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Daniel Javier Delgado v. Anne Milgram

April 13, 2011


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



Petitioner Daniel Javier Delgado ("Petitioner") filed the instant Petition ("Petition"), seeking a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a), and challenging a judgment of conviction in the Superior Court of New Jersey. Respondent filed an answer to the Petition, and Petitioner traversed. For the reasons expressed below, the Court will dismiss the Petition and will decline to issue a certificate of appealability. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 2253(c), 2254(a), (b), (c).


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).

"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.19 (1982). "[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) (citation 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. See 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" *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 [as it is interpreted or] set forth in [the Supreme Court's, rather than in any state court's or any circuit 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." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000).

In other words, 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." Id. at 413. Whether a state court's application of federal law is "unreasonable" must be judged objectively, which means that 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, 660 (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).


A. Evidence as to the Victim's Death and Petitioner's Motive for Murder

Petitioner was convicted of shooting to death a certain Daniel Cortez ("Cortez"). It is undisputed that Cortez was shot right outside his house in Newark, and that shooting occurred at the early morning hours of November 25, 1998.*fn2

One week prior to the date of shooting, Petitioner's girlfriend, Sandra Jorge ("Jorge"), broke off her relationship with Petitioner. See Docket Entry No. 10-15. Apparently, half a year prior to the shooting (May 1998), Jorge met Cortez and became intimate with him while being still in relationship with Petitioner. See id. As a result of the foregoing, Cortez, seemingly, developed an impression that he and Jorge were starting a relationship and, on May 30, 1998, when Jorge and her female friend were walking through the streets of Newark, Cortez and his friend, Antonio Aponte ("Aponte"), pulled over Cortez's car so Cortez could chat with Jorge. See id.; see also Docket Entry No. 10-17. During that Cortez's chat with Jorge, Petitioner appeared and approached Jorge questioning her why she was talking to Cortez. See Docket Entry No. 10-15. That prompted an angry exchange between Cortez and Petitioner. However, no physical altercation took place because the police arrived in these very minutes, before any blows were actually struck, and took all the persons present at the event to the police station. See Docket Entry No. 10-17. When everyone was released and leaving the police station, Petitioner shook his fist at Cortez, exclaiming, "I'm going to get you!" See id.

The next week, that is, the first week of June 1998, Jorge confessed to Petitioner that she and Cortez had been intimate. See Docket Entry No. 10-15. Petitioner grew visibly upset upon learning this information and stated to Jorge that he would "get" Cortez. See id. As noted supra, six months later, Jorge broke off her relationship with Petitioner and, one week after this break-off, Cortez was shot from a small caliber revolver and died, right after the shooting, as a result of blood loss from bullet wounds in his face, chest and shoulders. See Docket Entries Nos. 10-15 and 10-18.

B. Evidence as to the Identity of the Shooter and Shooter's Vehicle

Four persons witnessed the shooting: Al Bucci ("Bucci"), Edmund DiEduardo ("DiEduardo"), Richie Munoz ("Minoz"), and Anthony Melillo ("Meillo").

1. Evidence Obtained from Bucci

Bucci, who, at the time, was thirty-one years old and lived on the same street as Cortez, holding a second-floor apartment with his wife and son, was the person who called the police after the shooting took place. See Docket Entry No. 10-12. At about 7:00 a.m. on the day of shooting, Bucci went outside to start his van (in order to warm it up) and, as he was returning back to his apartment, he heard gunshots. See id. Bucci then ran upstairs and looked outside, through his window, being about 10 to 15 yards away from the scene. See id. Although Bucci did not see the face of the shooter, he clearly saw one person shooting another. See id. He also noticed a maroon van and a black Honda that were parked in the street, and he observed that the victim was trying to hide behind the Honda while the shooter was standing next to the van. See id. Bucci saw that the victim had his hands up and, when the victim fell to the ground, the shooter leaned over the victim, shot him one more time and then jumped into the van and sped away. See id.

Bucci described the shooter's vehicle as the one resembling a "Caravan" minivan and noted that it had a missing hubcap and an "old style" New Jersey license plate, in the sense that the license plate was blue with white letters. See id. Bucci was able to make out only the first three letters of the license plate; according to him, these letters were "HAI." See id.

As noted supra, Bucci was the one who called the police; he also went to the police station to give his statement as to all the information detailed above. See id. A few days later, the police visited Bucci at his house and showed him pictures of a certain van (or, perhaps, pictures of various vans), but Bicci was unable to identify the van used by the shooter from these photos. See id. In light of this fact, police detectives drove Bucci to look at a certain van in physical reality. See id. Upon observing that van, Bucci stated that he was 75% sure it was the van used by the shooter. See id.

About half a year later, Bucci was asked, once again, to examine various photographs of vans and -- upon such examination -- he selected one photograph as the vehicle he saw during the shooting.*fn3 See id.

2. Evidence Obtained from DiEduardo

DiEduardo, a then-71-year-old individual, was Bucci's ground-floor neighbor. See Docket Entry No. 10-15. On the day of the shooting, at about 7:10 a.m., he was returning home from a delicatessen where he had his coffee. See id. As he was approaching the scene of the crime, he heard gunshots and hid behind a parked car. See id. Being about 32 feet away from the scene, DiEduardo saw a person who shot another person in the head, with a small revolver, and then ran to his parked vehicle and sped off. See id.

DiEduardo was visited by the police at his place of employ. See id. The policemen showed DiEduardo some photographs, but DiEduardo declined to make any identification, initially claiming that it was too early in the morning and, hence, too dark to see clearly at the time of the shooting and, later on, noting his concern that his life might be in danger if he were to identify the shooter in front of other employees. See id.; see also Docket Entry No. 10-13.

When, later on, DiEduardo met in private with two police detectives and was presented with an array of photographs, he picked out Petitioner's photo as the one depicting the shooter. See Docket Entry No. 1-15. DiEduardo also identified Petitioner as the shooter during Petitioner's trial. See id.

3. Evidence Obtained from Munoz

At the time of the shooting, Munoz, Cortez' cousin, was only 11 years old. See Docket Entry No. 10-16. He was living in a second floor apartment at the house not far from that occupied by the Buccies and DiEduardo; the first floor apartment of Minoz's house was occupied by Cortez. See id.

On the day of the shooting, Munoz was awakened at about 7:00 a.m. by a certain noise. He then heard a car alarm and recognized it to be the alarm from Cortez' Honda. See id. With that, Munoz fully woke up and went to brush his teeth, and then began getting dressed for school. See id. At that time, he heard gunshots from outside and ran to his living room window to look. See id. He saw a vehicle, which he made out as a blue Plymouth van, situated near Cortez's Honda, and he also saw a light-skinned male with short dark hair*fn4 who seemed shooting at what Munoz thought were his cousin's car's tires. See id. (Munoz never actually saw the particular gun used in the shooting.) Upon hearing four to six gunshots, Munoz saw the shooter getting into the van and speeding off. See id. Once the van left, Munoz saw that Cortez was lying on the ground, next to Cortez's car, and so Munoz ran outside just to see his cousin die. See id.

Later on the day of the shooting, the police came to Munoz's house and showed him an array of photos. Munoz picked out two pictures stating that, in his opinion, the depicted men both looked similar to the shooter. See id. Apparently, Munoz was positive that the shooter was depicted in one of this photos, but he was too nervous to tell the fact of his positive identification to the police, being seemingly just an 11-year-old shaken by the death he witnesses first time in his life and, in addition, by the fact that, after the shooting, his brother began acting "crazy." See id.; see also Docket Entry No. 10-13. Munoz was also shown a van on the day of the shooting, but he was unable to identify that van as the vehicle used by the shooter. See Docket Entry No. 10-16.

However, a short time later, Munoz actually saw what he believed to be the shooter's van, located right in front of Munoz's school, and that encounter seemingly assisted Munoz in putting the picture of the van together in his mind. See id. Morever, on another occasion, Munoz managed to see the shooter himself, as the shooter was making a round in Munoz's neighborhood. See id.

More than half a year after the shooting, Munoz again met with the police; at this meeting he was again shown an array of photographs. See id. This time around, Munoz unequivocally selected Petitioner's photo as the one depicting the shooter. See id. He also easily picked out a photograph of the van that was used by the shooter on the day of the crime. See id. When asked to explain why he was so certain about his identifications of the shooter and the van this time around, Munoz clarified that, over the time ...

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