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Watkins v. Burge

July 20, 2009

CHARLIE WATKINS, DIN 00-B-1316, PETITIONER,
v.
JOHN T. BURGE, SUPERINTENDENT OF AUBURN CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, RESPONDENT.



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

ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Petitioner Charlie Watkins has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his conviction in Erie County Court on one count each of Rape in the First Degree (N.Y. Penal Law § 135.35[1]), Sexual Abuse in the First Degree (N.Y. Penal Law § 130.65[1], Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Third Degree (N.Y. Penal Law § 265.02[1]), Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Fourth Degree (N.Y. Penal L. § 265.02[2]), Unlawful Imprisonment in the First Degree (Penal Law § 135.10), and Menacing in the Second Degree (Penal Law § 120.14[1].*fn1

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This conviction stems from an incident that occurred on July 7th, 1999. At approximately 1:15 a.m., Keisha Lane ("Lane") was walking down Broadway Street in the City of Buffalo toward her house when she met an acquaintance, Charlie Watkins ("Watkins" or "petitioner"). T. 9-10.*fn2 Lane approached Watkins, asking him for a cigarette. T. 11. Watkins said that he had one at his house, and invited Lane to walk there with him. T. 11. While Lane was waiting for the petitioner on the front porch, Watkins went inside the house, and returned with a knife in his hand, which he held to Lane's throat while he forced her inside, demanding she take off her clothes. T. 13-15. Lane refused, and Watkins put the knife to her throat again and forcibly removed her clothes. T. 15-16. Lane testified that Watkins then "got on top of me, put his penis inside my vagina." T. 18.

During intercourse, Watkins paused, got up, and went outside the house for two to three minutes. T. 20, 48. According to Lane, the petitioner returned inside the house and penetrated her again.

T. 20, 46. Approximately 20 minutes after the rape had started, Watkins got up and went outside the house a second time. Lane then ran from the house, unclothed, to summon help. She used a neighbor's phone to call the police. T. 21-22.

A bench trial was held before Justice Mario J. Rossetti in Erie County Supreme Court, which concluded on March 8, 2000. The judge read his verdict into the record during which petitioner was present with his attorney and co-counsel on March 22, 2000. The petitioner was found guilty on all counts. He was subsequently sentenced on June 2, 2000 to concurrent, determinate terms of imprisonment, the longest of which was fifteen years. Watkins raised only one issue on appeal of his conviction to the Appellate Division, Fourth Department: that he had been deprived of his state constitutional rights to be tried on charges determined by a grand jury and to have fair notice of the accusations against him. Petitioner's ("Pet'r") Appellate Br. 8-12. The basis for this argument was that Lane's testimony recounted two separate incidents of rape, and because Watkins was convicted on one count of first-degree rape, the prosecution failed to specify which of the two acts the first-degree rape count was intended to encompass. The Appellate Division, Fourth Department, rejected this contention, concluding that the "briefly interrupted act of sexual intercourse was 'part and parcel of the continuous conduct' that constituted one act of rape", and that the indictment provided Watkins with notice of the first-degree rape charge. People v. Watkins, 300 A.D.2d 1070 (4th Dept. 2002)(quoting People v. Grant, 108 A.D.2d 823 (2d Dept. 1985). Leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals was denied. People v. Watkins, 99 N.Y.2d 659 (2002).

Watkins then brought this petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons that follow, his petition is denied.

DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

Under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"), a federal court may grant habeas relief to a state prisoner only if a claim that was "adjudicated on the merits" in state court "resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States," 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), or if it "was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding." § 2254(d)(2). 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 if the state court decides a case differently than [the Supreme Court] has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 413 (2000). The phrase, "clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States," limits the law governing a habeas petitioner's claims to the holdings (not dicta) of the Supreme Court existing at the time of the relevant state-court decision. Williams, 529 U.S. at 412; accord Sevencan v. Herbert, 342 F.3d 69, 73-74 (2d Cir. 2002), cert. denied, 540 U.S. 1197 (2004).

A state court decision is based on an "unreasonable application" of Supreme Court precedent if it correctly identified the governing legal rule, but applied it in an unreasonable manner to the facts of a particular case. Williams, 529 U.S. at 413; see also id. at 408-10. "[A] federal habeas court is not empowered to grant the writ just because, in its independent judgment, it would have decided the federal law question differently." Aparicio v. Artuz, 269 F.3d 78, 94 (2d Cir. 2001). Rather, "[t]he state court's application must reflect some additional increment of incorrectness such that it may be said to be unreasonable." Id. This increment "need not be great; otherwise, habeas relief would be limited to state court decisions so far off the mark as to suggest judicial incompetence." Francis S. v. Stone, 221 F.3d 100, 111 (2d Cir.2000) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Under AEDPA, "a determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct. The [petitioner] shall have the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); see also Parsad v. Greiner, 337 F.3d 175, 181 (2d Cir.) ("The presumption of correctness is particularly important when reviewing the trial court's assessment of witness credibility."), cert. denied sub nom. Parsad v. Fischer, 540 U.S. 1091 (2003). A state court's findings "will not be overturned on factual grounds ...


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