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Nathaniel B. Washington v. H.D. Graham

August 16, 2011

NATHANIEL B. WASHINGTON, PETITIONER,
v.
H.D. GRAHAM, SUPERINTENDENT AUBURN CORRECTIONAL FACILITY RESPONDENT.



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

DECISION AND ORDER

I. Introduction

Pro se Petitioner Nathaniel B. Washington ("Petitioner") has filed a timely petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging the constitutionality of his custody pursuant to a judgment entered August 25, 2003, in New York State, Supreme Court, Erie County (Hon. Russell P. Buscaglia), convicting him, after a jury trial, of Murder in the Second Degree (N.Y. Penal Law ("Penal Law") § 125.25 [1]) and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree (Penal Law § 265.03 [2]). Petitioner was sentenced to concurrent terms of imprisonment of twenty-five years to life on the murder conviction and fifteen years on the weapons conviction, followed by a five-year period of post-release supervision.

For the reasons stated below, habeas relief is denied and the petition is dismissed.

II. Factual Background and Procedural History

Under Indictment No. 02-0315-001, Petitioner was charged with Murder in the Second Degree (Penal Law § 125.25 [1]) and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree (Penal Law § 265.03

[2]). The charges arose from an incident that occurred on August 16, 2001 in Buffalo, New York, in which Petitioner shot and killed Gregory Williams ("Williams" or "the victim"). See Ind. No. 02-0315-001 dated 03/14/02 at Resp't Ex. A.

On the date of the incident, Ramona Wallace ("Wallace"), a former drug addict and police informant, was outside her home at 182 Wakefield talking to a friend. Trial Trans. [T.T.] 111-116, 121. Wallace had lived at her home for two years and was familiar with the street and neighborhood. T.T. 114. Wallace knew Gregory Williams ("Williams"), who lived at 57 Wakefield. As Wallace talked to her friend, a "rust colored Lumina" pulled up to the curb in front of Williams' house, which was on the same side of the street on which she was standing. T.T. 117, 121, 125. Wallace saw Petitioner, whom she had known for several years, get of the passenger side of the car with a black handgun. T.T. 122.

Wallace then heard shots, saw Petitioner firing at Williams, and heard Williams holler to a man who was with him to get a gun, but the man ran away. T.T. 126. Wallace turned and walked toward her home after the first shot, and heard several more shots as she walked away. T.T. 127. The Lumina drove past her, but she did not see what direction it went, and she did not call the police when she got home. T.T. 127-128. Six days after the incident, Wallace called Detective Reggie Minor of the Buffalo Police Department ("BPD") Homicide Squad and told him what she had seen. T.T. 128. At trial, on cross-examination, Wallace testified that she had initially lied to Detective Minor and told him that she was ten houses away when she saw the shooting, when, in fact, she was only two houses away. T.T. 185-187. Wallace explained that she had lied because she was scared, because she had not called the police after the shooting, and "because [Petitioner] is a dangerous individual." T.T. 187-188, 204.

In a statement that was read to the jury at trial,*fn1 John Mullen ("Mullen"), a witness for the prosecution, indicated that some time before 3:00 p.m. on August 16, 2001, he was with his cousin at the corner of Victoria and Fillmore Streets when Petitioner drove by in a brown Chevy Lumina and blew his horn. A few minutes later, the car drove by again, tires screeching, and this time Petitioner was in the passenger seat. Later that day, Mullen went to visit friends in a home on Vermont Street and saw the brown Lumina in the driveway. Petitioner was inside the home along with several other men. They were all playing cards. Petitioner offered all of the men the Lumina, telling them it had a full tank of gas and that he would pay to have it washed and detailed. Petitioner indicated that whoever took the car was free to "tear it up" because he did not care what happened to it. In his statement to police, Mullen indicated that he had already heard about the shooting on Wakefield Street and believed that "the car was hot." Mullen recalled that, while he was at the home on Victoria Street, Petitioner removed a chrome gun from his belt, which he unloaded after one of the men started to play with it. When Petitioner began winning the card game, the men in the room chanted, "break the chair, break the chair." Mullen asked Petitioner what this statement meant. Petitioner told the men that he "caught the boys sleeping," got out of his car, walked up on the porch, put the gun to the victim's chest and fired, breaking the back of the chair. When the victim fell, Petitioner had grabbed him and shot him again, while the victim begged him not to shoot anymore and offered to repay money. In his statement, Mullen indicated that when Petitioner said, "I shot the Nigga," he knew he was referring to Williams. See T.T. 368-371.

A jury trial was conducted, at the close of which Petitioner was found guilty as charged. T.T. 441-442. He was subsequently sentenced to concurrent terms of imprisonment of twenty-five years to life on the murder conviction and fifteen years on the weapons conviction, followed by a five-year period of post-release supervision. See Certificate of Conviction-Imprisonment at Resp't Ex. A.

The Appellate Division, Fourth Department unanimously affirmed the judgment of conviction, and leave to appeal was denied. People v. Washington, 34 A.D.3d 1193 (4th Dep't 2006); lv. denied,

8 N.Y.3d 928 (2008).

On or about April 8, 2003, Petitioner filed a motion for vacatur, pursuant to N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law ("CPL") § 440.10, in the Appellate Division, Fourth, Department, which was denied. Leave to appeal was denied. See Resp't Ex. D.

This habeas corpus petition followed, wherein Petitioner seeks relief on the following grounds: (1) his right to confrontation was violated by the trial court's Sirois ruling; (2) ineffective assistance of trial counsel; (3) a Brady violation; (4) deprivation of right to present a defense; and (5) a Batson violation. See Pet. ¶ 12, Grounds One-Six (Dkt. No. 1); Traverse [Tv.] (Dkt. No. 9).

III. General Principles Applicable to Habeas Review

A. The AEDPA Standard of Review

Under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"), a federal court may grant habeas relief to a state prisoner only if a claim that was "adjudicated on the merits" in state court "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), or if it "was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding." § 2254(d)(2). A state court decision is "contrary to" clearly established federal law "if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme Court] on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the Supreme Court] has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 413 (2000). The phrase, "clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States," limits the law governing a habeas petitioner's claims to the holdings (not dicta) of the Supreme Court existing at the time of the relevant state-court decision. Williams, 529 U.S. at 412; accord Sevencan v. Herbert, 342 F.3d 69, 73-74 (2d Cir. 2002), cert. denied, 540 U.S. 1197 (2004).

A state court decision is based on an "unreasonable application" of Supreme Court precedent if it correctly identified the governing legal rule, but applied it in an unreasonable manner to the facts of a particular case. Williams, 529 U.S. at 413; see also id. at 408-10. "[A] federal habeas court is not empowered to grant the writ just because, in its independent judgment, it would have decided the federal law question differently." Aparicio v. Artuz, 269 F.3d 78, 94 (2d Cir. 2001). Rather, "[t]he state court's application must reflect some additional increment of incorrectness such that it may be said to be unreasonable." Id. This increment "need not be great; otherwise, habeas relief would be limited to state court decisions so far off the mark as to suggest judicial incompetence." Francis S. v. Stone, 221 F.3d 100, 111 (2d Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Under AEDPA, "a determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct. The [petitioner] shall have the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); see also Parsad v. Greiner, 337 F.3d 175, 181 (2d Cir. 2003) ("The presumption of correctness is particularly important when reviewing the trial court's assessment of witness credibility."), cert. denied sub nom. Parsad v. Fischer, 540 U.S. 1091 (2003). A state court's findings "will not be overturned on factual grounds unless objectively unreasonable in light of the evidence presented in the state-court proceeding." Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003).

B. Exhaustion Requirement

"An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to a judgment of a State court shall not be granted unless it appears that . . . the applicant has exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State. . . ." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A); see, e.g., O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 843-44 (1999); accord, e.g., Bossett v. Walker, 41 F.3d 825, 828 (2d Cir.1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1054 (1995). "The exhaustion requirement is not satisfied unless the federal claim has been 'fairly presented' to the state courts." Daye v. Attorney General, 696 F.2d 186, 191 (2d Cir. 1982) (en banc), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 1048 (1984).

C. The Adequate and Independent State Ground Doctrine

A procedural default generally bars a federal court from reviewing the merits of a habeas claim. Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72 (1977). Federal habeas review is prohibited if a state court rests its judgment on a state law ground that is "independent of the federal question and adequate to support the judgment." Cotto v. Herbert, 331 F.3d 217, 238 (2d Cir. 2003) (quoting Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 729 (1991)); accord Jones v. Stinson, 229 F.3d 112, 117 (2d Cir. 2000). A state procedural bar qualifies as an "independent and adequate" state law ground where "'the last state court rendering a judgment in the case clearly and expressly states that its judgment rests on a state procedural bar.'" Levine

v. Comm'r of Corr. Servs., 44 F.3d 121, 126 (2d Cir. 1995) (quoting Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 262 (1989)). A state procedural rule will be adequate to preclude habeas review if it is "firmly established and regularly followed," unless the state rule is "exorbitant." Lee v. Kemna, 534 U.S. 362, 376 (2002) (quoting James v. Kentucky, 466 U.S. 341, 348 (1984)).

A federal court may review a claim, notwithstanding the petitioner's default, if he "can demonstrate cause for the default and actual prejudice as a result of the alleged violation of federal law." Coleman, 501 U.S. at 750; see also Levine, 44 F.3d at 126; Grey v. Hoke, 933 F.2d 117, 121 (2d Cir. 1991). A petitioner may establish cause by pointing to "some objective factor external to the defense [that] impeded counsel's efforts to comply with the State's procedural rule." Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 488 (1986); accord Coleman, 501 U.S. at 753. A petitioner suffers actual prejudice if the outcome of the case would likely have been different had the alleged constitutional violation not occurred. See Reed v. Ross, 468 U.S. 1, 12 (1984). Alternatively, even if the ...


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