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Hart v. Artus

December 20, 2012

ZEBADIAH HART, PETITIONER,
v.
DALE ARTUS, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shira A. Scheindlin, U.S.D.J.

OPINION AND ORDER

Zebadiah Hart ("Petitioner"), proceeding pro se, petitions this Court for a writ of habeas corpus under section 2254 of Title 28 of the United states Code.*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, the Petition is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Hart's Trial

Hart was tried for the January 27, 2000 shooting of Michael Cooks outside a corner store in the Bronx. Hart and Cooks knew one another because they sold narcotics for the same person - Storky Bennis - and controlled different sides of the same block.*fn2 Following a turf dispute, friends of Cooks show at the Bennis house.*fn3 The next day, Cooks and a friend, Carlos Gomez, ran into Hart and Bennis' brother (known as "Ray Dog") at the corner store.*fn4 Cooks testified at trial that Hart followed him out of the store and pointed a gun at his head.*fn5 Cooks raised his arm to shield his head and Hart fired, striking Cooks in the elbow of his raised arm.*fn6 As Cooks started to flee, he heard a second shot.*fn7 According to the trauma surgeon who testified at trial, Cooks sustained two gunshot wounds: one to the right elbow and another to the abdomen.*fn8

Catan Yehudah, the roommate of Hart's girlfriend, testified that Hart came to their apartment late in the evening on January 27, 2000. According to her testimony, Hart was "uneasy" and "said that he just shot Fats*fn9 and he had to get rid of his gun."*fn10 According to Yehudah, Hart shot Cooks "because he was having a dispute with one of his friends," which was tied to "previous arguments over drug territory."*fn11

Based principally on this evidence, the jury convicted Hart of attempted murder in the Second Degree, Assault in the First Degree, and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree.*fn12

B. Post-Trial Proceedings

On May 17, 2002, Hart moved, pursuant to Criminal Procedure Law ("CPL") 330.30, to set aside the verdict on the ground that the trial court erred by:

(1) not delivering the requested missing witness charge for the prosecution's failure to call the arresting officer; (2) allowing the prosecution to improperly introduce evidence of Hart's narcotics sales; and (3) unfairly prejudicing Hart by questioning the jury regarding unfounded allegations of juror misconduct or tampering.*fn13 On May 20, 2002, the trial court denied Hart's motion and sentenced him, as a persistent violent felony offender, to an aggregate term of twenty-five years to life in prison.*fn14

Hart then moved to vacate his conviction pursuant to CPL 440.10, raising three claims: (1) that the prosecution withheld evidence concerning the extent of Cooks' cooperation and benefit derived therefrom; (2) that the prosecution failed to disclose exculpatory wiretap evidence; and (3) ineffective assistance of counsel.*fn15 Hart also moved, in the alternative, to vacate his sentence pursuant to CPL 440.20, arguing that he was improperly sentenced as a persistent violent felony offender.*fn16 The trial court denied the motions.*fn17

Hart was granted leave to appeal the denial to the Appellate Division, First Department, which was consolidated with his direct appeal.*fn18 On appeal, Hart raised the four claims asserted in his 440.10 and 440.20 motions, as well as his 330.30 claim that the trial court erred in allowing the prosecution to elicit testimony about Hart's narcotics sales.*fn19 On September 20, 2007, the Appellate Division unanimously affirmed Hart's judgment of conviction and the denial of his 440.10 and 440.20 motions.*fn20 By letter application, dated September 28, 2007, Hart sought leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals.*fn21 By order dated December 6, 2007, the application was denied.*fn22

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Standard of Review for Claims Adjudicated on the Merits in State Court This petition is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death

Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"). AEDPA permits a federal court to grant a writ of habeas corpus to a state prisoner only if the state court's denial of relief "was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States."*fn23

As explained by the Supreme Court in Williams v. Taylor, a state court decision is "contrary to" clearly established federal law if: (1) the state court reaches a different result than that mandated by the Supreme Court when presented with facts that are "materially indistinguishable from a relevant Supreme Court precedent;" or (2) the state court "applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in Supreme Court cases."*fn24 The "unreasonable application" prong of section 2254(d)(1) permits a federal habeas court to grant the writ, if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from this Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of petitioner's case. In other words, a federal court may grant relief when a state court has misapplied a governing legal principle to a set of facts different from those of the case in which the principle was announced. In order for a federal court to find a state court's application of our precedent unreasonable, the state court's decision must have been more than incorrect or erroneous. The state court's application must have been objectively unreasonable.*fn25

B. Exhaustion of State Court Remedies

Section 2254 provides that a habeas petition by a state prisoner may not be granted unless "the applicant has exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State."*fn26 In order to satisfy the exhaustion requirement, a prisoner "must 'fairly present' his claim in each appropriate state court."*fn27 An issue can be fairly presented in a number of different ways: by citing a specific constitutional provision, relying on pertinent federal or state cases employing constitutional analysis, or alleging "'a pattern of facts that is well within the mainstream of constitutional litigation.'"*fn28 However, a federal habeas court need not require that a federal claim be presented to a state court if it is evident that the state court would hold the claim procedurally barred.*fn29 In such a case, the claim may be "deemed exhausted" by the habeas court.*fn30

C. Adequate and Independent State Ground

A federal court will not review a question of federal law decided by a state court "if the decision of the state court rests on a state law ground that is independent of the federal question and adequate to support the judgment. The rule applies with equal force whether the state-law ground is substantive or procedural."*fn31 Further, federal habeas review is foreclosed when a state court explicitly invokes a state procedural rule as a basis ...


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