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Escamilla v. Annucci

United States District Court, N.D. New York

March 7, 2017

GEORGE M. ESCAMILLA, Petitioner,
v.
ANTHONY J. ANNUCCI, Acting Commissioner, New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, [1]Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

          JAMES K. SINGLETON, JR., Senior United States District Judge

         George M. Escamilla, 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. At the time he filed his Petition, Escamilla was in the custody of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and incarcerated at Great Meadow Correctional Facility. The DOCCS's inmate locator website (http://nysdoccslookup.doccs.ny.gov/, Department ID Number 96-B-2505), indicates that Escamilla reached the maximum expiration date for his sentence and was discharged on February 7, 2016. Escamilla has filed a change of address with this Court. Respondent has answered the Petition, and Escamilla has not replied.

         I. BACKGROUND/PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

         On February 21, 1996, Escamilla was charged with first-degree rape, first-degree sexual abuse, first-degree criminal contempt, second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, and third-degree assault. Upon direct appeal of his conviction, the New York Appellate Division laid out the following facts underlying Escamilla's case:

The victim in this case is a 17-year-old girl who has resided with her mother in Broome County since they came to New York from New Mexico when she was seven years old. She is the daughter of [Escamilla], who also resided in Broome County, but she had not lived with him since leaving New Mexico. On the evening of January 17, 1996, the victim drove to school to attend a special evening class. After the class she left school and was walking to the car when she was accosted by [Escamilla]. [Escamilla] asked the victim for a ride and she drove him to a building. [Escamilla] asked her to come with him and help carry some Christmas presents that he had for her brothers. The victim agreed, parked and exited the car, but as she was proceeding toward the building, she was grabbed by [Escamilla], who pushed her to the ground and committed an act of sexual intercourse with her. In addition, [Escamilla] struck her several times on the head. [Escamilla] left the scene and the victim, after vomiting, drove to her home where she told her mother that she was late because she stayed after class for additional assistance from her teacher. She then took a shower, threw away her undergarments and washed her other clothes by hand. She did not advise anyone about this incident until a few weeks later when she told two friends and, upon their urging, notified the police. When questioned by the police, [Escamilla] denied having any contact with the victim on the evening in question and stated that he was not near the school or the building where the incident allegedly occurred. Subsequently, [Escamilla] was indicted on counts of rape, sexual abuse and assault, as well as a count of criminal contempt in connection with an alleged violation of an order of protection.
[Escamilla] testified during the trial. On cross-examination, in addition to admitting violating two prior orders of protection, [Escamilla] conceded that on the afternoon of January 17, 1996, he had appeared in Family Court and was advised by the court that an order of protection had been issued against him and was further ordered to stay away from the victim at all times except on a supervised basis. The jury rendered a verdict convicting [Escamilla] of rape in the first degree, sexual abuse in the first degree, criminal contempt in the first degree and assault in the third degree . . . .

People v. Escamilla, 666 N.Y.S.2d 278, 278-79 (N.Y.App.Div. 1997).

         Through counsel, Escamilla appealed his conviction, arguing that he was deprived of a fair trial because: 1) the trial court failed to give the jury an adverse inference charge due to the victim's destruction of evidence; 2) the prosecutor's cross-examination of Escamilla, which suggested that Escamilla had a propensity to commit similar crimes, warranted a mistrial rather than the admonition and limiting charge that was given; 3) the prosecutor's summation wrongfully implied that Escamilla had the propensity to commit similar crimes because he had violated various protective orders; and 4) the trial court failed to properly charge the jury as to the effect of the prior violations of the protective order. The Appellate Division unanimously affirmed the judgment against Escamilla in a reasoned decision issued on November 26, 1997. Escamilla then filed a counseled application for leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals, which was summarily denied on January 14, 1998.

         Proceeding pro se, Escamilla then moved to vacate the judgment pursuant to New York Criminal Procedure Law (“CPL”) § 440.10 and to set aside his sentence under § 440.20. In those filings, he argued in relevant part that counsel was ineffective for failing to call alibi witness Wayne Gordon at trial; and 2) the evidence presented at trial was legally insufficient to sustain his conviction. The county court denied the motions in a reasoned, unpublished opinion issued on January 10, 2010. The court concluded that Escamilla “failed to set forth non-record facts indicating the absence of strategic or legitimate reasons for counsel's conduct in not introducing a particular witness at trial, ” and found his insufficiency of the evidence claim barred under CPL § 440.10(2)(c) because sufficient facts appeared on the record to review the issue and thus it should have been, but was not, raised on direct appeal. The record does not indicate that Escamilla moved for leave to appeal that decision in the Appellate Division.

         Escamilla filed a pro se Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus to this Court on December 8, 2014.

         II. GROUNDS RAISED

         In his pro se Petition before this Court, Escamilla argues that: 1) the prosecution presented perjured testimony; 2) Escamilla was denied a fair trial because the “court reporter did not facilitate [his] remembering what two ideas [he] was arguing” and his trial counsel did not present evidence in his favor and allowed the prosecutor and judge to be impartial; 3) “there was no evidence or testimony or witnesses to support the accusations against” him; and 4) “Broome County and New York State allowed the attacks upon [his] honor and reputation with no supporting evidence.”

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The instant Petition, filed in 2014, post-dates the 1996 amendments to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 set forth in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”). Under AEDPA, 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 that are materially indistinguishable from a decision” of the Supreme Court, but nevertheless arrives at a different result. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 406 (2000).

         To the extent that the Petition raises issues of the proper application of state law, they are beyond the purview of this Court in a federal habeas proceeding. See Swarthout v. Cooke, 131 S.Ct. 859, 863 (2011) (per curiam) (holding that it is of no federal concern whether state law was correctly applied). It is a fundamental precept of dual federalism that the states possess primary authority for defining and enforcing the criminal law. See, e.g., Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991) (a federal habeas court cannot reexamine a state court's interpretation and application of state law); Walton v. Arizona, 497 U.S. 639, 653 (1990) (presuming that the state court knew and correctly applied state law), overruled on other grounds by Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002).

         In applying these standards on habeas review, this Court reviews the “last reasoned decision” by the state court. Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 804 (1991); Jones v. Stinson, 229 F.3d 112, 118 (2d Cir. 2000). Where there is no reasoned decision of the state court addressing the ground or grounds raised on the merits and no independent state grounds exist for not addressing those grounds, this Court must decide the issues de novo on the record before it. See Dolphy v. Mantello, 552 F.3d 236, 239-40 (2d Cir. 2009) (citing Spears v. Greiner, 459 F.3d 200, 203 (2d Cir. 2006)); cf. Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 530-31 (2003) (applying a de novo standard to a federal claim not reached by the state court). In so doing, the Court presumes that the state court decided the claim on the merits and the decision rested on federal grounds. See Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 740 (1991); Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 263 (1989); see also Jimenez v. Walker, 458 F.3d 130, 140 (2d Cir. 2006) (explaining the Harris-Coleman interplay); Fama v. Comm'r of Corr. Servs., 235 F.3d 804, 810-11 (2d Cir. 2000) (same). This Court gives the presumed decision of the state court the same AEDPA deference that it would give a reasoned decision of the state court. Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 784-85 (2011) (rejecting the argument that a summary disposition was not entitled to § 2254(d) deference); Jimenez, 458 F.3d at 145-46. Under the AEDPA, the state court's findings of fact are presumed to be correct unless the petitioner rebuts this presumption by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003).

         Escamilla has not replied to Respondent's answer. The relevant statute provides that “[t]he allegations of a return to the writ of habeas corpus or of an answer to an order to show cause in a habeas corpus proceeding, if not traversed, shall be accepted as true except to the extent that the judge finds from the evidence that they are not true.” 28 U.S.C. § 2248; see also Carlson v. Landon, 342 U.S. 524, 530 (1952). Where, as here, there is no traverse filed and no evidence offered to contradict the allegations of the return, the court must accept those allegations as true. United States ex rel. Catalano v. Shaughnessy, 197 F.2d 65, 66-67 (2d Cir. 1952) (per curiam).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. Mootness

         Article III, § 2 of the United States Constitution requires the existence of a case or controversy through all stages of federal judicial proceedings. This means that, throughout the litigation, the petitioner “must have suffered, or be threatened with, an actual injury traceable to the defendant and likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.” Lewis v. Cont'l Bank Corp., 494 U.S. 472, 477 (1990) (citations omitted); see also Preiser v. Newkirk, 422 U.S. 395, 401 (1975) (“The rule in federal cases is that an actual controversy must be extant at all stages of review, not merely at the time the complaint is filed.”) (citation omitted). Thus, a case is moot “when the issues presented are no longer live or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome.” Erie v. Pap's A.M., 529 U.S. 277, 287 (2000) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); Lavin v. United States, 299 F.3d 123, 128 (2d Cir. 2002). “The hallmark of a moot case or controversy is that the relief sought can no longer be given or is no longer needed.” Martin-Trigona v. Shiff,702 F.2d 380, 386 (2d Cir. 1983). “[I]f an event occurs ...


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