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Wright v. Lee

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

July 10, 2017

IAN WRIGHT, Petitioner,
v.
CHARLES LEE, Respondent.

          RULING ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

          Stefan R. Underhill United States District Judge

         Petitioner Ian Wright, an inmate currently confined at Cheshire Correctional Institution in Cheshire, Connecticut, brings this action pro se for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. He challenges his 2002 Connecticut conviction for murder, use of firearm in the commission of a felony and carrying a firearm without a permit. For the reasons that follow, I deny Wright's petition.

         I. Standard of Review

         A federal court will entertain a petition for a writ of habeas corpus that challenges a state court conviction only if the petitioner claims that his custody violates the Constitution or laws of the United States. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). A claim that a conviction was obtained in violation of state law is not cognizable in federal court. See Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 68 (1991).

         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 omitted); Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002). A federal court cannot grant a state prisoner's petition for a writ of habeas corpus 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). That standard is very difficult to meet. See Metrish v. Lancaster, __U.S. __, __, 133 S.Ct. 1781, 1786 (2013).

         Clearly established federal law is found in "holdings, " not "dicta, " of the United States Supreme Court at the time of the state court decision. See Howes v. Fields, 565 U.S. 499, 505 (2012); Carey v. Musladin, 549 U.S. 70, 74 (2006). "[C]ircuit precedent does not constitute 'clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court, '" and "therefore cannot form the basis for habeas relief." Parker v. Matthews, 567 U.S. 37, 48-49 (2012) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)). The law in question may be either a "generalized standard" or a "bright-line rule designed to effectuate such a standard in a particular context." See Kennaugh v. Miller, 289 F.3d 36, 42 (2d Cir. 2002).

         A decision is "contrary to . . . clearly established Federal law" when the state court "applies a rule different from the governing law set forth" by the Supreme Court, or when it "decides a case differently than [the Supreme Court] ha[s] done on a set of materially indistinguishable facts." Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 694 (2002). A decision "involve[s] an unreasonable application of. . . clearly established Federal law" when the state court correctly identifies the governing law, but applies that law "unreasonably to the facts of a particular prisoner's case, or refuses to extend a legal principle that the Supreme Court has clearly established to a new situation in which it should govern." See Davis v. Grant, 532 F.3d 132, 140 (2d Cir. 2008). It is not enough that "a federal court believes the state court's determination was incorrect" or erroneous. See Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007). Rather, the state court's application of clearly established law must be objectively "unreasonable-a substantially higher threshold." See Id. 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 of fairminded disagreement." Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011); see also Burt v. Titlaw, __ US __, __, 134 S.Ct. 10, 15 (2013) (federal habeas relief warranted only where the state's justice system has experienced an "extreme malfunction").

         When reviewing a habeas petition, the federal court presumes that the factual determinations of the state court are correct. The petitioner bears the burden to rebut that presumption by "clear and convincing evidence." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); see Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (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"). 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, 563 U.S. at 181.

         II. Procedural History

         On October 15, 2000, Wilfredo Sanchez was murdered at the Jamaican American and Puerto Rican Club in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Bridgeport police officers arrested Ian Wright later that night on charges of murder and carrying a pistol without a permit. See Resp't's Mem. Opp'n Pet. Writ Habeas Corpus, App'x A, Doc. No. 73, at 1-2 (filed in paper form). On December 21, 2001, in the Connecticut Superior Court for the Judicial District of Fairfield, the State's Attorney filed an amended information that charged Wright with murder in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-54a(a), using a firearm in the commission of a Class A felony in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53-202k, and carrying a pistol or revolver without a permit in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-35. See Pet'r's Resp. Mem. Opp'n Pet. Writ Habeas Corpus, App'x D, Doc. No. 83-4.

         On February 1, 2002, a jury found Wright guilty of all three charges. See Resp't's Mem. Opp'n Pet. Writ Habeas Corpus, App'x A, Doc. No. 73, at 1 (filed in paper form). On March 22, 2002, a Connecticut Superior Court judge sentenced Wright to a total effective sentence of thirty-five years of imprisonment. See id.

         Wright appealed his convictions on three grounds. See State v. Wright, 11 Conn. App. 80 (2003). He claimed that (1) the trial judge erred in failing to charge the jury that they must acquit him if the principal's use of force was justified as having been used in self-defense; (2) there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction as an accessory to murder; and (3) the trial judge erred in failing to charge the jury on the defense of necessity as it applied to the charge of carrying a firearm without a permit. See Id. at 85, 91. On May 27, 2003, the Connecticut Appellate Court affirmed the judgment of conviction. See Id. at 93. On September 25, 2003, the Connecticut Supreme Court denied Wright's petition for certification to appeal the decision of the Connecticut Appellate Court. See State v. Wright, 266 Conn. 913 (2003).

         In July 2003, Wright filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus challenging his conviction in the Connecticut Superior Court for the Judicial District of Tolland at Rockville. See Am. Pet. Writ Habeas Corpus, Doc. No. 45, at 6. Attorney William P. Burns, Jr. was appointed to represent Wright. See Resp't's Mem. Opp'n Pet. Writ Habeas Corpus, App'x F, Doc. No. 73 (filed in paper form). In an amended petition filed on January 24, 2006, Wright raised three grounds: ineffective assistance of trial counsel, ineffective assistance of appellate counsel, and prosecutorial misconduct. See id., App'x G.

         The Superior Court held hearings on the claims in the amended petition on April 5, and May 3, 2006. See id, App'x Z, App'x AA. On July 6, 2006, the court denied Wright's amended petition. See Wright v. Comm 'r o/Corr., 2006 WL 2053747 (Conn. Super. Ct. July 6, 2006).

         On December 11, 2006, Wright filed a motion for articulation of the bases for denying the ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel claims raised in Wright's amended petition. See Pet'r's Resp. Mem. Opp'n Pet. Writ Habeas Corpus, App'x 12, Doc. No. 89, at 22-25. On January 2, 2007, the habeas judge denied Wright's motion for articulation. See Resp't's Mem. Opp'n Pet. Writ Habeas Corpus, App'x G, Doc. No. 73 (filed in paper form).

         Wright appealed the denial of the amended habeas petition. See id., App'x J. On March 11, 2008, the Connecticut Appellate Court concluded that Wright had failed to furnish an adequate record for review and affirmed the decision of the habeas court. See Wright v. Comm 'r of Corr., 106 Conn.App. 342, 345 (2008) (per curiam). On April 8, 2008, Wright filed a motion for reconsideration en banc, See Pet'r's Resp. Mem. Opp'n Pet. Writ Habeas Corpus, App'x 17, Doc. No. 89, at 55-59, which the Connecticut Appellate Court denied on June 6, 2008. See Order Denying Mot. Reconsid. En Banc, Wright v. Comm 'r of Corr., No. AC 27956 (June 6, 2008). On September 5, 2008, the Connecticut Supreme Court denied Wright's petition for certification to appeal the Appellate Court's decision affirming the denial of his first habeas petition. See Wright v. Comm 'r of Corr., 289 Conn. 901 (2008).

         On January 23, 2014, the Connecticut Supreme Court granted Wright permission to file a second petition for certification to appeal from the Connecticut Appellate Court's decision affirming the denial of his first state habeas petition. See Resp't's Mem. Opp'n Pet. Writ Habeas Corpus, App'x R, Doc. No. 73 (filed in paper form). On March 19, 2014, the court denied Wright's second petition for certification. See Wright v. Comm 'r o/Corr., 311 Conn. 931 (2014).

         In November 2006, Wright filed a second state petition for writ of habeas corpus challenging his conviction in the Connecticut Superior Court for the Judicial District of Tolland at Rockville. See Resp't's Mem. Opp'n Pet. Writ Habeas Corpus, App'x S, Doc. No. 73 (filed in paper form). In June 2007, ajudge granted Wright's motion for appointment of counsel. See id.

         On July 29, 2009, Wright filed the present federal habeas petition. The respondent moved to dismiss the action on the ground that two of the three grounds in the petition had not been exhausted. See Doc. No. 10. Wright moved to stay this case in order to permit him to go back to state court and exhaust his available remedies as to the two unexhausted claims in the petition. See Doc. No. 11. On April 14, 2010, 1 denied the respondent's motion to dismiss without prejudice and granted Wright's motion to stay this case. See Order, Doc. No. 12.

         In December 2009, Wright filed a third state petition for writ of habeas corpus challenging his conviction in the Connecticut Superior Court for the Judicial District of Tolland at Rockville. See Wright v. Warden, State Prison, No. TSR-CV10-4003354-S (Dec. 28, 2009). On January 7, 2011, Wright's second and third state habeas petitions were consolidated. See id.

         In an amended petition filed in the consolidated state action on November 22, 2011, Wright raised four grounds: ineffective assistance of trial counsel, ineffective assistance of appellate counsel, ineffective assistance of habeas counsel, and ineffective assistance of appellate habeas counsel. See Pet'r's Resp. Mem. Opp'n Pet. Writ Habeas Corpus, App'x A, Doc. No. 83-1. On January 20, 2012, the court dismissed the second and third claims of Wright's amended petition (i.e., the ineffective assistance of trial counsel and ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claims) as second or successive. See Resp't's Mem. Opp'n Pet. Writ Habeas Corpus, App'x T, Doc. No. 73 (filed in paper form). On February 8, and 24, 2012, the Superior Court held hearings on the first and fourth claims in the amended petition filed in the consolidated state habeas action. See Pet'r's Resp. Mem. Opp'n Pet. Writ Habeas Corpus, App'x G, App'x H, Docs. Nos. 83-7, 83-8, & 83-9. At the conclusion of the hearing on February 24, 2012, the court issued an oral decision denying the remaining claims of the amended consolidated petition. See id, App'x H, Doc. No. 83-9; Wright v. Comm 'r o/Corr., 147 Conn.App. 510, 513 (2014).

         Wright appealed the dismissal of the second and third claims-but not the first and fourth claims-in the amended consolidated petition. See Wright, 147 Conn.App. at 513 & n.3. On January 14, 2014, the Connecticut Appellate Court dismissed Wright's appeal. See Id. at 516. On February 26, 2014, the Connecticut Supreme Court denied Wright's petition for certification to appeal the Appellate Court's decision. See Wright v. Comm 'r of Corr., 311 Conn. 922 (2014).

         On April 7, 2014, Wright filed a motion to lift the stay in this action and an amended petition for writ of habeas corpus. Docs. Nos. 44 & 45. On April 29, 2014, 1 ordered that the stay be lifted. See Ruling, Doc. No. 47. The respondent has filed a memorandum in opposition to Wright's petition, Doc. No. 72, to which Wright has filed multiple replies. See Docs. No. 82, 94, 113, & 115. In addition, Wright filed (and subsequently withdrew) a new federal habeas petition, see Doc. No. 1, Wrightv. Falcone, No. 3:15-cv-01308 (SRU) (D. Conn. Aug. 31, 2015), as well as a series of motions seeking hearings or status conferences. See, e.g., Mot. Court Order, Doc. No. 120; Mot. Immediate Hr'g, Doc. No. 121; Mot. Severance, Doc. No. 123; Mot. Status Conf, Doc. No. 124; Mot. Immediate Hr'g, Doc. No. 127; Mot. ...


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