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Gueits v. Kirkpatrick

July 14, 2010

JOHNNY GUEITS, PETITIONER-APPELLEE
v.
ROBERT KIRKPATRICK, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT,



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Respondent Robert Kirkpatrick, Superintendent of New York State's Wende Correctional Facility, appeals from the judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Brian M. Cogan, Judge) granting Johnny Gueits's petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Exercising de novo review, we hold that Gueits has failed to demonstrate that the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, was unreasonable in its application of the ineffective assistance of counsel standard set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). Accordingly, we REVERSE the district court's judgment and REMAND with instructions to dismiss the petition.

REVERSED and REMANDED.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: John M. Walker, Jr., Circuit Judge

Argued: November 30, 2009

Before: WALKER, McLAUGHLIN, and RAGGI, Circuit Judges.

Respondent Robert Kirkpatrick, Superintendent of New York State's Wende Correctional Facility, appeals from the judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Brian M. Cogan, Judge) granting Johnny Gueits's petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Exercising de novo review, we hold that Gueits failed to demonstrate that the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, was unreasonable in its application of the ineffective assistance of counsel standard set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). Accordingly, we reverse the district court's order granting Gueits's petition and remand with instructions that the petition be dismissed.

BACKGROUND

In the early hours of July 4, 2001, a woman was assaulted in the Harvard playground at 179th Place and Jamaica Avenue in Queens County, New York. Police officers and emergency medical personnel arrived at the scene at approximately 5:30 a.m. after Sunnita Jagpal called 911, from her apartment overlooking the playground, to report an ongoing assault. Police found the victim lying on the ground, naked, and seriously injured. At trial, an emergency medical technician testified that the victim told him that she had been raped by the same man who had beaten her; in a deposition, the arresting officer stated that the victim said the same thing to the nurse who treated the victim when she arrived at the hospital.*fn1

Moments after finding the victim, police saw Gueits in another part of the playground with blood -- later determined to be the victim's -- on his shoes. An officer brought Gueits to the victim as she was awaiting transport to a hospital and asked her if Gueits was the man who had attacked her. The victim responded affirmatively by nodding her head. Gueits was arrested and taken to a police precinct where he agreed to answer questions. Gueits said that he had spent the evening of July 3 and the early morning of July 4 at a bar with a friend, and that he and his friend went to the Harvard playground some time after 1:30 a.m. Gueits stated that, while he and his friend were there, an Hispanic woman entered the playground with a black man. He stated that the man attacked the woman. The woman then ran to Gueits, but Gueits pushed her away. After making that statement, Gueits provided the police with a sample of his DNA and his clothing.

Gueits was originally charged with both rape and assault. The prosecution later dropped the rape charge for lack of evidence. In particular, the DNA from semen found on the victim did not match Gueits's DNA. Thus, the state tried Gueits solely on the assault charge. He was convicted of first degree assault and sentenced to fifteen years of incarceration.

Gueits appealed his conviction to the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, claiming: insufficient evidence to support his conviction, erroneous admission of impeachment evidence, the use of impeachment evidence as evidence-in-chief, prosecutorial misconduct, and ineffective assistance of counsel. His ineffective assistance claim was based on the following claims that his trial counsel: 1) failed to present evidence of the DNA match between the semen found on the victim and that of a black male wanted for the rape of a thirteen-year-old girl in Maryland, notwithstanding trial counsel's awareness of this evidence prior to trial; 2) failed to properly object to grand jury testimony that the prosecution used to impeach Sunnita Jagpal's credibility; 3) failed to request a limiting instruction with respect to the introduction of this impeachment evidence; and 4) failed to object to alleged prosecutorial misconduct.*fn2 The Appellate Division denied Gueits's appeal in a brief order. People v. Gueits, 781 N.Y.S.2d 916 (N.Y. App. Div. 2004).

Gueits then sought leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals on two grounds. First, he argued that the prosecution should not have been permitted to impeach Jagpal with her prior grand jury testimony. Second, he argued that his trial counsel had been ineffective in: 1) failing to present the DNA match evidence; 2) failing to properly object to the introduction of the grand jury impeachment evidence; and 3) acquiescing in the jury's consideration of that impeachment evidence as evidence-in-chief. Leave to appeal was denied. People v. Gueits, 824 N.E.2d 58 (N.Y. 2004).

Gueits then filed a timely habeas corpus petition in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, arguing that the Appellate Division had unreasonably applied the Strickland standard for determining ineffective assistance of counsel. Reiterating his previous arguments, Gueits claimed that his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to put forth evidence of the DNA match, in failing to properly object to the impeachment of Jagpal, and in failing to request a limiting instruction with respect to the impeachment testimony. Magistrate Judge Orenstein found that these grounds for relief were properly exhausted and warranted habeas relief. Gueits also claimed that his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to object to the prosecutor's injection of his personal views on Jagpal's credibility during Jagpal's examination and in failing to object to improper statements made by the prosecutor in summation. The magistrate judge assumed that these last two grounds were properly exhausted, but found that, standing alone, they did not warrant the ...


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