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Ortiz v. Semple

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

June 22, 2017

ANGEL ORTIZ Petitioner,
SCOTT SEMPLE Respondent.


          Hon. Vanessa L. Bryant United States District Judge

         Petitioner Angel Ortiz (“Ortiz” or “Petitioner”) brings this habeas corpus action against Commissioner of Correction Scott Semple (“Respondent”) under 28 U.S.C. 2254, alleging actual innocence and ineffective assistance of counsel. On April 27, 2017, Respondent filed a Motion to Stay or Dismiss the petition because it is a “mixed petition” containing both exhausted and unexhausted claims. Because Petitioner's actual innocence claim cannot survive as a freestanding claim, Petitioner's ineffective assistance claims are unexhausted, and the statute of limitations would now bar Petitioner from reasserting his claims timely in federal court after exhausting his administrative remedies, Respondent moves the Court to stay Petitioner's case pending exhaustion of his state court remedies. In the alternative, respondent moves for dismissal. For the foregoing reasons, Respondent's Motion to Stay is GRANTED.

         I. Background

         On November 28, 1995, Petitioner was arraigned for crimes relating to the kidnapping, robbery, and murder of two individuals. [Dkt. 10-2 (Record on Direct Appeal) at 7[1].] Petitioner pleaded not guilty and was represented from October 5, 1995 through trial and sentencing by Special Public Defender Michael Graham (now deceased). [Dkt. 10-10 (Record of First State Habeas Appeal) at 6.] After a jury trial, Petitioner and his co-defendant Julio Diaz-Marrero were found guilty of multiple capital felonies, murder, felony murder, conspiracy to commit murder, kidnapping, and robbery, kidnapping in the first degree, and robbery in the first degree. [Dkt. 10-1 (State v. Ortiz, 252 Conn. 533, 536-37 (2000).] The trial court sentenced Petitioner to a total effective sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of release plus forty years' imprisonment. Id.

         Assistant Public Defender Pamela Nagy represented Petitioner on direct appeal to the Connecticut Supreme Court. [Dkt. 10-3 at 70.] Petitioner and his co-defendant both argued on appeal that the trial court improperly (1) refused to grant them a new probable cause hearing despite the state's failure to disclose in a timely manner certain exculpatory evidence; (2) refused to suppress the photographic identification of Diaz-Marrero on the ground that it was overly suggestive; (3) deprived the defendants of their right to confront witnesses by refusing to conduct an in camera review of psychiatric records of the individual who identified Diaz-Marrero's photograph; (4) rendered judgments of conviction on three counts of conspiracy and sentenced the defendants separately for each conviction, thereby violating the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy; and (5) refused to instruct the jury regarding the credibility of an alleged witness. State v. Ortiz, 252 Conn. at 541-42. In addition, Petitioner asserted (1) that the trial court improperly refused to allow him to present evidence of a third party's culpability; (2) that he was denied his right to a speedy trial; (3) that the trial court improperly refused to grant him a new trial on the basis that the evidence presented was clearly insufficient to warrant a jury verdict of guilty; and (4) that the trial court provided the jury with an improper instruction on the presumption of innocence and reasonable doubt, thereby tainting the verdict. Id. at 542. The court affirmed the judgments of conviction "on all counts except for [the] three conspiracy counts which [it] reverse[d] and remand[ed] to the trial court with direction to combine the three conspiracy convictions and to vacate the sentences for two of the conspiracy convictions." Id. at 542.

         On May 17, 2000, Petitioner filed a habeas corpus petition in Connecticut Superior Court. Record of First State Habeas Appeal at 4. On March 22, 2002, appointed counsel filed an amended habeas petition alleging ineffective assistance of trial counsel for (1) failure to provide notice of Petitioner's alibi as required in Connecticut; (2) failure to attempt to establish cause for late notice of Petitioner's alibi; (3) failure to provide proper foundation for the trial court to review the mental health records of the witness who provided photographic identification of Petitioner's co-defendant; and (4) failure to subpoena records from the Social Security Administration pertaining to that witness for impeachment purposes. Id. at 6-10. Petitioner did not argue his counsel was ineffective for failing to have Petitioner testify at his trial. Id. On February 27, 2004, the Connecticut Superior Court issued a written memorandum of decision finding Petitioner's trial counsel was not deficient and even if he had been deficient, Petitioner was not prejudiced. [Dkt. 10-8 (Ortiz v. Warden, No. CV000598893S, 2004 WL 503961 (Conn. Super. Ct. Feb. 27, 2004).]

         Petitioner appealed as to only one of the ineffective assistance claims he raised with the Superior Court: that his trial counsel improperly failed to “make a showing that the mental condition of a state's witness had affected her testimonial capacity sufficient to warrant an in camera review of the witness' medical records.” [Dkt. 10-9 (Ortiz v. Commissioner of Correction, 91 Conn.App. 484, 485 (2005).] The Connecticut Appellate Court upheld the Superior Court's habeas decision, finding “nothing in the record, either from the testimony of [the witness] at the criminal trial or . . . at the habeas trial that suggests that [the witness's] testimonial capacity was impaired by a condition that would have been revealed in her medical records.” Id. at 491.

         Petitioner next sought discretionary review of his habeas petition by the Connecticut Supreme Court, framing the issues as (1) whether the Appellate Court erred in holding the Petitioner failed to prove that he received deficient representation by his trial counsel, and (2) what threshold a criminal defendant must meet to trigger in camera review of a witness's confidential mental health records to ensure a fair balance of the witness's right to privacy and the defendant's right to probative impeachment material. [Dkt. 10-14 (Petition for Certification) at 2.] The Connecticut Supreme Court declined certification.

         On June 9, 2006, Petitioner filed a federal habeas petition in the District of Connecticut under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. [See Dkt. 10-16 (Ortiz v. Martin, 3:06-cv-895, 2009 WL 179785 (Jan. 26, 2009 (Droney, J.).] On January 26, 2009, Judge Droney dismissed the petition without prejudice for failure to exhaust state court remedies. Id. The Court specifically noted Petitioner's failure to present an alibi defense on appeal of the denial of the state habeas petition. Id. at *2.

         It appears Petitioner filed a new habeas petition with the Connecticut Superior Court on March 27, 2006, while his federal petition was pending. [Dkt. 10-20 at 6.] The Superior Court petition was inactive from July 2006 through March 26, 2009, when the Superior Court issued a Scheduling Order. Id. In August 2012, Special Public Defender Theodore Koch III filed a one-count amended habeas petition claiming actual innocence, asserting that he was not present at the crime scene. [Id.; Dkt. 10-18 (Ortiz v. Comm'r of Corr., 166 Conn.App. 635 (2016) (stating grounds for amended petition).] The Superior Court held a trial on the amended petition, at which Petitioner testified that he did not participate in the crimes of his conviction and was not present for their commission. [Dkt. 10-28 (Transcript of Habeas Trial) at 14-15, 94-95.] Petitioner's co-defendant testified that he committed the offenses for which both parties were convicted but that Petitioner was neither present nor involved. Id. at 14-15, 39-40. However, Petitioner's co-defendant's trial counsel testified that their client told them he had nothing to do with the crimes and did not know Petitioner. Id. at 64, 76. The Connecticut Superior Court denied Petitioner's actual innocence claim, finding Petitioner's co-defendant had questionable credibility and noting his testimony was not corroborated by physical evidence or other witness testimony. [Dkt. 10-17 (Ortiz v. Warden, No. CV064001027S, 2014 WL 5356463, at *13-15 (Conn. Super. Ct. Sept. 17, 2014).] The Court also ascribed little weight to Petitioner's testimony regarding his own innocence, stating he had no corroboration for his alibi because his alibi (his wife) was deceased and her testimony was stricken at the criminal trial without an opportunity for cross examination. Id. at *11.

         Petitioner appealed the Superior Court's actual innocence decision to the Connecticut Appellate Court. [Dkt. 10-18 (Ortiz v. Comm'r of Corr., 166 Conn.App. 635 (2016).] On July 5, 2016, the Connecticut Appellate Court affirmed the Superior Court's judgment. Id. On July 25, 2016, Petitioner sought certification to the Connecticut Supreme Court, framing the issue as whether the Appellate Court properly affirmed the Superior Court's finding that Petitioner did not prove he is actually innocence under applicable law. [Dkt. 10-23 (Petition for Certification) at 2.] On September 13, 2016, the Connecticut Supreme Court denied the petition for certification without comment. [Dkt. 10-25.]

         Thereafter, Petitioner initiated the instant federal habeas petition on February 6, 2017. [Dkt. 1.] Petitioner claims (1) actual innocence based on his co-defendant's testimony and the testimony of his co-defendant's counsel, and (2) ineffective assistance of counsel based on (a) failure to timely submit notice of an alibi, (b) failure to have Petitioner testify at his criminal trial, (c) failure to impeach “crucial prosecution witnesses, ” and (d) failure to present exculpatory evidence. Id.

         II. Statement of Law

         As ably stated in Judge Droney's Ruling on Petitioner's First Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (2009 WL 179785), a prerequisite to habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 is the exhaustion of available state remedies. See O'Sullivan v. Boercke, 526 U.S. 838, 842 (1999); 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A). The exhaustion requirement “is designed to give the state courts a full and fair opportunity to resolve federal constitutional claims before those claims are presented to the federal courts.” See O'Sullivan, 526 U.S. at 845. The Second Circuit requires the petitioner to present “the essential factual and legal premises of his federal constitutional claim to the highest state court capable of reviewing it” before seeking federal review. Cotto v. Herbert,331 F.3d 217, 237 (2d Cir. 2003). In other words, “[t]he claim presented to the state court . . . must be the ‘substantial equivalent' of the claim raised in the federal habeas petition.” Jones v. Keane,329 F.3d 290, ...

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