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Stanford v. Griffin

United States District Court, N.D. New York

April 4, 2017

JAHTEEK STANFORD, Petitioner,
v.
THOMAS GRIFFIN, Respondent.

          JAHTEEK STANFORD Petitioner, Pro se

          HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN Attorneys for Respondent Office of the Attorney General

          ALYSON J. GILL, AAG

          DECISION AND ORDER

          Thomas J. McAvoy, Senior, U.S. District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On January 13, 2017, Petitioner Jahteek Stanford filed an amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, along with the filing fee. Dkt. No. 9, Amended Petition ("Am. Pet").[1] In his amended petition, petitioner challenges his 2012 judgment of conviction in Albany County Court, for the crimes of Murder in the Second Degree, Attempted Murder in the First Degree, and Assault in the First Degree. Id. at 1. According to petitioner, he is currently serving a sentence of 50 years to life as a result of this conviction. Id.

         In his amended petition, petitioner raises the following five grounds for habeas relief: petitioner was denied due process as a result of prosecutorial misconduct during the People's summation (Ground One); the trial court erred in denying petitioner's for-cause challenge of a juror during jury selection (Ground Two); the conviction was not supported by legally sufficient evidence (Ground Three); petitioner received ineffective assistance of counsel due to (1) his counsel's failure "to object to the prosecutions misconduct during summation" and (2) counsel's failure "to object to the Court's jury instructions that omitted a proper instruction on circumstantial evidence." (Ground Four). Id. at 5-10. For a more complete statement of petitioner's claim, reference is made to the amended petition.

         Petitioner has now filed a motion seeking a stay of the amended petition until his C.P.L. § 440.10 motion to vacate judgment is decided in state court. Dkt. No. 11, Motion for Stay. Respondent does not oppose the motion. Dkt. No. 12. For the reasons that follow, the motion for stay is GRANTED.

         II. ANALYSIS

         When a district court is presented with a "mixed petition" containing both exhausted and unexhausted claims, it may dismiss the petition without prejudice or retain jurisdiction over the petition and stay further proceedings pending exhaustion of state remedies. Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 275-76 (2005). This "stay and abeyance" procedure should be "available only in limited circumstances" where the petitioner can show (1) "good cause" for failing to "exhaust his claims first in state court" and (2) that his unexhausted claims are not "plainly meritless." Id. at 275, 277.

         In petitioner's motion to stay the habeas proceedings, petitioner claims his amended petition includes "both exhausted and unexhausted claims." Dkt. No. 11, at 1. He maintains that the stay is necessary while he exhausts claims currently pending before state court in a N.Y. C.P.L. § 440.10 motion. Id. According to petitioner, he raised the following claims of ineffective assistance of counsel in his Section 440.10 motion: (1) counsel was operating under a conflict of interest; (2) counsel erroneously pursued a justification defense "when a defense of extreme emotional disturbance was much more viable;" (3) counsel erred in placing petitioner on the stand to "admit a stabbing without justification;" (4) counsel failed to object during the People's summation; and (5) counsel failed to object to the trial court's circumstantial evidence charge." Id. at 2-3.[2] According to the response filed by respondent, petitioner's motion to vacate judgment was denied on March 8, 2017, and petitioner's application for leave to appeal to the Appellate Division is still pending. Dkt. 14, Respondent's Letter Response.

         Petitioner asserts that he filed his amended petition prior to completing his state court collateral attack on the judgment to ensure that the habeas petition was timely under AEDPA. Dkt. No. 12, at 1-3; see Pace v. DiGuglielmo, 544 U.S. 408, 416-417 (2005). Petitioner states that he filed his Section 440 motion in state court on January 11, 2017, less than a month before the statute of limitations under AEDPA was set to expire, and appears to argue that if he waited for the state court to complete review of his claims prior to filing this petition, the amended petition would be untimely Pet. at 1-3.

         Under Pace v. DiGuglielmo, a prisoner seeking state post-conviction relief may file a protective petition in federal court and ask the court to stay and abey the federal proceedings until state remedies are exhausted. Pace, 544 U.S. at 416, citing Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 277-78 (2005). Generally, when presented with a "mixed petition” containing both exhausted and unexhausted claims, a district court may dismiss the petition without prejudice or retain jurisdiction over the petition and stay further proceedings pending exhaustion of state remedies. Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 277 (2005); Zarvela v. Artuz, 254 F.3d 374, 380 (2d Cir. 2001). "[I]f the petitioner had good cause for his failure to exhaust, his unexhausted claims are potentially meritorious, and there is no indication that the petitioner engaged in intentionally dilatory tactics, ” then the district court "should stay, rather than dismiss, the mixed petition." Rhines, 544 U.S. at 278. The court must consider both the timeliness of any subsequent petition if the petition were dismissed, and the impact of the AEDPA's limitations on second or successive petitions in determining the proper disposition of the petition. Zarvela, 254 F.3d at 378-79. If the court determines that dismissal would “jeopardize the timeliness of a collateral attack, ” it should stay the petition and condition the stay upon petitioner both filing in state court, and returning to federal court within a specified time period. Zarvela, 254 F.3d at 380 (quotation and other citation omitted).

         Under the circumstances presented in this case, the Court finds that a stay is warranted. For purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 2244, a state conviction generally becomes “final” when certiorari is denied by the United States Supreme Court or when the time to seek certiorari has expired, which is ninety days after the date direct review of the case has been completed by the highest court in the state. Saunders v. Senkowski, 587 F.3d 543, 548-49 (2d Cir. 2009), cert. denied131 S.Ct. 899 (2011); Williams v. Artuz,237 F.3d 147, 151 (2d Cir. 2001). Petitioner's conviction became final on February 2, 2016, ninety days after the New York Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal on November 4, 2015. Petitioner had one year, or until February 2, 2017, to file a timely habeas petition. Petitioner filed his C.P.L. ...


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