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Coleman v. Maldonado

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

April 2, 2018

RORY COLEMAN, Petitioner,
EDWARD MALDONADO, et al. Respondents.


          Michael P. Shea United States District Judge.

         On December 29, 2015, the petitioner, Rory Coleman, an inmate currently incarcerated at the Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution in Enfield, Connecticut, brought a petition for writ of habeas corpus pro se under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in this Court challenging his state court convictions for possession of narcotics with intent to sell by a person who is not drug-dependent, in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 21a-278(b), possession of narcotics, in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 21a-279(a), and possession of narcotics within fifteen hundred feet of a school, in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 21a-279(d). State v. Coleman, 114 Conn.App. 722, 723 (2009), Resp't App. A (ECF No. 16-1). He raises three claims in support of his petition: (1) the evidence presented at his criminal trial was insufficient to establish the possession element of all three convictions; (2) the trial court improperly instructed the jury on the possession element; and (3) trial counsel was ineffective by failing to request a charge on the possession element that excluded any reference to joint possession and by inducing the trial court to reinstruct the jury on the original charge, thereby precluding appellate review of the instructional error claim. Petition (ECF No. 1) 9-13, Coleman v. Warden, 09 Civ. 4003109 (Cobb, J.), 2013 WL 4872708, *4 (Conn. Super. Ct. Aug. 20, 2013), Resp't App. J (ECF No. 16-11). The respondent filed an opposition to the petition on July 18, 2016. For the following reasons, the Court will DENY the petition for writ of habeas corpus.

         I. Standard of Review

         A federal court will entertain a petition for writ of habeas corpus challenging a state court conviction under § 2254 only if the petitioner claims that his custody violates the Constitution or federal laws. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). A claim that a state conviction was obtained in violation of state law is not cognizable in this 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) (citations and internal quotations omitted). This Court cannot grant a petition for 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). This is a very difficult standard to meet. Metrish v. Lancaster, 569 U.S. 351, 357-58 (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.'” Parker v. Matthews, 567 U.S. 37, 48 (2012) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)). A decision is “contrary to” clearly established federal law when it 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 it has correctly identified the law but unreasonably applies that law to the facts of the case, or refuses to extend a legal principle clearly established by the Supreme Court to circumstances intended to be encompassed by the principle. See Davis v. Grant, 532 F.3d 132, 140 (2d Cir. 2008).

         It is not enough that the state court's decision is incorrect or erroneous. Eze v. Senkowski, 321 F.3d 110, 124-25 (2d Cir. 2003). Rather, the state court's application of clearly established law must be objectively unreasonable, a substantially higher standard. Id.; Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007). Thus, a state prisoner must show that the challenged court ruling “was so lacking 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).

         When reviewing a habeas petition, this Court presumes that the factual determinations of the state court are correct. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). The petitioner bears the burden of rebutting that presumption by clear and convincing evidence. Id. Moreover, this 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 v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011).

         II. Procedural History

         A. Criminal Trial

         In this case, the petitioner was charged with narcotics offenses stemming from his participation in a transaction for the sale of cocaine on May 9, 2005. Direct Appeal R., Resp't App. B (ECF No. 16-2). The facts of the case are set forth in the Connecticut Appellate Court's opinion as follows:

On May 9, 2005, Robert Burgos and Brenon Plourde, members of the Hartford police department, and Peter Borysevicz, a special agent employed by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, were members of a Hartford task force assigned to investigate narcotic trafficking crimes in Hartford and its surrounding towns. While conducting surveillance of a house at 24 Florence Street in Hartford, Plourde was parked in an undercover minivan in a parking lot a few streets from the house. A confidential informant previously had provided information to Burgos, Plourde and Borysevicz that crack cocaine was being cooked at the Florence Street location and was being distributed to drug dealers. The informant had told the police that a man later identified as Kendrick Leggett was selling drugs in the neighborhood. The informant had given a physical description of Leggett, who drove a gold Ford Explorer with tinted windows and Massachusetts rental plates.
At approximately 8 p.m., on May 9, 2005, a vehicle matching the description given by the informant arrived at 24 Florence Street. A passenger got out, and the vehicle departed. At approximately 8:30 p.m., the same vehicle entered a parking lot adjacent to the parking lot in which Plourde's minivan was parked. Plourde radioed to Burgos and Borysevicz. He notified them that the gold Explorer was in the parking lot in front of him. Plourde was unable to see into the Explorer.
A few moments later, an Oldsmobile entered the parking lot and stopped next to the Explorer. The driver of the Oldsmobile, later identified as the [petitioner], left his car and entered the Explorer. When the [petitioner] entered the Explorer, the interior light went on, and Plourde was able to see the driver of the Explorer. The driver matched the physical description of Leggett that had been given by the informant. When the [petitioner] shut the passenger side door, the interior light turned off.
A few moments later, the interior light in the Explorer went on for a second time. Plourde observed the [petitioner] appearing to examine something white in plastic that appeared to Plourde to be crack cocaine or powder cocaine. The [petitioner] held the plastic with the white substance in his hand. Several minutes later, the interior light came on for a third time. Plourde saw the [petitioner] and Leggett counting out money on the dashboard. Plourde notified Burgos and Borysevicz that the occupants of the Explorer were exchanging money. He told them to proceed to the location of the Explorer and to make contact with the individuals inside.
Burgos parked his car directly in front of the Explorer to block it in and to prevent escape. On leaving his vehicle, Burgos pulled out his firearm and instructed Leggett to keep his hands where he could see them. Burgos observed a lot of movement from the driver, and money was “flying all over the place.” After opening the door of the Explorer, Burgos found money on the dashboard, on Leggett's lap and in his hands. The amount of cash found on and near Leggett totaled $7700.
Borysevicz parked his car directly in front of the Oldsmobile. Upon leaving the car, Borysevicz drew his weapon and told the occupants of the Explorer to put their hands up. The [petitioner] complied by putting his hands up. Borysevicz observed money totaling $2046 in the [petitioner]'s lap and on the floor at his feet. He also found a plastic bag with a quantity of an off-white rock like substance on the floor of the passenger side of the vehicle. A field test performed on the substance revealed that it was freebase cocaine, also known as crack cocaine. It weighed four and one-half ounces, or 126 grams. The crack cocaine was seized within 1500 feet of the Quirk Middle School, a public school for students in the seventh and eighth grades.
After waiving his Miranda[1] rights, the [petitioner] provided the police with a handwritten, signed statement. He claimed that he met with Leggett to purchase an ounce of crack cocaine. After he handed Leggett $550, Leggett produced a bag of crack cocaine. Immediately thereafter, the police approached the vehicle and told Leggett and the [petitioner] to put their hands up.

Coleman, 114 Conn.App. at 724-26.

         At the conclusion of evidence, the trial court discussed with the parties the charge it intended to give to the jury. After a charge conference, it asked both parties whether they had any issues with the proposed instructions, and neither party had any. See Criminal Trial Tr. 3, Resp't App. Q (ECF No. 16-19). The trial court gave the following instruction to the jury on the possession element with respect to each count:

For you to find the [petitioner] guilty of this charge, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the [petitioner] knowingly possessed or had cocaine under his control. Possession may be actual or constructive. Possession, whether actual or constructive, may be proven by either direct or circumstantial evidence. Keep in mind that possession of the cocaine, not ownership, is all that is required.
Actual possession is established when it is shown that the [petitioner] had actual physical possession of the cocaine. Constructive possession is established when it is shown that the [petitioner] exercised dominion and control over the cocaine, and had actual knowledge of its presence. Remember then, constructive possession requires a showing of two things, control and knowledge.
Constructive possession may be exclusive or shared by others. The latter is known as joint possession.

Id. at 42-43. The petitioner took no exception to the charge as given. Id. at 51.

         After deliberations had begun, the trial court received a note from the jury requesting “further instruction on [the] definition of possession. One, constructive, two, joint, three, any other.” Criminal Trial Tr. 56-57. The trial court suggested to the parties that it reread its original instructions on the possession element, and the petitioner agreed with that plan. Id. at 57, 58. The court then brought the jury into the courtroom and reread the ...

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