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Peters v. Graham

United States District Court, W.D. New York

June 28, 2017

HAROLD D. GRAHAM, Superintendent of Auburn Correctional Facility, Respondent.


          HON. MICHAEL A. TELESCA United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Petitioner Lucious Peters ("Petitioner"), an inmate confined at the Auburn Correctional Facility in Auburn, New York, has petitioned this Court for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. On December 8, 2006, Petitioner was convicted in Monroe County Court of murder in the second degree pursuant to N.Y. Penal Law § 125.25(3) and on January 10, 2007, he was sentenced to an indeterminate term of incarceration of 25 years to life. Petitioner seeks a writ of habeas corpus on the ground that his trial counsel provided ineffective legal assistance. For the reasons set forth below, habeas relief is denied and the amended petition (Docket No. 13) is dismissed.

         II. Factual Background

         On March 9, 2006, Herschel Scriven (“Scriven”) was backing out of a friend's driveway when three men approached the car, intending to commit an armed robbery. Scriven continued backing out, and the would-be robbers fired multiple shots into the vehicle. Scriven was struck in the head and killed by a single shotgun slog.

         On April 3, 2006, in the course of investigating Scriven's murder, Investigators Randall Benjamin and Neil O'Brien located petitioner at Monroe Community College (“MCC”) and told him they wanted him to come to the Public Safety Building (“PSB”) to discuss a prior arrest related to a stolen car. Petitioner agreed to accompany the investigators to the PSB and, at approximately 8:12 a.m., he was placed in an interview room and provided with Miranda warnings. Petitioner indicated that he understood his rights and agreed to speak to the investigators. The interview lasted several hours and culminated in petitioner signing a written statement.

         According to petitioner's written statement, on March 9, 2006, he was riding in a car with his friend Jacob Rouse, who subsequently picked up an individual named Brandon and an individual whose name petitioner did not know but referred to as “Tank”. Petitioner and the others had pulled over and were throwing bottles out of the car when someone started talking about getting “jukes, ” which meant robbery. Petitioner claimed that he has “just laughed” when “jukes” were mentioned. Brandon, Tank, and petitioner then exited the car, while Rouse remained behind the wheel. Tank was carrying a shotgun, Brandon was carrying a silver handgun, and petitioner was carrying a plastic silver pellet gun. Petitioner was walking behind Brandon and Tank when he saw a car running in a driveway. Brandon and Tank approached the car, but according to petitioner, he had changed his mind and so he “backed off.” Brandon spoke to the driver of the car, who continued to drive. Brandon and Tank then shot at the vehicle, which crashed into a tree. Brandon, Tank, and petitioner ran back to Jacob's car and jumped in, and Jacob drove away.

         On April 7, 2006, a Monroe County Grand Jury voted an indictment against petitioner and two co-defendants, Antwon Owens and Jacob Rouse. The indictment alleged that Owens had committed murder in the first degree by intentionally shooting and killing Scriven in the course of and in furtherance of a robbery or attempted robbery. The indictment further alleged that petitioner and Rouse had committed felony murder (murder in the second degree) by participating in a robbery or attempted robbery during the course of which a participant caused Scriven's death.

         A jury trial was held from December 4, 2006, through December 8, 2006, before the Hon. Frank P. Geraci, Jr. At trial, petitioner elected to testify in his own defense. Petitioner was found guilty on one county of murder in the second degree. On January 10, 2007, he was sentenced to 25 years to life imprisonment.

         Petitioner timely appealed to the Appellate Division, Fourth Department (the “Fourth Department”). On direct appeal, petitioner argued that: (1) the evidence at trial was insufficient; (2) petitioner's statement was involuntary and should have been suppressed; (3) the trial court erred in ruling that petitioner could be cross-examined regarding a prior youthful offender adjudication and a prior adjournment in contemplation of dismissal; (4) petitioner was denied the effective assistance of counsel; and (5) the sentence was unduly harsh and severe. On December 23, 2011, the Fourth Department issued a decision unanimously affirming the judgment and specifically finding that petitioner's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel lacked merit. See People v. Peters, 90 A.D.3d 1507 (4th Dep't 2011).

         Petitioner subsequently filed a pro se motion to vacate the judgment pursuant to C.P.L. § 440.10 in Monroe County Court, asserting that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel because: (1) trial counsel failed to offer “impactful” advice regarding plea offers; (2) trial counsel failed to “investigate into latent errors of District Attorney's Affirmation”; (3) trial counsel failed to investigate relevant witnesses; (4) trial counsel failed to investigate or prepare a pre-sentence memorandum; (5) trial counsel failed to fully cross-examine the People's witnesses; (6) trial counsel failed to prepare petitioner for his trial testimony and/or sentencing; and (7) trial counsel did not discourage petitioner from testifying. The C.P.L. § 440.10 motion was denied without a hearing by Judge Vincent M. Dinolfo in a written decision and order dated July 8, 2013. The Fourth Department denied Petitioner's request for leave to appeal on October 30, 2013.

         III. Discussion

         28 U.S.C. § 2254 “authorizes a federal court to grant a writ only where a state holds a petitioner in its custody in violation of ‘the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.'” Word v. Lord, 648 F.3d 129, 131 (2d Cir.2011) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a)). Because the instant petition post-dates the enactment of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), which amended 28 U.S.C. § 2254, petitioner can obtain a writ of habeas corpus only if he can demonstrate that the state courts' adjudication on the merits of his ineffective assistance claim “(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); see also, e.g., Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 98 (2011) (“By its terms § 2254(d) bars relitigation of any claim ‘adjudicated on the merits' in state court, subject only to the exceptions in §§ 2254(d)(1) and (2).”).

         The United States Supreme Court has determined that Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), qualifies as “clearly established law” for purposes of reviewing ineffective assistance claims under AEDPA. Rosario v. Ercole, 601 F.3d 118, 123 (2d Cir. 2010) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 390-91 (2000)). The Strickland test comprises two necessary components: a deficient performance, and resulting prejudice. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. Therefore, this Court must determine if the state courts unreasonably applied Strickland to Petitioner's case. See Harrington, 562 U.S. at 101 (“The pivotal question is whether the state court's application of the Strickland standard was unreasonable. This is different from asking whether defense counsel's performance fell below Strickland's standard.”). In Harrington, the Supreme Court emphasized the extremely high bar set by Strickland in conjunction with § 2254(d):

The standards created by Strickland and § 2254(d) are both “highly deferential, ” and when the two apply in tandem, review is “doubly” so[.] The Strickland standard is a general one, so the range of reasonable applications is substantial. Federal habeas courts must guard against the danger of equating unreasonableness under Strickland with unreasonableness under § 2254(d). When § 2254(d) applies, the question is not whether counsel's actions were ...

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