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Uribe v. Smith

United States District Court, E.D. New York

July 28, 2017

Juan Carlos Uribe, Petitioner,
v.
Brandon Smith, Superintendent, Greene C.F., Respondent.

          Respondent is represented by Sarah M. Spatt, Nassau County District Attorney's Office, on behalf of Madeline Singas, Nassau County District Attorney.

          AMENDED MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOSEPH F. BIANCO, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On April 5, 2015, petitioner Juan Carlos Uribe (“petitioner”) petitioned this Court for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his arrest and indictment for vehicular manslaughter in the second degree. (Pet. for Habeas Corpus (“Pet.”), ECF No. 1.) Petitioner was found guilty of vehicular manslaughter in the second degree (N.Y. Penal Law (“Penal Law”) § 125.12), reckless endangerment in the second degree (Penal Law § 120.20), reckless driving (N.Y. V.T.L. (“V.T.L.”) § 1212), driving while ability impaired by the combined influence of drugs or of alcohol and any drug or drugs (V.T.L. § 1192(4-a)), and speeding (V.T.L. § 1180(d)).[1] (Sentencing Tr., ECF No. 7-4 at 17-18.)

         In this habeas petition, petitioner challenges his conviction of vehicular manslaughter in the second degree on the ground that the evidence was legally insufficient to establish his guilt for that charge. (Pet. 7.)[2]

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         The following facts are adduced from the petition and documents attached thereto, as well as from the state court and appellate record.

         At approximately 2:20 a.m. on May 1, 2010, petitioner was traveling northbound on Glen Cove Road. (Tr. Testimony John Lapine (“Lapine T.”), ECF No. 7-2, at 218.)[3]Petitioner was driving his black Nissan Murano, an SUV, at or above 70 miles per hour. (Id. at 216.) The road was “very dark” or “jet black dark” with only one weak light at the end of the street. (Tr. Testimony Gary Ferrucci (“Ferrucci T.”), ECF No. 7-2, at 321; Tr. Testimony David Mazzola (“Mazzola T.”), ECF No. 7-2, at 408.) Witness David Mazzola (“Mazzola”) testified that he was going 53 miles per hour and that petitioner, who was going approximately 70 miles per hour, passed him at a quick pace. (Id. at 403.)

         Petitioner did not swerve or attempt to break before crashing straight into a tree. (Id. at 403-04.) Petitioner was driving at a speed significant enough for his SUV to bounce off the tree and block traffic in the southbound lane on Glen Cove Road. (Id. at 404.) All of the lights in and on the vehicle went out, which made the vehicle nearly invisible to oncoming vehicles. (Id. at 403.) Despite the efforts of Mazzola, who had stopped beside the crash site to assist and to signal to oncoming cars about the crash, a taxi came upon the scene seconds after petitioner's vehicle crashed, and the taxi crashed into petitioner's disabled SUV. (Id. at 404.) The SUV moved a “little bit, ” and it was even harder to see for oncoming cars. (Id.) There is no evidence that the lights in and on the taxi went out as well. (Id.)

         After a few more seconds, nineteen-year-old Pietro Gaudesi (“Gaudesi”) came down the road on a motorcycle. (Tr. Testimony Peter Lake (“Lake T.”), ECF No. 7-2, at 66.) Gaudesi slammed into the SUV “straight as a pin” while going at about the speed limit. (Mazzola T. 409-10.) Upon impact, Gaudesi was launched over the SUV. (Id. at 409.) All of this occurred within fifteen seconds of the initial accident. (Id. at 415.)

         The Emergency Medical Services (“EMS”) arrived at the scene of the crime at around 2:30 a.m. (Tr. Testimony Jeffrey Matthews (“Matthews T.”), ECF No. 7-2, at 146.) Detective Ferrucci (“Ferrucci”) found Gaudesi lying prone and face down on the street. (Ferrucci T. 323.) Gaudesi was pronounced dead at 2:30 a.m. (Id. at 324.) Deputy Medical Examiner Brian O'Reilly (“Examiner O'Reilly”) testified that Gaudesi suffered “multiple blunt force injuries, ” which included, inter alia, extensive injuries to his head, and a significant laceration of his right lung and right chest cavity. (Tr. Testimony Brian O'Reilly (“O'Reilly T.”), ECF No. 7-3, at 516.) Examiner O'Reilly testified that the injuries to Gaudesi were consistent with a motor vehicle accident being the cause of death. (Id. at 517.) There were also trace amounts of hydrocodone and diehydrocodeine, two narcotics, found in Gaudesi's urine. (Id. at 520.) Significantly, the fact that the hydrocodone was found in his urine indicated that it was no longer actively affecting him at the time of the crime. (Id.)

         Ambulance medical technician Jeffrey Matthews (“Matthews”) testified that he “definitely” smelled a stench of alcohol coming from petitioner. (Matthews T. 148.) Petitioner also had “heavily” slurred speech and was jumbling his words. (Id.) Officer Michael Marotta (“Marotta”) testified that petitioner had bloodshot, glassy eyes and seemed “a little out of it.” (Tr. Testimony Michael Marotta (“Marotta T.”), ECF No. 7-2, at 93.) Later that morning, at 4:25 a.m., petitioner's blood was taken in North Shore University Hospital by hospital staff. (Parties' Stipulation, Trial Tr. 306., ECF No. 7-2, at 305-06.) The blood sample results revealed petitioner's blood alcohol content (“BAC”) to be 0.02. (Id.) Doctor William Closson testified that the likely BAC in petitioner's body at the time of the crash was 0.05 to 0.06. (Tr. Testimony William Closson (“Closson T.”), ECF No. 7-3, at 570.)

         Having twice refused to give permission to the police to have his blood tested, petitioner was required by a court order to submit to a blood test. (Marotta T. 98-102.) His blood was drawn at 5:58 a.m. on May 1, 2010 by the Police Department. (Id. at 102.) The results of that blood test showed 47 MG/ML of Tramadol, 43 MG/ML hydrocodone, 8.5 MG/ML cyclobenzaprine, less than 0.10 MG/ML of trazodone, and his BAC to be 0.00. (Parties' Stipulation, Trial Tr. 306.) As of 5:58 a.m., the drugs found in his system were within therapeutic limit. (Id.)

         Each of the drugs found in petitioner's body has a half life, which refers to the amount of time it takes for a drug to be reduced by one half. (Closson T., ECF No. 7-3, at 566.) Since most of the drugs and the alcohol found in petitioner's system had an “additive effect, ” in which the effects are intensified by mixing with one another, it was found that petitioner was under the combined influence of these drugs and alcohol when driving. (Id. at 574.)

         The hydrocodone, which affects the central nervous system and can impair driving, was found to be at the “high end” of therapeutic levels. (Id. at 568.) Moreover, when hydrocodone is combined with alcohol, it has an ...


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