Harris v. Kuhlmann, No. 97-CV-2289(JS).

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
Writing for the CourtSeybert
Citation115 F.Supp.2d 326
PartiesCurtis HARRIS, Petitioner, v. Robert KUHLMANN, Superintendent, Sullivan Correctional Facility, Respondent.
Docket NumberNo. 97-CV-2289(JS).
Decision Date19 September 2000
115 F.Supp.2d 326
Curtis HARRIS, Petitioner,
v.
Robert KUHLMANN, Superintendent, Sullivan Correctional Facility, Respondent.
No. 97-CV-2289(JS).
United States District Court, E.D. New York.
September 19, 2000.

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COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

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Curtis Harris, pro se, Fallsburg, NY, for Petitioner.

Peter A. Weinstein, Margaret E. Mainusch, Assistant District Attorney, Nassau County District Attorney's Office, Mineola, NY, for Respondent.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

SEYBERT, District Judge.


Pending before the Court is the petition of Curtis Harris ("Petitioner" or "Harris"), proceeding pro se, for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner was convicted of murder, burglary and robbery in February 1985. Later that same year, Petitioner pled guilty to attempted murder in connection with his attempted escape before his trial. Harris currently is serving an indeterminate term of custody of thirty-seven and one-half years to life on the murder, burglary and robbery charges, and a consecutive term of imprisonment of seven and one-half to fifteen years on the attempted murder charge.

Petitioner raises four grounds for the relief sought. First, Petitioner alleges that his conviction was obtained by statements obtained in violation of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). Second, Petitioner argues that the prosecution unlawfully excluded black jurors from the jury, in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986). Third, Petitioner argues that he was not competent to stand trial on the murder, robbery and burglary charges, and that he was not competent to plead guilty to the attempted murder charge. Finally, Petitioner contends that his sentences for the crimes he committed are unconstitutionally excessive.

The evidence of Harris' guilt on all the charges is overwhelming. Nevertheless, a federal court on habeas review is not charged with determining guilt or innocence, but rather with ensuring that a petitioner is not being held in violation of the Constitution. A federal court may not simply ignore the well-established mandates of the Constitution simply because the end result was correct. Thus, although it gives the Court no particular pleasure to prolong these proceedings, the Court finds that Harris' due process rights, as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, were violated by the exclusion of five black jurors from the jury that heard and deliberated over his case. The Court further finds that, as a constitutional matter, substantial questions about Petitioner's competency to proceed to trial were raised, and that the trial court impermissibly failed to order a competency hearing when Petitioner's competency was reasonably in doubt. Therefore, for the reasons discussed below, the petition is granted.

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PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On February 7, 1985, a jury in Nassau County Court found Petitioner guilty, under indictment number 57785, of one count of intentional murder in violation of New York Penal Law § 125.25[1]; two counts of felony murder in violation of N.Y. Penal Law § 125.25[3]; one count of burglary in the first degree, a violation of N.Y. Penal Law § 140.30[2]; and one count of robbery in violation of N.Y. Penal Law § 160.15[1]. The convictions followed Petitioner's trial before the Honorable Stuart L. Ain. Petitioner later was sentenced by Judge Ain to an indeterminate term of twenty-five years to life on each of the three murder counts, and twelve and one-half to twenty-five years on each of the burglary and robbery counts.

Later that year, Harris pled guilty, under indictment number 59972, to attempted murder in the second degree, in violation of N.Y. Penal Law §§ 11000/125.25[1]. This conviction resulted from Harris' attempt to escape from custody, during which both a court security officer and Petitioner were shot.1 Petitioner originally had been charged in this indictment with escape in the first degree, in violation of N.Y. Penal Law § 205.15[2]; aggravated assault upon a police officer, in violation of N.Y. Penal Law § 120.11; and four counts of assault in the second degree, in violation of N.Y. Penal Law § 205.05[2,3,6,7]. However, Petitioner pled guilty to the attempted murder charge in full satisfaction of all the charges contained in the indictment.

Petitioner thereafter was sentenced to seven and one-half to fifteen years, to run consecutively to the sentence previously imposed under indictment number 57785. This sentence also was imposed by Judge Ain in the County Court of Nassau County.

Petitioner appealed both of the convictions to the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, Second Department. In that appeal, Harris presented the following claims: (1) that the conviction under indictment number 57785 was unlawfully obtained by introduction of statements obtained in violation of Miranda; (2) that the prosecutor used his peremptory challenges to unlawfully exclude black jurors in violation of Batson; (3) that Petitioner was not competent to stand trial or take a plea because of his low IQ and the impact of the bullet that had lodged in his brain as a consequence of being shot during his escape attempt; and (4) that Petitioner's sentence was excessive.

In a five-paragraph decision, the appellate court essentially affirmed the judgments of conviction. However, the court sua sponte found that the evidence supporting Petitioner's intentional murder conviction was insufficient as a matter of law. The court reversed that part of the conviction under the first count of indictment number 57785, and vacated that portion of the sentence. People v. Harris, 160 A.D.2d 726, 555 N.Y.S.2d 607 (2d Dep't 1990).

Petitioner then sought leave to appeal to the New York State Court of Appeals. By Order dated September 14, 1990, the court, per Titone, J., denied leave to appeal. People v. Harris, 76 N.Y.2d 893, 561 N.Y.S.2d 555, 562 N.E.2d 880 (1990).

Harris filed the present application for a writ of habeas corpus on April 25, 1997.

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As grounds for relief, Petitioner presented the same grounds that he first argued on direct appeal to the Second Department. In fact, after listing the grounds one by one in the petition itself, Petitioner annexed a copy of his brief on direct appeal to the Second Department, presumably as an exhibit to his petition. On December 29, 1997, this Court dismissed the petition as time-barred pursuant to the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2244 and 2254 ("AEDPA"). Petitioner appealed the dismissal of his petition. On September 28, 1998, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated this Court's Order of Dismissal and remanded this case for a determination (1) whether Petitioner timely filed his petition and (2) if the petition was timely filed, for consideration of its merits.

Respondent opposes Petitioner's application for a writ of habeas corpus. Respondent correctly concedes that each of Harris' claims is exhausted,2 but contends that the claims are without substantive merit.

FACTS UNDERLYING THE TWO INDICTMENTS

On August 30, 1983, petitioner and co-defendant Julio Giano, with the express purpose of committing a robbery, drove to the home of Vicki Kestoglou, apparently Giano's former girlfriend, in Manhasset Hills, New York. Trial Transcript ("Tr.") 116-118. Pursuant to their plan, Giano entered the house first while Petitioner waited outside in the car. Petitioner remained outside the house for five minutes, then exited the car and rang the doorbell. When Kestoglou answered the door, Petitioner asked if he could use the bathroom. Giano told Kestoglou that everything was alright, because Petitioner was with him.

After Petitioner went into the bathroom, Giano pulled a gun on Kestoglou, holding a silver automatic to her head. Giano threatened to kill Kestoglou. Harris helped Giano tie up Kestoglou with a ripped bed sheet, and then watched as Giano brutally strangled Kestoglou with a cord. Although Harris protested Giano's attempt to strangle Kestoglou, Giano told him that he had to kill her because she knew him. Petitioner ran from the house and waited in the car. When Giano returned, Petitioner asked Giano what had taken so long. Giano told Harris that Kestoglou was "very hard to kill." The two then drove away with the meager proceeds of their crime: a plastic bag containing jewelry and coins, and a small television set. Tr. 117-18. Kestoglou was dead. Tr. 100-03.

Petitioner later gave a written statement to the police, confessing to his role in the crimes. Tr. 120-133; see also Respondent's Brief to the Appellate Division, Second Department, Appendix 1 (written confession). Petitioner also agreed to give a videotaped confession, which tape later was played for the jury. Tr. 217-19.

On September 21, 1984, while trial for these crimes was pending, Petitioner and Giano escaped from the custody of a court officer at the County Courthouse in Mineola,

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New York. Affidavit of Margaret E. Mainusch, Esq., dated December 14, 1998, ¶ 7. During a shootout that ensued when court officers sought to recapture him, Petitioner shot a court officer in the head. Id. Petitioner himself also was shot in the head. Id. The bullet that hit Petitioner passed through the midline of his skull and lodged in the central ventricle of his brain. Petitioner's Memorandum of Law in Support of Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, at 3. The bullet has never been removed. Id.

PRETRIAL HEARINGS

Prior to trial, and before his escape attempt, Petitioner moved to suppress the inculpatory statements he made to the police during the course of the investigation into Kestoglou's murder. Hearings held pursuant to the motion included the testimony of Detective James Magee, of the Nassau County Police Department. Hearing Minutes ("H.M.") 20. Detective Magee testified that he had questioned Petitioner...

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7 practice notes
  • Huber v. Schriver, No. 98-CV-0017 (NGG)(WDW).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • April 17, 2001
    ...held in violation of the Constitution," and petitioner's claims must be examined in keeping with that principle. Harris v. Kuhlmann, 115 F.Supp.2d 326, 328 (E.D.N.Y. 2000). For the reasons set forth infra, petitioner's claims do not warrant habeas 1.) Brady Claim: The Brady claim advanced b......
  • Wallace v. Davis, Cause No. IP95-0215-C-B/S (S.D. Ind. 11/14/2002), Cause No. IP95-0215-C-B/S.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of Indiana)
    • November 14, 2002
    ...guilt or innocence, but rather with ensuring that a petitioner is not being held in violation of the Constitution." Harris v. Kuhlmann, 115 F. Supp.2d 326, 328 (E.D.N.Y. A corollary rule that limits a federal habeas court is that the states are free to make and interpret their own laws. In ......
  • Reyes v. Greiner, No. 01-CV-7150ERKLB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • September 15, 2004
    ...writ on ground that prosecutor's challenges were not motivated by race, see 277 F.Supp.2d 150 (E.D.N.Y.2003)); Harris v. Kuhlmann, 115 F.Supp.2d 326 (E.D.N.Y.2000) (ordering that defendant be granted new trial because trial judge, by precluding the development of a full record, could not ma......
  • Harris v. Kuhlmann, No. 00-2740.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • October 10, 2003
    ...rights were violated by the state prosecutor's use of peremptory strikes in a racially discriminatory manner. See Harris v. Kuhlmann, 115 F.Supp.2d 326, 328, 336-38 (E.D.N.Y.2000) (relying on Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986)). Kuhlmann also appeals from ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
7 cases
  • Huber v. Schriver, No. 98-CV-0017 (NGG)(WDW).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • April 17, 2001
    ...held in violation of the Constitution," and petitioner's claims must be examined in keeping with that principle. Harris v. Kuhlmann, 115 F.Supp.2d 326, 328 (E.D.N.Y. 2000). For the reasons set forth infra, petitioner's claims do not warrant habeas 1.) Brady Claim: The Brady claim advanced b......
  • Wallace v. Davis, Cause No. IP95-0215-C-B/S (S.D. Ind. 11/14/2002), Cause No. IP95-0215-C-B/S.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of Indiana)
    • November 14, 2002
    ...guilt or innocence, but rather with ensuring that a petitioner is not being held in violation of the Constitution." Harris v. Kuhlmann, 115 F. Supp.2d 326, 328 (E.D.N.Y. A corollary rule that limits a federal habeas court is that the states are free to make and interpret their own laws. In ......
  • Reyes v. Greiner, No. 01-CV-7150ERKLB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • September 15, 2004
    ...writ on ground that prosecutor's challenges were not motivated by race, see 277 F.Supp.2d 150 (E.D.N.Y.2003)); Harris v. Kuhlmann, 115 F.Supp.2d 326 (E.D.N.Y.2000) (ordering that defendant be granted new trial because trial judge, by precluding the development of a full record, could not ma......
  • Harris v. Kuhlmann, No. 00-2740.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • October 10, 2003
    ...rights were violated by the state prosecutor's use of peremptory strikes in a racially discriminatory manner. See Harris v. Kuhlmann, 115 F.Supp.2d 326, 328, 336-38 (E.D.N.Y.2000) (relying on Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986)). Kuhlmann also appeals from ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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