict of interest, and (3) witnesses identified him based on unduly suggestive photo arrays.

For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that Petitioner's claims are either improper or without merit. Petitioner's § 2254 petition is therefore dismissed.


At approximately 5:00pm on June 12, 1999, Thomas Zeigler ("Zeigler") and Petitioner were riding bicycles on Landon Street in the city of Buffalo, New York. (T. 205-06, 660.)*fn1 At the same time, Timothy Love ("Timothy") was driving an automobile down Landon Street with Cardel Love ("Cardel") as his passenger. As Timothy and Cardel approached Zeigler and Petitioner, the two pairs exchanged heated words regarding who had the right of way. Timothy and Cardel ultimately made their way around Zeigler and Petitioner and parked in front of 165 Landon Street, a few houses from where the heated argument took place. (T. 499-502.) Timothy and Cardel exited their vehicle and approached 165 Landon Street. Zeigler and Petitioner then rode up to Timothy and Cardel and continued the argument. (T. 502.) At some point during the argument in front of 165 Landon Street, Zeigler discharged a handgun, hitting Cardel in the leg. (T. 505, 663-64, 749.) According to eyewitnesses James Nelson and Eugene Wofford ("Wofford"), Zeigler removed the handgun from his own clothing. (T. 502, 590.) However, Timothy and Cardel testified that Petitioner handed the firearm to Zeigler. (T. 662, 746.)

Prior to trial, Petitioner was identified, inter alia, in photo line-ups presented to Cardel and Wofford by officers of the Buffalo Police Department. (T. 90-91, 755, 810-11.) On March 23, 2000, Petitioner was convicted in Erie County Court of first degree attempted assault, second degree criminal possession of a weapon, first degree attempted robbery, two counts of second degree attempted robbery, and second degree attempted assault. (T. 1072-73.) Petitioner was then sentenced to an indeterminate period of imprisonment with a maximum of life and a minimum of sixteen years.

(T. 1082.)

On appeal, the New York State Appellate Division, Fourth Department, upheld Petitioner's conviction. The Appellate Division found that the county court did not err in discharging a sworn juror; Petitioner was not denied effective assistance of counsel based on his attorney's alleged conflict of interest since Petitioner understood the potential conflict and waived it after appropriate inquiry by the court pursuant to People v. Gomberg. Petitioner specifically agreed to continued representation by his counsel. Also, the identifications made by eyewitnesses of Petitioner from a lineup and a photo array were valid. Additionally, contrary to Petitioner's assertion, the verdict was not against the weight of the evidence. People v. Walker, 2 A.D.3d 1358 (4th Dept. 2003). Petitioner sought to appeal that decision, however, the New York Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal. People v. Walker, 3 N.Y.3d 650 (2004).

Following the denial by the Court of Appeals, Walker filed this federal habeas corpus petition, in which he makes three claims. See Pet. for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Docket No. 1 ("Petition"). First, Petitioner claims that the trial jury's verdict was against the weight of the evidence. Second, Petitioner claims that his attorney was subject to a conflict of interest that led to ineffective assistance of counsel. Third and last, Petitioner claims that Cardel Love and Eugene Wofford identified him in photo arrays that were unduly suggestive. Respondent answered the petition, asserting no procedural bars, but rather arguing against Petitioner's claims on the merits. See Mem. in Supp. of Answer, Docket No. 7.


I. Standard of Review

In reviewing a state prisoner's habeas corpus petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, a federal district court makes an independent determination as to whether the petitioner is in custody in violation of his rights under the Constitution or any laws and treaties of the United States. Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 730 (1991), reh'g denied, 501 U.S. 1277, (1991). A federal court does not function as an appellate court to review matters within the jurisdiction of the state, or to review rulings and decisions of state trial and appellate courts when it reviews a state prisoner's habeas petition. Rather, the court only determines whether the proceedings in state court amount to a violation of federal constitutional rights. Id. Federal review of a state court conviction is limited to errors of federal constitutional magnitude which denied a criminal defendant the right to a fundamentally fair trial. Cupp v. Naughton, 414 U.S. 141, 144 (1973).

When a habeas claim has been adjudicated in state court, the habeas court may not grant relief unless the state court decision was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or... 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)(1) and (2). "Clearly established" federal law "refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta of [the U.S. Supreme] Court's decisions as of the time of the relevant state-court decisions." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000). A state court decision is contrary to clearly established federal law if the state court "arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law" or "confronts facts that are materially ...

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