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Ramadan v. Niagara County

United States District Court, W.D. New York

June 24, 2014

ABDUL S. RAMADAN, Petitioner,
v.
NIAGARA COUNTY, Respondent.

DECISION AND ORDER

MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Proceeding pro se, Abdul S. Ramadan ("Petitioner") instituted this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 alleging that he was being unconstitutionally held in the Niagara County Jail following a judgment of conviction entered against him on November 2, 2011, in Lewiston Town Court, as the result of his guilty plea to one count of Vehicle & Traffic Law § 1192 (Driving While Intoxicated), an unclassified misdemeanor.

II. Factual Background and Procedural History

A. Trial Court Proceedings

Petitioner's case commenced in Lewiston Town Court on Wednesday, July 27, 2011, when he appeared for arraignment. However, the arraignment did not proceed because Petitioner was too intoxicated. Although Petitioner had not yet applied for the services of the Niagara County Public Defenders Office, Town Court Justice Thomas Sheehan requested that Assistant Public Defender A. Joseph Catalano, Esq. ("Attorney Catalano") explain to Petitioner why the matter could not proceed.

The next appearance date was August 17, 2011, at which time Petitioner was arraigned and released on his own recognizance. At that time, Petitioner conferred with Attorney Catalano about a plea offer the prosecution had extended to him. The matter was adjourned for two weeks so that Petitioner could decide whether to take the plea or go to trial. Attorney Catalano indicates that he fully explained the ramifications of taking a plea to a misdemeanor driving while intoxicated ("DWI") to Petitioner, including the possibility of a period of confinement.

Petitioner failed to appear for scheduled court dates on August 31, 2011; and September 21, 2011, the non-jury trial date. Petitioner also did not appear on October 18, 2011, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Apparently, after Petitioner called the court on October 19, 2011, the warrant was rescinded. The next court date given to Petitioner, according to court documents, was November 2, 2011. This, however, was not a trial date but was a regularly scheduled "Public Defender/District Attorney night". Petitioner did not appear on November 2, 2011, and a new trial date notice was to be sent out by the court.

On November 9, 2011, after missing his last four scheduled court appearances, Petitioner finally appeared in court. Attorney Catalano indicates that November 9th was a Traffic Only Night in Lewiston Town Court; it was not a night on which either a Public Defender or District Attorney was scheduled to appear. Moreover, this was not a scheduled appearance date for Petitioner, who simply went to court on his own initiative. Petitioner elected to enter a guilty plea that night. Neither Attorney Catalano nor the Assistant District Attorney were present because, as noted above, it was not a scheduled Public Defender/District Attorney night.

Attorney Catalano, who later reviewed the audio recording of Petitioner's plea colloquy, has indicated that Justice Sheeran informed Petitioner on three occasions that he was not required to proceed without counsel and that the matter could be rescheduled for a normal Public Defender/District Attorney night. On each occasion Petitioner stated he wanted to go forward with the case. He twice affirmed that he had discussed the plea with Attorney Catalano, and that he fully understood the charges to which he was pleading and the ramifications of the plea. Petitioner then accepted a plea of guilty to one count of Vehicle & Traffic Law § 1192 (Driving While Intoxicated), and a pre-sentence report was requested by Justice Sheeran.

Petitioner's sentencing was scheduled for March 21, 2012. After Petitioner appeared in court almost two hours late, Attorney Catalano spent a considerable amount of time discussing with him the pre-sentence report ("PSR"), which had recommended incarceration. Attorney Catalano explained that due to his long criminal record (including a new arrest in Buffalo City Court while the DWI matter was pending), his four non-appearances, and the fact that he was very late for his sentencing, the court most likely would follow the PSR's recommendation regarding incarceration.

Petitioner ultimately was sentenced to one year of incarceration in the Niagara County Jail.

B. Post-Conviction Proceedings in State Court

Attorney Catalano indicates that Petitioner subsequently called the Niagara County Public Defenders Office and told him that he wished to appeal his sentence. Accordingly, Attorney Catalano had his office's support staff mail ...


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