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Evans v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. New York

June 21, 2018

SAQUAN EVANS, Petitioner,
v.
JOHN COLVIN, Superintendent, Five Points Correctional Facility, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

          JAMES K. SINGLETON, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Saquan Evans, 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. Evans is in the custody of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and incarcerated at Five Points Correctional Facility. Respondent has answered the Petition, and Evans has not replied.

         I. BACKGROUND/PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

         On December 16, 2010, Evans was charged with second-degree murder and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon in connection with the shooting of Rashad Walker, Jr., a bystander caught in the midst of gang-related violence.[1] Prior to trial, the court held a hearing to address Evans' motion to suppress identification evidence and verbal statements he made to the police. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court denied suppression of identification evidence. The court also denied suppression of statements he made to Detectives Merola and Lenhart and reserved judgment on suppression of Evans' statements to Detectives Walsh and Vanslyke. Defense counsel subsequently argued that the remainder of Evans' statements should be suppressed as the fruit of an illegal arrest at his home, in violation of Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 602-603 (1980) (holding that the Fourth Amendment generally precludes law enforcement from effectuating an arrest within a person's home in the absence of an arrest warrant). The court issued a written decision finding Payton inapplicable, but also determining that Evans invoked his right to remain silent when Detective Walsh interviewed him, which was not scrupulously honored. The court thus suppressed statements Evans made after that invocation. After a jury trial, Evans was convicted as charged. He was subsequently sentenced to consecutive terms of 25 years to life imprisonment for the second-degree murder conviction and 15 years' imprisonment for the second-degree criminal possession of a weapon conviction, plus five years of post-release supervision.

         Through counsel, Evans appealed his conviction, arguing that: 1) the verdict was against the weight of the evidence; 2) the trial court improperly imposed consecutive rather than concurrent terms of imprisonment; 3) he was denied a fair trial due to a prosecution witness's testimony and the prosecutor's statement on summation that commented on Evans' invocation of his right to remain silent; 4) his counsel was ineffective for failing to object to those remarks; and 5) the trial court erred in denying Evans' motion to suppress statements made after he was unlawfully arrested. The Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the judgment against Evans in a reasoned opinion issued on October 9, 2015. People v. Evans, 17 N.Y.S.3d 576, 578 (N.Y.App.Div. 2015). Evans filed a counseled petition for review in the Court of Appeals, raising all claims he had unsuccessfully raised to the Appellate Division. The Court of Appeals denied leave without comment on October 29, 2015. People v. Evans, 44 N.E.3d 942, 942 (N.Y. 2015).

         Evans timely filed the instant pro se Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus to this Court on October 23, 2016. Docket No. 1 (“Petition”); see 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A).

         II. GROUNDS RAISED

         In his pro se Petition before this Court, Evans raises the five claims he unsuccessfully raised to the state courts on direct appeal. Namely, Evans argues that: 1) the verdict was against the weight of the evidence; 2) the trial court improperly imposed consecutive rather than concurrent terms of imprisonment; 3) he was denied a fair trial due to a prosecution witness's testimony and prosecutor's statement on summation that commented on Evans' invocation of his right to remain silent; 4) his counsel was ineffective for failing to object to those remarks; and 5) the trial court erred in denying Evans' motion to suppress statements made after he was unlawfully arrested.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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. Arizona, 497 U.S. 639, 653 (1990) (presuming that the state court knew and correctly applied state law), overruled on other grounds by Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002).

         In applying these standards on habeas review, this Court reviews the “last reasoned decision” by the state court. Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 804 (1991); Jones v. Stinson, 229 F.3d 112, 118 (2d Cir. 2000). Where there is no reasoned decision of the state court addressing the ground or grounds raised on the merits and no independent state grounds exist for not addressing those grounds, this Court must decide the issues de novo on the record before it. See Dolphy v. Mantello, 552 F.3d 236, 239-40 (2d Cir. 2009) (citing Spears v. Greiner, 459 F.3d 200, 203 (2d Cir. 2006)); cf. Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 530-31 (2003) (applying a de novo standard to a federal claim not reached by the state court). In so doing, the Court presumes that the state court decided the claim on the merits and the decision rested on federal grounds. See Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 740 (1991); Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 263 (1989); see also Jimenez v. Walker, 458 F.3d 130, 140 (2d Cir. 2006) (explaining the Harris-Coleman interplay); Fama v. Comm'r of Corr. Servs., 235 F.3d 804, 810-11 (2d Cir. 2000) (same). This Court gives the presumed decision of the state court the same AEDPA deference that it would give a reasoned decision of the state court. Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 784-85 (2011) (rejecting the argument that a summary disposition was not entitled to § 2254(d) deference); Jimenez, 458 F.3d at 145-46. Under the AEDPA, the state court's findings of fact are presumed to be correct unless the petitioner rebuts this presumption by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003).

         Evans has not replied to Respondent's answer. The relevant statute provides that “[t]he allegations of a return to the writ of habeas corpus or of an answer to an order to show cause in a habeas corpus proceeding, if not traversed, shall be accepted as true except to the extent that the judge finds from the evidence that they are not true.” 28 U.S.C. § 2248; see also Carlson v. Landon, 342 U.S. 524, 530 (1952). Where, as here, there is no traverse filed and no evidence offered to contradict the allegations of the ...


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