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Brown v. State

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 1, 2016

ANTWON BROWN, Petitioner,
v.
STATE OF CONNECTICUT, Respondent.

          RULING ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS (DOC. NO. 1)

          Janet C. Hall United States District Judge.

         Petitioner, Antwon Brown (“Brown”), currently incarcerated at the Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution in Enfield, Connecticut, filed a petition for habeas corpus pursuant to section 2254 of title 28 of the United States Code, challenging his conviction for conspiracy to commit robbery. See Petition (Doc. No. 1) at 2. The respondent, the State of Connecticut, contends that Brown is not entitled to federal habeas relief on any ground for relief asserted in the Petition. See Resp't's Mem. (Doc. No. 11) at 2. For the reasons that follow, the court concludes that the Petition should be denied.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Brown was the defendant in two separate criminal cases in the Connecticut Superior Court for the Judicial District of Waterbury. Each case involved the robbery of one business. The court granted a motion to consolidate the two cases, and the state filed a substitute information charging Brown with two counts of conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree. See State v. Brown, 31 A.3d 434, 436 (Conn. App. 2011).

         Before the trial commenced, Brown moved to suppress a statement he provided to the police. See Amended Motion to Suppress (in Doc. No. 11-2) at 31-38. The trial court denied the motion immediately following a hearing. See Second Court Action Log (in Doc. No. 11-2) at 4; Trial Court Ruling (in Doc. No. 11-2) at 41.

         The jury found Brown guilty on both counts. Brown, 31 A.3d at 435. On February 9, 2010, the court, sua sponte, ordered both parties to address at sentencing whether the two conspiracy convictions should be merged. Id. at 436. On March 26, 2010, the court considered the parties' arguments and declined to merge the two convictions. The court concluded that Brown's confession contained no evidence that the men agreed to rob both businesses at the same time. Id. The court sentenced Brown to two concurrent terms of imprisonment of ten years followed by ten years of special parole. Id.

         Brown challenged his conviction on direct appeal on the ground that considering the two counts of conspiracy to commit robbery as separate offenses violated his right to be free from double jeopardy. The Connecticut Appellate Court affirmed the conviction, and the Connecticut Supreme Court denied certification without comment. Id. at 435, cert denied, 34 A.3d 396 (Conn. 2012).

         On February 8, 2011, while his direct appeal was pending, Brown filed a state habeas action. The Amended Petition in that case, filed by appointed counsel, alleged that trial counsel was ineffective in several ways. See State Case Amended Petition (in Doc. No. 11-10) at 36-37. Following a hearing, the state court denied the State Case Amended Petition. Brown v. Warden, No. CV114003967, 2013 WL 6171366 (Conn. Super. Ct. Oct. 31, 2013) at *5. The habeas court also denied certification to appeal. See Appeal File (in Doc. No. 11-10) at 59.

         Despite this denial, Brown, through appointed counsel, appealed the denial to the Connecticut Appellate Court. On March 17, 2015, the Connecticut Supreme Court dismissed the appeal in a per curiam decision. Brown v. Commissioner of Correction, 109 A.3d 1058 (Conn. App. 2015). On June 10, 2015, the Connecticut Supreme Court denied certification to appeal. Brown v. Commissioner of Correction, 115 A.3d 1105 (Conn. 2015).

         Brown commenced this action by Petition dated May 17, 2016.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The Connecticut Appellate Court determined that the jury reasonably could have found the following facts.

         On November 11, 2008, Brown's friend, Lonnie Cross, called Brown and told him that he was coming to pick him up. When Cross picked Brown up at Brown's home, Adam Mines, another friend, was in the front seat of Cross' car. Cross drove to a convenience store and told Mines and Brown that he was going to rob the store. Mines and Brown waited in the car when Cross entered the store. Brown, 31 A.3d at 435.

         Cross returned to the car a few minutes later and reported that “‘everything was good.'” Cross drove to a liquor store. He parked the car on a nearby street and told Mines and Brown that he was going to rob the liquor store. Mines agreed to go with Cross. They told Brown to wait in the driver's seat and keep the car running. He did so. Cross and Mines left the liquor store a few minutes later. Brown drove away as soon as they were in the car. Id.

         All three men were apprehended later that night. Brown was taken to the police station for questioning. Brown provided a voluntary statement detailing his involvement in the two robberies. Immediately after he gave the statement, Brown was arrested. Id. at 435-36.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The federal court will entertain a petition for writ of habeas corpus challenging a state court conviction only if the petitioner claims that his custody violates the Constitution or federal laws. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a).

         The 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 rejected on the merits by the 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). The federal law defined by the Supreme Court “may be either a generalized standard enunciated in the Court's case law or a bright-line rule designed to effectuate such a standard in a particular context.” Kennaugh v. Miller, 289 F.3d 36, 42 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 537 U.S. 909 (2002). Clearly established federal law is found in holdings, not dicta, of the U.S. Supreme Court at the time of the state court decision. White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014). Second Circuit law which does not have a counterpart in Supreme Court jurisprudence cannot provide a basis for federal habeas relief. See Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 778 (2010) (holding that court of appeals erred in relying on its own decision in a federal habeas action); see also Kane v. Garcia Espitia, 546 U.S. 9, 10 (2005) (absent a Supreme Court case establishing a particular right, federal court inference of right does not warrant federal habeas relief).

         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 law when the court has correctly identified the governing law, but unreasonably applies that law to the facts of the case. The state court decision must be more than incorrect; it must be “so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility of fairminded disagreement.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011); see also Burt v. Titlow, 134 S.Ct. 10, 15 (2013) (federal habeas relief warranted only where the state criminal justice system has experienced an “extreme malfunction”); Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007) (objective unreasonableness is “a substantially higher threshold” than incorrectness).

         When reviewing a habeas petition, the federal court presumes that the factual determinations of the state court are correct. The petitioner has the burden of rebutting that presumption by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Cullen v. Pinholster, 131 S.Ct. 1388, 1398 (2011) (standard for evaluating state court rulings where constitutional claims have been considered on the merits and which affords state court rulings the benefit of the doubt is highly deferential and difficult for petitioner to meet). The presumption of correctness, which applies to “historical facts, that is, recitals of external events and the credibility of the witnesses narrating them[, ]” will be overturned only if the material facts were not adequately developed by the state court or if the factual determination is not adequately supported by the record. Smith v. Mann, 173 F.3d 73, 76 (2d Cir. 1999) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         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. Pinholster, 131 S.Ct. at 1398. Because collateral review of a conviction applies a different standard than the direct appeal, an error that may have supported reversal on direct appeal will not ...


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