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Crespo v. Warden, State Prison

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

April 30, 2018

RAFAEL J. CRESPO, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN, STATE PRISON, Respondent.

          RULING ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

          STEFAN R. UNDERHILL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Rafael 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.

         I. Standard of Review

         A 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 (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). 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 “intentionally difficult to meet.” Woods v. Donald, __ U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Clearly 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).

         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, 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 brackets omitted).

         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 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.

         II. Procedural History

         In 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.

         On May 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, 59-60.

         Crespo 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).

         In 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.

         The 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).

         On 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 ...


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