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Lamon C. Crumpler v. S. Khahaifa

December 21, 2011


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


I. Introduction

Petitioner pro se Lamon C. Crumpler ("Crumpler" or "Petitioner") seeks a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on the basis that he is being detained in state custody in violation of his federal constitutional rights. Crumpler was convicted on January 16 2009, in New York State County Court, Niagara County, following a negotiated guilty plea to one count of Assault in the Second Degree (N.Y. Penal Law ("P.L.") § 120.05(2)).

II. Factual Background and Procedural History

Crumpler's conviction stems from an incident that occurred on September 25, 2007, in Niagara County, in which Crumpler attempted to forcibly steal property from Aaron Jackson ("Jackson"), and intentionally injured Jackson with a knife. Petitioner was charged with four offenses: two counts of Attempted Robbery in the First Degree (P.L. §§ 110/160.15(1), (3)); Assault in the First Degree (P.L. § 120.10(1)); and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Third Degree (P.L. § 265.02(1)).

On February 13, 2008, Petitioner was brought to testify before the grand jury wearing his prison uniform. Petitioner objected to testifying while wearing prison attire, and he was removed and returned to prison. The grand jury was rescheduled for the next day.

On February 14, 2008, the prosecution requested that the jail transport Petitioner to the courthouse in civilian clothes. See People's Response to Motion to Dismiss, ¶10 & Attachments, submitted as part of Respondent's Exhibits. However, Petitioner appeared in prison garb again. Neither Petitioner nor defense counsel raised an issue before entering the grand jury room. Id., ¶10. Petitioner then announced that he was being prejudiced by having the jury see him in prison garb, and refused to testify.

On February 21, 2008, the prosecution again returned Petitioner to the grand jury, this time wearing civilian clothing. Petitioner indicated his displeasure with counsel, and was brought before the trial judge who informed him there would be no substitution of counsel. Petitioner refused to testify before the grand jury with his present attorney.

The prosecution returned Petitioner to court on February 26, 2008, attired in civilian clothes. The trial judge informed Petitioner there had not been an error, noting that anybody who comes from jail to testify in [the] grand jury usually comes in garb . . . ." Transcript of February 26, 2008 Hearing ("2/26/08 Tr.") at 2 (quoted in Petitioner's Memorandum of Law, ¶19 (Docket No. 1)). Petitioner told the judge that having the jury see him in his "prison orange" garb, shackles, and handcuffs had prejudiced him and effectively had removed the presumption of innocence. Id. The prosecutor explained that Petitioner had not raised an issue about his attire until he actually was brought over and appeared before the grand jury. Id. In light of this fact, the trial judge commented that Petitioner's argument was "not going anywhere," and Petitioner responded, "All right. I understand." Id.

The trial judge noted that Petitioner was appearing that day in civilian clothing and advised him that if he wished to testify, he would have to do so with his current counsel. Petitioner, fearing prejudice as the result of his earlier appearance in prison clothing, refused to testify. The prosecutor issued a curative instruction to the grand jury on the issue of Petitioner's attire, stating that whether Petitioner was is custody could not be considered by them in their deliberations. See Grand Jury Minutes at 7, attached to Petition (Docket No. 1).

On April 18, 2008, Petitioner moved to dismiss the indictment on the ground that he was not afforded a sufficient opportunity to testify before the grand jury and was prejudiced by having to appear in prison garb. After hearing oral argument, the newly assigned trial judge agreed that was "improper for the government to submit him for testimony before the grand jury dressed in his jail clothing," but held that "the curative instruction given by the prosecutor dispelled any prejudice[.]" Order of Niagara County Court Judge Matthew Murphy at 1 (citing People v. DiFondi, 275 A.D.2d 1018, 1018 (4th Dept.), lv. denied, 95 N.Y.2d 933 (N.Y. 2000)).

On November 21, 2008, Petitioner appeared with counsel before the trial judge for a final pre-trial conference. See generally Respondent Exhibit ("Resp't Ex.") A, Plea Transcript ("Plea Tr."). At that time, Crumpler decided to enter a guilty plea in satisfaction of all four counts of the indictment. The prosecutor explained that, in exchange for his guilty plea to Assault in the Second Degree, and his concession to being sentenced as a second felony offender, Petitioner would be offered the minimum three-year prison term. Petitioner's counsel confirmed with the prosecutor that under the plea offer Petitioner would retain his right to appeal the judgment of conviction. The prosecutor agreed to move to dismiss charges pending against Petitioner in an unrelated Niagara County indictment. Petitioner and his counsel then stated that he wished to enter the guilty plea.

The trial court questioned petitioner and verified that he had spoken with defense counsel about the guilty plea, and that he was "willing to accept the plea." The trial court then conducted a colloquy with Crumpler, who was 48-years-old, had completed high school, had no problems understanding English, and had had "enough time to speak with [his counsel] about this proposed plea." Plea Tr. at 9-10. Petitioner affirmed that he had no complaints about his counsel's representation of him, stating counsel had "done the best he could." Plea Tr. at 10-11.

Petitioner also stated that he had not taken any alcohol or drugs in the past twenty-four hours; that he was not under a doctor's care for mental, emotional, or psychological problems; and that he took prescription drugs for an "arm injury" but they did not affect his ability to think clearly. Id. at 11. Petitioner confirmed that his mind was clear. Id.

In response to the trial judge's questions, Petitioner stated he understood that under the plea agreement, he would plead guilty to second-degree assault, a Class D violent felony. Petitioner was reminded that he must admit to being sentenced as a second felony offender based upon a prior attempted drug-sale conviction. Plea Tr. at 11-12. As a second felony offender, he faced a maximum prison sentence of seven years on a second degree assault conviction. However, the trial court informed him, it would sentence him to a determinate three year prison term in exchange for his guilty plea plus a mandatory five-year term of post-release supervision. Id. at 12-13.

Petitioner confirmed that, aside from the terms of the plea agreement that had been discussed, no one had promised him anything in connection with the guilty plea. Petitioner stated that no one told him he would receive a prison sentence of less than three years, and that he had not been threatened, intimidated, or forced into taking the plea. Plea Tr. at 13. Petitioner agreed that he was entering the guilty plea "freely and voluntarily after full consultation with [his] attorney." Id.

Petitioner indicated his understanding of the constitutional rights he would waive by entering the plea and foregoing a jury trial, including the rights to be represented by counsel, participate in jury selection, cross-examine the People's witnesses, testify or choose not to testify in his defense, and have the People prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Plea Tr. at 14-15.

Crumpler then gave a factual allocution, admitting to having had a "scuffle" with Jackson on September 25, 2007, during which he intentionally caused Jackson physical injury by using a dangerous instrument. Id. at 15-16. Finding that there was "a factual basis for the entry of the plea," the trial court accepted Crumpler's guilty plea. Id. at 16-18.

On January 16, 2009, Petitioner appeared for sentencing and admitted that as a result of his January 2000 conviction for attempted criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree, he was a second felony offender. He accordingly was sentenced as contemplated by the plea agreement. At the conclusion of sentencing, the court granted the ...

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