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Curnen v. Yelich

United States District Court, S.D. New York

June 19, 2015

JASON CURNEN, Petitioner,
v.
BRUCE S. YELICH, Superintendent of the Bare Hill Correctional Facility, Respondent.

Petitioner (Pro Se) Jason Curnen Seaford, NY.

Heather Marie Abissi, Assistant District Attorney, Puntam County, Carmel, NY for Respondent.

OPINION AND ORDER

SHIRA A. SCHEINDLIN, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Petitioner Jason Cumen brings this pro se habeas corpus petition pursuant to section 2254 of Title 28 of the United States Code. Cumen challenges his state court conviction following a jury trial in New York County Court, Putnam County.[1] After being convicted of Assault in the Second Degree, [2] Cumen was sentenced to four years in prison followed by three years of post-release supervision and restitution of $7, 604.44 to cover the victim's medical expenses.[3]

Curnen filed the instant petition on October 21, 2011, challenging his conviction on the grounds that: (1) he was deprived of his constitutional right to a speedy trial; (2) he was denied the right of effective assistance of counsel; (3) the prosecutors conducted a vindictive prosecution; and (4) the prosecutors are guilty of prosecutorial misconduct and criminal acts. For the following reasons, the Petition is DENIED.

II. BACKGROUND

A. The Offending Conduct

The crime underlying Curnen's conviction occurred on May 3, 2007 in the town of Patterson, Putnam County.[4] At the time, Curnen resided in an apartment at 101 Haviland Drive, next door to Anthony Cataldo, who resided at 105 Haviland Drive.[5] At approximately 6:00 p.m., Cataldo arrived at his apartment and parked his car in front of the building adjacent to his apartment.[6] Shortly after entering his apartment, Cataldo heard Curnen knocking loudly on Cataldo's apartment door, screaming about the location of Cataldo's vehicle.[7] Cataldo went outside to move his car, but Curnen struck him as he approached his vehicle.[8] Cataldo fell to the ground, and Curnen continued to punch and kick him, pinning him to the ground so he could not get up.[9] Police eventually arrived on the scene and arrested Curnen.[10]

B. Procedural History

On May 3, 2007, Curnen was charged with third degree assault, a misdemeanor.[11] He was arraigned in the Patterson Justice Court and released on his own recognizance on the same date.[12] Curnen first appeared with counsel on July 26, 2007, after which the parties agreed to several adjournments in order to submit pre-trial motions and await decisions on the motions.[13] Curnen was represented by counsel throughout the pendency of his pre-trial motions.[14]

Curnen requested a trial by jury on April 17, 2008, and prosecutors submitted an indictment to a grand jury on October 24, 2008.[15] The indictment charged Curnen with six counts, including the charge on which Curnen was ultimately convicted, felony assault in the second degree.[16] The People declared their readiness for trial on November 12, 2008.[17] Following a jury trial, Curnen was convicted on May 8, 2009.[18]

Curnen appealed his conviction and sentence to the Appellate Division, Second Department, alleging that the trial court erred in: (1) failing to dismiss a juror; (2) failing to grant Curnen's motion to dismiss for legal insufficiency of the evidence; and (3) imposing a harsh and excessive sentence.[19] On November 9, 2010, the Appellate Division unanimously affirmed Curnen's conviction and sentence.[20] Through counsel, Curnen submitted a letter to the New York Court of Appeals on December 22, 2010 requesting leave to appeal the judgment of the Appellate Division.[21] The Court of Appeals denied leave on March 3, 2011.[22]

Separately, Curnen moved to vacate the judgment pursuant to section 440.10 of the New York Criminal Procedure Law ("CPL") by pro se motion on October 19, 2010.[23] Curnen argued that his conviction was obtained in violation of his right to a speedy trial under section 30.30 of the CPL.[24] Although the thrust of Curnen's motion to vacate centered on his statutory right to a speedy trial, Curnen also claimed that the prosecutors' "blatant refusal to grant [his] repeated request for a jury trial, ... [resulting in] excessive delay in the form of multiple and unnecessary adjournments" amounted to "vindictive prosecution" and "improper conduct... [that] completely overstepped the boundaries of acceptable practice."[25] The trial court denied Curnen's motion on January 4, 2011, finding that Curnen waived his statutory speedy trial claim by failing to raise the issue prior to the commencement of trial, as required by New York law.[26] The decision did not address vindictive prosecution or prosecutorial misconduct.[27]

On January 26, 2011, Curnen applied for a certificate granting leave to appeal the trial court decision to the Appellate Division, Second Department.[28] In his application, Curnen for the first time raised the issue of ineffective assistance of counsel, arguing that the failure of his appointed counsel to raise a statutory speedy trial claim prior to the commencement of his trial amounted to "inadequate legal assistance [that] warrants appellate intervention in the interest of justice."[29] Curnen also raised the issues of vindictive prosecution and prosecutorial misconduct.[30] The Appellate Division denied leave on May 4, 2011.[31]

III. LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Deferential Standard for Federal Habeas Review

This petition is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (the "AEDPA"). The AEDPA provides that a federal court may not grant a writ of habeas corpus to a prisoner in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court with respect to any claim, unless the state court's adjudication on the merits of the claim: "(1) was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States;"[32] or (2) "was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding."[33]

A state-court decision is contrary to clearly established federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court, in the following two instances:

First, a state-court decision is contrary to this Court's precedent if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by this Court on a question of law. Second, a state-court decision is also contrary to this Court's precedent if the state court confronts facts that are materially indistinguishable from a relevant Supreme Court precedent and arrives at a result opposite to ours.[34]

With regard to the "unreasonable application" prong, the Supreme Court has stated:

[A] state-court decision can involve an "unreasonable application" of this Court's clearly established precedent in two ways. First, a state-court decision involves an unreasonable application of this Court's precedent if the state court identifies the correct governing legal rule from this Court's cases but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular state prisoner's case. Second, a statecourt decision also involves an unreasonable application of this Court's precedent if the state court either unreasonably extends a legal principle from our precedent to a new context where it should not apply or unreasonably refuses to extend that principle to a new context where it should apply.[35]

In order for a federal court to find a state court's application of Supreme Court precedent to be unreasonable, the state court's decision must have been more than incorrect or erroneous. Rather, "[t]he state court's application of clearly established law must be objectively unreasonable. "[36] This standard "falls somewhere between merely erroneous and unreasonable to all reasonable jurists.'"[37] While the test requires "[s]ome increment of incorrectness beyond error, ... the increment need not be great; otherwise habeas relief would be limited to state court decisions so far off the mark as to suggest judicial ...


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