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MANNING v. HENDRICKS

December 12, 2005.

JEFFREY MANNING, Petitioner,
v.
ROY L. HENDRICKS, et al., Respondents.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DENNIS CAVANAUGH, District Judge

OPINION

Jeffrey Manning filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a) challenging a judgment of conviction in the Superior Court of New Jersey. Respondents filed an Answer, arguing that the Petition should be dismissed on the merits. 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), §§ 2253(a), (b), (c). I. BACKGROUND

  Petitioner challenges a judgment of conviction entered on December 6, 1996, in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, after a jury convicted him of aggravated manslaughter in connection with the death of John Cherry, attempted murder of Gary Riley, two counts of first degree robbery, and related weapons offenses. The Law Division granted the State's motion to sentence Petitioner to a mandatory extended term as a second offender under the Graves Act, and sentenced him to a term of life imprisonment, with a 25-year period of parole ineligibility, for aggravated manslaughter, and a consecutive 20-year sentence, with 10 years of parole ineligibility, for attempted murder. Petitioner appealed. In an opinion filed December 7, 1998, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey affirmed. State v. Manning, Nos. A-4409-96T4, A-4411-96T4 (App.Div. Dec. 7, 1998). On February 17, 1999, the Supreme Court of New Jersey denied certification. State v. Manning, 158 N.J. 73 (1999) (table).

  On June 16, 1999, Petitioner filed his first State petition for post conviction relief in the Law Division. On February 29, 2000, the Law Division denied relief. Petitioner appealed, and in an opinion filed March 27, 2001, the Appellate Division affirmed the order denying post conviction relief. State v. Manning, No. A-3769-99T4 (App.Div. Mar. 27, 2001). The Supreme Court of New Jersey denied certification on July 6, 2001. State v. Manning, 169 N.J. 608 (2001) (table).

  Petitioner filed his second State petition for post conviction relief on August 31, 2001. The Law Division denied relief on August 8, 2002, and the Appellate Division affirmed in an opinion filed December 23, 2003. State v. Manning, No. A-969-02T2. The Supreme Court of New Jersey denied certification on April 26, 2004. State v. Manning, 180 N.J. 152 (2004) (table).

  Petitioner executed the Petition which is now before the Court on August 5, 2004. 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 five grounds, which are set forth below verbatim:
Ground One: THE COURT ERRED IN PROVIDING THE JURY WITH A CONFUSING AND CONTRADICTORY INSTRUCTION THAT IMPROPERLY DILUTED THE STATE'S BURDEN OF PROOF AS TO ALL OF THE UNDERLYING CHARGES, AND THEREBY VIOLATED PETITIONER'S FIFTH, SIXTH AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT RIGHTS UNDER THE FEDERAL CONSTITUTION.
Ground Two: SINCE THE STATE DID NOT PRODUCE EVIDENCE SUFFICIENT TO WARRANT A CONVICTION ON THE MURDER CHARGE, THE COURT ERRED IN FAILING TO DISMISS THAT CHARGE AT THE CLOSE OF THE STATE'S CASE, AND THEREBY VIOLATED PETITIONER'S FIFTH, SIXTH AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT RIGHTS UNDER THE FEDERAL CONSTITUTION.
Ground Three: THE COURT'S FAILURE TO INSTRUCT THE JURY THAT DEFENDANT'S ALIBI WITNESSES HAD NO DUTY TO SPEAK TO THE AUTHORITIES PRIOR TO TRIAL WAS ERROR, AND THAT SUCH VIOLATED PETITIONER'S FIFTH, SIXTH AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT RIGHTS UNDER THE FEDERAL CONSTITUTION.
Ground Four: THE PROSECUTOR COMMITTED MISCONDUCT BY COMMENTING ADVERSELY IN SUMMATION ON THE DEFENSE'S FAILURE TO CALL COLLATERAL WITNESSES, AND THE COURT COMPOUNDED THE ERROR BY FAILING TO PROVIDE A CURATIVE INSTRUCTION THEREBY VIOLATING PETITIONER'S FIFTH, SIXTH AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT RIGHTS UNDER THE FEDERAL CONSTITUTION.
Ground Five: DEFENSE COUNSEL'S NUMEROUS TRIAL ERRORS DEPRIVED DEFENDANT OF HIS SIXTH AMENDMENT RIGHT TO THE EFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL.
(Pet. ¶¶ 12.A.-12.E.)

  The State filed an Answer seeking dismissal of the Petition on the merits.

  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 ...


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