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Woodhouse v. Walsh

United States District Court, S.D. New York

June 19, 2015

CLARENCE WOODHOUSE, Petitioner,
v.
JAMES J. WALSH, Respondent.

Clarence Woodhouse, Green Haven Correctional Facility, Stormville, New York, Petitioner (Pro Se):

John J. Sergi, Assistant District Attorney, Westchester County, White Plains, New York, For Respondent.

OPINION AND ORDER

SHIRA A. SCHEINDLIN, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Petitioner Clarence Woodhouse brings this pro se habeas corpus petition pursuant to section 2254 of Title 28 of the United States Code challenging his conviction from the County Court of Westchester County upon his plea of guilty to the crime of attempted robbery in the second degree.[1] Woodhouse was sentenced to and is now serving an indeterminate term of twelve years to life.[2]

On April 21, 2011, Woodhouse filed the instant Petition, [3] challenging his conviction on the ground that his plea of guilty was not knowing or voluntary. For the following reasons, the Petition is denied.

II. BACKGROUND

The felony complaint states that Woodhouse approached Jovan Pennicooke on February 28, 2007 in Mount Vernon, New York asking for bus fare, and then demanding twenty dollars.[4] Pennicooke refused.[5] The complaint alleges that Woodhouse put his hand in his coat to simulate a gun.[6] Pennicooke then complied with Woodhouse's demand and gave him the money.[7] Woodhouse was arrested and charged shortly after the incident.[8]

Prior to his indictment, Woodhouse was examined for fitness to proceed by the local court pursuant to section 730 of the New York Criminal Procedure Law.[9] The two initial evaluations found Woodhouse unfit to proceed to trial.[10] Woodhouse is a schizophrenic and was taking multiple medications.[11] The court ordered a second set of psychiatric evaluations on August 21, 2007.[12] In a September 12, 2007 report, psychologist Ann Fenichel, Ph.D. found petitioner to be fit "[a]s long as [he] adheres with meds [and] remains this stable."[13] The September 24, 2007 report by psychologist N. Gonzalez-Miller, Ph.D. stated that Woodhouse's symptoms were "not interfering with his ability to participate in his court case."[14] Based on the second set of evaluations, the court found Woodhouse fit to stand trial.[15]

These evaluations were completed six months prior to the March 2008 proceedings, during which Woodhouse entered his guilty plea to the crime of attempted robbery in the second degree.[16] During the proceedings on March 18, 2008, Woodhouse expressed that he was "a little confused, " but that he knew he was "copping out."[17] He also told the court he was on medication and that he was "hearing voices."[18] The court explored Woodhouse's ability to understand the proceedings and explained the conditions of the plea in detail.[19] The court also provided Woodhouse with an opportunity to consult with his counsel.[20] Woodhouse answered questions reasonably and gave sworn assurances that his medications had not interfered with his ability to understand the proceedings.[21] Woodhouse also stated that he was entering into the plea "freely and voluntarily."[22]

On May 1, 2008, prior to sentencing, Woodhouse sent a letter to the court to recant his guilty plea on the basis that his lawyer "coherst [sic] [him]" into thinking it was his only option and that he was confused at the time of his plea based on the number of medications he was taking.[23] At the sentencing proceedings, Woodhouse reiterated these arguments.[24] The court denied Woodhouse's application to withdraw his plea and concluded that Woodhouse was "fully aware" of the benefit of the reduced charge he was accepting by pleading guilty.[25] The court was "fully satisfied that [his] plea was knowingly and voluntarily entered" under the circumstances.[26] The court then sentenced Woodhouse to an indeterminate term of twelve years to life.[27]

B. Procedural History

Woodhouse appealed his conviction to the Appellate Division, Second Department, raising the sole claim that his plea was not knowing or voluntary.[28] The Appellate Division unanimously affirmed Woodhouse's conviction on September 22, 2009, holding that:

The decision to grant a defendant permission to withdraw his guilty plea lies in the sound discretion of the County Court. The defendant's contention that he did not understand the consequences of his plea because he suffered from a psychiatric condition and was medicated at the time of his plea is belied by the transcript of the plea proceedings which demonstrates that the defendant appropriately answered the ...

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