Izaguirre v. Lee

Decision Date25 April 2012
Docket NumberNo. 10–CV–3216 (JFB).,10–CV–3216 (JFB).
Citation856 F.Supp.2d 551
PartiesRaul IZAGUIRRE, Petitioner, v. William LEE, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York


Kevin J. Keating, Law Office of Kevin J. Keating, Matthew W. Brissenden, Matthew W. Brissenden, P.C., Garden City, NY, for Petitioner.

Tammy J. Smiley and Andrea M. DiGregorio, Assistant District Attorneys, on behalf of Kathleen M. Rice, District Attorney, Nassau County, Mineola, NY, or Respondent.


JOSEPH F. BIANCO, District Judge.

Raul Izaguirre (hereinafter Petitioner) petitions this Court for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his conviction in the County Court, Nassau County, State of New York. Petitioner was convicted in a judgment rendered on September 9, 2005, following a jury trial, of Manslaughter in the First Degree (N.Y. Penal Law § 125.20(1)) and was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison followed by five years of post-release supervision. In the instant petition, Petitioner challenges his conviction, claiming his constitutional rights were violated because: (1) the County Court improperly attempted to persuade him to plead guilty; (2) the County Court's sentence was harsh, excessive, and retaliatory; and (3) the evidence was legally insufficient to support his conviction for First–Degree Manslaughter.

For the reasons discussed below, the petition is denied in part and granted in part. Petitioner's claim that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction is procedurally barred and, in the alternative, fails on the merits. Petitioner's claim that the County Court improperly advocated on behalf of the State to get Petitioner to enter a guilty plea is also without merit. Petitioner's claim that his sentence was excessive is without merit, but his contention that the state court unreasonably applied clearly established federal law on his vindictive sentence claim is meritorious, and warrants the granting of habeas relief unless the State of New York grants Petitioner a re-sentencing within ninety days by a judge other than the one who delivered the sentence at issue.

As discussed in detail infra, with respect to the vindictive sentence claim, the state court unreasonably applied clearly established Supreme Court jurisprudence for a vindictive sentence claim to the facts of the instant case. The Supreme Court rule, that has been well establishedfor decades, is that a presumption of vindictiveness arises in cases where an “action detrimental to the defendant has been taken after the exercise of a legal right” by the defendant under circumstances in which “a reasonable likelihood of vindictiveness exists.” United States v. Goodwin, 457 U.S. 368, 373, 102 S.Ct. 2485, 73 L.Ed.2d 74 (1982). After a careful review of the record, this Court concludes that this case is precisely one of those cases. Here, there was a reasonable likelihood of actual vindictiveness by the sentencing judge because she announced, prior to trial in the context of plea discussions, that Petitioner would receive the statutory maximum of 25 years' imprisonment if he were to be convicted at trial: “Mr. Izaguirre, do you understand that if you are found guilty after this trial you will do 25 years in prison?” (T. 7.) 1 (emphasis added). This unequivocal, pre-trial statement that the Court would impose the maximum sentence, even though it was not mandatory, created a presumption of vindictiveness once the statutory maximum was, in fact, imposed at the time of sentencing. That presumption was not rebutted by any other objective information in the record. To the contrary, other portions of the record provide further support for this claim. First, the prosecutor did not ask for the statutory maximum of 25 years at sentencing, but rather a sentence of “no less than 15 years in prison.” (S.3.) Second, the court provided no explanation for how it arrived at the statutory maximum at sentencing other than an extremely brief reference to the young age of the victim. Although the Respondent attempts to rely on the surrounding context to minimize or reinterpret the unequivocal pre-trial statement by the judge that she would impose the maximum if the defendant were convicted after trial, those arguments are entirely unpersuasive to rebut the presumption of vindictiveness triggered by that pivotal statement. In fact, the context gives more, not less, support for the vindictiveness claim. In particular, the pretrial statement by the court that the petitioner “will” receive the statutory maximum was in the context of the court, at defense counsel's urging, attempting to make the petitioner aware of the advantages of pleading guilty and the perils of going to trial. Thus, the court's pretrial statements surrounding the explicit prediction of the imposition of the statutory maximum after trial are equally troubling, and included the following: (1) “The prisons are filled with people who were convicted of crimes where there was no eye witness, and they are filled with people who feel they were wrongfully convicted because there wasn't enough evidence, or who have convinced themselves that there wasn't enough evidence. Those people are not necessarily the kind of people you want to spend the next 20 years of your life with.”; (2) “You are a very young man. You also have an immigration hold. You will probably, if you get convicted, never see daylight again, because you will probably sit in a New York State facility for at least 20 years and then be deported to ... Honduras, and I don't know what they will do to you in Honduras after having served a prison sentence here.”; and (3) “Your best chance is, if you wish to plead guilty, is to enter a plea, take the ten years, and hope they will forget about your immigration hold....” (T. 7–9.) 2 These comments hardly rebut the presumption of vindictiveness that arose from the central statement that the court intended to impose the statutory maximum if convicted. In short, although this Court is well aware of the deferential standard of review on a habeas petition, the record in this case on the vindictive sentencing claim reflects an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law as determined by the United States Supreme Court and requires habeas relief unless the Petitioner is re-sentenced by a different judge.

I. Factual Background

The Court has adduced the following facts from the instant petition and the underlying record.

At approximately 5:30 a.m. on June 24, 2003, the body of Marvin Valle (“Valle”) was found dead on a sidewalk at the corner of Fulton and Meadowbrook Avenues in Hempstead, New York. (T. 455–56.) An ensuing police investigation revealed that on the previous night, June 23, 2003, Valle had been out drinking with a boyhood friend of his, Juan Antonio Maldonado (“Maldonado”). (T. 663, 666–68.) After drinking beer in several bars in and around Hempstead, the two men arrived at an establishment called the Ilusiones bar shortly after midnight.3 (T. 667–68.) Also present in the Ilusiones bar at that time was Petitioner. (T. 669.) Maldonado, who knew Petitioner from their work together in a local supermarket, introduced Petitioner to Valle and the men exchanged greetings inside the bar. (T. 669–72.) Shortly thereafter, a disagreement between Petitioner and Valle over the payment for beers escalated into a physical altercation, which resulted in Petitioner receiving a bloodied nose from Valle. (T. 675, 769–72, 832–35.) The altercation provoked many of the bar's patrons to flee the premises, and Valle and Petitioner were consequently escorted out.4 (T. 677, 451–52.)

Hours later, at around 5:30 a.m., Hempstead Police responded to a radio call indicating that there was a “man down” on the corner of Fulton and Meadowbrook Avenues. (T. 455.) Responding officers discovered Valle, face-up on the sidewalk in the vicinity of Ilusiones bar, with multiple stab wounds to his body and abrasions on his face and scalp. (T. 518–20, 538–39, 1057.) Valle suffered, among other injuries, a fatal stab wound to his chest that reached a depth of five inches, penetrated two of his ribs, and perforated both his heart and left lung. (T. 995, 999, 1001–02.) Valle was pronounced dead at approximately5:41 a.m. on the morning of June 24, 2003.5 (T. 586.)

Later, on the same day, Petitioner showed up for work at Uncle Guiseppe's supermarket. (T. 789, 791.) At approximately 12:30 p.m., Melvin Alvarado Bonilla (“Bonilla”), another supermarket employee, was on his lunch break when he overheard Petitioner having a conversation on a public pay phone outside of the market on Hempstead Turnpike. (T. 792.) Bonilla testified that Petitioner was speaking with his cousin Antonio Izaguirre (Antonio). (T. 792.) The sum and substance of this conversation involved an explanation by Petitioner to his cousin that: (1) he had purchased a dagger the night before; (2) he had subsequently gone to a bar; (3) while inside the bar, someone hit him in the face, causing him to observe blood on his hand; and (4) he then took out the dagger and stabbed the person.6 (T. 792–93.) Bonilla further testified that he heard Petitioner ask his cousin, “What do I do?” (T. 793.) Neither Bonilla nor the supermarket's manager saw Petitioner at work or anyplace else after that. (T. 792–93, 861–63.)

A day later, on June 25, 2003, Petitioner visited his cousin Antonio's apartment at 753 Front Street in Hempstead. (T. 850–51.) Petitioner used the phone in Antonio's bedroom to place a telephone call to another cousin, Griselda Molina Izaguirre (Griselda). (T. 851–52, 1012, 1027.) According to Griselda, Petitioner asked her to loan him two hundred dollars because he had to leave” and “that he had some problems.” (T. 1012–14.) Griselda also testified that Petitioner “told [her] he had stabbed someone, but didn't know what had happened to him [the stab victim].” (T. 1022.) Jose Martinez, a tenant in the apartment from...

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    ...was "within the range proscribed by state law." White v. Keane, 969 F.2d 1381, 1383 (2d Cir. 1992); see also Izaguirre v. Lee, 856 F. Supp. 2d 551, 570-71 (E.D.N.Y. 2012) (explaining that, when the imposed sentence is within the statutory range, "a claim of excessive punishment does not pre......
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