Smith v. Rock, No. 05 Civ. 5485 (BSJ)(JCF)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
Writing for the CourtBarbara S. Jones
Citation554 F.Supp.2d 505
Docket NumberNo. 05 Civ. 5485 (BSJ)(JCF)
Decision Date20 May 2008
PartiesLeon SMITH, Petitioner, v. David ROCK, Superintendent Great Meadow Correctional Facility, Respondent.
554 F.Supp.2d 505
Leon SMITH, Petitioner,
v.
David ROCK, Superintendent Great Meadow Correctional Facility, Respondent.
No. 05 Civ. 5485 (BSJ)(JCF)
United States District Court, S.D. New York.
May 20, 2008.

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Richard M. Greenberg, Risa Gerson, Office of the Appellate Defender, New York, NY, for Petitioner.

Alyson J. Gill, Assistant Attorney General, New York, NY, for Respondent.

ORDER

BARBARA S. JONES, District Judge.


Petitioner Leon Smith seeks a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his conviction in New York State Supreme Court, New York County, for robbery in the second degree. Mr. Smith argues that (1) the trial court violated his due process rights by failing to order a competency hearing sua sponte; (2) his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request a competency hearing; and (3) the trial court violated his due process rights because its jury instructions improperly shifted the burden of proving an element of the crime to the defense. On July 6, 2006, Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV issued a Report and Recommendation ("R & R") recommending the writ be granted. Both sides submitted objections to portions of the R & R.

For the reasons that follow, the Court adopts the R & R with respect to the recommendation that the writ be granted based on the trial judge's failure to order a competency hearing, and therefore GRANTS the petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

BACKGROUND

The facts pertinent to the determination of this petition are as follows; a more detailed exposition of the facts can be found in the R & R.

On January 2, 1997, Smith attacked Odilon Morais and took his wallet in the subway station at 96th Street and Central Park West in Manhattan. (Tr. at 137-39.) He was arrested and charged with robbery in the second degree, forcibly stealing property, and causing physical injury.

One week earlier, on December 26, 1996, Smith entered the 32nd Police Precinct in Manhattan, claiming that there were spaceships outside, that Martians were chasing him, and that his feet were on fire. (Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus Ex. F (Harlem Hospital Records).) Officers escorted Smith to Harlem Hospital, where he was admitted to the psychiatric unit, and he was released three days later. Upon his release on December 29, he "ran into a girl ... [and] drunk beer that day," (Tr. at 133), and over the course of the next few days used a variety of drugs, including crack cocaine, LSD, and PCP, (id. at 133-35); as a part of his drug binge, Smith had been awake for a period of approximately 30 hours prior to the attack on Morais, (id. at 134). On the morning of January 2, 1997, Smith had been "Mugging out, hallucinating," (id. at 136), and entered the 96th Street' subway station in an attempt to return to the 32nd Precinct to get help.

Howard Meyer, Smith's attorney, arranged for Smith to visit a psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Lloyd Goldstein, on June 10, 1997 to evaluate the possibility of an insanity defense. (Arthur Ragin, A/K/A Leon Smith Aff.1 at 1.) Dr. Goldstein performed

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an examination that included a review of Petitioner's psychiatric history and a face-to-face clinical examination. (Letter from Dr. Goldstein to Howard Meyer (Aug. 27, 1997) ("Goldstein Letter") at 1.) Smith's medical records confirm that he was hospitalized shortly before his arrest at the psychiatric unit at Harlem Hospital from December 26, 1996 to December 28, 1996.

Dr. Goldstein determined that the Petitioner "led a very marginal existence, using drugs on a regular basis (e.g., cocaine, PCP and heroin) and requiring periodic institutionalization for drug-related psychotic mental breakdowns." (Goldstein Letter at 2.) In addition, Dr. Goldstein found Smith to be "a slow moving and very slow talking man, who seems to have organic brain damage" and that "[h]is speech is rambling and somewhat disorganized." (Id.) Dr. Goldstein concluded that at the time of the robbery Petitioner was suffering from a "serious psychotic disorder" but at the time of examination, was "logical and goal directed," had "no hallucinations or delusions" and was not "acutely psychotic." (Id. at 3.)

PROCEDURAL POSTURE

Smith's trial began on December 3, 1997. In his opening statements, Mr. Meyer told the jury that he would call Dr. Goldstein to testify in support of the insanity defense. (Tr. at 7.) Dr. Goldstein was never called; instead, in support of this defense, Meyer called Smith to testify on his own behalf. (Id. at 123-97.) Smith was convicted of Robbery in the Second Degree.

Following trial, Smith moved to vacate the judgment pursuant to N.Y.Crim. Proc. Law § 440.10 arguing that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel. He argued that Meyer was ineffective for numerous reasons, including (1) failing to call Dr. Goldstein as an expert witness in support of Petitioner's insanity defense and (2) failing to request a competency hearing pursuant to N.Y.Crim. Proc. Law § 730. People v. Smith, Index No. 213/97 (N.Y.Sup.Ct. July 27, 2001). The trial court denied the motion without a hearing in an unpublished opinion on July 27, 2001. The court concluded that not calling Dr. Goldstein as a witness was a reasonable trial strategy because placing Petitioner on the stand revealed his "extremely volatile behavior, slurred, rambling speech, and inability to intelligibly respond to questions on direct and cross-examination" and that Smith's testimony "exposed his delusional paranoia." The court decided that the claim of ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to request a competency examination was without merit, characterizing the claim as "sheer conjecture and yield[ing] pure speculation as to what would have happened." The court's determination was based largely on an affidavit submitted by Meyer, in which he described Smith as "sincere, honest and credible" during pretrial witness preparation interviews. The court also found Dr. Goldstein's report to corroborate the belief that Smith was competent, because at the time Goldstein interviewed Smith, Smith was "logical and goal directed."

On November 8, 2001, Petitioner's appeal of the denial of the § 440.10 motion and his direct appeal were consolidated. Petitioner argued that: (1) Mr. Meyer provided ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to call Dr. Goldstein to testify and failing to request a competency hearing; (2) the court erred in failing to order a competency evaluation; (3) the trial court shifted the burden of proof in its instructions on the insanity defense; and (4) Petitioner's sentence was unconstitutional.

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The Appellate Division reversed the trial court with respect to the claim that Mr. Meyer was ineffective for failing to call Dr. Goldstein, and it remanded the case for a hearing to determine whether the failure to call Dr. Goldstein was a justifiable trial strategy or an oversight.2 See People v. Smith, 301 A.D.2d 471, 755 N.Y.S.2d 31, 32 (N.Y.App.Div.2003).

At the April 1, 2003 hearing, Mr. Meyer testified that he planned to call Dr. Goldstein in support of Petitioner's insanity defense but changed his mind after the testimony of Michael Nared, a prosecution witness.3 (Hr'g Tr. at 4.) Mr. Meyer indicated he called Petitioner to the witness stand because Petitioner's testimony would be rambling and disorganized. (Id. at 13-14). In addition, Mr. Meyer indicated that he thought that Petitioner would appear to have a mental illness:

THE COURT: When you say you thought he was credible, would it be more accurate to say you thought he would be convincing?

MR. MEYER: When I say that, in other words, I was not looking for a rational, coherent witness. I was looking for a man who appeared to have a mental illness. That's why I, in spite of the misgivings I've heard in this courtroom as calling him a witness, I thought he would present himself as a persuasive, incredible4 witness with respect to a man who has a serious mental illness. The ramblings and the fantasies and all that came out during the course of the trial through his testimony, which I thought was quite persuasive.

(Id. at 60-61.)

During the hearing, the judge commented:

What was the offer of proof on this witness? Let's be honest. The offer of proof on this witness was, "listen to him and in summation I'm going to tell you this man is delusional." And to tell you the truth, speaking out of place, maybe, that witness was pretty darn convincing to this jury. Exhibit A [Mr. Smith] was a very compelling argument of delusion. I remember him point[ing] to "In God We Trust." We were all over the place in this case. This case has left a vivid mark in my memory. I remember this testimony. I remember Mr. Smith.

(Id. at 105-06.)

The trial court denied Petitioner's motion following the hearing. People v. Smith, Index No. 213/97 (N.Y.Sup.Ct. Sept. 29, 2003.) The Appellate Division affirmed the denial of the § 440.10 motion, concluding that Mr. Meyer was not ineffective for failing to call Dr. Goldstein. People v. Smith, 4 A.D.3d 163, 772 N.Y.S.2d 34, 35 (N.Y.App.Div.2004). The Appellate Division also affirmed the conviction on direct appeal, finding that there was no need for the trial court to order a competency hearing sua sponte; the court's charge did not shift the burden of proving an element of the crime; and the challenge to the sentencing procedure was without merit. See id. Specifically with regard to

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the issue of the competency hearing, the Appellate Division noted, "[w]e see nothing in the record to indicate that the trial court improvidently exercised its discretion in failing to order, sua sponte, an article 730 examination to determine whether [Smith] was competent to stand trial. In this regard, we do not view the remarks made by the [trial] court during the CPL 440.10 hearing as an indication that the court viewed defendant as incompetent at the time of the...

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11 practice notes
  • Blakeney v. United States, Nos. 10–CO–1074
    • United States
    • District of Columbia Court of Appeals of Columbia District
    • October 3, 2013
    ...Hummel v. Rosemeyer, 564 F.3d 290, 298 (3d Cir.2009); United States v. Boigegrain, 155 F.3d 1181, 1188 (10th Cir.1998); Smith v. Rock, 554 F.Supp.2d 505, 521 (S.D.N.Y.2008); People v. Masterson, 8 Cal.4th 965, 35 Cal.Rptr.2d 679, 884 P.2d 136, 140 (1994); Cappelli v. Demlow, 935 P.2d 57, 62......
  • Oddy v. Gonyea, No. 9:18-cv-00425-JKS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of New York
    • July 1, 2020
    ...bizarre courtroom conduct, defense counsel's expression of doubt about the client's competence, or medical reports. Smith v. Rock, 554 F. Supp. 2d 505, 519 (S.D.N.Y. 2008) (citations omitted). The counseled Petition avers that Oddy suffers from numerous physical ailments and disabilities an......
  • Williams v. Superintendent, No. 9:17-cv-00380-JKS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of New York
    • September 24, 2018
    ...bizarre courtroom conduct, defense counsel's expression of doubt about the client's competence, or medical reports. Smith v. Rock, 554 F. Supp. 2d 505, 519 (S.D.N.Y. 2008) (citations omitted).Page 15 Here, the record indicates that, upon arrest, Williams was placed in the mental health sect......
  • Blalock v. Smith, 08 Civ. 7528 (JPO)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • August 13, 2012
    ...recommendation to which the petitioner does not object may be adopted absent a finding of clear error. Id.; see also Smith v. Rock, 554 F. Supp. 2d 505, 511 (S.D.N.Y. 2008). Accordingly, the Court reviews Petitioner's Brady claim de novo. Judge Pitman's recommendation on the state court's r......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
11 cases
  • Blakeney v. United States, Nos. 10–CO–1074
    • United States
    • District of Columbia Court of Appeals of Columbia District
    • October 3, 2013
    ...Hummel v. Rosemeyer, 564 F.3d 290, 298 (3d Cir.2009); United States v. Boigegrain, 155 F.3d 1181, 1188 (10th Cir.1998); Smith v. Rock, 554 F.Supp.2d 505, 521 (S.D.N.Y.2008); People v. Masterson, 8 Cal.4th 965, 35 Cal.Rptr.2d 679, 884 P.2d 136, 140 (1994); Cappelli v. Demlow, 935 P.2d 57, 62......
  • Oddy v. Gonyea, No. 9:18-cv-00425-JKS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of New York
    • July 1, 2020
    ...bizarre courtroom conduct, defense counsel's expression of doubt about the client's competence, or medical reports. Smith v. Rock, 554 F. Supp. 2d 505, 519 (S.D.N.Y. 2008) (citations omitted). The counseled Petition avers that Oddy suffers from numerous physical ailments and disabilities an......
  • Williams v. Superintendent, No. 9:17-cv-00380-JKS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of New York
    • September 24, 2018
    ...bizarre courtroom conduct, defense counsel's expression of doubt about the client's competence, or medical reports. Smith v. Rock, 554 F. Supp. 2d 505, 519 (S.D.N.Y. 2008) (citations omitted).Page 15 Here, the record indicates that, upon arrest, Williams was placed in the mental health sect......
  • Blalock v. Smith, 08 Civ. 7528 (JPO)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • August 13, 2012
    ...recommendation to which the petitioner does not object may be adopted absent a finding of clear error. Id.; see also Smith v. Rock, 554 F. Supp. 2d 505, 511 (S.D.N.Y. 2008). Accordingly, the Court reviews Petitioner's Brady claim de novo. Judge Pitman's recommendation on the state court's r......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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