United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING AND ORDER
N. Chatigny United States District Judge
Edwards, a Connecticut inmate, brings this action for a writ
of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. A jury
convicted Edwards of murdering George Wright, who died as a
result of a gunshot wound to the head. The gun went off
during a confrontation between Edwards and Wright outside a
store in Hartford during the evening of February 18, 1995.
The bullet entered the left side of the back of Wright's
head and lodged near his right eye. He died the next day.
was charged with murder, criminal possession of a firearm and
criminal possession of a pistol. Prior to trial, he rejected
a plea offer that would have capped his sentence at
thirty-seven years and allowed him to argue for less. At the
trial, eyewitnesses testified that Edwards grabbed
Wright's clothing, held a gun to his head, and shoved him
backwards along the sidewalk in front of the store. Wright
did not resist but said, “no, no, no.” Edwards
then pushed Wright's head down and shot him. Edwards
testified that the gun went off as he tried to disarm Wright.
The jury convicted Edwards of murder but acquitted him on the
weapons charges. Edwards was sentenced to fifty years in
an unsuccessful appeal to the Connecticut Supreme Court,
Edwards filed a series of state habeas petitions, which
resulted in two evidentiary hearings and additional appeals.
This is his fourth federal habeas petition. The first (filed
in 1999) and second (filed in 2004) were denied without
prejudice for failure to exhaust state remedies. The third
(filed in 2005) was dismissed without prejudice because it
contained both exhausted and unexhausted claims. Edwards
v. Choinski, No. 3:05-cv-444(MKR), 2005 WL 3334442 (D.
Conn. Dec. 5, 2005). The present petition (filed in 2009) was
stayed pending the outcome of state proceedings.
present petition, Edwards reasserts claims that have been
rejected on the merits in state court. He has not shown that
the state courts' decisions are contrary to or involve an
unreasonable application federal law or an unreasonable
determination of facts. In addition, he reasserts claims that
he raised in state court but did not pursue in accordance
with state procedural rules. He has not shown that these
claims should be adjudicated on the merits notwithstanding
his procedural default. Accordingly, his petition is denied.
Standard of Review
28 U.S.C. § 2254, a person in state custody pursuant to
a state court conviction may challenge the conviction in
federal court by applying for a writ of habeas corpus.
Section 2254(b) authorizes a federal court to grant habeas
relief based on claims adjudicated on the merits in state
court only when the state court's decision is (1)
contrary to, or involves an unreasonable application of,
clearly established federal law, as determined by the Supreme
Court, or (2) based on an unreasonable determination of the
facts in light of the evidence before the state court.
habeas relief is generally not available to a person in state
custody unless he has exhausted remedies available in state
court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(c). To satisfy the exhaustion
requirement, a state prisoner must raise his claim in state
court and properly pursue the claim through the entire
appellate process. O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526
U.S. 838, 844 (1999); Aparicio v. Artuz, 269 F.3d
79, 89-90 (2d Cir. 2001).
state prisoner fails to present a federal claim in state
court in accordance with the state's procedural rules, he
generally will be precluded from obtaining habeas relief.
Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72, 86-87 (1977). The
procedural default doctrine applies when a state court
actually imposes a procedural bar, see Caldwell v.
Mississippi, 472 U.S. 320, 327 (1985), and when state
court remedies are no longer available because the prisoner
failed to comply with the deadline for seeking state court
review, see Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 93 (2006).
In the latter case, because no state court has actually ruled
that the claim is barred, the existence of the procedcural
bar must be “clear.” See Gray v.
Netherland, 518 U.S. 152, 161 (1996).
prisoner can overcome a procedural default in two ways.
Demonstrating “cause and prejudice” requires a
showing that the procedural default was caused by something
external to the prisoner that impeded his efforts to comply
with the state's procedural rules and, in addition, that
actual prejudice to the prisoner will result if the default
is not excused. Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722,
750 (1991). If cause and prejudice are not shown, the
prisoner must demonstrate that failure to review the claim
will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice.
Id. at 750. This exception applies when “a
constitutional violation has probably resulted in the
conviction of one who is actually innocent.” Murray
v. Carrier, 501 U.S. 478, 496 (1986); see Schlup v.
Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 327 (2007).
the actual innocence “gateway, ” Rivas v.
Fischer, 687 F.3d 514, 539 (2d Cir. 2012), a habeas
petitioner must present “a claim of actual innocence
[that is] both ‘credible' and ‘compelling,
'” id. at 541 (quoting House v.
Bell, 547 U.S. 518, 521, 538 (2006)). “For the
claim to be ‘credible, ' it must be supported by
‘new reliable evidence - whether it be exculpatory
scientific evidence, trustworthy eyewitness accounts, or
critical physical evidence - that was not presented at
trial.'” Id. (quoting Schlup, 513
U.S. at 324). “For the claim to be ‘compelling,
' the petitioner must demonstrate that ‘more likely
than not, in light of the new evidence, no reasonable juror
would find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt-or to remove
the double negative, that more likely than not any reasonable
juror would have reasonable doubt.'” Id.
(quoting House, 547 U.S. at 538).
purposes of the actual innocence exception,
“‘actual innocence' means factual innocence,
not mere legal insufficiency.” Bousley v. United
States, 523 U.S. 614, 623 (1998); Sawyer v.
Whitley, 505 U.S. 333, 339 (“The miscarriage of
justice exception is concerned with actual as compared to
legal innocence.”); see also Murden v. Artuz,
497 F.3d 178, 194 (2d Cir. 2007) (“Actual innocence
requires ‘not legal innocence but factual
innocence.'” (quoting Doe v. Menefee, 391
F.3d 147, 162 (2d Cir. 2004))). “Because credible
claims of actual innocence are ‘extremely rare, '
federal court adjudication of constitutional challenges by
petitioners who may be actually innocent prevents
miscarriages of justice, but does not threaten state
interests in finality.” Menefee, 391 F.3d at
161 (quoting Schlup, 513 U.S. at 321-22).
claims Edwards asserts here were raised on direct appeal, in
a 1999 state habeas petition, or in a 2006 state habeas
Claims Raised on Direct Appeal
appeal to the Connecticut Supreme Court, Edwards presented
four arguments: (1) the evidence was insufficient to prove
beyond a reasonable doubt that he intended to kill Wright;
(2) the trial court improperly denied his post-verdict motion
for a new trial, in which he claimed that the evidence,
although insufficient to support the murder conviction, was
sufficient to support a conviction of an unspecified lesser
included offense; (3) the trial court improperly instructed
the jury on the element of intent to kill by failing to
reiterate in a supplemental instruction that
“intentional conduct is purposeful conduct rather than
conduct that is accidental or inadvertent”; and (4) the
trial court improperly instructed the jury on reasonable
doubt. The Connecticut Supreme Court rejected all four
arguments on the merits. State v. Edwards, 247 Conn.
318, 320 (1998). Edwards has not shown that the Connecticut
Supreme Court's decision is contrary to or involves an
unreasonable application of clearly established federal law
or is based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in
light of the evidence presented at trial.
claims that the Connecticut Supreme Court erred in rejecting
his challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence on the issue
of his intent to cause Wright's death. Evidence is
sufficient to support a conviction if, viewed fully and most
favorably to sustaining the jury's verdict, it could
reasonably support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable
doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319
(1979). Applying this standard, the Connecticut Supreme Court
held that the cumulative effect of the evidence was
sufficient to permit the jury to find beyond a reasonable
doubt that Edwards had the specific intent to cause
Wright's death. 247 Conn. at 320-22. Edwards argues that
the eyewitness testimony was biased and conflicting. The
Connecticut Supreme Court addressed this argument. The Court
correctly explained that it had to defer to the jury's
assessment of the credibility of the witnesses and could not
substitute its judgment for that of the jury. Edwards further
argues that the jury's verdict convicting him of murder
cannot be sustained in view of the verdicts acquitting him on
the weapons charges. The Connecticut Supreme Court addressed
this argument as well stating, “We disagree with the
defendant that a lack of specific intent to cause death must
follow a jury finding that the defendant did not possess or
arrive at the scene with a weapon.” Edwards,
247 Conn. at 322. The Court correctly concluded that the jury
could credit the eyewitness testimony and find that Edwards
had control of the gun when the fatal shot was fired
regardless of whether he possessed the gun before his
confrontation with Wright.
next claims that the Connecticut Supreme Court erred in
affirming the denial of his motion for a new trial. The Court
upheld the denial of the motion on the ground that the
evidence was sufficient to support the jury's verdict.
Id. at 326. As just discussed, the Court correctly
concluded that the evidence was legally sufficient. Thus, the
Court's decision affirming the denial of the motion for a
new trial does not provide a basis for federal habeas
claims that the Connecticut Supreme Court erred in rejecting
his challenges to the jury instructions. A jury instruction
violates due process if it fails to give effect to the
requirement that the state must prove every element of the
charged offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Middleton v.
McNeil, 541 U.S. 433, 437 (2004) (per curiam).
"Nonetheless, not every ambiguity, inconsistency, or
deficiency in a jury instruction rises to the level of a due
process violation.” Id. The question is
whether the challenged instruction, considered in the context
of the charge as a whole, so infected the trial that the
conviction violates due process. Id. “If the
charge as a whole is ambiguous, the question is whether there
is a reasonable likelihood that the jury has applied the
challenged instruction in a way that violates the
Constitution.” Id. (quotations omitted).
Middleton, a defendant convicted of second-degree
murder appealed on the basis of an erroneous jury instruction
on the imperfect self-defense component of voluntary
manslaughter under California law. The trial court gave the
jury three correct instructions that one who kills another in
the actual but unreasonable belief that doing so is necessary
to defend against imminent peril is guilty of voluntary
manslaughter but not murder. 541 U.S. at 435. In defining
“imminent peril, ” however, the court erroneously
stated that an imminent peril “is one that is apparent,
present and immediate at the time to the slayer as a
reasonable person.” Id. The California Court
of Appeals acknowledged that the words “as a reasonable
person” were included in error but concluded it was not
reasonably likely the jury was misled in view of the jury
instructions in their entirety. The Ninth Circuit overturned
a denial of federal habeas relief and the Supreme Court
reversed. The Court held that “[g]iven three correct
instructions and one contrary one, the state court did not
unreasonably apply federal law when it found that there was
no reasonable likelihood the jury was misled.”
Id. at 438.
Connecticut Supreme Court's decision in this case aligns
with the reasoning and result in Middleton. Edwards
argues that he was deprived of a fair trial as a result of
the trial court's supplemental instruction on
intent. On the direct appeal, the state argued
that it is not reasonably possible the supplemental
instruction caused the jury to mistakenly think it could
convict Edwards of murder even if it believed the shooting
was accidental. The Connecticut Supreme Court agreed with the
state. State v. Edwards, 247 Conn. at 328. The Court
Upon examining the entire charge, we conclude that the trial
court properly instructed the jury on specific intent. Twice
in its initial charge, the trial court told the jury that
conduct could not be intentional if it was accidental or
inadvertent. The trial court did not contradict its earlier
instructions in the supplemental charge. Furthermore, the
jury's question concerned the defendant's mental or
emotional state, not the issue of accident or inadvertence.
We conclude that the defendant ...