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Melvin L. Tinch v. Steven E. Racette

August 14, 2012

MELVIN L. TINCH, PETITIONER,
v.
STEVEN E. RACETTE, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Block, Senior District Judge:

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Petitioner Melvin Tinch ("Tinch") seeks a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Respondent*fn1 moves to dismiss the petition on the ground that it fails to claim any federal constitutional violation. For the reasons that follow, Tinch's petition is dismissed.

I.

On December 18, 2007, Tinch was convicted, after a jury trial in the County Court of Suffolk County, of Murder in the Second Degree (depraved indifference murder). The crime involved shooting into a crowd of people at a barbeque, killing one man. He was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 25 to life.

Tinch appealed his conviction to the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department ("Appellate Division"), which unanimously affirmed. See People v. Tinch, 898 N.Y.S.2d 511, 512 (2d Dep't 2010). On June 23, 2010, the New York Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal. See People v. Tinch, 906 N.Y.S.2d 830 (N.Y. 2010).

Tinch's habeas petition was timely filed on September 12, 2011. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1). He alleges that (1) there was insufficient evidence to establish his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) new affidavits provide evidence of his innocence; (3) the trial Court erred in denying his request to charge the jury with the lesser included offense of manslaughter in the second degree; (4) his counsel was ineffective for failing to request a Dunaway hearing; (5) his confession should have been suppressed as the product of police coercion and an improperly delayed arraignment; and (6) the sentence was excessive.

With the exception of Tinch's references to newly discovered evidence, his claims were all presented to the state courts on direct appeal. See Tinch, 898 N.Y.S.2d at 512.

II.

A. Sufficient evidence of guilt

1. The trial evidence

Tinch argues that there was insufficient evidence at trial to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt because (1) the only evidence that he was the shooter was his confession, which was insufficiently corroborated, and (2) assuming he was the shooter, there was insufficient evidence of mens rea to support a depraved indifference conviction.

The Appellate Division found that this claim was "unpreserved for appellate review." Tinch, 898 N.Y.S.2d at 512. It was therefore decided on an adequate and independent state procedural ground, and is procedurally barred from this Court's habeas review. See Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 729-30 (1991).

In any event, as the Appellate Division further concluded, the claim lacks merit. Sufficiency of the evidence claims "face a high bar in federal habeas proceedings because they are subject to two layers of judicial deference." Coleman v. Johnson, 132 S.Ct. 2060, 2062 (2012) (per curiam). "[W]here the state courts have denied a claim of insufficient evidence on the merits, we may not grant the writ unless we conclude that no reasonable court could have held that any reasonable jury could have read the evidence to establish petitioner's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." Garbutt v. Conway, 668 F.3d 79, 81-82 (2d Cir. 2012). Tinch confessed to firing into the crowd at the barbeque and his confession contained details consistent with eyewitness accounts. The confession was certainly not, as a matter of law, "so incredible that no reasonable juror could believe him." See United States v. Shulman, 624 F.2d 384, 388 (2d Cir. 1980). Thus, there was sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that Tinch was the shooter.

With respect to mens rea, the jury heard Tinch's confession that he arrived at the scene of the crime and saw "a lot of people in the yard . . . having a barbecue . . . dudes . . . some women and some little kids . . . fifteen or more people." Trial Tr. 472. He then "pointed the [gun] at them and kept shooting until it was empty." Trial Tr. 472. This evidence was sufficient to establish "depraved indifference," which is "best understood as an utter disregard for the value of human life." People v. Feingold, 852 N.E.2d 1163, 1168 (N.Y. 2006) (quoting People v. Suarez, 844 N.E.2d 721, 730 (N.Y. 2005)). Indeed, firing into a crowd of people is the "quintessential" ...


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