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ECHEVARRI v. MacFARLAND

December 14, 2005.

LUIS ECHEVARRI, Petitioner,
v.
KATHRYN E. MacFARLAND, et al., Respondents.



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

OPINION

Petitioner, Luis Echevarri, filed the within petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Respondents have filed an Answer and the state court record. The Court has considered all submissions. For the reasons set forth below, the Petition will be denied. BACKGROUND

  1. Factual Background

  The facts of this case were recounted below and this Court, affording the state court's factual determinations the appropriate deference, see 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1),*fn1 will simply reproduce the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division's ("Appellate Division") factual recitation:
On August 26, 1994, after work, defendant went out with his friends. He drove a van that he was permitted to use by his employer. They went to the Village Bar and Grill where defendant drank "a lot" of beer and a "few shots" of whisky. During a telephone call that he made to his family in Puerto Rico from the bar that evening, he learned that his grandmother had died. Defendant became depressed and drank some more, trying to forget about the death of his grandmother and the fact that he was not with his own children. To further add to his disturbed mental state, while defendant was driving his friends home, he was stopped by the police and ticketed for drunk driving, carrying an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle, improper passing, crossing a double line, reckless driving, and driving without a license. After police processing, defendant eventually retrieved the van and, along the way, continued drinking beer.
He woke up the next morning in the van in his friend's driveway. From there, he drove the van to his job, but no one was there. He tried to work, was "so drunk that [he] couldn't do [any]thing," closed the shop, went to the van, and continued to drink. In the van, defendant noticed a gun "on the engine," which he picked up and put to his head. Defendant tried to shoot himself twice, but the gun did not go off. He told the jury that he wanted to kill himself because he "just wanted to finish [his] life because of [his] kids and [his] grandmother and everything." He claimed that he fired the gun until it was empty and claimed that, until that day, he had never handled a gun. Although defendant could not remember how the gun got in the van, he did remember that he had been given the gun and a case of bullets two weeks earlier as collateral by someone to whom he had loaned some money. Following his unsuccessful attempt at shooting himself, defendant went to his friend's house for a while and then went back to the bar he had been in the night before to "get more drunk." According to the defendant, he started drinking beer, put his head on the counter, "[a]nd I don't remember nothing else," until waking up in jail.
The ensuing events, which defendant claimed not to remember, began with a first degree robbery inside the bar, and led to a "cops and robbers" police chase the likes of which are normally only portrayed on television. Following his eventual arrest, defendant was given his Miranda rights and interrogated by police.
(Respondents' Appendix "Ra" 6 at pp. 3-5). The Appellate Division further noted that Petitioner then gave what appeared to be a voluntary formal statement to police, which was read to the jury, and that Petitioner did not appear to be under the influence at the time of his statement. Although Petitioner claimed at trial that he did not remember anything that occurred after he put his head down on the bar, in his statement he recounted to police that while in the bar, he saw a man take coins from a machine and decided he would rob them so that the police would be called, and that he wanted to pretend to shoot at police so that they would shoot and kill him. In his statement he also recalled some of the police chase, and speculated that he did not pull over during the chase because he thought it would have been easier for the police to shoot him in the van. He did not remember shooting at anyone while in the van, but said that it was possible the gun fired accidentally during the pursuit. (Ra6 at pp. 5-6).

  During trial, Petitioner stated that he remembered certain events, and did not remember other events. (Ra6 at pp. 6-7).

  2. Procedural History

  On March 15, 1995, a Monmouth County Grand Jury indicted the petitioner on seventy-eight counts, including: possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, aggravated assault, armed robbery, terroristic threats, attempted murder, eluding, hindering apprehension, resisting arrest, unlawful possession of a weapon, and acquiring a handgun without a permit.*fn2

  After pretrial motions were heard, Petitioner was tried by jury for nine days, spanning from April 15th through May 1, 1997, in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County ("Law Division").*fn3 The jury found the petitioner guilty on certain counts of the indictment, and not guilty on other counts. On July 2, 1997, Petitioner was sentenced to an aggregate sentence of thirty years imprisonment with an 11-year period of parole ineligibility.

  Petitioner appealed his conviction and sentence. In a per curiam decision dated May 14, 1999, the Appellate Division affirmed the conviction and sentence with one minor exception that is not applicable here. (Ra6). An amended judgment of conviction was filed on May 18, 1999 in trial court. On September 9, 1999, Petitioner's petition for certification was denied by the New Jersey Supreme Court. (Ra9).

  Petitioner filed a motion for Post-Conviction Relief ("PCR") in the trial court on or about November 16, 1999. On October 24, 2000, the petition was denied in an oral opinion without an evidentiary hearing. An Order denying the petition was filed on October 27, 2000. (Ra12). The petitioner appealed the denial, and on September 30, 2003, the denial was affirmed by the Appellate Division. (Ra16). Petitioner's petition for certification to the New Jersey Supreme Court was denied on February 13, 2004. (Ra 19).

  The instant petition was received and filed on February 14, 2005. On February 22, 2005, Petitioner was advised of his rights pursuant to Mason v. Meyers, 208 F.3d 414 (3d Cir. 2000). On June 6, 2005, Respondents filed an Answer and the state court record.

  PETITIONER'S CLAIMS

  Petitioner asserts that his counsel was ineffective in violation of his constitutional rights. He argues that counsel was ineffective because: (1) trial counsel failed to ensure that Petitioner had the services of a Spanish interpreter to translate discovery documents; (2) trial counsel failed to object to the testimony of a detective who testified as to trajectory of bullets and was not first qualified as an expert; (3) trial counsel failed to investigate and elicit direct or cross-examinations from one of the State's witnesses, who initially told police that Petitioner wanted to kill a policeman, but later recanted the statement; and (4) trial counsel failed to properly prepare for trial, and consult with Petitioner. (Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, ¶ 12).

  Petitioner has raised the instant claims before the New Jersey state courts. Therefore, they are properly before this Court for a decision on the merits. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1). To the extent that any of the claims are not exhausted, this Court exercises its discretion to decide ...


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