United States District Court, D. New Jersey
October 3, 2005.
KARL McCALLA, a/k/a FRANCIS NEWTON, Petitioner,
CHARLES GREINER, et al., Respondents.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: DICKINSON DEBEVOISE, Senior District Judge
Karl McCalla, a prisoner who is confined at Green Haven
Correctional Facility in New York State, filed a Petition for a
Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a) challenging
a New Jersey sentence.*fn1 Respondents filed an Answer,
arguing that Petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief. Petitioner
filed a Traverse. For the reasons expressed below, the Court
dismisses the Petition on the merits and declines to issue a
certificate of appealability. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 2253(c), 2254.
Petitioner challenges a judgment of conviction entered in the
Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, on
October 24, 1997, after a jury found him guilty of possession of
cocaine with intent to distribute in the first degree and
possession of cocaine. The Court sentenced Petitioner to a term
of 50 years, consecutive to his New York sentence. Petitioner
appealed and on February 18, 2000, the Appellate Division
affirmed the conviction and sentence. On June 7, 2000, the
Supreme Court of New Jersey denied certification.
On August 14, 2001, Petitioner executed the § 2254 Petition
which is now before this Court. The Clerk received the Petition
on August 21, 2001. The Court notified Petitioner of the
consequences of filing such a Petition under the Antiterrorism
and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA") and gave him an
opportunity to withdraw the Petition and file one all-inclusive
Petition, pursuant to Mason v. Meyers, 208 F.3d 414 (3d Cir.
2000). The Petition presents the following grounds: POINT 1: DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS THE EVIDENCE
SHOULD HAVE BEEN GRANTED, BECAUSE HIS BEING ORDERED
FROM THE CAR CONSTITUTED AN ILLEGAL SEIZURE VIOLATING
THE UNITED STATES AND THE NEW JERSEY CONSTITUTIONS.
POINT II: DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR A JUDGMENT OF
ACQUITTAL SHOULD HAVE BEEN GRANTED.
POINT III: DEFENDANT'S SENTENCE MUST BE MODIFIED
[BECAUSE] THE TRIAL COURT ERRED BY IMPOSING AN
(Pet. Legal Argument.)
The State filed an Answer opposing the Petition, with copies of
relevant portions of the state court record. Respondents concede
that the Petition is timely and the claims are fully exhausted.
Respondents argue that Petitioner's claims are not cognizable
and, to the extent that they are cognizable, they do not warrant
Petitioner filed a Traverse in which he contends that he is
entitled to a writ because the adjudication of his claims in the
New Jersey courts resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or
involved an unreasonable interpretation of, clearly established
federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
A habeas corpus petition must meet "heightened pleading
requirements." McFarland v. Scott, 512 U.S. 849, 856 (1994)
(citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254 Rule 2(c)). The petition must specify
all the grounds for relief available to the petitioner, state the facts supporting each ground, and state the relief requested.
28 U.S.C. § 2254 Rule 2(c)(1), (c)(2), (c)(3).
Section 2254(a) of Title 28 of the United States Code gives the
court jurisdiction to entertain a habeas petition challenging a
state conviction or sentence only where the inmate's custody
violates federal law:
[A] district court shall entertain an application for
a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person in
custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court
only on the ground that he is in custody in violation
of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the
28 U.S.C. § 2254(a).
A district court must give deference to determinations of state
courts. Duncan v. Morton, 256 F.3d 189, 196 (3d Cir.), cert.
denied, 534 U.S. 919 (2001); Dickerson v. Vaughn, 90 F.3d 87,
90 (3d Cir. 1996). Federal courts "must presume that the factual
findings of both state trial and appellate courts are correct, a
presumption that can only be overcome on the basis of clear and
convincing evidence to the contrary." Stevens v. Delaware
Correctional Center, 295 F.3d 361, 368 (3d Cir. 2002).
Where a federal claim was "adjudicated on the merits" in state
court proceedings, § 2254 does not permit habeas relief unless
adjudication of the claim
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or
involved an unreasonable application of, clearly
established Federal Law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States;
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an
unreasonable determination of the facts in light of
the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.
28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).
A decision is "`contrary to' a Supreme Court holding if the
state court `contradicts the governing law set forth in [the
Supreme Court's] cases' or if it `confronts a set of facts that
are materially indistinguishable from a decision of th[e Supreme]
Court and nevertheless arrives at a [different] result."
Rompilla v. Horn, 355 F.3d 233, 250 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting
Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)).
Under the "`unreasonable application' clause, a federal habeas
court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the
correct governing legal principle from th[e Supreme] Court's
decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of
the prisoner's case." Williams, 529 U.S. at 413. Whether a
state court's application of federal law is "unreasonable" must
be judged objectively; an application may be incorrect, but still
not unreasonable. Id. at 409-10.
"In conducting habeas review, a federal court is limited to
deciding whether a conviction violated the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." Estelle v. McGuire,
502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991); 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); accord Barry v. Bergen
County Probation Dept., 128 F.3d 152, 159 (3d Cir. 1997).
"Federal courts hold no supervisory authority over state judicial
proceedings and may intervene only to correct wrongs of
constitutional dimension." Smith v. Phillips, 455 U.S. 209, 221
(1982). "If a state prisoner alleges no deprivation of a federal
right, § 2254 is simply inapplicable. It is unnecessary in such a
situation to inquire whether the prisoner preserved his claim
before the state courts." Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107, 120 n.
In reviewing a § 2254 petition, a federal court is not
permitted to address a federal constitutional claim pertinent to
the facts of the case unless the petitioner asserts the claim as
a ground for relief.*fn2 Nor may the Court recharacterize a
ground asserted under state law into a federal constitutional
claim. See Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27 (2004); Engle,
456 U.S. at 119-20 & n. 19; Kontakis v. Beyer, 19 F.3d 110, 116-17 & n. 10 (3d
Cir. 1994). "[E]rrors of state law cannot be repackaged as
federal errors simply by citing the Due Process Clause." Johnson
v. Rosemeyer, 117 F.3d 104, 110 (3d Cir. 1997). Moreover, "it is
well established that a state court's misapplication of its own
law does not generally raise a constitutional claim." Smith v.
Horn, 120 F.3d 400, 414 (3d Cir. 1997) (citations and internal
quotation marks omitted); see also Smith v. Zimmerman,
768 F.2d 69, 71, 73 (3d Cir. 1985).
Petitioner's grounds are not cognizable under § 2254 because
they do not present federal constitutional claims. Ground One
asserts that the order directing Petitioner to get out of the car
constituted an illegal seizure in violation of the United States
and New Jersey Constitutions. However, in the argument Petitioner
cites Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106 (1977), for the
proposition that the Fourth Amendment reasonableness analysis
does not prevent a police officer from compelling a driver to
exit the vehicle during a traffic stop. To support Ground One,
Petitioner relies on the Supreme Court of New Jersey's
determination in State v. Smith, 134 N.J. 599, 618 (1994), not
to extend Mimms to passengers absent "specific and articulable
facts that would warrant heightened caution." Likewise, the
Appellate Division opinion affirming Petitioner's conviction
noted that, while the United States Constitution does not
prohibit a police officer from directing a passenger out of a vehicle as an
incident of a traffic stop, (citing Maryland v. Wilson,
519 U.S. 408 (1997)), Petitioner's claim rested on the New Jersey
Constitution. See State v. Newton, A-1962-97T4 slip op.
(Super.Ct. of N.J., App. Div. Feb. 18, 2000) (Answer, Ex. 11.)
Because Petitioner's claim is based on the New Jersey
Constitution, this Court lacks jurisdiction over Ground
In Ground Two, Petitioner argues that the trial court erred by
denying his motion for judgment a acquittal at the close of the
state's case. Relying on State v. Reyes, 50 N.J. 454 (1967),
State v. Shipp, 216 N.J. Super. 662 (App.Div. 1987), and other
state cases, Petitioner argues that, because he was in a
passenger in a car in which the police found drugs, the evidence
was insufficient to support a finding of his knowing and
While a petitioner may assert a sufficiency of the evidence
claim under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,
see Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318 (1979), Petitioner does not raise such a claim.*fn4 Petitioner neither mentions
the Due Process Clause nor relies on any federal case. And the
case law which he cites interpret New Jersey law. As the claim
presented in Ground Two is based on New Jersey law, this Court
lacks jurisdiction over the claim under § 2254.
In Ground Three, Petitioner asserts that the trial court erred
by imposing a 50-year extended term as a persistent offender
because the two prior convictions on which the state relied
involved were not "committed at different times," as required by
N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:44-3a. Petitioner further argues in Ground
Three that the trial court erred by considering inappropriate
aggravating factors and failing to consider mitigating factors,
contrary to New Jersey law.
Petitioner does not assert that his sentence violates the
United States Constitution. Moreover, absent a claim that a
sentence constitutes cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by
the Eighth Amendment or that it is arbitrary or otherwise in
violation of due process, the legality of a sentence is a
question of state law. See Chapman v. United States, 500 U.S. 453, 465 (1991); Gryger v. Burke, 334 U.S. 728, 731 (1948);
Jones v. Superintendent of Rahway State Prison, 725 F.2d 40,
42-43 (3d Cir. 1984). Ground Three is not cognizable under § 2254
because it does not assert a federal constitutional claim.
The Court has thoroughly reviewed each of the grounds raised in
the Petition and determined that habeas relief is not warranted.
The Court will therefore dismiss the Petition.
C. Certificate of Appealability
The Court denies a certificate of appealability because
Petitioner has not made "a substantial showing of the denial of a
constitutional right" under 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). See
Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322 (2003).
Based on the foregoing, the Court dismisses the Petition and
declines to issue a certificate of appealability under
28 U.S.C. § 2253(c).
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