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Deuel v. Fischer

April 23, 2010


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


Petitioner Robert T. Deuel, a state parolee appearing pro se, has filed a petition for habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in this Court. Deuel is in the custody of the New York Department of Corrections.*fn2 Respondent has answered the petition. Deuel has not filed a reply.


Deuel was charged by felony complaint with Sexual Abuse in the First Degree (N.Y. Penal Law § 130.65(1)) in the Cayuga County Court. After entering an Alford-plea of guilty,*fn3 Deuel was convicted of one count of Attempted Sexual Abuse in the First Degree (N.Y. Penal Law §§ 110.00/130.65(1)) on November 12, 2004. The Cayuga County Court sentenced Deuel to an indeterminate term of imprisonment of one and one-third to four years. Deuel timely appealed to the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, which summarily affirmed his conviction and sentence without opinion or citation to authority, and the New York Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal on May 16, 2006.*fn4

In July 2005 Deuel, appearing pro se, filed a motion to vacate his conviction under N.Y. Criminal Procedure Law § 440.10 in the Cayuga County Court. The County Court denied the motion. Deuel did not seek leave to appeal that denial.*fn5 On January 26, 2006, Deuel filed a second motion to vacate his conviction under § 440.10 in the Cayuga County Court. The Cayuga County Court denied his motion in a reasoned decision,*fn6 and the Appellate Division denied leave to appeal on February 26, 2007.*fn7 Deuel timely filed his petition for relief in this Court on April 3, 2007.


In his Petition, Deuel raises two grounds: (1) that the prosecution breached the plea agreement; and (2) he was misled and coerced into entering the plea, thereby rendering it involuntary. Respondent contends that Deuel's claims are procedurally barred. Respondent asserts no other affirmative defense.*fn8


Because the petition was filed 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. 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."*fn9 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."*fn10 The holding must also be binding upon the states; that is, the decision must be based upon constitutional grounds, not on the supervisory power of the Supreme Court over federal courts.*fn11 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.'"*fn12 When a claim falls under the "unreasonable application" prong, a state court's application of Supreme Court precedent must be objectively unreasonable, not just incorrect or erroneous.*fn13 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.*fn14 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.*fn15 Deuel "bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that his constitutional rights have been violated."*fn16

In applying this standard, this Court reviews the last reasoned decision by the state court.*fn17 In addition, the state court's findings of fact are presumed to be correct unless the petitioner rebuts this presumption by clear and convincing evidence.*fn18


A. Procedural Bar

In denying his second § 440.10 motion, in which Deuel raised the issues he raises in his petition before this Court, the Cayuga County Court held:

The defendant alleges that the plea was obtained through coercion and that he did not enter his plea freely and voluntarily. The People, in its opposition, include an appellate brief filed in the Fourth Department which is currently pending and wherein the defendant asserts that his sentence was harsh and excessive. The appeal does not address the argument in the instant motion. Furthermore, the defendant previously moved this court to vacate the conviction on the basis that the defendant was not afforded effective assistance of counsel. Said motion was denied by this Court on September 12, 2005.

The Court has reviewed the transcript which does not support a finding that the plea was obtained through coercion. When the defendant does not have a meritorious claim, the Court may dismiss the defendant's motion pursuant to CPL §440.10(3)(c) when he failed to raise the issue on a prior motion. Therefore, defendant's motion must be denied.*fn19

Respondent contends that denial of the § 440.10 motion on the basis of § 440.10[3](c) procedurally bars Deuel from raising the issues in a federal habeas proceeding.*fn20 This Court agrees. Section 440.10[3] provides:

Notwithstanding the provisions of subdivision one, the court may deny a motion to vacate a judgment when . . .

(c) Upon a previous motion made pursuant to this section, the defendant was in a position adequately to raise the ground or issue underlying the present motion but did not do so.

Although the court may deny the motion under any of the circumstances specified in this subdivision, in the interest of justice and for good cause shown it may in its discretion grant the motion if it is otherwise meritorious and vacate the judgment.

Federal courts "will not review a question of federal law decided by a state court if the decision of that court rests on a state law ground that is independent of the federal question and adequate to support the judgment."*fn21 This Court may not reach the merits of procedurally defaulted claims, that is, claims "in which the petitioner failed to follow applicable state procedural rules in raising the claims . . . ."*fn22 New York Criminal Procedure Law § 440.10[3](c), a default procedural rule established by statute, is an independent and adequate state ground precluding review by this Court.*fn23 Thus, because Deuel procedurally defaulted on his claims in the state courts, he is precluded from now asserting those claims in a federal habeas proceeding. As discussed below, even if this Court were to reach the merits of Deuel's claims, he would not prevail.

B. Merits

Where there is no reasoned decision of the state court addressing the ground or grounds raised on the merits, this Court must decide the issues de novo on the record before it.*fn24 In so doing, because it is not clear that it did not so do, the Court assumes that the state court decided the claim on the merits and the decision rested on federal grounds.*fn25 This Court gives the assumed decision of the state court the same AEDPA deference that it would give a reasoned decision of the state court.*fn26

Deuel faces a high hurdle in seeking to overturn a guilty plea on collateral review. The Supreme Court has held that "[a] guilty plea, if induced by promises or threats which deprive it of the character of a voluntary act, is void."*fn27 Indeed, the Supreme Court has instructed that, with regard to voluntariness, a guilty plea "must stand unless induced by threats (or promises to discontinue improper harassment), misrepresentation (including unfulfilled or unfulfillable promises), or perhaps ...

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