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Snyder v. Graham

September 12, 2011

TAIMAK SNYDER, PETITIONER,
v.
HAROLD D. GRAHAM, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kevin Nathaniel Fox, United States Magistrate Judge

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

TO THE HONORABLE RICHARD J. SULLIVAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

On November 2, 2009, pro se petitioner Taimak Snyder ("Snyder") filed an application for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his conviction for second-degree murder. He alleges his constitutional rights where violated when: (1) the court failed to advise him fully of the consequences of his guilty plea, during the plea allocution; (2) the court denied his motion to withdraw his guilty plea, without a hearing, after he alleged that his attorney coerced him into pleading guilty; (3) his appellate counsel rendered ineffective assistance to him; and (4) the court denied his oral request for appointment of new counsel, during the arraignment proceeding. The respondent opposes the petition.

BACKGROUND

Snyder was arrested and indicted for second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter, attempted second-degree murder, first-degree assault and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, in connection with a July 9, 2004 incident in Bronx County, in which two persons were shot, one of whom died as a result of his gunshot wounds. Snyder pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. At the sentencing proceeding, Snyder made an oral motion to withdraw his guilty plea, asserting he was innocent of the charge, and that his assigned attorney coerced him into pleading guilty. Additionally, he contended that his attorney lied to him on numerous occasions and that the court did not grant a previous request that it assign different counsel to represent him. The court denied the motion, finding that Snyder's statements were not truthful, relieved Snyder's counsel of the obligation to continue to represent him and assigned new counsel to Snyder.

Snyder made a written motion to withdraw his guilty plea or, alternatively, for a hearing on the matter. Snyder asserted that his first counsel: (a) failed to discuss the case with him adequately; (b) coerced him into pleading guilty, by telling Snyder that he saw no viable defense for him; (c) convinced Snyder's mother that Snyder had to plead guilty because he would be convicted at trial, since he had no defense; and (d) rendered ineffective assistance to him because he never discussed with Snyder's parents matters such as his status as a special needs student and failed to move to have an expert examine him or to obtain his school records to determine whether they would provide a basis for a defense. Snyder also contended that, at least on two occasions, he requested that new counsel be appointed to him, but his requests were denied.

The court denied Snyder's motion, finding that: (i) nothing in the record indicated that Snyder's guilty plea was baseless or that he was foregoing a viable defense; (ii) no factual basis existed in the record for Snyder's claim that his attorney coerced him into pleading guilty; (iii) Snyder cannot eviscerate his guilty plea by claiming that he was confused or under stress at the time he admitted his guilt; (iv) Snyder's unsubstantiated allegation that he did not understand the court's questions was an improper basis for withdrawing his guilty plea and was incredible; (v) Snyder's plea was voluntary and knowing, and he was not coerced into pleading guilty; (vi) Snyder's contention, that obtaining information from his parents about his status as a special needs student may have provided a basis for a defense, was unsupported by the record; (vii) nothing in the record indicated that a basis existed for asserting a defense of duress, entrapment or mental disease or defect; and (viii) nothing in the record indicted that Snyder's attorney rendered ineffective assistance to him.

During the sentencing proceeding, Snyder stated that he was innocent and his first counsel did not have his best interest in mind. The court announced it would not permit Snyder to withdraw his guilty plea for the reasons stated in the court's denial of Snyder's previous motions to withdraw his guilty plea. Thereafter, Snyder was sentenced to fifteen years to life imprisonment.

On direct appeal, Snyder argued that the court denied him due process of law, when, without holding a hearing, it refused to grant his motion to withdraw his guilty plea, based on his allegation that his first counsel coerced him into pleading guilty, when he was, in fact, innocent. More specifically, Snyder claimed that his attorney coerced him into pleading guilty because Snyder "was young, frightened, and impressionable," his intelligence quotient "was in the 'low-average' range," and he "had little experience with the criminal justice system." According to Snyder, he had disagreements with his attorney. This is evidenced by his "efforts, on two occasions, to have his attorney replaced." In addition, Snyder maintained that nothing in the record establishes, unequivocally, that he was not coerced into pleading guilty. Moreover, Snyder argued, he did not plead guilty in his own words, but only responded affirmatively to the court's inquiries. He asserted that, the record is replete with his claims of innocence, and the court should have done more than just deny his motion to withdraw the guilty plea. The prosecution contended that Snyder entered his guilty plea knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently.

The New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department, found that the court denied Snyder's motion without a hearing properly because, at the time Snyder made his oral application to withdraw his guilty plea, the court conducted a lengthy colloquy with defendant, after which it assigned a new attorney who reiterated and supplemented defendant's claims in a written motion.

In denying that motion, the court made detailed findings. The court was thoroughly familiar with the proceedings, including the plea allocution, and properly concluded that defendant's claims were unfounded. Defendant's claim of innocence, and all of his allegations relating to his original counsel's performance, are contradicted by statements defendant made at the time of the plea. The record establishes that the plea was knowing, intelligent and voluntary, and that it was made with the effective assistance of counsel.

People v. Snyder, 51 A.D. 3d 602, 602-03, 858 N.Y.S.2d 165, 166 (App. Div. 1st Dep't 2008). The New York Court of Appeals denied Snyder's application for leave to appeal. See People v. Snyder, 11 N.Y.3d 741, 864 N.Y.S.2d 400 (2008). This petition followed.

Snyder contends the court failed to advise him that his sentence includes mandatory parole. According to Snyder, had he been advised of that fact, he would not have pleaded guilty. Snyder maintains that he did not exhaust this issue in state court because he could not find anyone to assist him and was unable to make arguments on his own. Snyder argues that the court denied him due process of law when, without holding a hearing on the issue of whether his attorney coerced him into pleading guilty, it denied his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Snyder also contends that his appellate counsel rendered ineffective assistance to him because he did not argue that: (a) the court failed to advise Snyder that mandatory parole is part of his sentence; and (b) Snyder's request for new counsel was denied on more than one occasion. Snyder maintains that he was unable to find anyone to assist him in exhausting this claim in the state court, and he is incapable of arguing it on his own. Moreover, Snyder contends that the trial court violated his constitutional rights when, during the arraignment proceeding, it denied his oral request to obtain new counsel. According to Snyder, he did not exhaust this claim in the state court.

The respondent contends the state court's determination that Snyder's guilty plea was knowing, voluntary and intelligent was not contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law. According to the respondent, the court's factual determinations are entitled to deference, including that the "information that [Snyder's] counsel may have obtained from [Snyder's] parents which indicated that [Snyder] was a special needs student, would not have given him the ability to construct a defense since nothing in the school records indicated that there was a basis for asserting a defense of duress, entrapment, or mental disease or defect, and therefore did not establish counsel's incompetency." Furthermore, since the court: (i) determined that Snyder had an opportunity to present his contentions ...


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