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Correa v. Ryan

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

October 20, 2016

GEORGE CORREA, Petitioner,
KELLY RYAN, Superintendent, Massachusetts Correctional Institute - Shirley Respondent.




         George Correa ("Correa") brings this petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 against Kelly Ryan ("Respondent''), the superintendent of the Massachusetts Correctional Institute - Shirley. Correa seeks to vacate a decision of the Massachusetts Appeals Court affirming his conviction in the Middlesex County Superior Court for breaking and entering in the daytime with the intent to commit a felony. Pet. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 Writ Habeas Corpus ("Habeas Pet.") 16, ECF. No. 1. He argues that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury's guilty verdict, and that his conviction therefore violates his due process rights. Id. at 6.

         A. Factual Background[1]

         On May 19, 2009, the victim left her ground floor apartment in Newton, Massachusetts, after locking the front door but leaving the back window slightly open, with childproof locks engaged. Resp't's Suppl. Answer ("S.A.") 00256-58.[2] Her back windows faced a private patio which was accessible through a door in the apartment. Id. at 00249-50. The victim returned to her apartment later that same day. Id. at 00257-58. After unlocking the front door, an intruder ran toward her, grabbed her by the shoulders, and said: "Get out of here." Id. at 00257-60. She asked who he was, to which the intruder replied: "Just get out of here." Id. at 00260-61. The victim ran out of her apartment yelling and was eventually let into a neighbor's apartment, where she called 911. Id. at 00261.

         The police arrived shortly after. Id. at 00287-89. From outside the victim's apartment, a Newton police officer observed indications of a break-in at the back window, including broken locks and a removed screen. Id. at 00289-90, 00309-10. Upon entering the apartment, the police observed other signs of a break-in, and the victim noticed several personal and valuable items missing. Id. at 00292-93, 00262-63. None of the stolen items were ever recovered. Id. at 00280, 00332.

         After dusting for fingerprints inside and outside the victim's apartment, detectives from the Newton Police Department located two fingerprints on the outside bottom part of the back window whose locks had been snapped off. Id. at 00311-16. A police fingerprint analyst received the two fingerprints found on the back window together with the victim's fingerprint card. Id. at 00421. He determined that one of the two fingerprints was of "good quality." Id. at 00423. Later comparison with the victim's fingerprints determined that the window fingerprint was not hers. Id. at 00424. The window fingerprint was then compared to a fingerprint card from Correa which the police had in their records.[3] Id. at 00454. Using the analysis, comparison, evaluation, and verification ("ACE-V") method, police found that the window fingerprint matched that of Correa's left thumb. Id. at 00414-20, 00426-28, 00454. Two other fingerprint analysts later verified and confirmed the positive match. Id. at 00486-97, 00507-20.

         B. Procedural History

         A Middlesex County grand jury indicted Correa for: (1) breaking and entering in the daytime with the intent to commit a felony, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 266, § 18; (2) larceny from a building, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 266, § 20; and (3) assault and battery, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, § 13A(a). S.A. 00050-52. Following a jury trial in the Middlesex County Superior Court, Correa was found guilty of the first of these offenses on December 1, 2011. Id. at 00054-62. The presiding judge also found Correa guilty of being a habitual offender under Massachusetts law. Id. Correa was sentenced to a total of ten years in state prison, from and after a sentence he was already serving. Id. at 00006.

         Correa appealed his conviction to the Massachusetts Appeals Court ("Appeals Court"). S.A. 00063, 00010. On March 12, 2014, the Appeals Court affirmed Correa's conviction. Commonwealth v. Correa, No. 14-P-346, 2015 WL 1443196, at *2 (Mass App. Ct. Apr. I, 2015). Correa then sought further appellate review by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which was denied. Commonwealth v. Correa, 471 Mass. 1104 (2015). Having exhausted his state appeals, Correa filed a timely petition for writ of habeas corpus in this Court on October 30, 2015, Habeas Pet., followed by a supporting memorandum on January 29, 2016, Mem. Supp. Pet. Habeas Corpus ("Pet'r's Mem."), ECF No. 22. The Commonwealth filed a memorandum opposing Correa's habeas petition on August 22, 2016. Resp't's Opp'n Pet. Habeas Corpus ("Resp't's Opp'n"), ECF No. 25.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Correa argues that his conviction violates his due process rights because the jury was presented with insufficient evidence from which to infer his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Pet'r's Mem. 7. Specifically, Correa argues that the prosecution "failed to present evidence [at trial] establishing the [window] fingerprint was left during the commission of the crime, " and "thus, no rational trier of fact could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. Respondent maintains that the jury's verdict is supported by ample evidence and that Correa's conviction ought stand, particularly in light of the legal standards applicable at this juncture. See Resp't's Mem. 7-16.

         A. Legal Framework

         Petitions for habeas corpus by a person in custody seeking relief from a state court decision are governed by 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214. Further, claims based on alleged due process violations arising out of insufficient evidence are governed by Jacksonv.Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (1979). The Court ...

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