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Christopher Prince v. William Lee

April 22, 2011

CHRISTOPHER PRINCE, PETITIONER,
v.
WILLIAM LEE, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John Gleeson, United States District Judge:

ONLINE PUBLICATION ONLY

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Christopher Prince petitions for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Prince challenges his April 2004 conviction in New York State Supreme Court, Queens County, of criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree pursuant to New York Penal Law § 265.02(4).*fn1 Appearing pro se, Prince seeks habeas relief on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence supporting his conviction and he was denied effective assistance of appellate counsel. Oral argument was heard on April 5, 2011, at which Prince appeared via videoconference from his place of incarceration. Prince's reply brief, dated April 4, 2011, reached the Court on April 8, 2011, and I considered it in arriving at my decision on Prince's petition. For the reasons stated below, the petition is denied.

BACKGROUND

A. The Offense Conduct

The evidence at trial established that late in the evening on March 19, 2003, Prince answered his girlfriend Natalie Smith's cell phone while at her house in Queens. The caller was Smith's ex-boyfriend, Orville Mongol. Mongol became upset when he heard a male voice answer Smith's phone, and he asked to speak to Smith. After the call ended, Ian Burke, a friend of Mongol who was with him at the time, attempted to calm Mongol down. Mongol then drove to Smith's house with Burke and Burke's girlfriend in his truck, double parked on Smith's street, and exited the truck with the engine still running while Burke moved to the back seat with his girlfriend. Mongol knocked on Smith's door, and when no one answered he yelled to Smith to open the door. After Smith refused, Mongol yelled to Jennifer Turner -- the owner of Smith's building -- to open the door, and she complied. As Turner opened the door, Prince ran down the stairs behind her and attempted to exit the building through the front door. Mongol demanded to know Prince's name and blocked his exit.

Mongol and Prince then walked down the house's steps and onto the sidewalk, where their conflict escalated. At some point during or shortly after his walk down the steps to the sidewalk, Prince put his hand in his back pocket. He then walked past Mongol's vehicle and into the street, while Mongol walked toward the back of the vehicle. Prince then quickly turned around so he was facing Mongol, pointed a gun at Mongol and fired at him. Mongol hid behind the side of his truck, and at that point, Prince ran across the street and fired another shot after several failed attempts to cock the gun. Mongol then tried to get back into his truck and drive after Prince, who was running away, but Burke stopped Mongol by putting his foot on the brake and wrestling with Mongol to keep him out of the vehicle.

After Prince fled, the police arrived, patted down Mongol, and elicited a statement from him. Detective Steven DeLuca told Mongol to call him if he saw Prince again and to avoid speaking to Prince. After Mongol's second sighting of Prince at a night club, Mongol called DeLuca to notify him that he had seen Prince twice. Mongol subsequently found Prince's cell phone number on Smith's cell phone while at a party for his and Smith's daughter, and he provided that phone number to DeLuca. On May 5, 2003, DeLuca called Prince and arranged to meet him in front of his house. Prince arrived at the specified time with Smith, and agreed to accompany DeLuca to the police precinct, where DeLuca arrested him.

B. Procedural History

1. The Trial and Sentencing

Prince proceeded to a jury trial before Justice Barry Kron of the New York State Supreme Court, Queens County. Mongol, Burke, Detectives DeLuca and Vincent Papasodero, and Police Officer Michael DeBonis testified for the People. The defense called Smith, Turner and Andrew Stephenson, whom Prince had called on the night of the shooting to pick him up and give him a ride home, and who witnessed Prince and Mongol's altercation but did not see who fired the gunshots. On March 23, 2004, the jury returned a verdict acquitting Prince of attempted murder of Mongol, criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree and reckless endangerment, but convicting him of criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree. On April 20, 2004, Justice Kron sentenced Prince to four years' imprisonment and three years' post-release supervision.

2. The Direct Appeal

Prince appealed from the judgment of the Supreme Court on the ground that the jury verdict was against the weight of the evidence. The People construed Prince's argument to include a legal sufficiency challenge to his conviction as well as a request for a new trial on the ground that the guilty verdict was against the weight of the evidence. On October 7, 2008, the Appellate Division, Second Department, affirmed Prince's conviction, rejecting his legal sufficiency claim as both unpreserved and lacking in merit. See People v. Prince, 864 N.Y.S.2d 331, 331 (2d Dep't 2008) ("[W]e find that [the evidence] was legally sufficient to establish the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."). The court also exercised its factual review power and held that the guilty verdict was not against the weight of the evidence. Id.

Prince applied for leave to appeal from this decision but a judge of the Court of Appeals denied his application on June 30, 2009. People v. Prince, 11 N.Y.3d 929 (2009) (Read, J.).

3. The Motion for a Writ of Error Coram Nobis

On January 8, 2010, Prince moved pro se in the Appellate Division for a writ of error coram nobis, contending that his appellate counsel was constitutionally ineffective in that she failed to argue (1) that the trial court improperly swore prospective jurors; (2) that the prosecutor violated Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986) in exercising her peremptory challenges to strike prospective jurors from the panel; (3) that trial counsel was ineffective in failing to object to the manner in which the trial court handled jury notes, which, Prince argued, violated New York law; (4) that trial ...


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