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Bennefield v. Kirkpatrick

October 5, 2010

ADAM BENNEFIELD, PETITIONER,
v.
SUPERINTENDENT ROBERT KIRKPATRICK, WENDE CORRECTIONAL FACILITY SUPERINTENDENT, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: VICTOR E. Bianchini United States Magistrate Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

I. Background

By a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, pro se petitioner Adam Bennefield seeks release from custody pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 and challenges his conviction, following a guilty plea, to kidnapping and related charges. The conviction here at issue stems from an incident on March 2, 2000, in which petitioner crashed the car he was driving into another vehicle occupied by his ex-fiancée, Tara Rene Barber ("Barber"), and Takina Willis ("Willis"). The vehicle petitioner was driving was stolen. Petitioner then ordered the two women out of their car at gunpoint and abducted them by removing them to his automobile. After the abduction, and while the two victims were passengers in the moving car driven by petitioner, one victim (Willis) jumped from the car, which was moving at fifty miles per hour--in order to escape. The other victim, who remained in the car (Barber), told petitioner that she was pregnant with his child for fear that he would otherwise kill her. The abduction ended without injury to Barber. Petitioner subsequently was charged with two counts of second degree kidnapping, under New York Penal Law ("P.L.") § 135.20 (counts one and two); first degree criminal use of a firearm, under P.L. § 265.09-1(b) (count three); two counts of first degree unauthorized use of a vehicle, under P.L.§ 165.08 (counts four and five); second degree burglary, under P.L. § 140.25-2 (count six); second degree unlawful imprisonment, under P.L. § 135.05 (count seven); third degree burglary, under P.L § 140.20 (count eight); and third degree robbery, under P.L. § 160.05 (count nine).

On September 15, 2000, while in custody for the kidnapping charges, in addition to a probation violation, defendant escaped from the Erie County Correctional Facility. Consequently, after his re-arrest he was charged in another indictment with escape in the first degree (P.L. § 205.15).

On September 20, 2000, the day trial was set to commence, petitioner elected to plead guilty to two counts of attempted kidnapping under P.L.§§ 110.00 and 135.20 and one count of escape, under P.L. § 205.15. He was subsequently sentenced to concurrent determinate sentences of fifteen (15) years incarceration on each of the kidnapping counts and a consecutive indeterminate term of two (2) to six (6) years on the escape charge, for an aggregate sentence of seventeen (17) to twenty-one (21) years.

On appeal, appellate counsel presented the following three points: (1) petitioner's federal and state due process rights were violated because the guilty pleas were entered into involuntarily; (2) petitioner's waiver of appellate rights was invalid; and (3) petitioner's sentence was harsh and excessive. On February 4, 2005, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department unanimously affirmed the judgment. People v Bennefield , 306 A.D.2d 911, (4th Dep't. 2005). The court held that petitioner voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently waived his right to appeal and that the waiver encompassed defendant's contention that the sentences imposed on the convictions in both appeals were harsh and severe. Lastly, the court held that petitioner, following a psychiatric examination, was found to be competent on two occasions, including two days before the plea proceedings, and nothing in the record showed that he was not mentally fit to proceed. Consequently, the Fourth Department held, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in declining to order another competency examination. On February 9, 2005, the petitioner appealed the issue of the voluntariness of his plea and argued that the trial court failed to adequately insure that petitioner was knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waiving a psychiatric defense by pleading guilty. The New York Court of Appeals denied petitioner's leave application on September 18, 2003. People v Bennefield , 100 N.Y.2d 617 (N.Y. 2005).

On January 27, 2005, petitioner filed a motion to vacate the judgment and vacate his sentence under both New York Criminal Procedure Law ("C.P.L.") § 440.10 and § 440.20. In the motion, petitioner argued that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel because his attorney failed to assert extreme emotional disturbance or mental illness as a defense and failed to advise petitioner about the mandatory term of post-release supervision; that his conviction was obtained in violation of the Fifth Amendment's double jeopardy clause; and that the sentence imposed was illegal, invalid, and unauthorized by the law. The trial court denied all aspects of petitioner's motion. Petitioner sought leave from the Appellate Division, Fourth Department to appeal the denial of his motion. In an order dated May 10, 2006, the Fourth Department denied petitioner leave to appeal.

In the instant habeas corpus petition, petitioner presents four grounds for relief: (1) that he received ineffective assistance of counsel; (2) his plea was procured illegally; (3) double jeopardy attached to his convictions; and (4) that he was denied constitutional rights because his plea was taken in the judge's chambers instead of an open courtroom.

II. Discussion

A. General Legal Principles

Section 2254(a), specifies that federal habeas review is only available for state prisoners if they are in custody in violation of the constitution or laws or treaties of the United States. It should be noted that federal habeas corpus review is not available for errors of state law. Lewis v Jeffers , 497 U.S. 764, 780, (1990); 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). In order to obtain federal habeas review, it is necessary for the petition to contain a federal constitutional issue.

Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), a federal court may grant a writ of habeas corpus to a state prisoner on a claim that was "adjudicated on the merits" in state court only if it decides that the adjudication of the claim (1) 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; or (2) resulted in a decision that was 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); see also , e.g. , Greiner v Wells , 417 F.3d 305 (2d Cir. 2005), quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

The Supreme Court has held that federal courts shall "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." Coleman v. Thompson , 501 U.S. 722, 729 (1991) (citations omitted). "This rule applies whether the state law ground is substantive or procedural." Id. (citations omitted). The independent and adequate state ground doctrine may bar federal habeas review "when a state court declined to address a prisoner's federal claims because the prisoner had failed to meet a state procedural requirement" for in such cases "the state judgment rests on independent and adequate state procedural grounds." Id. (citing, inter alia , Wainwright v. Sykes , 433 U.S. 72, 81, 87 (1977)). Thus, an adequate and independent finding of procedural default precludes federal habeas review of the federal claim, unless the habeas petitioner can show "cause" for the default and "prejudice" ...


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