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Tyrone Minton v. Thomas Lavalley

May 10, 2012

TYRONE MINTON, PETITIONER,
v.
THOMAS LAVALLEY, SUPERINTENDENT OF GREAT MEADOW CORR. FAC., RESPONDENT.



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

OPINION & ORDER

Petitioner Tyrone Minton ("Minton") was convicted after a jury trial in New York State Supreme Court of robbery in the second degree, robbery in the third degree, grand larceny in the fourth degree, and criminal possession of stolen property in the fourth degree. Minton, proceeding pro se, now brings this petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his conviction on the following grounds:

(1) that the trial court erroneously granted the prosecution's reverse-Batson motion; (2) that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions for robbery in the second and third degrees; (3) that he was denied due process of law and his constitutional right to present a defense when the trial court excluded a statement he made to police within minutes of his arrest; (4) that his constitutional right to a fair trial was violated by the cumulative effect of constitutional errors occurring at trial; and (5) that he was denied effective assistance of trial counsel.

The petition was referred to the Honorable James C. Francis IV for a report and recommendation on April 11, 2011. Judge Francis's careful and thorough report ("Report"), filed on December 5, 2011, recommended that Minton's petition be denied in its entirety. Minton's objections to the Report were received on January 10, 2012. This Opinion adopts the Report's recommendation that the petition be dismissed.

BACKGROUND

The facts relevant to Minton's petition are set forth in the Report and summarized here.

I. The Crime On August 16, 2004, John Brackett ("Brackett") parked his truck outside of a store in the Bronx. Upon exiting the store minutes later, Brackett was accosted by Minton, who took Brackett's keys and told Brackett to run.

As Brackett proceeded to look for help, he saw Minton pass by him in Brackett's truck. Brackett haled a police cruiser. The officers instructed Brackett to ride with them in the backseat. Brackett warned the officers that Minton was armed.

The officers soon located Brackett's truck, pulled the truck over, and removed and handcuffed Minton. A search of the truck revealed numerous personal items belonging to Brackett, and a parking ticket issued to a black Toyota registered to a "Michelle Chambliss". The address on the registration matched Minton's, and at trial an officer testified that he later learned Minton's wife's name was Michelle. No gun was recovered from Minton or the truck.

II. The Trial On September 8, 2004, Minton was indicted on charges of robbery in the first degree, robbery in the second degree, robbery in the third degree, three counts of grand larceny in the fourth degree, and two counts of criminal possession in the fifth degree. Minton was tried before a jury in Bronx County Supreme Court in September and October 2004.

During jury selection, the trial court seated a juror against whom Minton belatedly sought to exercise a peremptory challenge. Defense counsel claimed that he had made an error in exercising his peremptories and had intended instead to strike juror Carmen Cantillo ("Cantillo"). The prosecution made a reverse-Batson motion, arguing that Minton had challenged three Caucasian or Caucasian-looking jurors on the basis of race, including Cantillo. The trial court heard defense counsel's race-neutral explanation for striking two jurors, considered the prosecutor's response, and denied the prosecution's reverse-Batson challenge as to the two stricken jurors. The trial court granted the reverse-Batson motion, however, as to Cantillo, noting the suspicious timing of the strike and finding defense counsel's race-neutral explanation not credible. Cantillo was seated on the jury.

At trial, Minton presented the defense that he had rented the truck from Brackett, as he had rented other vehicles in the past. On cross-examination of one of the arresting officers, defense counsel sought to elicit the following statement made by Minton as he was being placed in a police car: "Why was I arrested? I borrowed the vehicle from this person. . . . He knows me. He owes me money. We used to smoke crack together."

The trial court sustained the prosecution's objection, ruling that the statement was hearsay. The trial court rejected defense counsel's arguments that the statement was an excited utterance, or in the alternative, a declaration against penal interest.

During the jury's deliberations, one of the jurors, referred to in the transcript as "Ms. Iris", reported that she had been approached at a bus stop by a woman she recognized from the audience. Ms. Iris also reported that she had been approached that morning while standing in the courthouse line by another person she had seen in the courtroom. Ms. Iris had reported the contacts to the other ...


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