Williams v. Gonyea
MEMORANDUM DECISION: ORDERED THAT the Petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for a Writ of Habeas Corpus is DENIED. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED THAT the Court declines to issue a Certificate of Appealability. 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c); Banks v. Dretke, 540 U.S. 668, 705 (2004) ("To obtain a certificate of appealability, a prisoner must 'demonstrat[e] that jurists of reason could disagree with the district court's resolution of his constitutional claims or that jurists could conclude the issues presented are adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed further.'" (quoting Miller-El, 537 U.S. at 327)). Any further request for a Certificate of Appealability must be addressed to the Court of Appeals. See FED. R. APP. P. 22(b); 2D CIR. R. 22.1. The Clerk of the Court is to enter judgment accordingly. Signed by Senior Judge James K. Singleton on 10/31/17. (served on petitioner by regular mail)(alh, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
PAUL GONYEA, Superintendent, Mohawk
Marcus Williams, 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. Williams is in the custody of
the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and incarcerated at
Mohawk Correctional Facility. Respondent has answered the Petition, and Williams has not
I. BACKGROUND/PRIOR PROCEEDINGS
On August 4, 2011, Williams was charged with criminal possession of a weapon in the
second degree. On direct appeal of his conviction, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme
Court recounted the following facts underlying the charge against Williams:
A police captain heard gunshots, and an identified citizen then gave him a description
of the shooter and his direction of flight from the area in which the gunshots originated.
Other police officers who heard the broadcast description of the shooter observed
[Williams] in a driveway approximately two blocks from the scene of the shooting, and he
was nervous, sweating and breathing heavily. The police observed that he matched the
description of the suspect, and he fled when he saw the unmarked patrol car. [Williams] ran
behind a house out of the sight of an officer who pursued him, but he emerged quickly with
his hands up. Although [Williams] was frisked, no weapon was recovered from his person.
He was handcuffed, and other police officers quickly recovered a gun inside a grill in the
backyard of the house behind which [Williams] had run. As the police were conducting a
showup identification procedure with the identified citizen, who was brought to the scene
where [Williams] was detained, [Williams] spontaneously yelled out to his family nearby
the name of the identified citizen and that this person had seen [Williams] shoot the gun.
[Williams] was arrested and, after being advised of his Miranda rights, he gave an
inculpatory statement to the police.
People v. Williams, 12 N.Y.S.3d 699, 700 (N.Y. App. Div. 2015).
The trial court subsequently held a Huntley1 hearing regarding the admissibility of Williams’
statements to his family before he was taken into custody by the police, premised upon Williams’
claim that he was arrested without probable cause. Defense counsel argued:
[A]t the time of the arrest, [Williams] was simply standing in a private driveway at
a time when he noticed four people running at him with weapons pointed at him. He then
ran in fear for his safety, stopped at the corner of the house, where he was then handcuffed,
taken to the ground, and then actually placed in custody at that point and our position would
be the officers had absolutely no probable cause at that time that [Williams] had committed
a crime or was about to commit a crime or was involved in committing a crime.
After hearing testimony from Syracuse Police Captain John Brennan and Police Detective
James Quatrone, the hearing court found that Williams was not in Miranda custody when he made
the statement and that the statement, and the fact that police knew his grandmother lived at the house
where he was found, were themselves sufficient for probable cause to put him in the police car,
which then constituted Miranda custody. The court reasoned that the level-three intrusion2 turned
into level-four, probable cause to arrest, after Williams, without denial of his constitutional rights,
People v. Huntley, 204 N.E.2d 179 (N.Y. 1965). The term “Huntley hearing” is a
shorthand reference to the hearing held in New York on a challenge to the admissibility of
statements made to law enforcement personnel.
In People v. LaPene, 352 N.E.2d 562 (N.Y. 1976), the New York Court of
Appeals laid out a sliding scale of justifiable police intrusion, short of probable cause to arrest,
which specified three distinct levels of intrusion correlating the allowable intensity of police
conduct to the nature and weight of the facts precipitating the intrusion. The third level, at issue
here, encompasses the statutory right provided by New York Criminal Procedure Law (“CPL”)
§ 140.50(1), which authorizes a forcible stop and detention of a person when a police officer
entertains a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is committing, or is about to
commit a felony or misdemeanor. See People v. Martinez, 606 N.E.2d 951, 952 (N.Y. 1992).
made statements implicating himself as the shooter, and the police found a gun within 20 to 30 feet
of Williams in his grandmother’s grill.
On November 28, 2011, Williams appeared with counsel to plead guilty to the charge. Prior
to accepting his guilty plea, the court explained that “the specific terms of the plea proposal would
be if you entered a plea of guilty to criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, I would
give you if you took the offer today the lowest that I could give you, which is seven years
determinate plus five years post-release supervision.” Williams confirmed that he understood the
terms of the deal. He additionally denied that he had received other statements or promises to
influence his decision to plea guilty, and denied that he had been threatened. Williams stated that
he was 32, a U.S. citizen, and could read and write English. He acknowledged that he had sufficient
time to discuss his case with his attorney, and that he had no physical or mental problems that would
affect his understanding of the plea proceedings. The court explained the rights he was giving up,
and Williams confirmed his understanding that he was waiving those rights.
Williams answered affirmatively when asked, “Do you admit on or about July 12, 2011, in
the City of Syracuse, County of Onondaga, that you possessed a loaded firearm at a place other than
your home or place of business, do you admit having done that?” Williams additionally admitted
that he was convicted in April 2000 of first-degree robbery for which he received a 7-year term of
imprisonment, and stipulated that, based on that prior conviction, he was a second violent felony
At his sentencing hearing, Williams requested to withdraw his guilty plea. Williams stated
that he was not guilty and that the police wrongfully arrested him before they found the gun.
Williams argued that the proof against him was not strong. The court denied the motion and
imposed the agreed-upon sentence of 7 years’ imprisonment followed by 5 years of post-release
Williams filed a pro se motion to set aside his sentence pursuant to CPL § 440.20 on the
ground that he was improperly sentenced as a second violent felony offender because second-degree
weapons possession was not a violent felony. The court rejected Williams’ motion because
Williams had a prior violent felony conviction and his current offense was also a violent felony.
Williams then filed a pro se motion to vacate his conviction pursuant to CPL § 440.10. In
that motion, he argued, among other grounds not relevant to the instant Petition, that counsel was
ineffective for not investigating his case and not advising him as to his “actual charge,” which
subsequently rendered his plea unknowing, unintelligent, and involuntary, and that the police lacked
probable cause to arrest him. In support of his motion, Williams attached affidavits from his
girlfriend and a neighbor, which indicated that Williams was not outside when the shootings
occurred. The County Court denied the motion on August 7, 2013. The court found that the
ineffective assistance of counsel claim was barred by CPL § 440.10(2)(c)3 and alternatively
concluded that the plea record evidenced Williams’ voluntary plea. The court also stated that the
affidavits were not properly considered in a § 440.10 motion and, in any event, Williams had not
shown that he could not have obtained this evidence with the exercise of diligence such that the
evidence could not be considered “new.”
N.Y. CRIM. PROC. LAW § 440.10(2)(c) (“[T]he court must deny a motion to vacate
a judgment when[,] [a ]lthough sufficient facts appear on the record of the proceedings
underlying the judgment to have permitted, upon appeal from such judgment, adequate review of
the ground or issue raised upon the motion, no such appellate review or determination occurred
owing to the defendant’s unjustifiable failure to take or perfect an appeal . . . .”).
Through counsel, Williams then appealed his conviction to the Appellate Division on the
ground that the court erred in declining to suppress his pre- and post-Miranda statements because
they were the product of an arrest for which the police lacked probable cause. Williams additionally
filed a pro se supplemental brief in which he argued that: 1) the hearing court erred in finding that
his arrest was supported by probable cause; 2) the evidence before the grand jury was legally
insufficient; and 3) the court erred in denying his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The Appellate
Division unanimously affirmed his conviction on June 19, 2015. Williams, 12 N.Y.S. 3d at 701.
Williams and his counsel sought leave to appeal the issues in the counseled and pro se briefs, which
was denied without comment on September 3, 2015. People v. Williams, 40 N.E.3d 587, 587 (N.Y.
Williams timely filed a pro se Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus to this Court on April
26, 2016. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A). By Court permission, Williams filed an Amended
Petition (Docket No. 11), which is now before the undersigned judge for adjudication.
II. GROUNDS RAISED
In his pro se Amended Petition before this Court, Williams argues that: 1) the hearing
court erred in not suppressing his statement on the ground that it was obtained by an unlawful
arrest that lacked probable cause; 2) the hearing court erred in concluding that the police had
probable cause to arrest him; 3) the grand jury evidence was legally insufficient; and 4) the court
erred in denying his motion to withdraw his guilty plea.
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 statecourt 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).
Williams 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 return, the court must accept those allegations as true. United States
ex rel. Catalano v. Shaughnessy, 197 F.2d 65, 66-67 (2d Cir. 1952) (per curiam).
Unlawful Search and Seizure (Grounds 1 and 2)
Williams first claims that the trial court erred in concluding that the police had probable
cause to arrest him such that his arrest was lawful and his statement was admissible. However, any
challenge to the search and seizure is foreclosed by the Supreme Court’s decision in Stone v. Powell,
428 U.S. 465 (1976). Under Stone, “where the State has provided an opportunity for full and fair
litigation of a Fourth Amendment claim,” federal habeas corpus relief will not lie for a claim that
evidence recovered through an illegal search or seizure was introduced at trial. Id. at 482. The
Stone v. Powell doctrine applies to all Fourth Amendment claims, including claims of illegal stops,
arrests, searches, or seizures based on less than probable cause, and it applies regardless of the
nature of the evidence sought to be suppressed. Cardwell v. Taylor, 461 U.S. 571, 572-73 (1983)
The Second Circuit has made clear that all Stone requires is that the State provide a petitioner
the opportunity to litigate his Fourth Amendment claim. See McPhail v. Warden, Attica Corr.
Facility, 707 F.2d 67, 69-70 (2d Cir. 1983). In order to receive habeas review of a Fourth
Amendment claim, a petitioner must demonstrate either that the State failed to provide any
“corrective procedures” by which Fourth Amendment claims could be litigated, or that the State had
such procedures in place but that the petitioner was unable to avail himself of those procedures
“because of an unconscionable breakdown in the underlying process.” Capellan v. Riley, 975 F.2d
67, 70 (2d Cir. 1992). A “mere disagreement with the outcome of a state court ruling is not the
equivalent of an unconscionable breakdown in the state’s corrective process,” and thus is insufficient
The Fourth Amendment provides:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,
against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall
issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly
describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
U.S. CONST. amend. IV.
to give this Court authority to review Fourth Amendment claims. Id. at 72. That New York has in
place such procedures is well-settled. See id. at 70 & n.1. Williams has not asserted the existence
of an unconscionable breakdown of that process, nor has he alleged any facts that would
demonstrate such a breakdown in this case. Williams therefore cannot prevail on his challenge to
the legality of the search and admission of his statement.
Grand Jury Defects (Ground 3)
Williams additionally argues the evidence presented to the grand jury was legally
insufficient. As an initial matter, it is well settled that a guilty plea represents a “break in the chain
of events which has preceded it in the criminal process,” and a defendant “may not thereafter raise
independent claims relating to the deprivation of constitutional rights that occurred prior to the entry
of the guilty plea.” Tollett v. Henderson, 411 U.S. 258, 267 (1973). “‘He may only attack the
voluntary and intelligent character of the guilty plea by showing that the advice he received from
counsel was not within [acceptable] standards.’” United States v. Coffin, 76 F.3d 494, 497 (2d Cir.
1996) (quoting Tollett, 411 U.S. at 267); see United States v. Garcia, 339 F.3d 116, 117 (2d Cir.
2003) (“It is well settled that a defendant who knowingly and voluntarily enters a guilty plea waives
all non jurisdictional defects in the prior proceedings.”). Because the events which give rise to this
claim occurred prior to Williams’ guilty plea, the claim is foreclosed by the Tollett bar.
Moreover, Williams’ subsequent conviction forecloses any potential relief with respect to
such claim. For federal constitutional purposes, a jury conviction transforms any defect in the grand
jury’s charging decision into harmless error because the trial conviction establishes probable cause
to indict and also proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. See, e.g., United States v. Mechanik,
475 U.S. 66, 67 (1986) (“[T]he petit jury’s verdict of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt demonstrates
a fortiori that there was probable cause to charge the defendants with the offenses for which they
were convicted. Therefore, the convictions must stand despite the [grand jury] rule violation.”). In
Lopez v. Riley, the Second Circuit relied on Mechanik in holding that “[i]f federal grand jury rights
are not cognizable on direct appeal where rendered harmless by a petit jury, similar claims
concerning a state grand jury proceeding are a fortiori foreclosed in a collateral attack brought in
a federal court.” Lopez v. Riley, 865 F.2d 30, 32 (2d Cir. 1989); see also Davis v. Mantello, 42 F.
App’x 488, 490-91 (2d Cir. 2002) (“[C]laims of deficiencies in state grand jury proceedings are not
cognizable in a habeas corpus proceeding in federal court.” (citing cases)).
District courts in this Circuit have applied this reasoning equally to a conviction achieved
by a guilty plea. See, e.g., Lloyd v. Walker, 771 F. Supp. 570, 576-77 (E.D.N.Y. 1991) (“Having
admitted to the factual basis of the charges against him upon entering a plea of guilty, any error in
the proceeding which led to his indictment is . . . rendered harmless, and is not a cognizable claim
in a federal habeas proceeding.” (internal citation omitted)); Alston v. Ricks, No. 01 Civ. 9862, 2003
WL 42144, at *7 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 7, 2003); see also United States v. Hansel, 70 F.3d 6, 8 (2d Cir.
1995) (“[A]ny error in the grand jury proceedings must be considered harmless in light of Hansel’s
guilty plea.”). Williams is therefore not entitled to relief on any argument that the grand jury
proceedings were defective.
Rejection of Motion to Withdraw Plea (Ground 4)
Finally, Williams contends that the court erred in refusing to allow him to withdraw his
guilty plea based on actual innocence.
A defendant who offers a claim of innocence to substantiate altering his plea must overcome
“the strong presumption of verity that attaches to his admissions of guilt at his plea allocution.”
United States v. Hirsch, 239 F.3d 221, 225 (2d Cir. 2001) (internal quotations and citation omitted).
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has observed that the allocution remarks “are generally treated
as conclusive in the face of the defendant’s later attempt to contradict them.” See Adames v. United
States, 171 F.3d 728, 732 (2d Cir. 1999) (citing United States v. Gonzalez, 970 F.2d 1095, 1101 (2d
Cir. 1992)). The district court may draw all inferences against the conclusion that the defendant is
actually innocent. See United States v. Maher, 108 F.3d 1513, 1530 (2d Cir. 1997).
In this case, Williams did not present to the sentencing court, and does not present in his
Petition, competent and reliable evidence that he is actually innocent of the crime. Rather, Williams
merely argues that the evidence against him was not overwhelming. Williams thus fails to overcome
his statements at his plea allocution admitting his guilt. An independent review of the record reflects
that the plea was made voluntarily and intelligently, and that, contrary to Williams’ subsequent
assertions, the evidence against him, as detailed above, was quite strong. Williams is therefore not
entitled to relief on this ground.
Williams is not entitled to relief on any ground raised in his Petition.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED THAT the Petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for a Writ
of Habeas Corpus is DENIED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED THAT the Court declines to issue a Certificate of
Appealability. 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c); Banks v. Dretke, 540 U.S. 668, 705 (2004) (“To obtain a
certificate of appealability, a prisoner must ‘demonstrat[e] that jurists of reason could disagree
with the district court’s resolution of his constitutional claims or that jurists could conclude the
issues presented are adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed further.’” (quoting Miller-El,
537 U.S. at 327)). Any further request for a Certificate of Appealability must be addressed to the
Court of Appeals. See FED. R. APP. P. 22(b); 2D CIR. R. 22.1.
The Clerk of the Court is to enter judgment accordingly.
Dated: October 31, 2017.
/s/ James K. Singleton, Jr.
JAMES K. SINGLETON, JR.
Senior United States District Judge
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