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Rodriguez v. Commissioner of Correction

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 31, 2016

HECTOR RODRIGUEZ, Petitioner, PRISONER
v.
COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTION, et al., Respondents.

RULING AND ORDER

ROBERT N. CHATIGNY, District Judge.

Petitioner Hector Rodriguez, proceeding pro se, seeks a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For reasons that follow, the petition is denied.

I. Background

In 2002, Connecticut authorities arrested petitioner in connection with six residential break-ins. ECF No. 16-2, App. D, at 115. Charged with burglary, larceny, and criminal trespass, he turned down the state's plea offer of twenty years' imprisonment and went to trial. ECF No. 16-2, App. M, at 13. The trial resulted in his conviction on numerous counts, [1] and he received a sentence of thirty years. Id . The Connecticut Appellate Court affirmed the judgment and the Connecticut Supreme Court denied certification. ECF No. 16-2, App. D, F.

In 2005, petitioner sought habeas relief in Connecticut Superior Court claiming ineffective assistance of trial counsel. He alleged that his counsel had failed to communicate with him, failed to arrange an examination to determine his competency to stand trial, and failed to arrange an examination to assess whether he was sane at the time of the offense conduct. ECF No. 16-2, App. M.

In a two-hour proceeding, the state habeas court heard testimony from Rodriguez and his trial counsel, Attorney Miles Gerety. Rodriguez testified that Gerety failed to provide him with information about his exposure as a persistent felony offender and the likelihood of a long sentence in the event of a guilty verdict. Id. at 34, 39. He also testified that he had received treatment for mental health issues in the past and that his behavior while represented by Gerety had been erratic. In this regard, he testified that he insisted on appearing before the jury in his prison uniform, instead of civilian clothing, and often refused to discuss details of his charged offenses with his attorney. Id. at 21-22, 31.

Attorney Gerety's testimony corroborated Rodriguez's on certain points. Gerety confirmed that Rodriguez insisted on wearing his prisoner uniform at trial and refused to discuss the government's plea offer. According to Gerety, Rodriguez's refusal was not entirely unreasonable, given that he was forty-seven years old at the time and the government was offering a twenty-year prison term. Id. at 54-56.[2] But Gerety also testified that he kept petitioner informed about his exposure and the likely result of the trial. Id. at 70-71. Moreover, according to Gerety, petitioner "behaved appropriately" throughout the trial. Id. at 48.

In an oral ruling, the court denied the petition. The court stated that "Attorney Gerety did not do anything that can be construed as deficient performance in his trial representation." Id. at 90. The court also observed that petitioner had presented no evidence permitting a finding that he was insane when he committed his crimes or incompetent when he stood trial. Id. at 91. Thus, any deficiency in Gerety's performance with regard to petitioner's mental capacity caused no prejudice. Petitioner appealed to the Connecticut Appellate Court, which affirmed summarily. Rodriguez v. Commissioner, 128 Conn.App. 902 (2011). The Connecticut Supreme Court denied certification. Rodriguez v. Commissioner, 302 Conn. 906 (2011).

Petitioner now advances the same three arguments on which he relied in his state habeas proceeding.[3] First, he argues that Gerety failed to communicate effectively with him and so could not competently assess his mental state.[4] Next, he argues that Gerety should have arranged an examination to determine whether he was competent to stand trial. Finally, he argues that Gerety should have arranged a similar examination to determine whether he committed his crimes because of a mental disease or defect. Id .; ECF No. 1, at 18. Petitioner asserts that because of these failures, the assistance he received was ineffective within the meaning of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984).

II. Discussion

Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), this Court may grant habeas relief based on claims previously adjudicated on the merits in state court only if the state court decision is "contrary to, or involve[s] an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, " or is "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). "Clearly established Federal law" is found in the holdings of the U.S. Supreme Court. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000). A state court decision is "contrary to" federal law if it applies a rule that contradicts a holding of the Supreme Court or reaches a different result on facts that are materially indistinguishable. Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 694 (2002). For a state court application of federal law to be "unreasonable, " it must be objectively unreasonable rather than merely incorrect. Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 786 (2011); Williams, 529 U.S. at 410. The state court's factual determinations are presumed to be correct and may be rebutted only by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).[5]

In addition to the deference to state court decisions mandated by section 2254, petitioner's constitutional claim itself calls for deferential review. Even when review is "de novo... the standard for judging counsel's representation is a most deferential one." Harrington, 131 U.S. at 788. To show that counsel was constitutionally ineffective, petitioner must show that his attorney's performance was deficient and that he was prejudiced as a result. Id. at 787. Gerety's performance was not deficient unless he "made errors so serious that [he] was not functioning as the counsel' guaranteed... by the Sixth Amendment." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. Moreover, petitioner cannot show prejudice unless he demonstrates "a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Id. at 694.

In sum, to obtain relief under § 2254, petitioner must demonstrate that the Connecticut habeas court could not reasonably have concluded that Gerety provided him ...


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