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TRAMONTANA v. HENDRICKS

November 1, 2005.

WILLIAM TRAMONTANA, Petitioner,
v.
ROY L. HENDRICKS, et al., Respondents.



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

OPINION

William Tramontana filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Respondents filed an Answer, arguing that the Petition should be dismissed on the merits. Petitioner filed a Traverse. 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 September 25, 1997, in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, after a jury convicted him of first degree murder, felony murder, first degree robbery, third degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, and fourth degree unlawful possession of a weapon. The Law Division merged the murder and felony murder convictions and sentenced Petitioner to a life sentence, with a 30-year period of parole ineligibility on the murder conviction, and a consecutive 20-year term, with a 10-year period of parole ineligibility, on the robbery conviction. Petitioner appealed, arguing that the trial court's failure to instruct the jury on intoxication was error and that the court improperly imposed a consecutive sentence. In an opinion filed October 13, 1999, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey affirmed the convictions, vacated the sentence, and remanded for resentencing. On November 15, 1999, the Law Division resentenced Petitioner. The Law Division imposed the same sentence but ran the 20-year term concurrently with the life sentence. On January 28, 2000, the Supreme Court of New Jersey denied certification. State v. Tramontana, 163 N.J. 12 (2000) (table).

  Petitioner thereafter filed a petition for post conviction relief in the Law Division. Petitioner claimed ineffective assistance of counsel and an unjust sentence. The Law Division conducted an evidentiary hearing on the ineffective assistance claim and denied relief in an order filed November 27, 2000. Petitioner appealed on the ground that the trial court erred in concluding that counsel was effective under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. In an opinion filed October 3, 2002, the Appellate Division affirmed the order denying post conviction relief. The New Jersey Supreme Court denied certification on March 28, 2003. State v. Tramontana, 176 N.J. 73 (2003) (table).

  Petitioner executed the Petition which is now before the Court on July 9, 2003. The Clerk received it on July 11, 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 two grounds: (1) the failure to instruct the jury on intoxication violated Petitioner's Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and (2) trial counsel provided constitutionally ineffective assistance in violation of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. The State filed an Answer asserting no affirmative defenses and seeking dismissal of the Petition on the merits. Petitioner filed a Traverse.

  II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

  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).

  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). Where a federal claim was "adjudicated on the merits"*fn1 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 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, ___, 124 S.Ct. 2140, 2147 (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 look for "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).

  III. DISCUSSION

  A. Instructions

  In Ground One, Petitioner asserts that the trial court violated his constitutional rights by refusing to instruct the jury on the intoxication defense. Specifically, Petitioner asserts:
Ground One: Defendant's Sixth Amendment Right To A Fair Trial And Fourteenth Amendment Right To Due process Of Law Was Violated When The Trial Court Refused To Instruct The Jury On Intoxication.
(Pet. Addendum II, Ground I.) The government argues that New Jersey law did not permit the trial judge to give an intoxication charge or a manslaughter charge because the trial court properly found that there was no ...

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