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Johnson v. Noeth

United States District Court, N.D. New York

April 14, 2017

SHAWNDEL JOHNSON, Petitioner,
v.
JOSEPH NOETH, Superintendent, Attica Correctional Facility, [1] Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

          JAMES K. SINGLETON, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Shawndell Johnson, 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. Johnson is in the custody of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and incarcerated at Attica Correctional Facility. Respondent has answered the Petition, and Johnson has not replied.

         I. BACKGROUND/PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

         In September 2009, Johnson was charged with murdering Ulysses Canty over Labor Day 2008. On direct appeal of his conviction, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court laid out the following facts underlying this case:

During the early morning hours of September 1, 2008, [Johnson] and his cohorts-Tyrell Durham and David Dickerson-met up with Jennifer Derenzo Williams (hereinafter Derenzo) and her then boyfriend, Christopher Williams, at a Hess gas station in the City of Schenectady, Schenectady County. [Johnson] was driving a blue Lexus that he had borrowed from a friend, and Derenzo was driving a rented Toyota Camry. The group, at least some of whom already had been drinking beer and/or smoking marihuana, purchased additional beer and decided to continue partying at the home of Travis Cellini, where they remained until approximately 4:30 a.m. After departing Cellini's home, the group-consisting of Derenzo and Williams in the Camry and [Johnson], Dickerson and Durham in the Lexus-unsuccessfully attempted to purchase marihuana from a local “weed spot.” The group continued to drive around Schenectady County and, at some point, [Johnson] struck a curb with the Lexus and apparently damaged one of the wheels. [Johnson] then parked the vehicle in the lot of a local hotel, and the group set out again in Derenzo's Camry. When Williams expressed interest in finding another weed spot, [Johnson] directed him to 933 Albany Street in Schenectady-a location from which he previously had purchased marihuana.
Upon arriving at that address, [Johnson] entered an apartment and made his purchase from Tristan Phillips. [Johnson], however, was dissatisfied with the quality of his purchase and thereafter devised a plan to rob the weed spot in order to obtain money to fix the damaged Lexus. At [Johnson's] request, Williams retrieved a 9 millimeter handgun that he had stashed at a friend's house earlier that evening, and the group then drove back to 933 Albany Street.FN1 Once there, Derenzo parked a few houses away in order to avoid detection, and [Johnson], Williams, Durham and Dickerson exited the Camry and entered the weed spot.
FN1. Derenzo later would describe [Johnson's] mood during this time as agitated. Durham would offer similar testimony, stating that [Johnson] was nervous and in need of money to pay for the repairs to the Lexus.
[Johnson] knocked on the door of the apartment, told Phillips why he was there, explained that he had been in an accident and asked Phillips to let him inside so that he could wash his hands. Williams, Dickerson and Durham waited-apparently out of sight-in the hallway. [Johnson] told Phillips that he was waiting for his “homeboy” to bring him money for the purchase and lingered in the apartment-waiting for Williams to rush in as planned. When Williams failed to materialize, [Johnson] told Phillips that he had changed his mind and started to leave. At this point, Ulysses Canty-the alleged proprietor of the weed spot-became suspicious, pushed [Johnson] from the apartment and closed the door behind him.FN2 According to Williams and Durham, [Johnson] then grabbed the gun from Williams and fired multiple shots at the closed door. Canty, who was braced against the inside of the door, was struck and fatally wounded. [Johnson], Williams, Durham and Dickerson then fled the scene in Derenzo's Camry, which she crashed into a telephone pole shortly thereafter.
FN2. Canty apparently was not present when [Johnson] made his original purchase earlier that morning.
[Johnson] subsequently was arrested in connection with unrelated drug sales made to a confidential informant (see People v. Johnson, 91 A.D.3d 1194, 937 N.Y.S.2d 443 [2012], lv. denied 18 N.Y.3d 995, 945 N.Y.S.2d 649, 968 N.E.2d 1005 [2012]) and, in September 2009, was indicted and charged with various crimes stemming from the shooting at the weed spot. Following a 14-day jury trial, [Johnson] was convicted of the crimes of murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree, attempted robbery in the first degree (three counts), attempted robbery in the second degree, criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree (two counts), criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree, reckless endangerment in the first degree and tampering with physical evidence and thereafter was sentenced to an aggregate prison term of 28 ½ years to life.

People v. Johnson, 965 N.Y.S.2d 220, 222-23 (N.Y.App.Div. 2013).

         Through counsel, Johnson appealed his conviction, arguing that: 1) the trial court erred by admitting into evidence a portion of his statement to police after he had invoked his right to remain silent in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966); 2) he was denied due process by the trial court's refusal to redact from the videotape of the interrogation shown to the jury during the prosecution's case-in-chief his invocations of the right to remain silent; 3) he was denied a fair trial when the trial court admitted evidence of other bad acts, including that he sold cocaine and was affiliated with the Bloods gang; and 4) the evidence was legally insufficient to establish his intent to kill. The Appellate Division unanimously affirmed his conviction in a reasoned opinion issued on May 16, 2013. Johnson, 965 N.Y.S.2d at 227. Johnson sought leave to appeal the denial to the New York Court of Appeals, which was summarily denied on August 5, 2013. People v. Johnson, 995 N.E.2d 856, 856 (N.Y. 2013).

         Johnson then filed this pro se Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus to this Court.

         II. GROUNDS RAISED

         Johnson raises 4 claims in his pro se Petition before this Court. First, he argues that his right to remain silent was violated when the court failed to suppress all statements to law enforcement after he invoked his right to remain silent. He next contends that the trial court erred in refusing to redact from a video played to the jury Johnson's invocation of his right to remain silent. Third, he alleges that the trial court erred in admitting prejudicial evidence of other crimes and bad acts. Finally, he avers that the evidence was insufficient to establish an “‘intent to kill' required to prove First-Degree Felony Murder.”

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), 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).

         Johnson 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. ...


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