United States District Court, N.D. New York
BRYON K. RUSS, SR., Petitioner,
BRIAN FISCHER, Commissioner of Corrections, Respondent.
BRYON K. RUSS, SR., Dannemora, New York, Petitioner Pro se.
HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, Attorney General for the State of New York, New York, New York, LISA E. FLEISCHMANN, ESQ., Assistant Attorney General, Attorney for Respondent.
REPORT-RECOMMENDATION AND ORDER
CHRISTIAN F. HUMMEL, Magistrate Judge.
Petitioner pro se Bryon K. Russ, Sr. ("Russ") is currently an inmate in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional and Community Supervision ("DOCCS") at Clinton Correctional Facility. Russ seeks a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, alleging that his multiple sentences must run concurrently and DOCCS must recalculate his sentences imposed by the Ontario and Wayne County Courts to run concurrently with each other. Pet. (Dkt. No. 1) at 6-8. For the reasons that follow, it is recommended that the petition be denied.
A. Multiple Sentences
On February 21, 2001, after a jury trial in the Ontario County Court, Russ was convicted of two counts of robbery in the first degree, one count of assault in the first degree, and one count of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree. See Russ v. Burge, No. 04-CV-6472T, 2009 WL 2982974, at *1 (W.D.N.Y. Sept. 14, 2009); Pet. at 1; Resp. (Dkt. No. 9-1) at 1. Russ was sentenced to, and is presently serving, definitive sentences of two twenty-four-and-a-half-year prison terms on the robbery counts, a ten-year term on the assault count, and a seven-year term on the weapons possession count, all to run concurrently with each other [hereinafter "2001 Ontario sentence"]. Russ, 2009 WL 2982974, at *2; Dkt. No. 10 at 180. Post-release supervision ("PRS") was not imposed. Pet. at 9.
On April 3, 2001, after a jury trial in the Wayne County Court, Russ was convicted of two counts of burglary in the first degree, two counts of robbery in the first degree, one count of burglary in the second degree, and one count of robbery in the third degree. See Russ v. Greene, No. 04-CV-6079 (VEB), 2009 WL 2958007, at *1 (W.D.N.Y. Sept. 11, 2009); Resp. at 1-2. Russ was sentenced to, and is presently serving, definitive sentences of four twenty-four-and-a-half-year prisoner terms for burglary and robbery in the first degree, a fifteen-year term for burglary in the second degree, an indeterminate term of two-and-a-third to seven years for robbery in the third degree, and five years of PRS [hereinafter "2001 Wayne sentence"]. Resp. at 2; Dkt. No. 10 at 180. The court ordered these sentences to run concurrently with each other and consecutively with the 2001 Ontario sentence. Pet. at 9; Resp. at 2.
In September, 2008, Russ filed a New York Criminal Procedure Law ("CPL") § 440.20 motion to set aside the 2001 Ontario sentence because it failed to include a PRS term. Pet. at 9; Penal Law § 70.85. The Ontario County Court granted the § 440.20 motion and vacated the 2001 Ontario sentence. Pet. at 10; see Dkt. No. 10 at 181-82.
On November 13, 2008, the Ontario County Court resentenced Russ to the same determinate prison term of twenty-four-and-a-half-years without a PRS term, to run consecutively to the 2001 Wayne sentence [hereinafter "2008 resentencing order"]. Pet. at 10; Dkt. No. 10 at 147. Proceeding pro se, Russ appealed the 2008 resentencing order. Pet. at 10.
On December 30, 2009, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, vacated and modified the 2008 resentencing order. People v. Russ, 68 A.D.3d 1703 (4th Dep't 2009). The Appellate Division stated,
We agree with [Russ] that the court at resentencing erred in directing that the sentences shall run consecutively to a sentence imposed by Wayne County Court subsequent to the conviction in Ontario County.... In resentencing defendant pursuant to Penal Law § 70.85, the court had no authority to direct that the sentences run either concurrently with or consecutively to the sentence imposed by Wayne County Court. We therefore modify the resentence accordingly.
Id. at 1703-04.
DOCCS calculated Russ's 2001 Wayne sentence to run consecutively to the 2001 Ontario sentence. Resp. at 3; Dkt. No. 10 at 7. Russ is currently serving an aggregate forty-nine-year prison term, which was reduced, by operation of law, to forty-years. Resp. at 3; Dkt. No. 10 at 147.
B. Article 78 Petition
In June, 2010, Russ filed a pro se New York Civil Practice Law and Rules ("CPLR") Article 78 petition in Cayuga County, seeking a court order, in accordance with Penal Law § 70.25(1),  directing DOCCS to calculate his 2001 Ontario sentence to run concurrently with his 2001 Wayne sentence. Resp. at 2; Dkt. No. 10 at 6-7, 23. The gravamen of Russ's contentions is that the 2001 Wayne sentence can no longer run consecutively to the 2001 Ontario sentence because the 2008 resentencing order rendered the 2001 Ontario sentence invalid. See Dkt. No. 10 at 6-8. Russ further argued that if the court fails to specify how the sentences should run under Penal Law § 70.25(1), then the sentences should run concurrently as long as the sentences are not statutorily mandated to run consecutively. Dkt. No. 10 at 18.
In response to Russ's Article 78 petition, Richard de Simone, associate counsel in charge of DOCCS's Office of Sentencing Review, explained in a letter that the "resentencing pursuant to Penal Law § 70.85 does not change the pre-existing relationship between terms of imprisonment." Dkt. No. 10 at 147. De Simone pointed to the Appellate Division's decision, which merely acknowledged that the resentencing court had no authority to direct the sentences to run either concurrently or consecutively. Id . De Simone further iterated that "the consecutive relationship between the Ontario County and Wayne County sentences was not changed by the reimposition of the Ontario County sentences without post-release supervision in 2008." Id.
On December 14, 2010, Cayuga County Court Judge Thomas G. Leone denied Russ's Article 78 petition. Dkt. No. 10 at 180-84. The Article 78 court explained while the Appellate Division stated that the 2008 resentencing court lacked authority to order Russ's sentences to run consecutively, the Appellate Division did not state that the sentences were to run concurrently. Id. at 182. The Article 78 court emphasized that Russ had argued for a concurrent sentence in his appellate brief; however, the Appellate Division declined to make that ruling. Id. at 182-83.
The Article 78 court continued, stating that a resentence pursuant to Penal Law § 70.85 "merely allows a sentencing court to reimpose the originally imposed determinate sentence of imprisonment without any term of post-release supervision. The statute does not allow a court to change the sentencing terms in any other way." Dkt. No. 10 at 183. Rather, it was the Wayne County Court that held the authority to impose a consecutive or concurrent sentence, irregardless of the fact that the 2001 Ontario sentence was technically vacated. Id . The Article 78 court concluded a court "reimpos[ing] a sentence pursuant Penal Law § 70.85... does not have the authority to determine whether the sentence is to be served concurrently with or consecutively to other sentences. Instead, the decision of the prior sentencing court remains unchanged." Id. at 184. Furthermore, Penal Law § 70.25(1)(a) does not apply because the 2001 Ontario sentence was already in place and was merely altered to correct a sentencing error, and the 2008 resentencing court did not impose an additional term of imprisonment. Id.
In his pro se appeal to the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, Russ argued that his sentences are required by law to run concurrently and DOCCS lacks the authority to compute his sentences consecutively. Dkt. No. 10 at 186-217. By order dated June 8, 2012, the Appellate Division unanimously affirmed the judgment of the Article 78 court "for reasons stated in the decision at Supreme Court." In Re Russ v. Fischer, 96 A.D.3d 1475 (4th Dep't 2012). Russ sought leave to raise his appellate issues in the New York Court of Appeals, who denied the leave application on October 23, 2012. Dkt. No. 10 at 249-53, 263-64; In Re Russ v. Fischer, 19 N.Y.3d 814 (2012). This petition followed.
Russ asserts that his 2001 Wayne and Ontario sentences should run concurrently with each other and DOCCS is violating New York Correction Law § 601-a by calculating his 2008 resentence to run consecutively to the 2001 Wayne sentence, rather than concurrently with the 2001 Wayne sentence. Pet. at 10. Respondent contends that Russ's claims are not cognizable on federal habeas review. Resp. at 3-4.
A. Legal Standard
Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (1996) ("AEDPA"), a federal court may grant a writ of habeas corpus only if the state court's adjudication on the merits
(1) 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
(2) 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); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000); Hawkins v. Costello, 460 F.3d 238, 242 (2d Cir. 2006); DeBerry v. Portuondo, 403 F.3d 57, 66 (2d Cir. 2005).
The Supreme Court has given independent meaning to the "contrary to" and "unreasonable application" clauses in § 2254(d)(1). Williams, 529 U.S. at 405. "Under the contrary to' clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the Supreme] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts." Id. at 412-13. As for the "unreasonable application" clause, a writ may be granted if "the state court's application of clearly established federal law was objectively unreasonable." Id. at 409, 413. "[A]n unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of federal law." Id. at 410. In addition, the statutory phrase "clearly established Federal law... refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme] Court's decisions...." Id. at 412 (internal citations omitted).
The petitioner bears the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that "he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); see also Smalls v. Batista, 191 F.3d 272, 278 (2d Cir. 1999); Jones v. Vacco, 126 F.3d 408, 415 (2d Cir. 1997). Further, when evaluating a habeas petition, "a determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct [and t]he applicant shall have the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); DeBerry, 403 F.3d at 66.
On the other hand, "if the federal claim was not adjudicated on the merits, "AEDPA deference is not required, and conclusions of law and mixed findings of fact and conclusions of law are reviewed de novo." Dolphy v. Mantello, 552 F.3d 236, 238 (2d Cir. 2009) (quoting Spears v. Greiner, 459 F.3d 200, 203 (2d Cir. 2006)). Furthermore, "[w]here a state court's decision is unaccompanied by an explanation, the habeas petitioner's burden still must be met by showing there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief." Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 784 (2011). Because Russ's claims were adjudicated on their merits, the Court reviews the merits of those claims using the AEDPA deference.
B. Consecutive Sentences
"It is not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determinations on state-law questions." Ortiz v. N.Y.S. Parole in Bronx, N.Y., 586 F.3d 149, 158 (2d Cir. 2009) (quoting inter alia Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991)). "As the Supreme Court has long held, state courts are the ultimate expositors of state law;" thus, these issues are not cognizable on federal habeas review. Portalatin v. Graham, 624 F.3d 69, 88-89 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684, 691 (1975)); see also Swarthout v. Cooke, 131 S.Ct. 859, 861 (2011) ("We have stated many times that federal habeas corpus relief does not lie for errors of state law.'") (citing Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67 (1991)).
In this case, the claims contained in the petition are not cognizable on habeas review because they do not present issues of federal law. Russ raised his claims based on the state courts' application of Penal Law §§ 70.85, 70.25 and Correction Law § 601-a. Whether the sentencing court properly applied Penal Law § 70.85, the Appellate Division properly applied Penal Law § 70.25, or DOCCS properly applied Correction Law § 601-a, are not cognizable on federal habeas review. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a) (federal courts can grant habeas relief only when prisoner "is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States"); see also Thomas v. Larkin, No. 12-CV-2899 (NGG)(LB), 2013 WL 5963133, at *13 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 7, 2013) ("whether the sentencing court properly applied New York State Penal Law § 70.25 in determining that Thomas's sentences were consecutive rather than concurrent is not cognizable on federal habeas review" (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a)).
The challenged state statutes revolve around whether Russ should serve his multiple sentences concurrently or consecutively. Penal Law § 70.85 provides that where a determinate sentence imposed that is required by law to include a term of PRS, but the court did not expressly include such a term when pronouncing the sentence, the court may resentence the defendant without any PRS term. N.Y. PENAL LAW § 70.85. Penal Law § 70.25 provides that a sentence that is silent as to whether the imprisonment is to be served concurrently or consecutively "shall run concurrently with all other terms." N.Y. PENAL LAW § 70.25(1)(a). Correction Law § 601-a directs that DOCCS shall return a person to court for resentencing if facts submitted on behalf of the person indicates that the person has been erroneously sentenced. N.Y. CORRECT. LAW § 601-a.
A claim that a state court judge failed to comply with a state statute raises a question of state law. See Thomas, 2013 WL 5963133, at *13 (citation omitted). "[F]ederal courts may not issue the writ [of habeas corpus] on the basis of a perceived error of state law." Id . (citing Pulley v. Harris, 46 U.S. 37, 41 (1984)). Furthermore, "there is no constitutionally cognizable right to concurrent, rather than consecutive, sentences." United States v. McLean, 287 F.3d 127, 136-37 (2d Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). "A state's interpretation of its own laws or rules provides no basis for federal habeas corpus relief, since no question of a constitutional nature is involved." Dhaity v. Warden, No. 07-CV-1810 (CSH), 2014 WL 1089265, at *14 (D. Conn. Mar. 20, 2014) (citing Carrizales v. Wainwright, 699 F.2d 1053, 1055 (11th Cir. 1983) (per curiam)).
Accordingly, Russ's claims are not cognizable on habeas review and his petition must be dismissed.
For the reasons stated above, it is hereby RECOMMENDED that Russ's petition for a writ of habeas corpus (Dkt. No. 1) be DENIED.
It is further RECOMMENDED that no certificate of appealability should be issued with respect to any of Gantt's claims as Gantt has not made a "substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right" pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). See 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2) ("A certificate of appealability may issue... only if the applicant has made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right."); see also Lucidore v. New York State Div. of Parole, 209 F.3d 107, 112 (2d Cir. 2000).
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the parties may lodge written objections to the foregoing report. Such objections shall be filed with the Clerk of the Court. FAILURE TO OBJECT TO THIS REPORT WITHIN FOURTEEN DAYS WILL PRECLUDE APPELLATE REVIEW. Roldan v. Racette, 984 F.2d 85, 89 (2d Cir. 1993); Small v. Sec'y of HHS, 892 F.2d 15 (2d Cir. 1989); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72, 6(a), 6(e).
Bryon K. Russ, Sr., Auburn, NY, pro se.
Benjamin A. Bruce, New York State Office of the Attorney General, Rochester, NY, for Respondent.
DECISION AND ORDER
MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.
*1 Pro se petitioner Bryon K. Russ ("Petitioner") has filed a timely petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging the constitutionality of his custody pursuant to a judgment entered January 17, 2001, in New York State, County Court, Ontario County, convicting him, after a jury trial, of two counts of Robbery in the First Degree (N.Y. Penal Law § 160.15, ), one count of Assault in the First Degree (N.Y. Penal Law § 120.10), and one count of Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree (N.Y. Penal Law § 265.03 ).
For the reasons stated below, the petition is denied.
II. Factual Background and Procedural History The charges arose from an incident that occurred on May 24, 2000, in which Petitioner shot Sincere Holmes ("Holmes" or "the victim") in the leg over a gang-related dispute.
On the evening of May 24, 2000, Petitioner, Holmes, Rasheem Harris ("Harris"), Rasheen Madison ("Madison),
and T' Jay Desassure ("Desassure") met up at a bar in Geneva, New York. At some point thereafter, the five left Geneva in a tan or brown Dodge minivan, driven by Petitioner. Trial Transcript [T.T.] 105-06, 172-75. The five individuals were headed to Rochester. T.T. 113. As they were headed out of Geneva, Petitioner stopped the car on a back road, apparently to urinate. T.T. 114. Petitioner pulled out a.25 caliber handgun and pointed it at Holmes. T.T. 117. As he did so, Petitioner indicated to Holmes that Holmes was "0-32" because he snitched on Petitioner's friend. T.T. 112-16, 176-80. Petitioner, Harris, and Madison robbed Holmes and took his jacket, cell phone, and $70 in cash. Petitioner then ordered Holmes out of the car and told him to lie on the ground. T.T. 116-21, 180-82. Believing he was going to be executed, Holmes began to scuffle with Harris and Madison. Petitioner then shot at Holmes with the.25 caliber handgun, causing a bullet to pass through Harris's thumb and ultimately lodging in Holmes's leg. T.T. 121-24, 183-87. In the darkness and confusion, Petitioner dropped the gun and Holmes ran into the woods, bleeding from his leg wound. T.T. 121-22, 135-36. He managed to run to a nearby house where he called for help and then collapsed in a puddle of blood on the front porch. T.T. 265. The house's occupant called for the police and an ambulance. T.T. 68-72, 124-26, 164-65. When the police arrived, Holmes told police that he was shot by one of three or four black males in a tan, brown or beige SUV. That information was broadcast to law enforcement, and moments later, police stopped a vehicle fitting that description. T.T. 179-80. Petitioner was driving the vehicle containing three occupants. All four occupants were removed from the van. T.T. 183-84. The police observed a white, bloody towel inside. T.T. 205. They also smelled marijuana emanating from the vehicle. T.T. 185. The four occupants were then taken to the Geneva Police Department for questioning and the police sought and obtained a search warrant for the van. T.T. 224-25. Police discovered the following items during the search: a bloody towel, a.25 caliber handgun and live.25 round, and some of the victim's personal belongings. T.T. 271-79. While at the police station, and after he had been advised of his rights, Petitioner asked police how much time he would get in prison for what he had done. T.T. 249.
*2 Following his indictment, Petitioner filed a motion seeking to dismiss the indictment on the ground that he was deprived of his statutory right to appear before the grand jury as a witness on his own behalf. By Decision dated August 23, 2000, the Ontario County Court granted Petitioner's motion. By Notice of Motion dated August 29, 2000, the prosecution moved for an order granting reargument and reconsideration of the August 23, 2000 decision. This application was granted, and the Ontario County Court vacated the August 23, 2000 decision on September 8, 2000 and denied Petitioner's motion to dismiss the indictment.
A combined Huntley/Mapp probable cause hearing was held before the Ontario County Court on October 18, 2000 and November 15, 2000. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Ontario County Court found that there was reasonable grounds for the police to stop the minivan and therefore denied suppression of the items found in the van, as well as the statements made by Petitioner. Hearing Minutes of November 15, 2000, 119-24.
A trial was held in the Ontario County Court on January 16 and 17, 2001. Petitioner did not testify on his own behalf and no witnesses were called by the defense. Desassure testified as an eyewitness for the prosecution. The jury returned a verdict of guilty of all counts of the indictment. On February 21, 2001, he was sentenced to concurrent, definitive sentences of imprisonment as follows: 24½ years for robbery, 10 years for assault, and 7 years for criminal possession of a weapon.
On or about March 15, 2002, Petitioner filed a timely Notice of Appeal, and his conviction was affirmed by the Appellate Division, Fourth Department. People v. Russ, 292 A.D.2d 862, 739 N.Y.S.2d 512 (4th Dept.2002). Leave to appeal to the New York State Court of Appeals was denied on August 12, 2002. People v. Russ, 98 N.Y.2d 713, 749 N.Y.S.2d 11, 778 N.E.2d 562 (N.Y.2002).
On or about March 18, 2003, Petitioner sought to vacate his conviction pursuant to N.Y. Criminal Procedure Law (C.P.L.) § 440.10. The motion was denied by the Ontario County Court by Decision and Order of May 28, 2003 (D. and 0. of 05/28/03). Leave to appeal to the Appellate Division was denied on September 17, 2003. An application for leave to appeal to the New York State Court of Appeals was dismissed on November 13, 2003.
On or about February 26, 2004, Petitioner filed a motion for a writ of error coram nobis with the Appellate Division, which was denied on April 30, 2004. People v. Russ, 6 A.D.3d 1251 (4th Dept.2004). The New York Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal on August 30, 2004. People v. Russ, 3 N.Y.3d 681, 784 N.Y.S.2d 19, 817 N.E.2d 837 (N.Y.2004). This habeas petition followed.
III. General Principles Applicable to Habeas Review
A. The AEDPA Standard of Review
Under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"), a federal court may grant habeas relief to a state prisoner only if a claim that was "adjudicated on the merits" in state court "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, " 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), or if it "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" clearly established federal law "if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme Court] on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the Supreme Court] has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 413, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000). The phrase, "clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, " limits the law governing a habeas petitioner's claims to the holdings (not dicta ) of the Supreme Court existing at the time of the relevant state-court decision. Williams, 529 U.S. at 412; accord Sevencan v. Herbert, 342 F.3d 69, 73-74 (2d Cir.2002), cert. denied, 540 U.S. 1197, 124 S.Ct. 1453, 158 L.Ed.2d 111 (2004).
*3 A state court decision is based on an "unreasonable application" of Supreme Court precedent if it correctly identified the governing legal rule, but applied it in an unreasonable manner to the facts of a particular case. Williams, 529 U.S. at 413; see also id. at 408-10." [A] federal habeas court is not empowered to grant the writ just because, in its independent judgment, it would have decided the federal law question differently." Aparicio v. Artuz, 269 F.3d 78, 94 (2d Cir.2001). Rather, "[t]he state court's application must reflect some additional increment of incorrectness such that it may be said to be unreasonable." Id. This increment "need not be great; otherwise, habeas relief would be limited to state court decisions so far off the mark as to suggest judicial incompetence." Francis S. v. Stone, 221 F.3d 100, 111 (2d Cir.2000) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Under AEDPA, "a determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct. The [petitioner] shall have the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); see also Parsad v. Greiner, 337 F.3d 175, 181 (2d Cir.2003) ("The presumption of correctness is particularly important when reviewing the trial court's assessment of witness credibility."), cert. denied sub nom. Parsad v. Fischer, 540 U.S. 1091, 124 S.Ct. 962, 157 L.Ed.2d 798 (2003). A state court's findings "will not be overturned on factual grounds unless objectively unreasonable in light of the evidence presented in the state-court proceeding." Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340, 123 S.Ct. 1029, 154 L.Ed.2d 931 (2003).
B. Exhaustion Requirement
"An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to a judgment of a State court shall not be granted unless it appears that... the applicant has exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State.... "28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A); see, e.g., O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 843-44, 119 S.Ct. 1728, 144 L.Ed.2d 1 (1999); accord, e.g., Bossett v. Walker, 41 F.3d 825, 828 (2d Cir.1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1054, 115 S.Ct. 1436, 131 L.Ed.2d 316 (1995)." The exhaustion requirement is not satisfied unless the federal claim has been fairly presented' to the state courts." Daye v. Attorney General, 696 F.2d 186, 191 (2d Cir.1982) (en banc) , cert. denied, 464 U.S. 1048, 104 S.Ct. 723, 79 L.Ed.2d 184 (1984).
C. The Adequate and Independent State Ground Doctrine
"It is now axiomatic that cases in which a state prisoner has defaulted his federal claims in state court pursuant to an independent and adequate state procedural rule, federal habeas review of the claims is barred.'" Dunham v. Travis, 313 F.3d 724, 729 (quoting Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750, 111 S.Ct. 2546, 115 L.Ed.2d 640 (1991)). "A habeas petitioner may bypass the independent and adequate state ground bar by demonstrating a constitutional violation that resulted in a fundamental miscarriage of justice, i.e., that he is actually innocent of the crime for which he has been convicted." Id. (citing Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 321, 115 S.Ct. 851, 130 L.Ed.2d 808 (1995); Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 496, 106 S.Ct. 2639, 91 L.Ed.2d 397 (1986)).
*4 Although the Supreme Court "has repeatedly cautioned that the [independent and adequate state law ground] doctrine applies to bar consideration on federal habeas of federal claims that have been defaulted under state law, '" Dunham, 313 F.3d at 729 (quoting Lambrix v. Singletary, 520 U.S. 518, 523, 117 S.Ct. 1517, 137 L.Ed.2d 771 (1997) (emphasis added by Second Circuit), the Second Circuit has observed that "it is not the case that the procedural-bar issue must invariably be resolved first; only that it ordinarily should be[, ]'" id. (quoting Lambrix, 520 U.S. at 525 (stating that bypassing procedural questions to reach the merits of a habeas petition is justified in rare situations, "for example, if the [the underlying issue] are easily resolvable against the habeas petitioner, whereas the procedural-bar issue involved complicated issues of state law")).
IV. Petitioner's Claims
1. The Trial Court Lacked Authority to Reinstate Indictment/Failure to Re-Present Case to Grand Jury
Petitioner argues that he was denied due process when the trial court reinstated the dismissed indictment without representing the case to the grand jury and obtaining a new indictment. According to Petitioner, in the absence of a new indictment, the trial court lacked jurisdiction over all subsequent proceedings after the indictment was dismissed. Pet. ¶ 22A, App. C.; T.V. 16-29. This claim must be dismissed because, contrary to Petitioner's understanding of the law, it does not state a claim of federal constitutional dimension.
The law is well settled that there is no federal constitutional right to indictment by a grand jury in a state criminal prosecution. See Alexander v. Louisiana, 405 U.S. 625, 633, 92 S.Ct. 1221, 31 L.Ed.2d 536 (1972) ("Although the Due Process Clause guarantees petitioner a fair trial, it does not require the States to observe the Fifth Amendment's provision for presentment or indictment by a grand jury."); see also LanFranco v. Murray, 313 F.3d 112, 118 (2d Cir.2002) (noting that the Fifth Amendment's right to a grand jury indictment had not been incorporated against the states through the Fourteenth Amendment) (citations omitted). The New York Court of Appeals has recognized that the "[t]he right to indictment by a Grand Jury in New York is dependent solely upon [the] State Constitution.... " People v. Iannone, 45 N.Y.2d 589, 594 n. 3, 412 N.Y.S.2d 110, 384 N.E.2d 656 (N.Y.1978) (citations omitted). Federal habeas relief, however, is not available for mere violations of state law. See Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68, 112 S.Ct. 475, 116 L.Ed.2d 385 (1991); 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a).
Therefore, this claim is not cognizable on habeas review and must be dismissed.
2. Petitioner claims he was denied assistance of counsel
Petitioner alleges that he was unrepresented by counsel from the time of his arrest on May 25, 2000 until his arraignment on the indictment on August 16, 2000, when counsel was assigned to him. Based on this allegation, Petitioner contends he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Pet. ¶ 22A, App. C.; T.V. 30-45.
*5 Petitioner raised this claim in his C.P.L. § 440.10 motion, and it was denied by the Ontario County Court pursuant to C.P.L. § 440.10(3)(a) because Petitioner could have placed the facts in support of the motion on the record prior to sentencing. D. and O. 05/28/03. By relying on C.P.L. § 440.10(3)(a), the state court invoked a state procedural rule which constitutes an adequate and independent state ground for rejecting the claim. See, e.g., Cameron v. People of the State of New York, No. 01 Civ. 9988BSJGWG, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24841, 2002 WL 31898076 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 30, 2002) ("CPL § 440.10(3)(a) constitutes an adequate and independent state ground that prevents a federal court from reviewing the merits of the claim."); Aguilera v. Walsh, No. 01 Civ. 2151, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16711, 2001 WL 1231524 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 17, 2001) (citing § 440.10(3)(a) as one of New York's "procedural default" rules barring federal habeas review of the claim). Petitioner is not limited to one C.P.L. § 440.10 application; however, in this instance, the factual bases for his claim were known prior to his sentencing and were demonstrable without resort to matters outside the record. Raising this issue on a further motion to vacate would be futile since the state court already denied the claim due to Petitioner's failure to follow a state procedural rule. Consequently, the claim is deemed exhausted but procedurally barred. See Grey v. Hoke, 933 F.2d 117, 120-21 (2d Cir.1991).
This Court is precluded from considering a procedurally defaulted claim unless Petitioner "can show cause for the default and prejudice attributable thereto, or demonstrate that failure to consider the federal claim will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice." Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 262, 109 S.Ct. 1038, 103 L.Ed.2d 308 (1989) (citations and internal quotations omitted); see also Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 321, 115 S.Ct. 851, 130 L.Ed.2d 808(1995) (a fundamental miscarriage of justice requires a showing of "actual innocence"). Petitioner fails to allege cause for the default or prejudice attributable thereto, nor does he attempt to show that a fundamental miscarriage of justice will occur should this Court decline to review his claim. This Court finds no basis on the record for overlooking the procedural default. Accordingly, the claim must be dismissed.
3. Petitioner's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel
A. Ineffective assistance of assigned counsel (Miller)
Petitioner alleges that he was denied effective assistance of counsel because his original assigned counsel (James F. Miller, Esq.) failed to advise him of his right to testify before the grand jury. Pet. ¶ 22A, App. C; T.V. 46-94. Petitioner raised this claim on direct appeal, and the Appellate Division rejected it on the merits, finding that "[t]he alleged failure of defense counsel to effectuate defendant's desire to testify before the Grand Jury, standing alone, does not constitute ineffective assistance of counsel."Memorandum and Order 03/15/02. Thus, the claim is exhausted and properly before this Court. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b).
*6 To establish that a petitioner was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of trial counsel, a petitioner must show that (1) his attorney's performance was deficient, and that (2) this deficient performance prejudiced his defense. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984). Deficiency is measured by an objective standard of reasonableness, and prejudice is demonstrated by a showing of a "reasonable probability" that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the trial would have been different. Id. at 694."A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome of the proceeding." Id. To succeed, a petitioner challenging counsel's representation must overcome a "strong presumption that [his attorney's] conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance." Id. at 689.A reviewing court "must judge the reasonableness of counsel's challenged conduct on the facts of the particular case, viewed as of the time of counsel's conduct, " id., and may not second-guess defense counsel's strategy. Id. at 690. Here, Petitioner has failed to demonstrate that his counsel's conduct was deficient within the meaning of Strickland, and that, but for the deficiency, the result of his trial would likely have been different.
There is nothing in the record to substantiate Petitioner's claim that his assigned counsel (Miller) failed to advise him of his right to testify before the grand jury. Even assuming, arguendo, that Petitioner was not advised of his right to testify before the grand jury, or that counsel prevented him from doing so in some way, Petitioner has offered no evidence to demonstrate that his failure to testify prejudiced his defense. See Brown v. Artuz, 124 F.3d 73, 79-81 (defendant claiming ineffective assistance due to counsel's failure to advise about personal right to testify must still establish prejudice under second prong of Strickland ). Furthermore, he does not indicate what testimony he would have offered had he appeared before the grand jury or how such testimony would have assisted his case. Given the eyewitness testimony of the victim and Desassure, along with the physical evidence and the Petitioner's incriminating statements made to police, it is highly unlikely that the grand jury would have failed to indict Petitioner. See Rega v. United States, 263 F.3d 18 (2d Cir.2002), cert. denied, 534 U.S. 1096, 122 S.Ct. 847, 151 L.Ed.2d 725 (2002) (counsel was not ineffective for preventing defendant from testifying where there was no prejudice to defendant from failure to testify because his testimony would not have been persuasive in light of prosecution's evidence).
This Court notes, in addition, that the claim is also meritless since Petitioner has no constitutional right to appear before a grand jury. See Lopez v. Riley, 865 F.2d 30, 32 (2d Cir.1989) (right to testify before a grand jury is a state statutory right and is not of constitutional dimension). In this regard, counsel was not ineffective for failing to advise Petitioner of a federal constitutional right which he did not have.
*7 Accordingly, this Court finds the Appellate Division's rejection of this claim is neither "contrary to" nor an "unreasonable application" of Supreme Court law. Habeas relief must be denied.
B. Remaining ineffective assistance of counsel claims as to attorney Gosper
Petitioner also raises various other claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel (Robert Gosper, Esq.) in his habeas petition by way of reference to his coram nobis motion. In particular, he contends trial counsel (Gosper) was ineffective for (1) failing to use medical records to impeach the victim's testimony; (2) failing to consult with and call Petitioner's alibi witnesses; (3) failing to exploit various other defects and inconsistencies in the People's proof. Pet. ¶ 22A, App. C. Petitioner raised these claims in his application for coram nobis, which was summarily denied by the Appellate Division, Fourth Department. Summary denial of Petitioner's motion constitutes an adjudication on the merits of this claim. Sellen v. Kuhlman, 261 F.3d 303, 314 (2d Cir.2001).
This Court notes that an application for coram nobis is generally an inappropriate forum for bringing an ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim for the first time. See Turner v. Artuz, 262 F.3d 118, 123-24 (2d Cir.2001) ("the writ of error coram nobis lies in [the state appellate court] only to vacate an order determining an appeal on the ground that the defendant was deprived of the effective assistance of appellate counsel.'") (quoting People v. Gordon, 183 A.D.2d 915, 584 N.Y.S.2d 318 (2d Dep't 1992))); C.P.L. § 440.10(1)(h). However, since the Appellate Division did not expressly reject the ineffective assistance of trial counsel claims individually or separately, and because Petitioner's ineffective assistance of trial counsel claims are interwoven with his ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claims (which were appropriately brought via the coram nobis motion), this Court will review the merits of these claims, affording them AEDPA deference.
Petitioner's first argument is that Gosper failed to bring to the jury's attention the purported fact that, contrary to Holmes's testimony that the bullet that struck him was still in his leg, the bullet had actually been removed during an operation at Strong Hospital. Petitioner contends that this would have demonstrated Holmes's lack of credibility and would have also called into question why the prosecution did not compare the recovered bullet with the handgun that was seized from the vehicle. This argument fails, however, because the bullet was never recovered from the victim's leg. The portion of the bullet that was lodged in the victim's leg was not removed during the surgery that was performed to repair the gunshot wound. Affidavit of Mark G. Davies, M.D., ¶ 4. Therefore, this Court cannot find that Gosper was ineffective in failing to attempt to impeach the victim's credibility, or in failing to assert that there was a bullet that had been recovered and was available to be compared with the gun that was recovered from the vehicle. Thus, this Court need not reach the prejudice prong of Strickland.
*8 Second, Petitioner argues that Gosper failed to consult with the petitioner's alibi witnesses and failed to call them at trial. This argument also fails because Petitioner indicated to Gosper that he did not have an alibi. Affidavit Robert Gosper, Esq. (Aff. R.G.), ¶ 4. Contrary to Petitioner's contention, Gosper's affidavit indicates that Petitioner told him that he was not with any witnesses at the time of the crime. Aff. R.G. ¶ 4. Therefore, this Court cannot find that Gosper was ineffective in failing to file an alibi notice or failing to call an alibi witness when such a person/people did not even exist. Thus, this Court need not reach the prejudice prong of Strickland.
Last, Petitioner argues Gosper was ineffective in failing to exploit various defects and inconsistencies in the People's proof. These include, but are not limited to, alleged inconsistencies in the testimony of the witnesses and presentation of certain issues that would have created reasonable doubt in the jury's mind had they been further explored. This Court, however, has reviewed the record and agrees with Respondent that none of these alleged deficiencies, either individually or collectively, are such as to create a reasonable probability that the result of the trial would have been different had such alleged errors not been committed. The proof against Petitioner in this case was overwhelming, and this Court cannot find that there is a reasonable probability the outcome of the case would have been different had these alleged errors of trial counsel not been committed.
Thus, the Appellate Division's rejection of these claims was neither "contrary to" nor an "unreasonable application of settled Supreme Court law. Habeas relief must be denied.
B. Ineffective assistance of appellate counsel (Tyo)
Petitioner alleges his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise ineffective assistance of trial counsel and for failing to raise a claim of prosecutorial misconduct on direct appeal. Pet. ¶ 22A, App. C; T.V. 46-104. Petitioner raised this claim in his coram nobis motion, which was summarily denied by the Appellate Division, Fourth Department. Summary denial of Petitioner's motion constitutes an adjudication on the merits of this claim. Sellen, 261 F.3d at 314.
The Strickland standard of ineffective assistance of counsel applies equally to trial and appellate counsel. See Mayo v. Henderson, 13 F.3d 528, 533 (2d Cir.1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 820, 115 S.Ct. 81, 130 L.Ed.2d 35 (1994). Counsel is not required to raise all colorable claims on appeal. See Jones v. Barnes, 463 U.S. 745, 751, 103 S.Ct. 3308, 77 L.Ed.2d 987 (1983). Rather, counsel may winnow out weaker arguments and focus on one or two key claims that present "the most promising issues for review." Id. at 751-53.And, of course, counsel is "strongly presumed to have rendered adequate assistance and [to have] made all significant decisions in the exercise of reasonable professional judgment." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689-90.
*9 Here, Petitioner cannot meet either prong of Strickland. He alleges that appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel for failure to raise the claims discussed under Section "3A" above. However, as discussed above, these claims are meritless. This Court, therefore, finds that appellate counsel exercised reasonable professional judgment in selecting the three issues raised on direct appeal, and ignoring those meritless that Petitioner now raises.
Moreover, as demonstrated by the affidavits of Davies and Gosper, petitioner's ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim requires an examination of facts outside the trial record. Thus, appellate counsel could not properly raise these off-therecord claim's on direct appeal.
Petitioner alleges appellate counsel was deficient for failing to raise a claim of prosecutorial misconduct on direct appeal, yet has failed to state a claim upon which this Court can grant relief. Petitioner instead makes an unsubstantiated, sweeping allegation that amounts to nothing more than a sort of "conspiracy theory", unsupported by the record and devoid of legal argument.
Viewing appellate counsel's conduct as a whole, he provided meaningful, effective representation. Since Petitioner could not have succeeded on any of the other claims advanced in his coram nobis motion which are now before this Court, it is clear that he could not have been prejudiced by counsel's failure to raise these claims.
This Court finds that the Appellate Division's rejection of this claim was neither "contrary to" nor an "unreasonable application of settled Supreme Court law. Habeas relief must be denied on this claim.
For the reasons stated above, the petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 is denied, and the petition is dismissed. Because petitioner has failed to make "a substantial showing of a denial of a constitutional right, "28 U.S.C. § 2253(c) (2), I decline to issue a certificate of appealability. See, e.g., Lucidore v. New York State Div. of Parole, 209 F.3d 107, 111-113 (2d Cir.2000). The Court also hereby certifies, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3), that any appeal from this judgment would not be taken in good faith and therefore denies leave to appeal as a poor person. Coppedge v. United States, 369 U.S. 438, 82 S.Ct. 917, 8 L.Ed.2d 21 (1962).
Petitioner must file any notice of appeal with the Clerk's Office, United States District Court, Western District of New York, within thirty (30) days of the date of judgment in this action. Requests to proceed on appeal as a poor person must be filed with United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in accordance with the requirements of Rule 24 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Bryon K. Russ, Sr., Auburn, NY, pro se.
Melvin Bressler, Bressler & Kunze, Rochester, NY, for ...