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CURTIS v. HENDRICKS

October 20, 2005.

JOHN ALLAN CURTIS, Petitioner,
v.
ROY L. HENDRICKS, et al., Respondents.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: STANLEY CHESLER, District Judge

OPINION

John Allan Curtis filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a) challenging a judgment of conviction filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, on April 4, 1996. Respondents filed an Answer, arguing, inter alia, that the Petition is untimely and that the claims presented are in any event without merit. For the reasons expressed below, the Court dismisses the Petition with prejudice 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 April 4, 1996, in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, after he waived the right to counsel and a jury found him guilty of third degree conspiracy, 17 counts of third degree burglary, and 33 counts of third degree theft. After merging the conspiracy count, the Law Division sentenced Petitioner to an aggregate term of 40 years imprisonment, with a 20-year period of parole ineligibility. Petitioner appealed and in an opinion filed November 30, 1998, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey affirmed. The Supreme Court of New Jersey denied certification on March 16, 1999. State v. Curtis, 160 N.J. 89 (1999) (table).

  On May 26, 1999, Petitioner executed a petition for post-conviction relief which he filed in the Law Division. The law Division denied relief on April 14, 2000. Petitioner appealed and in an opinion filed March 28, 2002, the Appellate Division affirmed the order denying post-conviction relief in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further development of Petitioner's claim that he was in prison when several of the burglary and theft by unlawful taking offenses occurred. Petitioner filed a petition for certification of the Appellate Division decision of March 28, 2002, which affirmed denial of post-conviction relief. The Supreme Court of New Jersey denied certification on July 16, 2002. State v. Curtis, 174 N.J. 192 (2002) (table).

  Petitioner filed a motion in the Law Division to dismiss counts 62 and 131 of the indictment and on February 21, 2003, the Law Division granted the motion. The Law Division filed an amended judgment of conviction on May 5, 2003, re-sentencing Petitioner to an aggregate 40-year term, with an 20-year period of parole ineligibility. Petitioner executed the § 2254 Petition which is now before this Court on April 23, 2003. The Clerk received it on April 30, 2003. 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 four grounds, which are set forth verbatim:
Ground One: Conviction obtained by use of evidence gained pursuant to an unconstitutional search and seizure.
Ground Two: Conviction obtained by use of evidence obtained pursuant to an unlawful arrest.
Ground Three: Conviction obtained by the unconstitutional failure of the prosecution to disclose to the defendant evidence favorable to the defendant.
Ground Four: Denial of effective assistance of counsel.
(Pet. ¶ 12.)

  The State filed an Answer opposing the Petition, arguing that the Petition is untimely and none of the grounds satisfy the standard for habeas corpus relief. Petitioner filed a Traverse.

  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. See 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 States.
28 U.S.C. § 2254(a).

  "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. 19 (1982).

  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.*fn1 Nor may the Court recharacterize a ground asserted under state law into a federal constitutional claim.*fn2 "[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).

  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"*fn3 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 th[e Supreme] Court and nevertheless arrives at a [different] result." Rompilla v. Horn, 355 ...


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