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Williams v. Lavalley

United States District Court, N.D. New York

April 17, 2014

CAL WILLIAMS, Petitioner,
v.
THOMAS LAVALLEY, Superintendent, Clinton Correctional Facility, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM DECISION

JAMES K. SINGLETON, Jr., Senior District Judge.

Cal Williams, 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. Williams is in the custody of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and is incarcerated at the Clinton Correctional Facility. Respondent has answered. Williams has not replied.

I. BACKGROUND/PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

Williams and Jesse Turner were charged with three counts of first-degree robbery, eight counts of second-degree robbery, and three counts of third-degree grand larceny stemming from their involvement in three separate bank robberies. Williams and Turner were tried separately. A jury convicted Williams of all counts. The court sentenced Williams to consecutive determinate sentences of 25 years on the three first-degree robbery counts, determinate sentences of 15 years on the eight second-degree robbery counts (five to be served consecutively, and three concurrently with the other sentences), and indeterminate sentences of 3 ½ to 7 years on the three third-degree grand larceny counts to run concurrently with the other sentences. The aggregate sentence of 150 years was reduced by operation of law to an aggregate maximum of 50 years. See N.Y. PENAL LAW § 70.30(1)(e)(vi).

Through counsel, Williams directly appealed, arguing that: 1) the verdict was against the weight of the evidence; 2) the sentence was harsh and excessive and illegal as a matter of law; and 3) the trial court erred in denying suppression of the identification of Williams through "suggestive" photo arrays shown to several witnesses. The Appellate Division affirmed in a reasoned opinion.

Williams filed a counseled application for leave to appeal, which the Court of Appeals summarily denied.

On July 3, 2012, Williams timely filed his Petition to this Court.

II. GROUNDS RAISED

In his pro se Petition before this Court, Williams argues, as he did on direct appeal, that: 1) the verdict was against the weight of the evidence; 2) the sentence was harsh and excessive and illegal as a matter of law; and 3) the identification evidence should have been suppressed as one photo array was "suggestive."

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 ...


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