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Christopher Pagan v. William Brown

July 27, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Seybert, District Judge:


Pending before the Court are Christopher Pagan's ("Petitioner") Objections to Magistrate Judge William D. Wall's January 19, 2011 Report and Recommendation (the "R&R") recommending that the Court deny Petitioner's petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The Court has considered Petitioner's Objections and has reviewed his arguments de novo, and it concludes that Petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief. The R&R is adopted, and the petition is dismissed.


In 1999, Petitioner was convicted of Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree after a trial in New York Supreme Court, Suffolk County. See Obj. at 1. The details of Petitioner's case are set forth in Judge Wall's thoughtful and comprehensive R&R. Petitioner accepts this factual background, see id. at 3, and, having reviewed it for clear error, the Court adopts it for the discussion that follows.


District courts "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); see also FED. R. CIV. P. 72(b). When a party makes specific objections to the magistrate's findings, district courts must review those findings de novo. United States v. Male Juvenile, 121 F.3d 34, 38 (2d Cir. 1997). When a party makes no objections, or where it makes only conclusory or general objections, courts will review the magistrate's findings for clear error. See Walker v. Vaughan, 216 F. Supp. 2d 290, 291 (S.D.N.Y. 2002) (citation omitted); Barratt v. Joie, No. 96-CV-0324, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3453, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. 2002) (citations omitted).

Petitioner challenges his conviction on the following grounds: that (1) Petitioner was improperly denied the trial counsel of his choice; (2) the trial court improperly received evidence that Petitioner had invoked his right to remain silent; (3) the trial court improperly admitted Petitioner's post-Miranda statements; (4) the evidence was insufficient to sustain Petitioner's conviction; and (5) the police improperly searched Petitioner's car. See Obj. at 1-2. Petitioner objected to the R&R's conclusions on each of these points, and the Court considers each below.

I. Standard of Review Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)

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 when prior state adjudication of the prisoner's case "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). A state-court decision is contrary to clearly established federal law if it "applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases, or if it confronts a set of facts that is materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme] Court but reaches a different result." Brown v. Payton, 544 U.S. 133, 141, 125 S. Ct. 1432, 161 L. Ed. 2d 334 (2005). A "state-court decision involves an unreasonable application of [the Supreme] Court's clearly established precedents if the state court applies [them] to the facts in an objectively unreasonable manner." Id. Clearly established Federal law "refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme] Court's decisions as of the time of the relevant state-court decision." Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 660-61, 124 S. Ct. 2140, 158 L. Ed. 2d 938 (2004) (internal quotation marks omitted).

II. Petitioner is not Entitled to Habeas Relief

The Court addresses each of Petitioner's grounds for relief in turn.

A. Counsel of Petitioner's Choice

Petitioner argues that he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to be represented by counsel of his choice when the trial court refused his eve-of-trial request for a one-day adjournment to retain a new lawyer. The Court agrees with Judge Wall's recommendation that this claim be denied. The trial court's decision not to delay trial was not contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, federal law.

Petitioner maintains that he lost confidence in his trial counsel, John Bray, Esq., after Bray told Petitioner that Bray was being "forced" to go to trial and that the trial court had essentially predetermined Petitioner's guilt. Obj. at 3-4. On the day of trial, Petitioner sought and was refused a one-day adjournment to retain a new lawyer. Obj. at 4-5. The trial court inferred from his request--and Petitioner's appearance in court that day without substitute counsel--that Petitioner's plea for an adjournment was an insincere attempt to delay the trial. See Obj. at 4-5.

Relying largely on United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez, 548 U.S. 140, 126 S. Ct. 2557 (2006), Petitioner contends that the trial court's refusal to grant an adjournment deprived him of his Sixth Amendment right to the counsel of his choice. But Gonzalez-Lopez teaches only that a defendant's choice of counsel should not be wrongfully denied; as Judge Wall noted, the Supreme Court expressly reaffirmed that a defendant's choice of counsel sometimes yields to "the demands of [the trial court's] calendar" and its power "to make scheduling . . . decisions." Gonzalez-Lopez, 548 U.S. at 152 (citations omitted). A defendant "does not have an unfettered right to retain new counsel," United States v. Brumer, 528 F.3d 157, 160 (2d Cir. 2008) (quotations omitted), and the trial court's desire to avoid delaying a criminal proceeding is generally a valid reason to deny a defendant's request to substitute counsel. Id. at 161. And requests made on the eve of trial should only be granted in "unusual circumstances," such as a "complete breakdown of communication or an irreconcilable conflict." United States v. Miranda, 152 F.3d 921 (2d Cir. 1998) (quotations omitted).

Petitioner has not demonstrated that the trial court's denial of his request warrants habeas relief. The trial record shows that the trial court carefully considered Petitioner's proffered reason for his request for an adjournment--that he had lost confidence in his representation when Mr. Bray said he was being "forced" into trial--and explained to Petitioner that, short of a guilty plea, a trial was the inevitable consequence of his arrest and that not one individual was responsible for forcing a trial. Trial Tr. at 4-13. The trial court weighed Petitioner's argument against the circumstances surrounding Petitioner's request--an eve-of-trial application made without any substitute counsel ...

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