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Collins v. Brighthaupt

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 5, 2016




Petitioner, Ricardo Collins, currently incarcerated at the Cheshire Correctional Institution in Cheshire, Connecticut, brings this action pro se for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. He challenges his 2006 conviction for murder, felony murder, and robbery in the first degree. For the reasons that follow, the petition is denied.

I. Standard of Review

A federal district court “shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person in state custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). A federal court cannot grant a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by a person in state custody with regard to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits by a state court unless the adjudication of the claim in state court either:

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Section 2254(d) “imposes a highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings and demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.” Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Thus, the standard set forth in section 2254(d) is “difficult to meet.” Metrish v. Lancaster, ___ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 1781, 1786 (2013).

Clearly established federal law is found in holdings, not dicta, of the Supreme Court at the time of the state court decision. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 365 (2000). Thus, “circuit precedent does not constitute clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court.” Parker v. Matthews, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 2148, 2155 (2012) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

A decision is “contrary to” clearly established federal law where the state court applies a rule different from that set forth by the Supreme Court or if it decides a case differently than the Supreme Court on essentially the same facts. Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 694 (2002). A state court unreasonably applies Supreme Court case law when the court correctly identifies the governing law, but unreasonably applies that law to the facts of the case, or refuses to extend a legal principle clearly established by the Supreme Court to a new situation in which it should govern. Davis v. Grant, 532 F.3d 132, 140 (2d Cir. 2008), cert. denied, 555 U.S. 1176 (2009). It is not enough that the state court decision is incorrect or erroneous. Rather, the state court application of clearly established law must be objectively unreasonable, which is a “substantially higher threshold.” Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007). Thus, a state prisoner must show that the challenged court ruling “was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011).

When reviewing a habeas petition, the federal court presumes that the factual determinations of the state court are correct. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). The petitioner has the burden of rebutting that presumption by clear and convincing evidence. Id. In addition, the federal court’s review under section 2254(d)(1) is limited to the record that was before the state court that adjudicated the claim on the merits. Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011).

II. Procedural History

On September 15, 2005, in the Connecticut Superior Court for the Judicial District of Fairfield at Bridgeport, a state’s attorney filed a substitute information charging the petitioner with one count of murder in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-54a, one count of felony murder in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-54c, and one count of robbery in the first degree in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-134(a)(2).[1] Jury selection began on February 21, 2006. On the second day of jury selection, the petitioner’s attorney advised the judge that he sought to represent himself through the remainder of jury selection and at trial. After canvassing the petitioner, the judge permitted the petitioner to represent himself, but appointed his attorney as stand-by counsel. After two police witnesses had testified on the first day of trial, petitioner’s stand-by counsel represented the petitioner for the remainder of the trial. See State v. Collins, 299 Conn. 567, 604-10 (2011).

On March 21, 2006, a jury found the petitioner guilty of all three counts in the substitute information. See Resp.’s Mem. Opp., App. A at 8-9. On May 24, 2006, the judge merged the count of murder with the count of felony murder, and sentenced the petitioner to a total effective term of imprisonment of forty-five years. See Id. at 8.

Petitioner raised three grounds on appeal to the Connecticut Appellate Court. He claimed that: (1) the trial judge erred in admitting evidence of his involvement in a prior shooting; (2) the judge improperly instructed the jury as to the adequacy of the police investigation into the murder of the victim; and (3) the trial judge erred in concluding that he had knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to counsel. See State v. Collins, 111 Conn.App. 730, 732 & n.1 (2008).

On December 23, 2008, the Connecticut Appellate Court reversed the petitioner’s judgment of conviction on the ground that the probative value of evidence regarding a non-lethal shooting that had occurred several months prior to the shooting for which the petitioner was on trial was outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice and remanded the case for a new trial. See Id. at 744. On January 29, 2009, the Connecticut Supreme Court granted the State’s petition for certification to appeal the decision of the Connecticut Appellate Court. See Collins, 290 Conn. 911 (2009). On January 5, 2011, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the Appellate Court with instructions to affirm the judgment of conviction. Collins, 299 Conn. at 617.

III. Factual Background

The Connecticut Supreme Court determined that the jury could reasonably have found the following facts:

The [murder] victim, Calvin Hopkins, and his former girlfriend, Quiana Staton, jointly operated a ‘business’ in which Staton sold marijuana and Hopkins sold crack cocaine. At approximately 10:30 on the night of December 2, 2002, Hopkins went to Staton’s Bridgeport apartment in a public housing project known as the Greens. He came to the apartment carrying a large ‘wad of cash’ and retrieved an additional $500 to $600 from Staton’s safe. Staton testified that Hopkins intended to use the money to purchase additional crack cocaine. Hopkins left Staton’s apartment with the money at approximately 12 a.m. on the morning of December 3, 2002. He spoke to Staton on his cellular telephone approximately one hour later from his car in the parking lot of the apartment complex. During that conversation, Staton looked from her window to see Hopkins in his car talking to two unknown individuals. Staton later attempted to call Hopkins’ cellular telephone at approximately 2 a.m. and again at 3 a.m. but received no answer to either of those calls.
Later that morning, at approximately 7:15, Bridgeport police were dispatched to a scene a short distance from Staton’s apartment complex where a green sedan was parked in the road preventing a school bus from passing. Upon opening the door to the vehicle, the police discovered Hopkins ‘reclined in the front seat with his head leaning ...

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