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Quinones v. United States

June 20, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Loretta A. Preska, Chief United States District Judge


Related To: 08 Cr. 114 (LAP)

Pro se Petitioner Curtis Quinones ("Quinones" or "Petitioner") makes this motion for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. A jury found Mr. Quinones guilty of one count of assault with intent to commit murder, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 7(3), and one count of assault with a dangerous weapon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(3). Petitioner was sentence to 121 months incarceration concurrent on each count to be followed by supervised release for a period of three years.

In support of his motion, Quinones raises eight instances of alleged ineffective assistance of counsel within the meaning of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Consitution. First, Petitioner claims that his trial counsel Domenick Porco, Esq., ("Porco") was ineffective in that he failed properly to investigate evidence proffered by the Government and failed to call certain favorable witnesses during trial. (See Petitioner's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct his Sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 2255 ("Pet. Mot.") at 6-9, dkt. no 1.) Second, Petitioner argues that his counsel was unprepared for trial and failed to conduct sufficient pretrial discovery. (Id. at 13-15.) Third, Petitioner alleges that his counsel was ineffective for failing to request a limiting instruction regarding Government Exhibit Two, a weapon found on the prison grounds. (Id. at 16-20.) Fourth, Petitioner asserts that his trial counsel failed to object to the introduction of extrinsic evidence as overly prejudicial and/or irrelevant and that his appellate counsel, Kerry Lawrence, Esq., ("Lawrence") was in turn ineffective when he failed to raise this issue on appeal. (Id. at 20-23.) Fifth, Petitioner claims his trial counsel was ineffective with regard to plea bargaining because trial counsel did not inform him of the admissibility of certain evidence. (Id. at 24-28.) Sixth, Petitioner argues that his appellate counsel was ineffective during his post-trial Rule 33 hearing before the District Court by not properly advising him prior to his giving testimony that resulted in a two point enhancement for obstruction of justice. Petitioner further alleges that his appellate counsel was ineffective during his direct appeal by not properly investigating the facts of his case and by focusing on Petitioner's ineffective assistance claims on appeal to the detriment of Petitioner's alternative claims on appeal. (Id. at 29-34.) Seventh, Petitioner contends that his appellate counsel provided ineffective assistance by not arguing that Government Exhibit Two was inadmissible and prejudicial extrinsic evidence as part of his direct appeal. (Id. at 34-36.) Finally, Petitioner claims that his trial counsel was ineffective by stipulating to the DNA evidence subsequently admitted at trial. (Id. at 36-38.) For the reasons below, Petitioner's motion is DENIED in all respects.


A. Procedural History

Petitioner Quinones was tried in February 2009 and convicted on all charged counts. (See Memorandum of Law of the United States of America in Opposition to Petitioner's Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus ("Govt. Opp.") at 1, dkt. no. 6.) Petitioner then filed a Fed. R. Crim. P. 33 motion for a new trial and was appointed new counsel. An evidentiary hearing on the motion was held on December 15, 2009. (Id.) At this hearing, Petitioner primarily claimed that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial. (Id. at 2.) The Rule 33 motion was denied on December 18, 2009. (Id.) Petitioner was sentenced and subsequently appealed. The Court of Appeals likewise rejected Petitioner's arguments on appeal and affirmed the conviction. (Id.)

B. Conviction

Petitioner Quinones was found guilty by a jury of stabbing fellow inmate Rasuan Sanders ("Sanders" or "the victim") in the neck on December 30, 2007 while incarcerated at the Otisville Federal Correctional Institution ("F.C.I. Otisville"). (See Pet. Mot. at 3; Govt. Opp. at 2.)

The evidence introduced against Petitioner at trial included video surveillance of the assault, Petitioner's interview with Special Agent Felipe Orengo of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the testimony of the victim and other witnesses, and the body wrap worn by Petitioner on the day of the assault. (See Govt. Opp. at 2-4.) Petitioner argued that he was unarmed at the time of the incident and that he simply punched Sanders. Petitioner believed that Sanders was armed and, after being punched, inadvertently stabbed himself in the neck. (Id. at 8.)

C. Rule 33 Motion

Petitioner Quinones first asserted a claim of ineffective counsel shortly after his conviction. (See id.) Susanne Brody, Esq., ("Brody") of the Federal Defenders of New York, had been appointed counsel to Petitioner after his arrest in January 2008. (Id.) Six months later, on July 29, 2008, Quinones requested a new attorney based on a difference of opinion about how his case was to proceed. (Id.)

In a pretrial conference on November 21, 2008, Petitioner expressed his concerns about Brody's representation, alleging that she had not acquired video evidence that Petitioner had requested. (Id. at 9.) The district court granted Petitioner's request and appointed Porco as replacement counsel. Porco represented Petitioner through his trial. After being convicted, Petitioner submitted an eight-page letter to the Court reiterating his concern about the assistance rendered by Brody as well as new concerns about the assistance provided by Porco. (Id. at 10.) In light of this letter and at Porco's own request, the district court relieved Porco and appointed Lawrence as counsel for Petitioner. (Id. at 11.)

On July 28, 2009, Petitioner moved for a new trial pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. Rule 33. Specifically, Petitioner alleged that Porco interfered with Petitioner's right to testify, stipulated to evidence without discussing the decision with Petitioner, and that Brody had failed to obtain video evidence. (Id.) The district court held an evidentiary hearing and ultimately rejected Petitioner's claims. The Court found that there was no interference with the right to testify, that Porco's decision to stipulate to the DNA evidence was neither prejudicial nor unreasonable, and that the video recordings Petitioner had sought were no longer in existence when Brody was first appointed counsel. (Id. at 12.) In fact, the Court found that, in addition to being neither ...

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