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Locurto v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. New York

February 28, 2018

STEPHEN LOCURTO, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          NICHOLAS G. GARAUFIS, United States District Judge.

         Before the court is Petitioner Stephen LoCurto's petition for a writ of habeas corpus brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (the "Petition").[1] (Mot. to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence ("Pet.") (Dkt. 1); Am. Mot. to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence ("Am. Pet.") (Dkt. 62).) Petitioner asserts four legal claims-Grounds One through Four (defined below)- and requests an evidentiary hearing with respect to each claim. (See Pet'r Suppl. Mem. of Law in Supp. of Pet. ("Pet'r Suppl. Mem.") (Dkt. 21); Pet'r Mem. in Supp. of Am. Pet. ("Pet'r Am. Pet. Mem.") (Dkt. 112).) In its Memorandum and Order dated August 11, 2016, the court (1) ordered an evidentiary hearing on Ground One of the Petition; and (2) denied Ground Two in its entirety. (See Aug. 11, 2016, Mem. & Order (Dkt. 87) at 7, 19.) For the reasons set forth below, Grounds Three and Four are DISMISSED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         The court assumes familiarity with the underlying facts of Petitioner's criminal case. See United States v. Rizzuto, No. 03-CR-1382 (NGG); United States v. Amato, 306 Fed.Appx. 630');">306 Fed.Appx. 630 (2d Cir. 2009) (summary order), cert, denied, 558 U.S. 940 (2009).

         B. Procedural History[2]

         On October 4, 2010, Petitioner filed his initial prose petition for relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, alleging (1) ineffective assistance of trial counsel with respect to plea negotiations ("Ground One"); (2) ineffective assistance of appellate counsel ("Ground Two"); and (3) that the Government suppressed impeachment evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), and Gielio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150 (1972) ("Ground Three").[3] (See Pet.; Pet'r Mem. of Law in Supp. of Pet. ("Pefr Mem.") (Dkt. 2).)

         On April 17, 2012, Magistrate Judge James Orenstein[4] appointed Alan M. Nelson as habeas counsel pursuant to the Criminal Justice Act ("CJA").[5] (Apr. 17, 2012, Order (Dkt. 11).) Petitioner filed a supplemental memorandum of law in support of the Petition. (Pet'r Suppl. Mem.) The Government opposed the Petition. (Gov't Mem. of Law in Opp'n to Pet. ("Gov't Opp'n") (Dkt. 28).) Petitioner filed a reply memorandum of law in further support of his Petition. (Pet'r Reply Mem. in Supp. of Pet. ("Pet'r Reply") (Dkt. 30).)

         On August 5, 2014, nearly four years after Petitioner filed his initial petition, Petitioner simultaneously moved to amend his Petition and filed an amended petition, which supplemented his argument as to Ground Three and added a fourth claim, alleging that trial counsel falsely advised him that additional funds for expert witness services were unavailable under the CJA and, thus, that trial counsel was ineffective ("Ground Four"). (See Mot. to Amend Pet. (Dkt. 60); Am. Pet.; Pet'r Mem. of Law in Supp. of Mot. to Amend Pet. (Dkt. 63).) The Government did not object to the filing of an amended petition but reserved the right to argue that Petitioner's claims are untimely. (See Feb. 22, 2016, Letter from Gov't (Dkt. 75).)

         The court set a briefing schedule for the Amended Petition. (See Oct. 24, 2016, Order (Dkt. 104).) On December 9, 2016, Petitioner filed a supplemental memorandum of law in support of the Amended Petition. (Pet'r Am. Pet. Mem.) The Government submitted its opposition brief on January 20, 2017. (Gov't Opp'n to Am. Pet. ("Gov't Am. Pet. Opp'n") (Dkt. 119).) The Amended Petition has been fully briefed since February 3, 2017, when Petitioner submitted his reply memorandum of law in further support of the Amended Petition. (Pet'r Reply Mem. of Law in Supp. of Am. Pet. ("Pet'r Am. Pet. Reply") (Dkt. 120).)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A federal prisoner may file a petition in the sentencing court "to vacate, set aside, or correct" a conviction or sentence that was imposed "in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). A federal habeas petitioner bears the burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence. See Triana v. United States, 205 F.3d 36, 40 (2d Cir. 2000). In this section, the court describes (1) two procedural bars that preclude certain federal habeas claims, and (2) the legal standard governing requests for evidentiary hearings.

         A. Procedural Bars

         "Because collateral challenges are in 'tension with society's strong interest in the finality of criminal convictions, the courts have established rules that make it more difficult for a defendant to upset a conviction by collateral, as opposed to direct, attack.'" Yick Man Mui v. United States, 614 F.3d 50, 53 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting Ciak v. United States, 59 F.3d 296, 301 (2d Cir. 1995), abrogated on other grounds by Mickens v. Taylor, 535 U.S. 162 (2002)).

         First, "the so-called mandate rule bars re-litigation of issues already decided on direct appeal, " including both "matters expressly decided by the appellate court" and "issues impliedly resolved by the appellate court's mandate." Id. (citations omitted); see also id. at 53-54 (explaining that the mandate rule applies in habeas proceedings under Section 2255).

         Second, courts apply a "general rule that claims not raised on direct appeal may not be raised on collateral review unless the petitioner shows cause and prejudice." Massaro v. United States, 538 U.S. 500, 504 (2003) (emphasis added); see also Yick Man Mui, 614 F.3d at 54. This bar does not apply to claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, however. "[T]he Supreme Court has explained that 'in most cases[, ] a motion brought under § 2255 is preferable to direct appeal for deciding claims of ineffective assistance.'" United States v. Rosa, 666 Fed.Appx. 42, 44 (2d Cir. 2016) (summary order) (quoting Massaro, 538 U.S. at 504).

         B. Evidentiary Hearings

         Courts are directed to hold evidentiary hearings in proceedings under Section 2255 "[u]nless the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). "A [petitioner] seeking a hearing on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim 'need establish only that he has a plausible claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, not that he will necessarily succeed on the claim.'" Ravsor v. United States, 647 F.3d 491, 494 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Puelisi v. United States, 586 F.3d 209, 213 (2d Cir. 2009)). This determination is "analogous" to summary judgment proceedings: "If material facts are in dispute, a hearing should usually be held, and relevant findings of facts made." Id. (quoting Puglisi, 586 F.3d at 213). The Second Circuit has held that in "cases involving claims that 'can be, and [are] often made in any case, ' the judge may properly rely on his or her knowledge of the record and may permissibly forgo a full hearing and instead request letters, documentary evidence, and affidavits to aid in its resolution of the claim." Id. at 215. The trial judge is also in a position, based on the knowledge gained in the underlying criminal proceeding and in the role as trier of fact in the habeas proceeding, to determine that the petitioner had no chance of overcoming counsel's explanation. Id.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Ground Three

         In Ground Three of the Petition, Petitioner argues that the Government suppressed impeachment information about witness Frank Lino in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), Gielio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150 (1972), and Napue v. Illinois,360 U.S. 264 (1959). (Am. Pet. ¶ 7.) Petitioner specifically asserts that the Government failed to disclose information concerning Lino's involvement in the murder of Wilfred "Willie Boy" Johnson ("Wilfred Johnson") and heroin dealing, and argues that there is a reasonable probability that had this information been disclosed to the defense, the outcome of Petitioner's trial would have been different. (Am. Pet. ¶ 43.) He further argues that Lino testified falsely by failing to disclose his involvement in the murder of Wilfred Johnson and ...


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