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Norman C. Sonberg v. Harold Graham

June 14, 2011

NORMAN C. SONBERG,
PETITIONER,
v.
HAROLD GRAHAM, RESPONDENT.



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

ORDER

I. Introduction

Pro se petitioner Norman Sonberg ("petitioner") seeks relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 alleging that his conviction in Niagara County Court of Sexual Abuse in the First Degree (N.Y. Penal Law ("Penal L.") § 130.65 [1]) was unconstitutionally obtained. The judgment of conviction, entered March 14, 2008, followed a guilty plea before Judge Sara S. Sperrazza. Petitioner was sentenced to a determinate term of imprisonment of five years, followed by three years of post-release supervision.

II. Factual Background and Procedural History

Petitioner was charged in a fifteen-count indictment in Niagara County with various sex crimes against the underage child of a family with whom he had been staying. See Ind. No. 2007-142. On the eve of jury selection, the indictment was dismissed, and petitioner agreed to be prosecuted upon a Superior Court Information ("SCI"). Petitioner was arraigned on Niagara County SCI No. 2007-142A, which charged him with Sexual Abuse in the First Degree (Penal L. § 130.65[1]), Rape in the First Degree (Penal L. § 130.35[1]), Rape in the Second Degree (Penal L. § 130.30[1]) and Endangering the Welfare of a Child (Penal L. § 260.10[1]). Thereafter, petitioner pleaded guilty to the top count in satisfaction of the charges. He executed a written waiver of his right to appeal and the county court committed to a five-year cap on his sentence with three years of post-release supervision. See Plea Mins. dated 1/16/2008.

Prior to sentencing, petitioner moved to withdraw his guilty plea, alleging that the day he took the plea he was improperly medicated and therefore was mentally incompetent to plead guilty. The court denied his motion and imposed the agreed-upon sentence of five years imprisonment with three years of post-release supervision. See Sentencing Mins. dated 3/14/2008.

Petitioner appealed his conviction to the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, on the following grounds: (1) the waiver of the right to appeal was invalid; (2) the court erred in refusing petitioner's request to withdraw his plea; and (3) the plea was not knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily entered. See Pet'r Appellate Br., Docket No. KA 08-00861. The Appellate Division rejected petitioner's contention that the county court abused its discretion in denying his motion to withdraw his plea because it was not knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily entered:

Although the record establishes that defendant was being treated for medical conditions with prescription medications, "[t]here was not the slightest indication that defendant was uninformed, confused or incompetent" when he entered the plea. Indeed, when the court asked defendant whether the medication he was taking affected his ability to think clearly, defendant responded in the negative. The court also asked defendant whether he had sufficient time to discuss the matter with his attorney and whether he was in good physical and mental condition, and defendant responded in the affirmative. Even if we were to credit the contention of defendant that he had taken the wrong medication on the day he entered his plea, we nevertheless would conclude on the record before us that he was not thereby "so stripped . . . of orientation or cognition that he lacked the capacity to plead guilty."

People v. Sonberg, 61 A.D.3d 1350, 1351 (4th Dept. 2009) (quoting People v. Alexander, 97 N.Y.2d 482, 486 (2002); other citations omitted).

Petitioner sought leave to appeal the Appellate Division's decision, which was denied by the New York Court of Appeals. People v. Sonberg, 13 N.Y.3d 800 (2009).

This habeas petition followed (Dkt. #1), in which petitioner alleges, in sum and substance, that his plea was not knowing, intelligent and voluntary because he was mentally incompetent at the plea proceeding. (Dkt. #1, ¶ 12).*fn1

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

III. Discussion

A. Standard of Review for Federal ...


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