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Schmitt v. Ercole

June 14, 2010

JAMES K. SCHMITT, PETITIONER,
v.
ROBERT ERCOLE, SUPERINTENDENT, GREEN HAVEN CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, RESPONDENT.



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

ORDER

I. Introduction

Pro se petitioner James K. Schmitt ("petitioner") has filed a timely petition for writ of a habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his conviction of Murder in the Second Degree (N.Y. Penal L. § 125.25(1)). Petitioner was convicted following a guilty plea before Judge Peter J. Broderick in Niagara County Court, and was subsequently sentenced to an indeterminate term of imprisonment of twenty years to life.

II. Factual Background and Procedural History

On November 21, 2002, following an argument in their Lockport home, petitioner struck his wife in the head with a baseball bat, knocking her down a staircase and killing her.

Petitioner was charged with two counts of Murder in the Second Degree (N.Y. Penal L. § 125.25(1), (2)).*fn1 Petitioner's pre-trial suppression motions were denied by the county court on August 14, 2003. See Hr'g Mins. dated 5/12/2003, 5/28/2009 & 7/31/2003; Ex. B. Petitioner subsequently pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree murder, admitting that he intentionally killed his wife with a baseball bat. Plea Mins. 6-9. The court sentenced petitioner to twenty years to life in prison on October 16, 2003. Sentencing Mins. 20-21.

Through counsel, petitioner appealed his judgment of conviction to the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, which unanimously affirmed his conviction. People v. Schmitt, 21 A.D.3d 1403 (4th Dept. 2006), lv. denied, 6 N.Y.3d 758 (2005).

He then filed a motion to vacate the judgment and sentence pursuant to New York Crim. Proc. L. ("C.P.L.") § 440.10 and § 440.20. Therein, petitioner alleged that: (1) he had been "induced to plead guilty on the mistaken belief that he would receive a sentence of fifteen years to life"; and (2) he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel, based upon counsel's "false promise from the court" that petitioner would be sentenced to less than twenty years on the minimum end of the sentencing range in exchange for his guilty plea. Ex. G. On May 3 and June 12, 2007, proceedings were held before Judge Broderick on petitioner's § 440 motion. The court denied petitioner's motion from the bench, and later issued a written decision with factual findings supporting its denial. See Hr'g Mins. dated 7/12/2003 at 8; Ex. M. Leave was denied to appeal that decision by the Fourth Department on November 7, 2007. Ex. O.

Petitioner filed the instant petition*fn2 for habeas corpus seeking relief on the following grounds: (1) the trial court did not honor the plea agreement when it sentenced petitioner to a twenty-year minimum term of imprisonment; and (2) petitioner received ineffective assistance of counsel because his attorney believed that the court would sentence petitioner to a minimum term of fifteen years, or, at most, to a seventeen or eighteen-year minimum sentence. Petitioner also requests that this Court conduct an evidentiary hearing. Pet. (Mem.) 9-13.

For the reasons that follow, I find that petitioner is not entitled to the writ, and the petition is dismissed.

III. Discussion

A. General Principles Applicable to Federal Habeas Review

1. 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 ...


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