United States District Court, D. New Jersey
October 4, 2005.
EDWARD LOCKE, Petitioner,
ROY L. HENDRICKS, et al., Respondents.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOSE LINARES, District Judge
Edward Locke, serving a life sentence for felony murder, filed
a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Respondents filed an Answer, arguing, inter alia,
that the Petition is an unexhausted mixed petition and that the
claims presented are in any event without merit. For the reasons
expressed below, the Court dismisses the Petition and declines to
issue a certificate of appealability. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 2253(c),
2254(a), (b), (c). I. BACKGROUND
Petitioner challenges a judgment of conviction entered on
January 9, 1995, and amended on May 2, 1997, in the Superior
Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, after a jury
convicted him of felony murder, aggravated manslaughter,
first-degree robbery and second-degree burglary. The Court
sentenced Petitioner to life imprisonment with a 30-year period
of parole ineligibility for felony murder, to a consecutive term
of 20 years imprisonment, with 10 years of parole ineligibility
for first degree-robbery, and concurrent sentences on the
aggravated manslaughter and burglary convictions.
Petitioner appealed and by opinion filed April 29, 1997, the
Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey affirmed
the convictions and remanded for entry of an amended judgment
merging the conviction for aggravated manslaughter into the
felony murder conviction. State v. Locke, N. A-4116-94T4 (App.
Div. Apr. 29, 1997). The Supreme Court of New Jersey denied
certification on July 11, 1997.
On October 31, 1997, Petitioner filed a petition for post
conviction relief ("PCR") in the Law Division, followed by a
supplemental petition. In a written opinion dated October 25,
1999, the Law Division denied relief. In an opinion filed April
16, 2001, the Appellate Division affirmed the order denying PCR.
On September 20, 2001, the Supreme Court of New Jersey denied
The Clerk received Petitioner's initial Petition October 22,
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). On December 3, 2001, Petitioner executed an almost identical Petition. This
Court construed the petition as an amended Petition and ordered
Respondents to answer it.
The amended Petition presents four grounds, which are set forth
Ground One: Constitutionally, the due process clause
protect[s] the accused, the State must prove beyond a
Supporting Facts: the events surrounding the
hospitalization and death of the victim remain
problematical and the actual cause of death of the
victim remain[s] debatable.
Ground Two: Trial Court violated defendant due
process right to a fair trial and law.
Supporting Facts: Trial court by instructing
unsupported first degree murder prejudice[d]
defendant, trial court abuse it[s] discretion without
affording defendant full evidentiary hearing, by
failure to caution jury of out of court statement
deprived defendant of fair trial.
Ground Three: the right to trial by jury hold a
hallowed place, the right must remain inviolated.
Supporting Facts: (1) The felony murder verdict was
not properly rendered, this verdict does not set
forth the finding of first degree guilt; (2) Facts
can be intelligently understood by the trier of facts
which province was violated.
Ground Four: Defendant [has] been denied the
effective assistance of counsel.
Supporting Facts: Defendant established a claim of
ineffective assistance of counsel by not
investigating and failure of medical experts and
develop a defense available to defendant[`s] case.
(Pet. ¶ 12.A. to 12.D.) The State filed an Answer seeking dismissal of the amended
Petition, arguing that the Court lacks jurisdiction over three
claims because they assert violation of state law, and that the
ineffective assistance of counsel claim does not satisfy the
standard for habeas relief.*fn1
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 United
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"*fn2 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; or
(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 the 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. A court begins the analysis by determining the relevant clearly
established law. See Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652,
660 (2004). Clearly established law "refers to the holdings, as
opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme Court's] decisions as of
the time of the relevant state-court decision." Williams,
529 U.S. at 412. A court must determine "the governing legal
principle or principles set forth by the Supreme Court at the
time the state court renders its decision." Lockyer v. Andrade,
538 U.S. 63, 71-72 (2003).
A. Non-Cognizable Claims
"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, 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.*fn3 Nor may the Court recharacterize a
ground asserted under state law into a federal constitutional claim.*fn4 "[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, "[i]t 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).
In Ground Two, Petitioner challenges his conviction on the
ground that the trial judge violated his right to due process of
law by denying a "fair trial and law." As supporting facts, the
amended Petition states that the trial court abused its
discretion by denying an evidentiary hearing and failing to
caution the jury regarding his out of court statement. In the
Brief, Petitioner states that his post conviction relief
application presented newly discovered evidence that the Coumadin
which the victim was taking can cause a subdural hematoma in the
absence of trauma. Petitioner argues that the State courts
improperly determined that the effect of Coumadin was fully
explored at trial and that, in light of the newly discovered
evidence, the instruction on first degree murder violated due
process. Petitioner in effect argues in Ground Two that the Coumadin,
rather than his kicking and punching the victim in the left
temple, caused the subdural hematoma. This claim does not state a
constitutional claim, however. "Claims of actual innocence based
on newly discovered evidence have never been held to state a
ground for federal habeas relief absent an independent
constitutional violation occurring in the underlying state
criminal proceeding." Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390, 400
(1993). As Ground Two presents no independent constitutional
violation, his claim of newly discovered evidence of actual
innocence is not cognizable.
Ground Three asserts a violation of the right to trial by jury
because the verdict did not set forth the finding of the degree
of murder and because the jury's province as fact finder was
violated. Petitioner elaborates upon this ground in the Brief. He
argues that, under New Jersey court rules, "if a jury returns a
verdict of guilty without designating degree of murder of which
accused is guilty as regarded by statute, verdict is fatally
defective and no judgment can be legally pronounced thereon."
(Brief of Petitioner at 6.) In the Brief, Petitioner further
argues that the expert witness who testified at the trial that
the hematoma was a life-threatening injury, as defined by New
Jersey law, improperly usurped the jury's function of determining
facts and the judge's function of determining law, and thereby
deprived him of a fair trial. (Id. at 7.)
The question of whether felony murder under N.J. Stat. Ann. §
2C:11-3a(3) has only one degree or has a lesser included offense
is a question of New Jersey law that this Court lacks
jurisdiction to entertain. Likewise, the meaning of
"life-threatening" injury is a question of New Jersey law which
is not cognizable under § 2254. B. Sufficiency of Evidence
In Ground One, Petitioner asserts that the state did not prove
beyond a reasonable doubt that the Coumadin taken by the victim
was not the cause of the subdural hematoma resulting in death, as
opposed to his conduct of kicking or punching the victim in the
left temple. The Court construes this as a claim challenging the
sufficiency of the evidence.
A sufficiency of the evidence claim is governed by Jackson v.
Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318 (1979). In Jackson v. Virginia,
the Supreme Court determined that, "in a challenge to a state
criminal conviction brought under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 if the
settled procedural prerequisites for such a claim have otherwise
been satisfied the applicant is entitled to habeas corpus
relief if it is found that upon the record evidence adduced at
the trial no rational trier of fact could have found proof of
guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. at 324. The Court
instructed a federal habeas corpus court "faced with a record of
historical facts that supports conflicting inferences [to]
presume even if it does not affirmatively appear in the record
that the trier of fact resolved any such conflicts in favor of
the prosecution, and [to] defer to that resolution." Id. at
326. The Court emphasized that "the standard . . . does not
permit a court to make its own subjective determination of guilt
or innocence." Id. at 320, n. 13.
In this case, Petitioner argued on direct appeal that the
jury's verdict was against the weight of the evidence and that
the evidence was insufficient to support a finding that the
victim's injuries constituted serious bodily injury as defined by
New Jersey law. On direct appeal, the Appellate Division
adjudicated these claims and determined that the state had
presented sufficient evidence. For example, the Appellate
Division noted that the medical examiner testified that he had
performed an autopsy and concluded that "the cause of [the victim's] death was cerebral edema as a direct result of the
subdural hematoma which in turn resulted from blunt impact . . .
[which] was more consistent with shaking or being kicked than
with falling." State v. Locke, No. A-4116-94T4, slip opinion at
7, (App.Div. April 29, 1997).
The New Jersey Courts' adjudication of Petitioner's sufficiency
of the evidence claim was not contrary to, or an unreasonable
application of, Jackson v. Virginia, and Petitioner is
accordingly not entitled to habeas relief on Ground One.
C. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
Petitioner argues in Ground Four that his trial counsel was
constitutionally deficient because he failed to investigate and
failed to develop a defense. In his Brief, Petitioner argues that
trial counsel failed to provide expert medical testimony
establishing that the Coumadin was either the cause of the
victim's cerebral hematoma or a substantial intervening cause of
death. (Brief at 9.)
A claim that counsel's assistance was so defective as to
require reversal of a conviction has two components, both of
which must be satisfied. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. First,
the defendant must "show that counsel's representation fell below
an objective standard of reasonableness." Id. at 688. "A
convicted defendant making a claim of ineffective assistance must
identify the acts or omissions of counsel that are alleged not to
have been the result of reasonable professional judgment." Id.
at 690. The court must then determine whether, in light of all
the circumstances at the time, the identified errors were so
serious that they were outside the wide range of professionally
competent assistance. Id. Second, the defendant must show that
"there is a reasonable probability that, absent the errors, the
factfinder would have had a reasonable doubt respecting guilt."
Id. at 695. The Appellate Division considered Petitioner's ineffective
assistance of counsel claims in his appeal from the denial of
post conviction relief. The Appellate Division determined that
Petitioner failed to satisfy the defective performance prong in
that he "failed to meet his burden and counsel's decision not to
present certain witnesses or investigate will, therefore, be
viewed as a strategic decision." State v. Locke, No.
A-2122-99T4, slip op. at 12 (App.Div. April 16, 2001). The
Appellate Division also determined that Petitioner failed to
satisfy the prejudice prong:
Defendant submits that he clearly has established the
prejudice required under Cronic, supra,
466 U.S. at 648 . . . but his argument is barren of any proof
to support such a claim. Instead, defendant merely
alleges that his counsel was ineffective in the
following respects (1) trial counsel was ineffective
in not securing an expert and providing the jury with
medical testimony establishing that the mediation
either was itself the cause of the cerebral hematoma
or was a substantial intervening cause of death which
would have relieved the defendant of criminal
liability for the death of the victim; (2) trial
counsel failed to object to Dr. Schulder's testimony
that the victim received a "life threatening" injury,
thereby permitting the witness to render improper
expert testimony; (3) after defendant stated that he
believed himself to be insane, defense counsel failed
to develop the defense of diminished capacity, which
would have relieved the defendant of criminal
liability for the death of the victim; and (4)
defense counsel's failure to object to portions of
the prosecutor's summation allowed an improper
"motive" argument, and improper personal opinions to
be presented to the jury. Defendant fails to support
his claims with any authority. See State v.
Hightower, 120 N.J. 378, 407-08 (1990) (holding the
defendant was not prejudiced by defense counsel's
failure to object to prosecutor's prejudicial comment
to jury); State v. Compton, 304 N.J. Super. 477,
488 (App.Div. 1997) (holding that defendant was not
prejudiced by trial counsel's failure to object or
raise questions to expert testimony). Because
defendant cannot overcome the burden of proof
necessary to establish a prima facie case of
ineffective assistance of counsel, he was not
entitled to a full evidentiary hearing on the matter. State v. Locke, No. A-2122-99T4, slip op. at 113-14.
Petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claim fails
because Petitioner has not shown that the Appellate Division's
ruling resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved
an unreasonable application of Strickland.
D. 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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