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Joseph Kohler v. William Connolly

April 26, 2013


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


Pending before the Court is Petitioner Joseph Kohler's ("Petitioner") application for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons stated below, Petitioner's application is DENIED.


While operating his Lincoln Mark VII on March 30, 2007, Petitioner sped through a red traffic signal into the intersection of Old Country Road and Lester Place in Plainview, New York, where he struck and killed a pedestrian, Dr. Gurcharan Singh ("Singh"). (Resp. Opp. Aff. ¶ 5.) A witness heard tires screech, observed Petitioner's vehicle, estimated that it was traveling above the speed limit, and saw the Petitioner's car strike Singh in the crosswalk. (Trial Tr. 311-317.)

After striking Singh, Petitioner neither stopped nor called the police. (Trial Tr. 251-52, 313-14.) Instead, Petitioner kept driving and turned into the nearby parking lot of the Morton Village Shopping Center. (Trial Tr. 313.) From there, Petitioner apparently drove home to inspect his car. (Trial Tr. 330, 335.) In the meantime, police arrived at the scene to find civilians already blocking off traffic and attempting to aid Singh. (Trial Tr. 251.) Singh later died from his injuries. (Trial Tr. 276.)

Only a few minutes after leaving the scene, Petitioner called his sister on the telephone and told her that he had "hit a bird, or something." (Trial Tr. 330.) However, Petitioner's sister testified that she told the grand jury that Petitioner said he thought he had "hit somebody." (Trial Tr. 333-337.)

An extensive police investigation led to the identification of Petitioner's car, which was parked at the senior housing complex where Petitioner resided, located at 107 Central Park Road in Plainview, New York. (Trial Tr. 393-94, 531, 419, 427-431, 462-469.) On April 4, 2007, five days after the incident, Petitioner asked his brother to drive him to the police department so that he could surrender himself. (Trial Tr. 359.)

Petitioner was indicted and charged with three counts: (1) criminally negligent homicide under N.Y. PENAL LAW § 125.15; (2) leaving the scene of an incident without reporting under N.Y. VEH.&TRAF.LAW § 600(2)(a); and (3) reckless driving under N.Y. VEH.&TRAF.LAW § 1212. (Resp. Opp. Aff. ¶ 6.) Following trial, a jury convicted Petitioner of leaving the scene of an incident without reporting and reckless driving. (Trial Tr. 735; Resp. Opp. Aff. ¶ 7.) The jury was unable to find a unanimous verdict as to the criminally negligent homicide, and the court declared a mistrial as to that count. (Trial Tr. 737-40; Resp. Opp. Aff. ¶ 7.) Petitioner was sentenced to an indeterminate term of imprisonment of two and one-third to seven years for leaving the scene of an incident without reporting, and a concurrent, definite term of thirty days was imposed for reckless driving. (Sent. Tr. 20-21; Resp. Opp. Aff. ¶ 7.)

Petitioner appealed to the Appellate Division, Second Department, where he argued that: (1) the verdict was unsupported by the legally sufficient evidence; (2) the verdict was against the weight of the evidence; (3) the trial court's Sandoval*fn1 ruling was improper and denied Petitioner a fair trial; and (4) the sentence imposed was excessive. (See generally Def. Appl. Br., Docket Entry 7-4.) A unanimous panel of the Appellate Division affirmed Petitioner's judgment of conviction, and, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, found the evidence to have been legally sufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Petitioner was guilty of leaving the scene of an incident without reporting. People v. Kohler, 85 A.D.3d 1203, 1203, 926 N.Y.S.2d 160, 161 (2011), leave to appeal denied, 18 N.Y.3d 860, 962 N.E.2d 292 (2011). The Appellate Division also found that neither of Petitioner's convictions were against the weight of the evidence, and Petitioner's contention that the Sandoval ruling was improper was without merit. Id. at 1203-1204.

On August 6, 2011, Petitioner applied for permission to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals, raising the exact same claims in his leave application as he raised before the Appellate Division. (See Leave Appl., Docket Entry 7-8.) Petitioner's leave to appeal application was denied by the Court of Appeals on December 6, 2011. Kohler, 18 N.Y.3d at 860.

Petitioner now seeks federal habeas corpus relief. As of April 10, 2013, Petitioner was released on parole from Fishkill Correctional Facility.*fn2


I. Standard of Review under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 Section 2254 provides that a habeas corpus application must be denied unless the state court's adjudication on the merits "resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States," or "resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). "A state court 'adjudicates' a petitioner's federal constitutional claims 'on the merits' when 'it (1) disposes of the claim on the merits, and (2) reduces its disposition to judgment.'" Norde v. Keane, 294 F.3d 401, 410 (2d Cir. 2002) (quoting Sellan v. Kuhlman, 261 F.3d 303, 312 (2d Cir. 2001)). "Clearly established federal law 'refers to the indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme Court] and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [their] precedent." Penry v. Johnson, 532 U.S. 782, 792, 121 S. Ct. 1910, 150 L. Ed. 2d 9 (2001) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). A decision is an "unreasonable application of" clearly established Supreme Court precedent if it "correctly identifies the governing legal rule but applies it unreasonably to the facts of a particular prisoner's case." Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). ...

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