United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RAFAEL J. CRESPO, Petitioner,
WARDEN, STATE PRISON, Respondent.
RULING ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS
R. UNDERHILL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
J. Crespo-an inmate currently confined at Brooklyn
Correctional Institution in Brooklyn, Connecticut-brings this
action pro se for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2254. Crespo challenges his 2006 Connecticut
convictions for sexual assault in the first degree and sexual
assault in the third degree. For the reasons that follow, I
deny the petition.
Standard of Review
federal court will entertain a collateral attack upon a state
court conviction only if the petitioner claims that his
custody violates a federal statute or the United States
Constitution. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). A claim
that a state conviction was obtained in violation of
state law, by contrast, is not cognizable in federal
court. See Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 68
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). 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;
(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
“intentionally difficult to meet.” Woods v.
Donald, __ U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015)
(internal quotation marks omitted).
established federal law is found in “holdings, ”
not “dicta, ” of the United States Supreme Court
at the time that the state court decision was issued.
Howes v. Fields, 565 U.S. 499, 505 (2012).
“[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.”
Kennaugh v. Miller, 289 F.3d 36, 42 (2d Cir. 2002).
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, 693-94 (2002). A decision “involve[s] an
unreasonable application of . . . clearly established Federal
law” when the state court “correctly identifies
the governing legal rule but applies it 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.” Hoi Man Yung v. Walker, 468 F.3d 169,
176 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529
U.S. 362, 407-08 (2000)). It is not enough that “a
federal court believes the state court's determination
was incorrect.” Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S.
465, 473 (2007). Rather, the state court's application of
clearly established law must be “objectively
unreasonable, not merely wrong; even clear error will not
suffice.” Woods, 135 S.Ct. at 1376. A state
prisoner must show that the challenged 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. Titlow, 571 U.S. 12, 16 (2013) (federal habeas relief
warranted only where the state criminal justice system has
experienced an “extreme malfunction”) (internal
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 also Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S.
170, 181 (2011) (standard for evaluating state-court rulings
under section 2254 is “highly deferential, ” and
the “petitioner carries the burden of proof”). 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.
early February 2005, police officers executed a warrant for
Crespo's arrest on charges of kidnapping, assault, sexual
assault, threatening and unlawful restraint. See
Appellate Court Record (Initial Appeal), App'x B to Mem.
Opp'n Pet. Writ Habeas Corpus, Doc. No. 15-2 (“App.
Ct. R. (Init. App.)”). On February 4, 2005 the
Connecticut Superior Court for the Judicial District of New
Haven arraigned Crespo on two counts of kidnapping, two
counts of sexual assault, three counts of assault, one count
of stalking and four counts of unlawful restraint. See
Id. at 11, 13-16. On April 19, 2006, the state filed an
information charging Crespo with four counts of sexual
assault in the first degree in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat.
§ 53a-70(a)(1), two counts of assault in the third
degree in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-61(a)(1),
and one count of kidnapping in the second degree in violation
of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-94. See App. Ct. R.
(Init. App.), Doc. No. 15-2, at 25-26.
22, 2006, a jury found Crespo guilty of two counts of sexual
assault in the first degree and two counts of assault in the
third degree, and not guilty of two counts of sexual assault
in the first degree and one count of kidnapping in the second
degree. See Id. at 20, 59-60. On August 9, 2006, the
Superior Court dismissed one of counts of third degree sexual
assault and sentenced Crespo on the three remaining counts.
See Id. at 21-24. The court imposed a total
effective sentence of twenty years of imprisonment, execution
suspended after fourteen years and followed by fifteen years
of probation with conditions. See Id. at 21-24,
appealed his convictions on three grounds. See State v.
Crespo, 114 Conn.App. 346, 348 (2009). He claimed that
the trial judge erred by (1) precluding him from introducing
evidence of the victim's sexual history; (2) improperly
permitting the state to present evidence regarding the
behavior of sexual assault victims generally; and (3) failing
to disclose important information to him from the
victim's medical records after reviewing the records in
camera. See Id. On May 12, 2009, the Appellate Court
affirmed the judgment of conviction. See Id. at 378.
Crespo then filed a petition for certification to appeal,
which the Connecticut Supreme Court granted on June 30, 2009
with regard to whether the trial court improperly denied
Crespo's request to introduce impeachment evidence
pertaining to the victim's prior sexual conduct. See
State v. Crespo, 292 Conn. 917 (2009). On January 31,
2012, the Connecticut Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate
Court's decision, and concluded that the exclusion of the
evidence at issue did not violate Crespo's Sixth
Amendment rights to confrontation and to present a defense.
See State v. Crespo, 303 Conn. 589, 592 (2012).
October 2007, Crespo filed a petition for writ of habeas
corpus challenging his convictions in the Connecticut
Superior Court for the Judicial District of Tolland at
Rockville. See Appellate Court Record (Habeas
Petition), App'x O to Mem. Opp'n Pet. Writ Habeas
Corpus, Doc. No. 15-16 (“App. Ct. R. (Habeas
Pet.)”). In Crespo's third amended petition, which
was filed on October 2, 2012, Crespo claimed that trial
counsel had been ineffective in multiple ways and that the
prosecutor had engaged in misconduct by improperly using the
words “rape” and “victim” throughout
the trial. See Id. at 7-12.
Superior Court held hearings on the claims in the amended
petition on October 12 and October 26, 2012. See
Habeas Hr'g Trs., App'x V to Mem. Opp'n Pet. Writ
Habeas Corpus, Docs. Nos. 15-35, 15-36. At the hearings,
Crespo presented evidence concerning four ways in which he
alleged that counsel had been ineffective, by (a) failing to
argue the correct exception to the Rape Shield; (b)
neglecting to assert a statute of limitations defense before
trial; (c) failing to object to the prosecutor's use of
the words “rape” and “victim” during
the trial; and (d) neglecting to call Marie Calma, Cesar
Rivera, and Jeffrey Cruz as witnesses at trial. See
id.; see also Crespo v. Warden, 2012 WL
6743571, at *5 (Conn. Super. Ct. Nov. 28, 2012).
November 28, 2012, the Superior Court granted Crespo's
petition with respect to his claim that counsel was
ineffective in failing to call Cruz to testify at trial.
See Crespo, 2012 WL 6743571, at *10-*12. The
Superior Court dismissed Crespo's claim of prosecutorial
misconduct and denied the petition with respect to all of the
other bases on which Crespo claimed that trial counsel had
been ineffective. Because the court granted Crespo's
petition with respect to counsel's failure ...