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Morris v. Ricci

July 23, 2008

RICHARD T. MORRIS, PETITIONER,
v.
MICHELLE RICCI, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



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

OPINION

Richard Morris 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, Mercer County, on January 28, 1994, and amended April 29, 1996. Respondents filed an Answer, together with several exhibits from the state court record. Although given an opportunity to do so, Petitioner filed no reply. For the reasons expressed below, this Court will dismiss the Petition with prejudice as untimely and deny a certificate of appealability.

I. BACKGROUND

Petitioner challenges a judgment of conviction entered in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, on January 28, 1994, after a jury found him guilty of murder, felony murder, and robbery. The Law Division initially sentenced Petitioner to an aggregate term of life imprisonment plus 15 years, with 35 years of parole ineligibility. Petitioner appealed, and on January 31, 1996, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, affirmed the conviction and remanded for resentencing. See State v. Morris, Docket No. A-3952-93T4 slip op. (N.J. Super., App. Div., Jan. 31, 1996). On April 24, 1996, the New Jersey Supreme Court denied certification. See State v. Morris, 144 N.J. 378 (1996) (table). On April 29, 1996, the Law Division resentenced Petitioner to an aggregate term of life imprisonment, with 30 years of parole ineligibility.

Petitioner filed his first petition for post-conviction relief in the Law Division on an unspecified date.*fn1 On June 29, 1999, the Law Division denied relief. On September 9, 1999, Petitioner filed a second petition for post-conviction relief in the Law Division. (Docket entry #17-17, p. 4.) The Law Division denied the second post-conviction relief petition on February 9, 2000. Petitioner appealed, and on February 4, 2002, the Appellate Division decided to review the Law Division's denial of the first and second petitions for post-conviction relief, and ordered additional briefing. The Appellate Division thereafter affirmed the denial of the first and second petitions, and the New Jersey Supreme Court denied certification on April 28, 2003.*fn2 See State v. Morris, 176 N.J. 279 (2003) (table).

On July 20, 2004, Petitioner filed a third petition for post-conviction relief in the Law Division. By order filed January 10, 2006, and letter opinion dated January 9, 2006, the Law Division denied the third petition on the ground that it was time barred by New Jersey Court Rule 3:22-12. On August 22, 2006, the Appellate Division entered an order summarily affirming the January 10, 2006, order. The New Jersey Supreme Court denied certification on December 8, 2006. See State v. Morris, 189 N.J. 104 (2006) (table).

Although the Petition is undated, the cover letter that accompanied the Petition is dated February 6, 2007. The Clerk received the Petition on February 9, 2007. After notifying Petitioner pursuant to Mason v. Meyers, 208 F.3d 414 (3d Cir. 2000), this Court ordered Respondents to file an answer and permitted Petitioner time to file a reply. Respondents filed an Answer, together with several exhibits, arguing that the Petition should be dismissed as untimely and on the merits. Petitioner did not file a reply to the Answer.

The Petition raises the following grounds:

Ground One: IN VIOLATION OF PETITIONER'S U.S. CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS TO DUE PROCESS AND A FAIR TRIAL, THE TRIAL COURT UNCONSTITUTIONALLY FAILED TO CHARGE THE JURY ON THE PETITIONER'S DIMINISHED CAPACITY BASED UPON PETITIONER'S INTOXICATION AT THE TIME OF THE OFFENSE. TRIAL COUNSEL'S FAILURE TO RAISE THE DEFENSE OF DIMINISHED CAPACITY DENIED PETITIONER THE EFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL. (U.S. CONST. AMENDS. VI, XIV).

Ground Two: IN VIOLATION OF PETITIONER'S U.S. CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS TO DUE PROCESS AND A FAIR TRIAL, THE TRIAL COURT UNCONSTITUTIONALLY ADMITTED A PORTION OF PETITIONER'S STATEMENT IN WHICH HE ADMITTED THAT HE HAD COMMITTED A DIFFERENT ROBBERY ON A DIFFERENT VICTIM ON A DIFFERENT DATE; IN ADDITION TO THE TRIAL COURT UNCONSTITUTIONALLY FAILING TO PROVIDE A PROPER LIMITING INSTRUCTION REGARDING THE STATEMENT. IN ADDITION, TRIAL COUNSEL FAILED TO OBJECT TO ADMITTANCE OF THE STATEMENT, NOR REQUESTED A PROPER LIMITING INSTRUCTION, WHICH DENIED PETITIONER THE EFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL. (U.S. CONST. AMENDS. VI, XIV).

Ground Three: PETITIONER'S CONVICTION WAS SECURED IN VIOLATION OF HIS FEDERAL CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO THE EFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL - AT TRIAL, ON HIS DIRECT APPEAL TO THE STATE APPELLATE DIVISION, AND ON HIS PETITION FOR CERTIFICATION TO THE STATE SUPREME COURT. (U.S. CONST. AMENDS. VI, XIV). (Pet. addendum I, docket entry #1-1, pp. 8-14.)

II. DISCUSSION

A. Statute of Limitations

On April 24, 1996, Congress enacted the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"), which provides that "[a] 1-year period of limitation shall apply to an application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court." 28 ...


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