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Rhodes v. Lee

United States District Court, N.D. New York

May 1, 2014

LAWRENCE R. RHODES, Petitioner,
v.
WILLIAM LEE, Superintendent, Green Haven Correctional Facility, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM DECISION

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

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

I. BACKGROUND/PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

On February 6, 2008, a grand jury charged Rhodes with 13 counts of Criminal Sexual Act in the Second Degree, 12 counts of Criminal Sale of Marijuana in the Second Degree, 1 count of Attempted Criminal Sexual Act in the Third Degree, 2 counts of Sexual Abuse in the Third Degree, and 6 counts of Endangering the Welfare of a Child in connection with the alleged sexual abuse of his adopted daughter between September 2006 and December 2007 when she was 15 years old. Six months later, Rhodes was charged by separate indictment with 7 counts of Criminal Sexual Act in the First Degree and 1 count of Attempted Rape in the First Degree stemming from criminal conduct against his other adopted daughter alleged to have occurred between August 2007 and November 2007 when she was 17 years old.

In a pre-trial proceeding, the prosecution provided Rhodes with a copy of an indictment against Desmond DeFreitas, a neighbor who had become friends with the Rhodes children. The indictment accused DeFreitas of committing burglaries in the presence of at least one unnamed minor and committing sexual offenses against an unnamed minor. Defense counsel stated that he understood that "the gist of the conduct that's alleged in that indictment was that Desmond DeFreitas was accompanied by one or both of these girls, was breaking into buildings with the intent to commit a crime. And also, I believe engaging in sexual intercourse with one of these girls...." Defense counsel asked the prosecution to identify the victims of DeFreitas' sexual crime and for a copy of the bill of particulars in the DeFreitas case. Defense counsel stated that he had placed DeFreitas on his witness list but did not wish to call him and would rather have the court take judicial notice of the DeFreitas indictment and allow it to be entered into evidence instead. The prosecutor asked for an offer of proof as to the purpose of the proposed admission of the DeFreitas indictment.

Defense counsel argued that he believed that DeFreitas had framed Rhodes to detract attention from his own crimes and to continue to sexually abuse the girls. He likewise argued that the girls should be impeached with the fact that one of the daughters did not tell the police in December 2007 about the crimes that DeFreitas was alleged to have committed against her in the fall of 2007. He additionally claimed that the girls were "trying to protect Desmond" by not offering details of his abuse and therefore were motivated to lie about what Rhodes had done to them. He further argued that because Rhodes had sought custody of the girls, DeFreitas and the girls' mother had concocted the charges.

The court stated that "[t]here is nothing other than pure speculation that there was a motive to lie" and that New York's Rape Shield Law barred many of the inquiries into the girls' relationship with DeFreitas that were sought by the defense. The judge additionally stated that she had reviewed the grand jury transcript in the DeFreitas case and "didn't see anything that [she] would characterize as Brady [1] material." The court also referred the defense to People v. Mandel, 401 N.E.2d 185 (N.Y. 1979), for the proposition that New York's Rape Shield Law precluded the defense from impeaching a complainant with the fact that she had made complaints against other people "[i]n a case such as this where certainly there has been no showing that the accusation is false and/or similar enough to the complainant's accusation of a defendant to suggest a pattern of false complaints." The court therefore ruled that the accusations against DeFreitas were not relevant to the case against Rhodes.

At the conclusion of trial, the jury found Rhodes guilty on all counts except one count of attempted first-degree rape, one count of first-degree criminal sexual act, and one count of attempted third-degree criminal sexual act. The court sentenced Rhodes to an aggregate 25-year prison term plus 20 years of post-release supervision.

Through counsel, Rhodes appealed his conviction to the Appellate Division, arguing: 1) the court improperly admitted evidence of his bad acts; 2) exculpatory evidence from the Schoharie County Department of Social Services was unlawfully withheld from him; 3) the court erred in excluding the DeFreitas indictment; 4) the evidence was insufficient to support the marijuana sale convictions; 5) the loss of a trial exhibit during deliberations deprived him of due process; and 6) his sentences were excessive. On January 26, 2012, the Appellate Division affirmed his conviction in its entirety in a reasoned opinion. Rhodes sought leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals, asking the court to consider his claims that he should have been able to cross-examine his daughters about their relationship with DeFreitas and introduce the DeFreitas indictment. The Court of Appeals summarily denied the application on June 29, 2012.

Rhodes timely filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus to this Court on November 21, 2012.

II. GROUNDS RAISED

In his pro se Petition before this Court, Rhodes asserts two grounds for relief. He first argues that the prosecutor suppressed and the court excluded evidence that his daughters engaged in criminal and sexual activity with Desmond DeFreitas and that one of the prosecution witnesses testified falsely about whether a DNA sample was collected from the girls' mother. He additionally contends that he was deprived of his right to appeal. In his Traverse, Rhodes states that he "respectively withdraws all grounds except Ground I." In support of Ground I, Rhodes states that "[t]he limiting of cross examination of [his] accussers [sic], thereby annulling defense strategy, was a violation" of his constitutional rights and that "the court[']s ruling that the accusations against DeFreitas [were] irrelevant denied him any possible defense." This Court will therefore only address his claim that the exclusion of the DeFreitas evidence violated his rights to confrontation and to present a defense.

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 ...


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