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Thomas Edwards, Jr v. Thomas Lavalley

May 9, 2012


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


I. Introduction

Petitioner Thomas Edwards, Jr. ("Petitioner"), through counsel, 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 April 3, 2008, in New York State, County Court, Erie County, convicting him, upon a plea of guilty, of Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the First Degree (N.Y. Penal Law ("Penal Law") § 220.21[1]) and Assault in the Third Degree (Penal Law § 120.00[2]). Petitioner was sentenced to twelve years imprisonment and five years of post-release supervision.

II. Factual Background and Procedural History

A. Introduction

Indictment No. 02188-2006 charged Petitioner with First Degree Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance (Penal Law § 220.21[1]), Second Degree Assault (Penal Law § 120.05[3]), Second Degree Obstructing Governmental Administration (Penal Law § 195.05), Resisting Arrest (Penal § 205.30), and Unlawfully Tinted Windows (Vehicle & Traffic Law § 375.12-a[b][2]). The charges arose from an incident that occurred on the evening of August 30, 2006 in Buffalo, New York, in which Petitioner was pulled over by Buffalo police for driving a vehicle with excessively tinted windows.

B. Facts

Between 6:30 and 7:00 p.m. on August 30, 2006, Petitioner was driving his 2003 GMC Suburban Yukon in Buffalo, New York. At that time, Erie County Sheriff's Deputies Gregory McCarthy and Matthew Noecker, narcotics officers on duty in Buffalo that evening, were patrolling in an unmarked vehicle. The deputies observed Petitioner's vehicle, which had heavily tinted front driver and passenger side windows. Deputy McCarthy activated his vehicle's emergency lights and siren, and Petitioner's vehicle pulled to the curb and stopped. Record ["R."] 42-45, 156.*fn1 Deputy McCarthy approached the driver side of the vehicle and Deputy Noecker approached the passenger side. Petitioner lowered his driver side window and Deputy McCarthy requested Petitioner's license and registration, which Petitioner handed to him. At the same time, Deputy McCarthy also noticed that Petitioner's "right hand was trembling . . . appeared to be trembling." R. 47. Deputy Noecker observed that Petitioner "appeared excessively nervous." R. 159. Deputy McCarthy asked Petitioner where he was going, to which he responded that he was on his way to his son's football meeting and that he had his son's birth certificate inside the vehicle. R. 47, 80. Petitioner then asked Deputy McCarthy why he had been stopped, to which Deputy MCarthy responded that it was because of Petitioner's tinted windows. R. 48. Deputy McCarthy explained that he had an instrument in his vehicle that could gauge the amount of tint, and that he was going to return to his vehicle to retrieve that instrument. Deputy McCarthy testified that he "noticed that [Petitioner's] chest was rising and falling at a rapid pace, his right leg was bouncing at a constant pace, and he appeared to [Deputy McCarthy] to be excessively nervous." Deputy McCarthy walked back to his vehicle to retrieve the tint meter.

R. 47-48.

When Deputy McCarthy returned to Petitioner's vehicle, he explained to Petitioner how the tint meter worked. Upon testing, the windows on Petitioner's vehicle were considerably darker than permitted by law. R. 48-49, 160. Deputy McCarthy examined Petitioner's registration and noted that Petitioner's license and registration were listed to different addresses. He asked Petitioner where he lived and if he had been issued a summons recently, to which Petitioner initially replied "no" but then indicated that he had received a summons approximately three months earlier. R. 49-50.

Deputy McCarthy returned the tint meter back to his vehicle. He and Deputy Noecker conferred with each other, both agreeing that Petitioner appeared "excessively nervous." R. 51. Deputy McCarthy then returned to Petitioner's vehicle, and observed Petitioner rearranging business cards from his wallet. Deputy McCarthy observed a white substance on Petitioner's right lower palm that, based on his training and experience, had the same color, form, and consistency of crack cocaine. R. 51. Not "want[ing] to alarm [Petitioner] or get him jerky" since the vehicle was still running and Petitioner was behind the wheel, Deputy McCarthy questioned Petitioner about his criminal history, asking if Petitioner had previously been arrested for possession of cocaine or marijuana.

R. 52. Petitioner denied a criminal history involving marijuana, but admitted he had previously served time in prison for cocaine possession. Deputy McCarthy then walked away from Petitioner's vehicle and again conferred with Deputy Noecker. Deputy McCarthy told Deputy Noecker "of [his] observations of [Petitioner's] hands." The deputies agreed they would "get [Petitioner] out of the car." R. 53, 163.

The deputies returned to Petitioner's vehicle a fourth and final time and told Petitioner to get out of his vehicle. R. 54, 164. Petitioner asked if he was under arrest, to which Deputy McCarthy responded that Petitioner was not and that he wished to speak with Petitioner about his license. R. 54, 164-165. Petitioner refused to leave his vehicle and rolled up his window, which prevented the deputies to see him. R. 54, 166. Deputy McCarthy pulled on the door, which was unlocked, and Petitioner started to exit the vehicle. R. 56. Petitioner turned the engine off, removed the keys from the ignition, and locked the doors using the remote door lock on the ignition key. R. 56, 166. Deputy McCarthy testified that "it looked like [Petitioner] was going to throw the keys." R. 56-56a. Deputy McCarthy asked Petitioner to proceed to the back of the vehicle and asked Petitioner for his keys. Petitioner refused. R. 56a. Fearing the keys could be used as a weapon, the deputies asked Petitioner again for the keys.

R. 57, 167. When Petitioner refused to surrender the keys, the deputies attempted to physically remove them from Petitioner's "grip." R. 57, 167. In doing so, the deputies braced Petitioner against the vehicle in an attempt to place handcuffs on him. A struggle ensued. Deputy McCarthy told Petitioner that he was under arrest and repeatedly ordered him to put his hands behind his back. The three men fell to the ground a number of times during the struggle. R. 58, ...

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