299 F.Supp.2d 84 (E.D.N.Y. 2004), 02-CV-3973(JBW), Gersten v. Senkowski

Docket Nº:02-CV-3973(JBW), 03-MISC-0066(JBW).
Citation:299 F.Supp.2d 84
Opinion Judge:WEINSTEIN, Senior District Judge.
Party Name:Ben GERSTEN (00-A-0546), Petitioner, v. Daniel SENKOWSKI, Superintendent of Clinton Correctional Facility, Respondent.
Attorney:Laurie S. Hershey, by Kevin J. Keating, and Georgia J. Hinde, Manhasset, NY, for Petitioner., Denis Dillon, District Attorney, Nassau County by Karen Wigle Weiss, Assistant District Attorney, of Counsel, Mineola, NY, for Respondent.
Case Date:January 15, 2004
Court:United States District Courts, 2nd Circuit, Eastern District of New York
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 84

299 F.Supp.2d 84 (E.D.N.Y. 2004)

Ben GERSTEN (00-A-0546), Petitioner,

v.

Daniel SENKOWSKI, Superintendent of Clinton Correctional Facility, Respondent.

Nos. 02-CV-3973(JBW), 03-MISC-0066(JBW).

United States District Court, E.D. New York.

Jan. 15, 2004

Page 85

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 86

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 87

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 88

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 89

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 90

Laurie S. Hershey, by Kevin J. Keating, and Georgia J. Hinde, Manhasset, NY, for Petitioner.

Denis Dillon, District Attorney, Nassau County by Karen Wigle Weiss, Assistant District Attorney, of Counsel, Mineola, NY, for Respondent.

MEMORANDUM, JUDGMENT & ORDER

WEINSTEIN, Senior District Judge.

Table of Contents
I. Introduction ........................................................................................................... 91 II. Facts and Procedural History .................................................................................91

A. Pretrial Proceedings .....................................................................................92 B. Trial .............................................................................................................92

1. The People's Case ............................................................................. 92

a. The Daughter ............................................................................92 b. The Wife ................................................................................. 93 c. The Child Psychologist ..............................................................93 d. The Examining Physician ...........................................................93 e. The Boyfriend ...........................................................................94

2. The Defense .......................................................................................94 C. State Direct Appeals ....................................................................................94 D. State Collateral Attacks ................................................................................94 E. Current Federal Habeas Proceedings .............................................................94

1. The Petition .........................................................................................94 2. The Hearing .........................................................................................95

a. Examining Physician .................................................................. 95 b. Trial Counsel .............................................................................96

III. Law .......................................................................................................................96

A. AEDPA ....................................................................................................... 96 B. Exhaustion ................................................................................................... 97 C. Procedural Bar ............................................................................................ 98 D. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel ................................................................. 99

1. In General .......................................................................................... 99 2. Failure to Consult with or Call an Expert Witness in Cases

Involving Child Sexual Abuse ........................................................100

E. Errors of State Law ..................................................................................... 101

1. In General ......................................................................................... 101 2. Admission of Uncharged Crimes Testimony ....................................... 102

F. Harmless Error ............................................................................................ 102 IV. Analysis of Claims ............................................................................................... 102

A. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel ................................................................ 102

1. Failure to Consult with or Call Expert Witnesses ................................ 102

a. Medical .................................................................................. 102 b. Psychological ......................................................................... 104

2. Failure to Request a Frye Hearing ..................................................... 105 3. Failure to Object to Uncharged Crimes Evidence .............................. 105 4. Remaining Claims ............................................................................. 106 B. Admission of Uncharged Crimes Testimony ................................................ 106 C. Other Claims ............................................................................................. 106 V. Conclusion ...........................................................................................................106 Page 91 I. Introduction Sexual abuse of a daughter by her father is a heinous crime. Here the trial record graphically details almost-nightly rapes and sodomizing of a young girl in her family home by her parent over many years. Such an accusation requires a skilled defense. See Eze v. Senkowski, 321 F.3d 110 (2d Cir.2003); Pavel v. Hollins, 261 F.3d 210 (2d Cir.2001); Lindstadt v. Keane, 239 F.3d 191 (2d Cir.2001) (importance of effective representation for defendants in child sexual abuse prosecutions). Since such cases frequently hinge on the credibility of the child, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has declared that "defense counsel is obliged, wherever possible, to elucidate any inconsistencies in the complainant's testimony, protect the defendant's credibility, and attack vigorously the reliability of any physical evidence of sexual contact between the defendant and the complainant." Eze, 321 F.3d at 112. Whether these standards were met in this case presents a troubling question. For the reasons stated below, it is answered in the negative. The state trial and appellate record and a hearing in this court support the conclusion that trial counsel failed his client. Petitioner, a law school graduate who passed the New York Bar examination but apparently never practiced as an attorney, was charged with the sodomy and sexual abuse of his daughter. A bench trial, insisted upon by petitioner in opposition to his attorney's advice, resulted in conviction on all charges and a lengthy prison term. Trial counsel failed to consult with or call an expert medical witness regarding the physical indicia of sexual abuse. Had he done so he would have been in a position to rebut critical aspects of the testimony of the People's medical expert at trial, significantly calling into question whether the physical examination of the daughter revealed penetrative trauma to her vagina and anus. In light of the daughter's allegations of continuing rape and sodomy over a period of years, the absence of physical indicia of such abuse would necessarily have been troubling to a trier of fact. Counsel's unexplained and unreasonable failure to present this and other potentially exculpatory evidence significantly undermines confidence in the outcome of the trial. II. Facts and Procedural History Petitioner was charged with six counts of sodomy in the first degree, two counts of sexual abuse in the first degree, and one count of endangering the welfare of a child. The acts charged occurred during the period from March 1995 to December 1998 when the daughter was between ten and thirteen years old. He was convicted on all nine counts. The trial court imposed a sentence of consecutive indeterminate terms of imprisonment of twelve and one-half to twenty five years on the first three counts of sodomy in the first degree, concurrent indeterminate terms of imprisonment of twelve and one-half to twenty-five years on the remaining three counts of sodomy in the first degree, concurrent determinate terms of incarceration of seven years on each sexual abuse conviction, and a concurrent sentence of one year imprisonment for endangering the welfare of a child. He was designated a sex offender pursuant to the Sex Offender Registration Act. See N.Y. Correction L., art. 6-C. The lengthy imprisonment (under probable high risk of physical harm if other prisoners become aware of his crime) and the lifetime legal and social stigmas constitute a heavy punishment. Page 92 A. Pretrial Proceedings Prior to the commencement of trial, a Ventimiglia hearing was held. See People v. Ventimiglia, 52 N.Y.2d 350, 438 N.Y.S.2d 261, 420 N.E.2d 59 (1981) (providing for a hearing in which the court assesses the probative force and prejudicial effect of any uncharged crimes sought to be introduced at trial). The prosecution sought to introduce, as part of the People's direct case, evidence that petitioner (1) began sexually abusing his daughter when she was five years old--years before the charged crimes occurred--and that the abuse escalated to petitioner forcing her to perform oral sex on him when she was seven years old; and (2) forced his daughter to have vaginal intercourse with him twice during November 1998, when she was thirteen years old, at his mother's apartment. These crimes were not charged in the indictment. The prosecution argued that this evidence was relevant in establishing the forcible compulsion element of sodomy in the first degree and in showing a pattern or course of conduct by petitioner. Defense counsel opposed the prosecutor's application and argued for preclusion of all evidence of uncharged crimes. The court ruled...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP