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Riley v. Noeth

United States District Court, N.D. New York

February 22, 2018

ADRIAN D. RILEY, Petitioner,
JOSEPH NOETH, Superintendent, Attica Correctional Facility, [1] Respondent.



         Adrian D. Riley, 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. Riley 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 Riley has replied.


         On July 11, 2008, Riley was charged with first-degree sexual conduct against a child for sexual abuses. The indictment alleged that Riley, “on or about the year 2002 or 2003 through March 2008 . . . over a period of time, not less than three months . . . did engage in two or more acts of sexual conduct, which includes at least one act of sexual intercourse, oral sexual conduct, anal sexual conduct or aggravated sexual conduct with a child less than eleven years old.” According to the indictment, the conduct began when the victim, the daughter of Riley's girlfriend, was four or five years old and continued until she was nine years old.

         Prior to trial, the court held a Sandoval[2] hearing to address whether the prosecution could question Riley, in the event he testified, about a September 24, 2008, criminal conviction for criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree, which stemmed from an arrest on May 2, 2008, at the residence of the victim and her family. The People wanted to address the underlying facts of that conviction because the victim and her mother had been present, and the prosecution argued that the incident related to child sexual abuse syndrome. The court expressed concern that Riley had committed that crime after the incident for which he stood trial. The court ultimately ruled that the People could question Riley about the conviction during cross-examination for Sandoval purposes.

         The prosecution also moved in limine to preclude the defense from cross-examining witnesses regarding the victim's allegations of sexual abuse by other persons. The court determined that such evidence was irrelevant because Riley failed to prove that the allegations were false or that the victim was a habitual liar with respect to abuse allegations.

         At trial, the victim's mother, the executive director of the housing complex where the victim and her family resided, the victim, and three nurses who had cared for the victim after she reported the sexual abuse testified for the prosecution. Riley testified on his own behalf, after counsel noted that Riley chose to do so against counsel's advice. The prosecution requested and received permission to explore Riley's termination from his employment at a nursing home due to misconduct. Counsel gave their summations to the jury, and, after the charge to the jury, defense counsel, who had objected to a statement made by the prosecutor during summation, moved for a mistrial due to inflammatory and improper remarks. The request was denied. After deliberations, the jury found Riley guilty as charged. He was subsequently sentenced to a determinate term of 25 years' imprisonment with 20 years of post-release supervision and an order of protection in favor of the victim for 45 years.

         Riley then moved pro se to vacate his conviction pursuant to New York Criminal Procedure Law (“CPL”) § 440.10 on the grounds that: 1) he was denied the effective assistance of counsel because counsel failed to conduct an adequate investigation of Riley's case, present expert defense testimony, and present evidence that the victim had recanted the allegations of molestation; and 2) newly-discovered evidence in the form of Family Court testimony demonstrated his actual innocence. The court denied the motion, and the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court denied Riley leave to appeal.

         Through counsel, Riley appealed his conviction, arguing that: 1) the evidence presented was not legally sufficient to support his conviction and the guilty verdict was against the weight of the evidence; 2) he was denied a fair trial by the court's Sandoval ruling and the prosecutor's remarks during summation; 3) trial counsel was ineffective for failing to fully investigate the matter, particularly with regards to the Family Court proceedings and the Department of Social Services investigation; and 4) the sentence was harsh and excessive. Riley also filed a pro se supplemental briefing alleging that: 1) he was deprived of a fair trial by the trial court's evidentiary rulings that precluded the defense from offering evidence of the victim's sexual abuse allegations against others and allowed the prosecution to cross-examine Riley about his other conviction; 2) trial counsel was ineffective for failing to present expert testimony, investigate exculpatory evidence, and present a defense; and 3) the prosecution committed misconduct during summation. The Appellate Division unanimously confirmed the judgment against Riley in a reasoned opinion issued on May 2, 2014. People v. Riley, 984 N.Y.S.2d 735, 738 (N.Y.App.Div. May 2, 2014). Riley sought leave to appeal on all grounds raised in the Appellate Division, and the New York Court of Appeals denied leave on December 3, 2014. People v. Riley, 25 N.E.3d 351, 351 (N.Y. 2014).

         Riley then timely filed a pro se Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus to this Court on October 20, 2013. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A).


         In his pro se Petition before this Court, Riley argues that: 1) trial counsel was ineffective for failing to: a) consult with an expert and present expert testimony, b) investigate the case, c) oppose the prosecutor's motion in limine, and d) present a defense; 2) the prosecution committed misconduct during summation; and 3) the trial court's evidentiary rulings with regard to the motion in limine and Sandoval hearing deprived him of a fair trial.


         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. ...

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