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Hamilton v. Superintendent, Eastern New York Correctional Facility

United States District Court, S.D. New York

May 9, 2017



          LORETTA A. PRESKA Senior United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is a motion to correct, vacate, and/or set aside the sentence pursuant to Title 28, United States Code, Section 2254 filed on February 25, 2011, by pro se petitioner Eugene Hamilton ("Hamilton" or "Petitioner"). (Mot. Vacate, Feb. 25, 2011, dkt. no. 1}. On April 8, 2011, this case was referred to Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman. (Reference Order, Apr. 8, 2011, dkt. no. 6). After Petitioner's initial submission, he obtained counsel and filed a subsequent memorandum in support of his motion. (Pet. Mem., Apr. 26, 2011, dkt. no. 10). Respondent, the Superintendent of Eastern New York Correctional Facility, filed an opposition on July 28, 2011, (Opp., July 28, 2011, dkt. no. 15), and Petitioner filed a reply memorandum. (Reply, Aug. 17, 2011, dkt. no. 16). On September 10, 2015, Magistrate Judge Freeman issued a Report and Recommendation ("Report") in which she recommended that Petitioner's motion be denied in its entirety, (R&R, Sept. 25, 2015, dkt. no. 19), and Petitioner timely filed his Objections. (Objections, Oct. 26, 2015, dkt. no. 23).

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies each of Petitioner's Objections and adopts Judge Freeman's Report and Recommendation in its entirety.

         I. Background

         For purposes of this Order the Court assumes familiarity with the relevant factual and procedural history of this case as set forth in Magistrate Judge Freeman's Report and Recommendation and incorporates the Report's summary for this background. (R&R at 2-26).

         II. Legal Standard

         When reviewing a petition for habeas corpus relief a federal court must only consider whether the petitioner is in custody pursuant to the state court judgment in violation of the Unites States Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) requires that federal courts conducting this review give deference to the state court decision. Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S 766, 769 (2010). Therefore, to obtain relief a petitioner must rebut the presumption of the state court's correctness by clear and convincing evidence. Garguilio v. Heath, 293 F.R.D. 146, 152 (E.D.N.Y. 2013) . This requires a petitioner to show that the state court's decision "was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). Importantly, a decision "is not unreasonable merely because the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion." Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301 (2010). Rather, a petitioner must show that that the state court's application of the law was objectively unreasonable. Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520-21 (2003).

         Where a state law default precludes a state court from reviewing a claim, this claim typically cannot be reviewed by federal courts either. Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 801 (1991). However, if a petitioner can show cause for the procedural default and actual prejudice resulting therefrom, a Petitioner can obtain review of such a claim. Gray v. Netherland, 518 U.S. 152, 162 (1996).

         Ineffective assistance of counsel can constitute an adequate showing of cause for procedural default, but only if counsel's performance is in violation of the defendant's Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Aparicio v. Arutz, 269 F.3d 78, 91 (2d Cir. 2001). Additionally, the ineffective assistance claim must have been raised and exhausted in the state court in order for review of such a claim by a federal habeas court. Edwards v. Carpenter, 529 U.S. 446, 452 (2000). The Supreme Court has instructed that to show counsel's performance fell below that which was guaranteed to the defendant by the Sixth Amendment, a defendant must show that (1) counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and (2) there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceedings would have been different. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688, 694 (1984) . Habeas courts must "indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance." Id. at 689.

         The prejudice prong for the procedural default requires not just a mere "possibility of prejudice" but rather that the errors raised in the petition "worked to [the petitioner's] actual and substantial disadvantage." United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 170 (1982). This burden on petitioner of showing prejudice is higher in this instance than on direct appeal, id. at 166, because here the prejudice must overcome society's interest in the finality of criminal judgments. Id. at 175. Moreover, if a petitioner's claim lacks merit, he will not be able to establish the requisite prejudice to overcome the claim's procedural bar. McDowell v. Heath, No. 09cv7887 (RO) (MHD), 2013 WL 2896992, at *25 (S.D.N.Y. June 13, 2013).

         A certificate of appealability ("COA"} should be granted when a petitioner "has made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right." 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). This has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to be satisfied when "jurists of reason would find it debatable whether the petition states a valid claim of the denial of a constitutional right. Slack v, McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 478 (2000). This does not require petitioner to show that he or she would prevail on the merits. Lucidore v. New York State Div. of Parole, 209 F.3d 107, 112 (2d Cir). Accordingly, a court "should not decline an application for a COA merely because it believes the applicant will not demonstrate entitlement to relief." Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 337 (2003).

         When reviewing a Report and Recommendation of a magistrate judge, a district court "may adopt those portions of the report to which no objections have been filed, and which are not factually erroneous." Walker v. Vaughan, 216 F.Supp.2d 290, 292 (S.D.N.Y. 2002}. A district court must conduct a de novo review of the portions of a magistrate judge's report and recommendation to which a party files timely written objections. See Reyes v. LaValley, No. 10-cv-2524 (KAM), 2013 WL 4852313, at * 1 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 10, 2013). Petitioner should "explain to the reviewing Court, citing proper authority, why the magistrate judge's application of law to facts is legally unsound." Johnson v. Artus, No. 07 CIV. 5905 SAS FM, 2009 WL 1505177, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. May 28, 2009). However, if a party "makes only conclusory or general objections, or simply reiterates his original argument, the Court reviews the Report and Recommendation only for clear error." Walker, 216 F.Supp.2d at 292.

         III. Discussion

         a. Sufficiency of ...

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