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Danford v. Graham

United States District Court, N.D. New York

April 11, 2014

WILLIE DANFORD, Petitioner,
v.
HAROLD GRAHAM, Superintendent, Auburn Correctional Facility, [1] Respondent.

MEMORANDUM DECISION

JAMES K. SINGLETON, Senior District Judge.

Willie Danford, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus with this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Danford is in the custody of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and is incarcerated at Auburn Correctional Facility. Respondent has answered, and Danford has replied.

I. BACKGROUND/PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

Danford was arrested after selling approximately two ounces of cocaine to a confidential police informant ("CI"). He was indicted and found guilty after a jury trial of one count of criminal sale of a controlled substance in the second degree. The trial court sentenced him, as a second felony offender, to 14 years' imprisonment followed by 5 years of post-release supervision and directed him to pay restitution in the amount of $2, 400 to the county drug task force for the buy money used in the undercover operation.

Through counsel, Danford directly appealed, arguing that: 1) the verdict was not supported by legally sufficient evidence and/or was against the weight of the evidence; 2) admission of the cocaine evidence was in error because chain of custody had not been established; 3) the People violated their discovery obligations under People v. Rosario, 173 N.E.2d 881 (N.Y. 1991), by failing to disclose prior to jury selection a document relevant to the chain of custody of the cocaine; 4) the trial court improperly admitted into evidence a document prepared by Sergeant Caufield memorializing oral admissions that Danford allegedly made to him; 5) the trial court committed reversible error in sustaining the prosecution's hearsay objections to Danford's testimony as to what the police told him during interrogation; 6) the order of restitution was not authorized by law; and 7) the sentence was excessive and should be reduced in the interests of justice.

The Appellate Division vacated the restitution order and otherwise affirmed the conviction in a reasoned opinion. Danford filed a counseled application for leave to appeal, which the Court of Appeals summarily denied. Danford timely filed his pro se Petition to this Court on January 17, 2012.

II. GROUNDS RAISED

Danford raises the following claims: 1) the trial court improperly admitted into evidence a document prepared by Sergeant Caufield purporting to memorialize oral admissions that Danford made to him; 2) admission of the cocaine evidence was in error because no complete chain of custody had been established; 3) the People violated their Rosario obligations by failing to disclose prior to jury selection a document relevant to the chain of custody of the cocaine; and 4) the trial court committed reversible error in sustaining the prosecution's hearsay objections to Danford's testimony as to what the police told him during interrogation.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), this Court cannot grant relief unless the decision of the state court was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, " § 2254(d)(1), or "was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding, " § 2254(d)(2). A state-court decision is contrary to federal law if the state court applies a rule that contradicts controlling Supreme Court authority or "if the state court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision" of the Supreme Court but nevertheless arrives at a different result. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 406 (2000).

To the extent that the Petition raises issues of the proper application of state law, they are beyond the purview of this Court in a federal habeas proceeding. See Swarthout v. Cooke, 131 S.Ct. 859, 863 (2011) (per curiam) (holding that it is of no federal concern whether state law was correctly applied). It is a fundamental precept of dual federalism that the states possess primary authority for defining and enforcing the criminal law. See, e.g., Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991) (a federal habeas court cannot reexamine a state court's interpretation and application of state law); Walton v. Arizona, 497 U.S. 639, 653 (1990) (presuming that the state court knew and correctly applied state law), overruled on other grounds by Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002).

In applying these standards on habeas review, this Court reviews the "last reasoned decision" by the state court. Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 804 (1991); Jones v. Stinson, 229 F.3d 112, 118 (2d Cir. 2000). Under the AEDPA, the state court's findings of fact are presumed to be correct unless the petitioner rebuts this presumption by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003).

IV. DISCUSSION

Claim One: Improper Admission of Confession

At trial, the prosecution offered into evidence a Cortland County Sheriff's Department "oral admissions form." The form purported to relate Danford's oral admission to both Sergeant Caufield and Sergeant Boice. The form was signed by Sergeant Caufield but was not signed or otherwise acknowledged by Danford. It is not clear if the form went to the jury and was available during deliberations.

Sergeant Boice testified that he informed Danford of his Miranda rights prior to police questioning, and that Danford waived his rights as indicated on a waiver of rights form prepared by Boice. The prosecution did not ask Sergeant Boice any questions about the oral admissions form, and defense counsel did not reference the form on cross-examination. On crossexamination, Sergeant Boice testified that he and Sergeant Caufield questioned Danford, that he could not recall if other officers were present, and that Danford "wanted to talk." ...


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