United States District Court, D. New Jersey
December 15, 2005.
YVES DUVAIS, Petitioner,
TERRANCE MOORE, Respondent.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOSEPH GREENAWAY JR., District Judge
Yves Duvais filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus
pursuant, to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a), challenging a conviction in the
Superior Court of New Jersey. Respondents filed an Answer, with
relevant portions of the state court record, arguing that the
Petition should be dismissed on the merits. For the reasons
expressed below, this 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).
Petitioner challenges a judgment of conviction entered on
September 25, 2000, in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law
Division, Essex County, after a jury convicted him of first
degree aggravated manslaughter, unlawful possession of a weapon,
and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. The Law
Division merged the weapons offenses and sentenced Petitioner to
a 13-year term of imprisonment, with an 85% parole ineligibility
period on the manslaughter charge, and a concurrent four-year
term on the weapons charges. Petitioner appealed, and in an
opinion filed January 2, 2003, the Appellate Division of the
Superior Court of New Jersey affirmed. State v. Duvais, No.
A-3324-00T4 slip op. (App.Div. Jan. 2, 2003). On February 28,
2003, the Supreme Court of New Jersey denied certification.
State v. Duvais, 175 N.J. 550 (2003) (table).
On February 9, 2004, Petitioner executed his § 2254 Petition
and handed it to prison officials for mailing to the Clerk of the
Court. The Clerk received it on February 13, 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 two grounds:
Ground One: THE TESTIMONY OF INVESTIGATOR RICHARD
GREGORY WHICH INTRODUCED THE ADMISSION OF A
NON-TESTIFYING CODEFENDANT ALBERT'S STATEMENT INTO THE TRIAL AND HIS TESTIMONY
ABOUT PETITIONER HAD A CRIMINAL RECORD, VIOLATED
PETITIONER'S RIGHT TO CONFRONT WITNESS AGAINST HIM AS
WELL AS HIS RIGHT TO HAVE A FAIR AND IMPARTIAL TRIAL,
IN VIOLATION OF THE SIXTH AMENDMENT OF CONFRONTATION
AND THE FOURTEEN [sic] AMENDMENT UNDER THE FEDERAL
AND STATE CONSTITUTIONS. U.S. CONST. AMEND. VI,
Ground Two: THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN ADMITTING THE
OUT-OF-COURT PHOTOGRAPHIC IDENTIFICATION BY EDSON
ELYSEE DESPITE THE ABSENCE OF ANY EVIDENCE OF ITS
RELIABILITY OR THE FAIRNESS OF THE IDENTIFICATION
PROCEDURE. THE COURT FURTHER FAILED TO PROVIDE THE
JURY WITH AN IDENTIFICATION CHARGE WITH RESPECT [TO]
THE OUT-OF-COURT IDENTIFICATION BY ELYSEE AND JEAN
VOLTAIRE, THEREBY DEPRIVING PETITIONER OF HIS RIGHT
TO A FAIR TRIAL UNDER THE UNITED STATES AND THE NEW
JERSEY CONSTITUTIONS. U.S. CONST., AMEND. XIV.
(Pet. ¶¶ 12.A., 12.B.)
The State filed an Answer seeking dismissal of the Petition,
arguing that, to the extent the grounds assert federal claims,
they do not satisfy the standard for habeas relief.
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
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.
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 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. Confrontation Clause
In Ground One, Petitioner raises three claims. First, he
contends that the admission of the out-of-court statement of his
non-testifying co-defendant violated his Sixth Amendment right to
confront witnesses and his Fourteenth Amendment right to a fair
trial. Second, he claims that the admission of detective
Gregory's statement that the name "Yves" kept coming up in the
investigation violated his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
Third, Petitioner argues that detective Gregory's unsolicited
testimony that Petitioner had a criminal record violated the
Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments.
The admissibility of evidence is generally a question of state
law which is not cognizable under habeas review. See Keller v.
Larkins, 251 F.3d 408, 416 n. 2 (3d Cir. 2001); Hickey v.
Jeffes, 571 F.2d 762, 766 (3d Cir. 1978). However, the
Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause confers rights that cannot be
satisfied merely by meeting the requirements of the rules of
evidence. The Confrontation Clause provides that, "[i]n all
criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to
be confronted with the witnesses against him." This guarantee
applies to both federal and state prosecutions. Pointer v.
Texas, 380 U.S. 400 (1965).
In Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123 (1968), the Supreme
Court held that the admission at a joint trial of a
non-testifying co-defendant's confession which also names
defendant as a participant in the crime violates the
Confrontation Clause, even when the court gives a limiting
instruction. But in Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U.S. 200, 208
(1987), the Supreme Court clarified that the co-defendant's confession or statement
must incriminate the defendant on its face to give rise to a
In this case, the trial court admitted co-defendant Albert's
redacted statement to police regarding the fight outside Ruzeau's
Manor. In the statement, Albert claimed that Emanuel and Nestle
had fought with the victim but he does not implicate Petitioner
in connection with the fight. However, when the police officer
asked Albert if he knew Yves, Albert stated that he worked with
Yves at the Ruth Chris Steak House and described Yves as being
tall, dark skinned, about 25 years old, missing a front tooth,
and having short hair and a bumpy face.
The Appellate Division rejected Petitioner's Confrontation
Clause claim regarding Albert's redacted statement because the
statement did not incriminate Petitioner. Specifically, the
Appellate Division opined:
Defendant now argues for the first time on appeal
that Albert's statement should have been further
redacted to omit any reference to him, including the
fact that Albert knew defendant and worked with him.
We disagree. Simply put, Albert's statement did not
implicate defendant and therefore no potential for
prejudice to defendant existed in its admission. . . .
On the contrary, the portion of Albert's statement
read to the jury made it clear that defendant was not
named by Albert as a participant in the fight in
which Benito was struck with a bat, but rather two
other men, Emanual and Nestle, were identified as the
assailants who leveled the fatal blows.
State v. Duvais, No. A-3324-00T4 slip op. at 18 (App.Div. Jan.
2, 2003). The Appellate Division also rejected Petitioner's claim that
officer Gregory's testimony that the name "Yves" kept "coming up"
in the course of the investigation violated the Confrontation
Clause. The Appellate Division determined that,
[a]s with the challenged portions of Albert's
redacted statement, Detective Gregory's discussion of
defendant was not rendered in the incriminatory sense
of identifying defendant as Benito's assailant, but
rather only in the fairly innocuous context of
providing additional information about defendant's
own identity. . . . there is no logical implication
from Gregory's testimony that non-testifying
witnesses had given police evidence of defendant's
guilt and therefore there was no violation of
defendant's Sixth Amendment right to be confronted by
witnesses against him.
State v. Duvais, slip op. at 21-23.
This Court finds that the New Jersey courts' adjudication of
the Confrontation Clause claims regarding the admission of
Albert's redacted statement and detective Gregory's testimony
that the name "Yves" kept coming up in the investigation was not
contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, Bruton and its
progeny because the challenged statements did not on their face
incriminate Petitioner as a participant in the crime.*fn5
See Priester v. Vaughn, 382 F.3d 394, 400 (3d Cir. 2004)
(distinguishing out-of-court statements that directly incriminate
the petitioner and those which do not facially incriminate the
petitioner but may do so only when linked with evidence
introduced later at trial); United States v. Lane,
752 F.2d 1210, 1216 (7th Cir. 1985) (statement "did not necessarily implicate" accused); United
States v. Jenkins, 785 F.2d 1387, 1393 (9th Cir. 1986)
(statement did not "directly implicate" accused).
Petitioner's third claim in Ground One, that detective
Gregory's unsolicited reference to his criminal record violated
his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, likewise does not
warrant habeas relief. The admission of this testimony did not
violate the Bruton line of cases because the brief reference to
the fact that Petitioner had a criminal record did not directly
implicate Petitioner in the crime. Moreover, there was no
Confrontation Clause issue because Gregory testified and was
subject to cross examination. This Court finds that the New
Jersey courts' adjudication of Petitioner's claim regarding the
admission of "other crimes" evidence was not contrary to, or an
unreasonable application of, Supreme Court precedent. See
Minett v. Hendricks, 135 Fed. Appx. 547 (3d Cir. 2005)
(rejecting claim that admission of "other crimes" evidence is
contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly
established Supreme Court precedent); see also Estelle v.
McGuire, 502 U.S. 62 (allowing evidence of prior injuries in a
trial for infant murder); Spencer v. Texas, 385 U.S. 554 (1967)
(rejecting due process challenge to admission of evidence of
prior similar crimes when judge gives limiting instruction).
Based on the foregoing, Petitioner is not entitled to habeas
relief on any of the claims asserted in Ground One.
B. Admission of Identification Evidence
In Ground Two, Petitioner challenges the admission of the
out-of-court identification by a witness for the state and the
trial court's failure to instruct the jury regarding the
identification. Specifically, Petitioner asserts in Ground Two: THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN ADMITTING THE OUT-OF-COURT
PHOTOGRAPHIC IDENTIFICATION BY EDSON ELYSEE DESPITE
THE ABSENCE OF ANY EVIDENCE OF ITS RELIABILITY OR THE
FAIRNESS OF THE IDENTIFICATION PROCEDURE. THE COURT
FURTHER FAILED TO PROVIDE THE JURY WITH AN
IDENTIFICATION CHARGE WITH RESPECT [TO] THE
OUT-OF-COURT IDENTIFICATION BY ELYSEE AND JEAN
VOLTAIRE, THEREBY DEPRIVING PETITIONER OF HIS RIGHT
TO A FAIR TRIAL UNDER THE UNITED STATES AND THE NEW
JERSEY CONSTITUTIONS. U.S. CONST., AMEND. XIV.
(Pet. ¶ 12.B.)
The admissibility of evidence is a question of state law which
is not cognizable under habeas review. See Keller v. Larkins,
251 F.3d 408, 416 n. 2 (3d Cir. 2001) ("A federal habeas court,
however, cannot decide whether the evidence in question was
properly allowed under the state law of evidence"); Hickey v.
Jeffes, 571 F.2d 762, 766 (3d Cir. 1978) ("As to the contention
that the trial court erred in admitting the victim's testimony of
a prior flirtatious conversation, we find that, if there was any
error in the court's ruling . . . that error was at best one of
interpretation of the state's law of evidence and did not arise
to constitutional dimensions"). Because the admission of
testimony regarding the out-of-court identification of Petitioner
did not violate clearly established federal law, as determined by
the Supreme Court, Petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief
for the admission of the identification testimony.
Additionally, Petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief on
his claim that the trial court failed to instruct the jury on the
law regarding identification. A habeas petitioner who challenges
state jury instructions must "point to a federal requirement that
jury instructions . . . must include particular provisions" or
demonstrate that the instructions "deprived him of a defense
which federal law provided to him." Johnson v. Rosemeyer,
117 F.3d 104, 110 (3d Cir. 1997). This is because district courts do not
"sit as super state supreme courts for the purpose of determining
whether jury instructions were correct under state law with
respect to the elements of an offense and defenses to it"
Id.*fn6 As Petitioner does not show that the failure to
instruct was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application
of, Supreme Court precedent, habeas relief on the instruction
claim presented in Ground Two is not warranted.
C. 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 with
prejudice and declines to issue a certificate of appealability
under 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c).
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