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Robinson v. Arnone

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 19, 2016

SHAWN L. ROBINSON, Petitioner,
v.
LEO C. ARNONE, et al., Respondents.

RULING DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

JEFFREY ALKER MEYER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Petitioner Shawn Robinson brings this action for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. He is serving a sentence of 45 years of imprisonment following his conviction in a Connecticut state court on multiple charges arising from his attack on a correctional officer during a prison riot in 1990. He now contends that he had conflicts with and did not have constitutionally effective assistance of counsel at trial, that he was wrongly denied access to personnel files of correctional officers who testified against him, and that he was convicted by a jury from which minority jurors were systematically excluded. Because it is clear that the Connecticut state courts did not unreasonably apply federal law in rejecting all of these claims, I will deny the petition.

Background

On April 19, 1990, petitioner was present during a riot among inmates at the Connecticut Correctional Institution at Somers. According to the State’s trial evidence, petitioner slashed a correctional officer on the neck with a sharp metal instrument. Petitioner then put the weapon into a paper bag and walked away. Although the officer who was attacked did not see who did it, a second correctional officer testified that he saw the attack. Still a third correctional officer testified that he saw petitioner with a dark object in his hand, and a fourth correctional officer heard petitioner urge other inmates to kill him shortly after the attack on the first correctional officer. See State v. Robinson, 227 Conn. 711, 715-16 (1993).

Petitioner was tried before a jury on charges of first- and second-degree assault, rioting at a correctional institution, possession of a weapon or dangerous instrument in a correctional institution, and being a persistent serious felony offender (having prior robbery convictions). He was convicted on all charges except first-degree assault and was sentenced to a total effective sentence of 45 years of imprisonment. Id. at 713-14. His conviction was affirmed on direct appeal, id., and he has filed multiple state petitions for writs of habeas corpus that have been denied. Doc. #42 at 3; Doc. #47 at 2-3; see also Robinson v. Warden, 2009 WL 1333799 (Conn. Super. 2009); Robinson v. Commissioner of Correction, 129 Conn.App. 699 (2011). Petitioner has now filed the instant federal habeas corpus petition that raises several claims.

Discussion

Federal courts have very limited authority to overturn state court convictions. A state court defendant who seeks relief by way of a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 must show that his state court conviction was rendered by means of a very clear violation of federal law-i.e., that the state court’s adjudication of his claims ―(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 that it ―(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)(1)-(2); see also Chrysler v. Guiney, 806 F.3d 104, 118 (2d Cir. 2015) (reviewing governing standard).

This is a ―highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, which demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt." Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011) (quoting Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (per curiam)). As the Supreme Court has more recently explained, ―[w]hen reviewing state criminal convictions on collateral review, federal judges are required to afford state courts due respect by overturning their decisions only when there could be no reasonable dispute that they were wrong." Woods v. Donald, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015) (per curiam).

Disputes and Disagreements with Trial Counsel

Petitioner’s primary argument is that the Connecticut state courts unreasonably applied federal law with respect to the trial court’s alleged mishandling of his disputes and disagreements with his trial counsel (Attorney Brian Karpe) during the course of trial. The specifics of these disagreements were described at length by the Connecticut Supreme Court as follows:

At trial, the defendant had a number of disputes with his attorney, Brian Karpe, and on several occasions made known to the court that he did not want Karpe to continue to represent him. While the jury was being selected, the defendant moved to ―fire" Karpe. The defendant explained that he and Karpe had disagreed over certain things ―in the General Statutes and the Practice Book dealing with my case." Karpe told the court that he and the defendant had had disagreements ―on some trial tactics." In response, the trial court explained to the defendant that his counsel had control over trial strategy and tactics. The trial court further remarked that ―from what I have seen of Mr. Karpe's representation, I see nothing that would cause me to fire him and replace him with another attorney." The defendant then complained that Karpe had not come to prison to consult with him about the case. He also stated that he wished to file a motion that some of the state's remarks to the prospective jurors were biased. In response, Karpe moved to withdraw due to the defendant's expressions of dissatisfaction with his services. The court denied Karpe's motion, explaining that there was no reason, especially at that point in the trial with the jury being selected, to remove him from the case. The defendant, however, commented that he felt that Karpe had no desire to try his case. The court reminded the defendant that, despite his persistent protests, it had denied his motion to dismiss Karpe. The court then proceeded with jury selection.
Two days later, just as court convened, Karpe again moved to withdraw from the case because the defendant had informed him that he did not believe that Karpe was prepared. Karpe represented that the defendant had stated that he believed that he could have questioned the prospective jurors more effectively than Karpe, and that the defendant had ―made allegations that I'm trying to railroad him." Karpe also stated that he believed that the attorney-client relationship had broken down and that he should be excused from further representation of the defendant. The court informed the defendant that, if he was dissatisfied with Karpe's representation, he had a right to represent himself, if he wished to do so. The defendant responded that he did not wish to represent himself. He said he only desired ―good representation, " and complained that Karpe had failed to obtain items he had previously requested, such as exact copies of disciplinary reports, medical records, and all of the incident reports pertaining to the events of April 19, 1990. Karpe told the court that the state had given him access to the incident reports and that he had dictated these and provided the defendant with copies of transcribed versions. The trial court then stated that it was treating the dialogue among itself, the defendant and Karpe as a motion to replace Karpe with new counsel. It then denied the motion.
The next day, during jury selection, Karpe again moved to withdraw because the defendant refused to speak with him. The trial court denied the motion. The defendant then turned and faced the rear of the courtroom during the voir dire of prospective jurors, claiming that he had no voice in the questions that were being asked of the jurors. Later, after the jury had been selected, at the outset of the state's presentation of evidence, Karpe again moved to withdraw. He told the trial court that the defendant had threatened that if Karpe was trying to ―railroad" him, he ―would certainly stop it." The trial court denied the motion and explained to the defendant that Karpe was acting in his best interests and that it would be to his advantage to cooperate with his counsel. Karpe then told the court that the defendant had indicated to him that he would prefer to represent himself. The court asked the defendant if he wished to proceed pro se. The defendant did not respond, and the court interpreted his silence as indicating that he did not wish to do so.
After the defense had rested, the defendant became agitated. He stated that he wanted to fire Karpe ―because I ain't resting nothing yet." He told the court that he wished to call other witnesses and to return to the witness stand. The court told the defendant that it could not honor his requests. The defendant then left the courtroom with Karpe. Karpe returned to the courtroom shortly thereafter and apologized for his client's behavior. The court then asked Karpe whether he had spoken with his client after they left the courtroom together. Karpe responded that he had, and explained to the court that the defendant was upset and had ...

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