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John Giuca v. William Lee

May 14, 2013


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


Petitioner John Giuca ("Giuca") seeks a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 ("§ 2254"). The petition is denied.


Following a jury trial, Giuca was convicted of second-degree murder, first-degree robbery, and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon.*fn1 On October 19, 2005, he was sentenced by the Supreme Court, Kings County (Marrus, J.) to concurrent terms of imprisonment totaling twenty-five years to life. Giuca appealed, claiming improper admission of evidence, prosecutorial misconduct, error in the court's jury instructions, and ineffective assistance of counsel. On January 20, 2009, the Appellate Division unanimously affirmed the judgment of conviction on the merits, concluding that "there was overwhelming evidence of defendant's guilt." People v. Giuca, 58 A.D.3d 750, 751 (2d Dep't 2009). The New York Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal. See People v. Giuca, 12 N.Y.3d 915 (2009).

While Giuca's direct appeal was pending, he filed a § 440.10 motion to vacate his convictions.*fn2 The motion was premised upon Giuca's claim that he had recently learned of juror misconduct occurring during the course of his trial. On April 1, 2009, Justice Marrus denied the motion without an evidentiary hearing. See People v. Giuca, 23 Misc.3d 1104(A) (Sup. Ct. Kings Co. 2009). The Appellate Division affirmed, see People v. Giuca, 78 A.D.3d 729 (2d Dep't 2010), and the New York Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal. People v. Giuca, 16 N.Y.3d 859 (2011). On April 26, 2012, Giuca timely filed this § 2254 petition. In it he essentially makes the same arguments of juror misconduct he unsuccessfully advanced in his § 440.10 motion in the courts below, and once again asks for an evidentiary hearing.*fn3

Given the thoroughness and correctness of Justice Marrus' decision, the merit-based affirmance by the Appellate Division, and the strictures of federal habeas review under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"), Giuca's habeas petition must be denied. The case is remarkable, however, not for any legal complexities, but because of the sensational nature of Giuca's mother's clandestine efforts to vindicate her son. As Justice Marrus recounted, two years after the trial Doreen Giuliano ("Giuliano")-Giuca's mother-contacted one of the jurors "without information that [the] juror had done anything improper, lied to him about who she was and why she was speaking to him, engaged in a long-term, quasi-romantic relationship with the juror during which she repeatedly manipulated their conversations to get him to speak about this case, and surreptitiously recorded some of their conversations." 23 Misc. 3d 1104(A), at *1.

Giuca's mother's extraordinary exploits received wide media attention, as exemplified by a lengthy magazine article in Vanity Fair, titled "Mother Justice." It recountedthat she seized upon this particular juror, Jason Allo ("Allo"), juror number 8, simply because a friend of her son's, who had attended the trial, later realizedthat the juror was someone from the neighborhood. It explained how she went to extraordinary lengths to transform herself into a sex-bomb, furnished a rented apartment as a "playgirl's pen," created a fake ID and secret cell-phone account, and "went to an espionage-supply store in Manhattan and bought the most expensive kind of hidden recording device she could find." Christopher Ketcham, Mother Justice, VANITY FAIR, Jan. 2009.

Giuliano's secret recordings of her conversations with Allo, after she was able to surreptitiously meet and befriend him, together with some itinerant affidavits, were the foci of the motion before Justice Marrus. There, as well as in his habeas petition, Giuca contends that the recordings, in particular, demonstrate that Allo intentionally concealed, both before and during the trial, personal knowledge of some of the central issues and people involved in his case, and that Allo violated instructions not to read or listen to media coverage of the case during the trial.

In his decision, Justice Marrus gave three reasons for rejecting Giuca's motion without the need for an evidentiary hearing: (1) the affidavits submitted by Giuca were "rank hearsay"; (2) the audio recordings could not be relied upon due to concerns about their completeness, authenticity and reliability; and (3) substantively, the recordings did not establish juror misconduct. In affirming, the Appellate Division agreed, stating that "[t]he affidavits submitted by the defendant contained only hearsay allegations concerning the conduct of the subject juror and therefore were insufficient to support the motion," and that the defendant's submissions "failed to establish the accuracy or authenticity of [the] recordings, and the oral statements contained therein did not constitute 'evidentiary facts.'" 78 A.D.3d at 730. The appellate court further held that "the recorded statements attributed to the subject juror upon which the defendant relied in support of his motion, even if true, would not entitle the defendant to vacatur of the judgment of conviction." Id. at 729-30.

Under AEDPA-which governs a federal district court's power to grant a writ of habeas corpus to a state prisoner for an invalid conviction in a state court proceeding-if a state court rendering a final determination rules on the merits of a claim, that ruling can only be reversed by the district court if it was: (1)"contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States"; or (2)"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); see also Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 402-11 (2000) (explaining deference required by AEDPA).*fn4 Plainly, the state courts' decisions here do not fall within either of those conscripts, but even in the absence of AEDPA, they are correct. Giuca's mother's inventive and passionate, but misguided, efforts to come to her son's aid do not, and cannot, trump the stark reality that under the law there is no basis to tamper with her son's convictions.


"[A] trial court is required to conduct a post-verdict evidentiary hearing on the issue of juror misconduct only when 'there is clear, strong, substantial and incontrovertible evidence . . . that a specific, nonspeculative impropriety has occurred which could have prejudiced the trial of a defendant.'" Williams v. Artus, 691 F. Supp. 2d 515, 526 (S.D.N.Y. 2010) (quoting United States v. Sun Myung Moon, 718 F.2d 1210, 1234 (2d Cir. 1983) (finding that post-trial hearings should not be held to "afford a convicted defendant the opportunity to conduct a fishing expedition")); see also United States v. Ianniello, 866 F.2d 540, 543 (2d Cir. 1989) ("The duty to investigate arises only when the party alleging misconduct makes an adequate showing of extrinsic influence to overcome the presumption of jury impartiality."). The Second Circuit has explained:

[H]earings such as the one that [petitioner] request[s] should be avoided whenever possible. We are always reluctant to haul jurors in after they have reached a verdict in order to probe for potential instances of bias, misconduct or extraneous influences. As we have said before, post-verdict inquiries may lead to evil consequences: subjecting juries to harassment, inhibiting juryroom deliberation, burdening courts with meritless applications, increasing temptation for jury tampering and creating uncertainty in jury verdicts.

Ianniello, 866 F.2d at 543 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). "[An] inquiry should end whenever it becomes apparent to the trial judge that reasonable grounds to suspect prejudicial impropriety do not exist." United States v. Stewart, 433 F.3d 273, ...

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