Antoine v. Ercole

Decision Date29 August 2013
Docket Number11-CV-00088 (PKC)
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York

PAMELA K. CHEN, United States District Judge:

Pending before the Court is Petitioner Ted Antoine's application for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In 2003, Antoine pled guilty to one count of second-degree murder. Although Antoine's pro se petition is somewhat unclear with respect to the grounds upon which he seeks relief, the Court construes Antoine's petition to set forth three grounds for relief: (1) Antoine's guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary because it was induced by misleading and coercive statements made by the trial court; (2) Antoine's counsel was ineffective for advising him to plead guilty; and (3) Antoine's motion pursuant to New York Criminal Procedure Law § 440.10 to vacate his conviction (the "440 Motion") was improperly denied without a hearing. (Dkt. 1 at ECF 5-6 & accompanying exhibits.)2 For the reasons stated below, Antoine's application is denied in its entirety.

A. Charged Conduct

On the evening of October 3, 2002, 17-year-old Antoine punctured the tires of his mother's former boyfriend's car, which was parked outside the ex-boyfriend's house. Antoine wanted to prevent the ex-boyfriend, Ronald Guerrier, from leaving his house in the morning. (Dkt. 1 at ECF 5.)3 When Guerrier emerged from his house the next morning, Antoine approached Guerrier with a gun and shot him once in the back in front of two eyewitnesses, including Guerrier's young son. (Dkt. 3-2 at ECF 6, 67.) Guerrier died as a result of the gunshot wound. (Dkt. 3 at 2.) Following his arrest, Antoine confessed to killing Guerrier in both a written statement and a videotaped confession. (Dkt. 3 at ECF 10.) Antoine explained in his written statement that he did it "because of all the anger I had for [Guerrier] over the years from all the abuse[.]"4 (Dkt. 3-3 at ECF 25.) In his statement, Antoine set forth a history of abuse at the hands of Guerrier after Antoine's mother died and Antoine and his brother were left in Guerrier's care. (Dkt. 3-2 at ECF 28-30.) Antoine also explained in his written statement that the abuse had ceased when he turned 13, four years before the shooting. (Dkt. 3-2 at ECF 29.)

Antoine was charged with two counts of Murder in the Second Degree (N.Y. Penal Law § 125.25[1], [2]) and other related charges. (Dkt. 3 at 2.)

B. Pretrial Hearings

On October 16, 2003, the trial court conducted a lengthy suppression hearing regarding the admissibility of Antoine's post-arrest statements. The next day, on October 17, the trial courtdenied Antoine's suppression motion, finding that "the statement was clearly voluntarily given[.]" The court ruled that the confessions would be admissible at trial. (Dkt. 3-4 at ECF 52.) After ruling on the suppression motion, the trial court began discussing with Antoine the possibility of a guilty plea:5

THE COURT: The jury is going to hear your videotape. They are also going to have an opportunity to read your handwritten statement and they are going to hear testimony from two witnesses who say you're the person who committed the crime. I don't know if the jury is going to believe it or not believe it. If they believe that and they accept that they have no choice but to find you guilty. I don't know what your wishes are. You could certainly have a trial. I want to ask the District Attorney to approach and the defense attorney.
(Discussion held at the bench, off the record.)
THE COURT: Mr. Antoine, I'm prepared to offer you the least the law could give you for the crime of this nature, which is fifteen years to life. That is the only offer I could make you.
The District Attorney, he tells me that he is not going to reduce the charges. If you want to take that plea I'll give it to you only if you admit you did it. If you don't want to admit you did it, that is okay, the jury will hear the evidence and they can decide. I don't know what they are going to decide; I'm not the jury. You'll get a fair trial here.
On the other hand, it's a pretty strong case against you. I don't know what is going to come out at the trial. I could at the end sentence you to fifteen to life. I could hear things at the end which make[] me think the story is not true, you had another reason for being angry at your stepfather, not because he was physically abusing you or beating you up or your little brother, I don't know. If I find that to be the case I won't be as sympathetic to you as I would now. It's up to you.
I want to give you the opportunity before we bring the jury in to make a decision. Your lawyer believes it's in your best interest to plead guilty. I understand why he does. I'm sure he will do the best he can. He has a hard problem, he has a statement and your voice on the videotape. He didn't put your voice there. He didn't tell you to go there and say all those things.
It's very hard to persuade a jury it's not true. It's difficult for me. I can't get into your head. I don't know what happened or why you did this or if you did it, but if you want to take a plea and if you want to admit that you shot him I will promise you a sentence of fifteen years to life.
I've got to be convinced you're doing it because you are guilty. You have to decide what to do. Your lawyer has a very hard job here because of your video.
Do you understand what I'm saying to you?
THE COURT: Do you want to talk to your lawyer for a few minutes? What do you want me to do? Do you want me to send for the panel? Well, they are on their way up.
THE DEFENDANT: I want to talk to my lawyer first.
(Short pause in the proceedings.)
MR. MARTIN: Judge, I had a conversation with my client. He has expressed some concerns that he is hesitant to take the plea because he didn't do it.
THE COURT: Okay, that is the end of that.
MR. MARTIN: Is that correct?
THE COURT: That is the end of it.

(Dkt. 3-4 at ECF 52-55) (emphases added).6 The judge reminded Antoine that his videotaped confession would be admitted at trial and that it would be "difficult to prove to the jury, toestablish to the jury's satisfaction that that statement wasn't you or you were lying when you made the statement." (Dkt. 3-4 at ECF 55.)

The judge then turned to discussing how the trial would proceed. She asked defense counsel whether Antoine intended to exercise his right to be present during sidebar discussions between potential jurors and the judge during jury selection. (Dkt. 3-4 at ECF 55-56.) In the midst of this discussion, Antoine interrupted the judge to request a conference with counsel, which the court permitted. (Dkt. 3-4 at ECF 56.) Following the conference, Antoine's counsel asked to speak with the judge. (Dkt 3-4 at ECF 56.) Immediately after the court's conference with Antoine's counsel, the court again admonished Antoine:

THE COURT: Mr. Antoine, I want you to understand something.
I will not accept a plea from you unless you tell me that you did it. Now, for whatever reason you seem to be saying that you didn't do it and that is what trials are all about. I'm not going to accept the plea based on some other thing that you're willing to say you did it because you're protecting someone else, anything like that. I'm not willing to accept that plea.
The evidence here is that you did it. The evidence consists of the testimony by your stepbrother and by another witness who says she saw it and by your three statements. That is a lot of evidence.
So I certainly am not going to accept a plea that says you didn't do it, but you're pleading guilty because you want to protect somebody else.
I would like you to just take a moment to decide. If you want to talk to your lawyer a few more minutes, okay. Otherwise, I have a jury waiting out in the hall and we will get started. This is really your last chance.
If you committed this crime and if you want to plead guilty, get the minimum sentence the law allows, I will give it to you. If you don't want to plead guilty we will stop all this discussion, we will bring the jury in, we will select a jury and see what happens at the trial and how I feel after the trial, if you're convicted, and see what your sentence will be. Depends on what I find out about the trial. Right now I'm basing my decision on what you said, your video. That is why I'm giving you the minimum.
The District Attorney thinks maybe that is not all together true. I don't know. I am basing it on that because I haven't heard anything else.
If you want to take a plea and get a promise of fifteen years you could do that. If you want to take a chance do that too. Make up your mind. If you want to plead guilty you'll have to tell me what you did. It's up to you. Want to talk to your lawyer about it, whatever you want to do?
I need to move on. I have people standing out in the hallway. There are seventy people out there waiting to be questioned whether they could be jurors in this case. We need to keep going. If you want to take the plea this is the time.
THE DEFENDANT: I want to speak to my lawyer.
THE COURT: Go ahead.
(Short pause in the proceedings.)
THE DEFENDANT: I would like to say that I did it.

(Dkt. 3-4 at ECF 56-58) (emphases added).

The court confirmed that Antoine indeed wanted to admit that he committed the crime (Dkt. 3-4 at ECF 59), then advised Antoine of his rights. (Dkt. 3-4 at ECF 59-63.) The court established that Antoine was voluntarily waiving his right to a trial and that no one had threatened or influenced him to give up that right (Dkt. 3-4 at ECF 61), that he had been advised by his attorney, understood that the court would give him a fair trial should he choose to proceed to trial, and that the jury would have to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. (Dkt. 3-4 at ECF 60.)

Antoine then allocuted as follows:

THE COURT: If you want me to accept the plea and give you the

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