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Jones v. Miller

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 10, 2017

CHARLIE JONES, Petitioner
v.
CHRISTOPHER MILLER, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          HONORABLE PAUL A. CROTTY, United States District Judge

         Pro se Petitioner Charlie Jones ("Jones" or "Petitioner") seeks a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, claiming a violation of his constitutional right to be present at his trial. ECF 1. He has also moved for a stay and to amend his petition. ECF 16.

         On May 17, 2016, Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein issued his thorough Report and Recommendation (the "R&R"), recommending denial of the petition, the motion for a stay, and the motion to amend. ECF 21. On August 10, 2016, Petitioner timely objected. ECF 23.

         The Court has reviewed the objections, and for the reasons described below, ADOPTS the R&R in full. The petition, motion for a stay, and motion to amend are DENIED, BACKGROUND[1]

         Jones' trial took place on October 10, 11, 15, and 16, 2007, before Justice Wetzel in New York State Supreme Court, during which time Jones was incarcerated. See R&R at 2. Prior to trial, a competency hearing was held (the "730 Hearing"). See R&R at 2-3; N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 730. A psychologist and a psychiatrist testified about their multiple examinations of Jones and review of his medical records from previous hospitalizations and his incarceration, which reflected that Jones had a "history of malingering." See Id. at 4-5. They concluded that Jones that was "feign[ing] an illness" that was a "motivated by an incentive to evade criminal prosecution, " diagnosed Jones with malingering, and concluded that Jones could proceed to trial. Id. at 5 (internal quotations and citations to the record omitted). The hearing judge accepted the doctors' findings and determined that Jones was fit to stand trial. See id.

         Jones attended the first two days of his trial, but on Monday, October 15, 2007, Justice Wetzel, was informed that Jones had taken "an overdose of medication, reported that to [the Department of] Corrections as a suicide attempt, and was brought to [Elmhurst] Hospital." See Id. at 2 (internal quotations and citations to the record omitted). Justice Wetzel heard from the parties regarding what to do about Jones' absence. See id.

         The prosecutor recounted the court file, which reflected that Jones had failed to appear in court on several occasions, allegedly for medical reasons; noted that the 730 Hearing judge had "specifically told [Jones] that the trial would go on in his absence if he were to absent himself from the courtroom as he had been doing on at least five previous times as we attempted to move it along"; and informed the court that she had "12 witnesses here or scheduled to be here today." Id. at 2-6 (internal quotations and citations to the record omitted). The prosecutor added that the initial 730 Hearing had to be adjourned and rescheduled due a different overdose; then, after Jones was sent from Elmhurst Hospital to Bellevue Hospital, "Bellevue simply turned the defendant around and sent him back to Riker's reporting that because he has a history of malingering and they see no reason he's doing anything but malingering on this date, they're not going to admit him to Bellevue." Id. at 4 (internal quotations and citations to the record omitted). The corrections officer testified that Jones' "'[c]ourt appearances were in fact pre- empted by Hospital visits on four' out of six occasions." Id. at 3-4 (internal quotations and citations to the record omitted).

         Jones' counsel requested a one-day continuance to attempt to obtain Jones' presence for the rest of trial. Id. at 6. Justice Wetzel denied the request, "emphasized that there was no evidence that Jones attempted suicide - only that Jones had overdosed and that Elmhurst Hospital was treating him, " and noted that he had told the jurors that the case would end in the middle of that week. Id. (internal quotations and citations to the record omitted). Justice Wetzel found that Jones had forfeited his right to be present, and ordered trial to proceed. See Id. at 6-7. Jones did not appear for the remainder of trial. See Id. at 7. The jury convicted Jones of four counts of burglary in the first degree, three counts of robbery in the first degree, and one count of attempted robbery in the second degree. See Id. at 1.

         Jones appealed to the Appellate Division, First Department, making identical arguments to those in this petition; the Appellate Division denied the appeal.[2] See Id. at 7. The New York Court of Appeals denied Jones' request seeking leave to appeal. See id.

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         I. Review of Objections

         The Court may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). If a party timely objects, the Court reviews the R&R's contested portions de novo. See Arista Records LLC v. Doe, 604 F.3d 110, 116 (2d Cir. 2010). "However, where a party does not submit a timely objection, 'a district court need only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record.'" Martinson v. U.S. Parole Comm % No. 02-CV-4913 (KMK), 2005 WL 1309054, at *3 (S.D.N.Y.June 1, 2005) (internal quotations and citations omitted). "[Submissions of a. pro se litigant must be construed liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006) (internal quotations, citations, and emphasis omitted).

         "To the extent, however, that the party makes only conclusory or general objections, or simply reiterates the original arguments, the Court will review the Report strictly for clear error." Pinkney v. Progressive Home Health Servs., No. 06-CV-5023 (LTS) (JCF), 2008 WL 2811816, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. July 21, 2008). "[E]ven apro se party's objections to a Report and Recommendation must be specific and clearly aimed at particular findings in the magistrate's proposal, such that no party be allowed a 'second bite at the apple' by simply relitigating a prior argument." Id. (internal citations omitted).

         II. ...


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