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James Jean-Louis v. Greg Bartowski

November 22, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Claire C. Cecchi United States District Judge



1. Petitioner James Jean-Louis ("Petitioner"), currently confined at the New Jersey State Prison, Trenton, New Jersey, filed a pro se petition ("Petition") seeking a Writ of Habeas Corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, and submitted the required filing fee. See Docket Entry No. 1. The Petition was executed on March 29, 2011. See id. at 25.

2. In his Petition, Petitioner challenges his state court conviction for murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, robbery, and weapons charges. See State v. Louis ("Louis"), 2010 WL 2557181 (N.J. Sup. Ct. App. Div. June 25, 2010).

3. Petitioner asserts that:

a. His judgment of conviction was entered on May 24, 1996. See id. at 2.

b. The Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, denied his direct appeal on August 19, 1999. See id.

c. The Supreme Court of New Jersey denied Petitioner's certification on November 17, 1999, and no certiorari was sought by him from the United States Supreme Court. See id. at 2-3.

d. The Petition also asserts that Petitioner filed an application for post-conviction relief ("PCR") with the Superior Court of New Jersey. See id. at

3. However, the Petition does not state when this PCR application was filed. Rather, the Petition merely notes that PCR was denied on July 17, 2007 (that is, almost eight years after the Supreme Court of New Jersey denied Petitioner certification as to his direct appeal), without specifying the grounds for such denial. See id. The Petition is silent as to what became of Petitioner's PCR application on appeal. See generally, Docket Entry No. 1.

4. This Court's own research has revealed the information omitted from the Petition. See Louis, 2010 WL 2557181.

Specifically, the Appellate Division detailed the relevant developments as follows:

. . . James Jean Louis appeals from the denial of his application for. . . PCR -filed ten years after his conviction . . . . In 1996, defendant was convicted by a jury of [various offenses]. On May 24, 1996, the Law Division imposed an aggregate sentence of sixty years incarceration with thirty-five years of parole ineligibility. Along with his three co-defendants, [defendant] pursued an appeal to this court from that conviction. In a consolidated opinion we affirmed as to all defendants, and the Supreme Court thereafter denied certification [in 1999].

On May 26, 2000, almost exactly four years after the entry of the judgment of conviction, defendant filed his first pro se PCR application. On March 19, 2002, after counsel was assigned to represent defendant, the Law Division entered an order dismissing defendant's PCR application without prejudice, upon defendant's request. Thus, instead of pursuing the then-pending PCR application to its natural conclusion, defendant was advised by his appointed PCR counsel to move for a new trial in the Law Division on the ground of newly discovered evidence. In March 2002, PCR counsel wrote defendant advising him of the "withdraw[al]" of the PCR application, and explained that an attorney in the Union County Office of the Public Defender would contact defendant "within the next few weeks." The letter also expressly stated, "[p]lease contact me if you have further questions or concerns or if you do not hear from the Union [Region] Public Defender's Office after [three] weeks or so." True to PCR counsel's letter, . . . an Assistant Deputy Public Defender assigned to the Union Region contacted defendant on May 23, 2002, by mail. The public defender's letter of that date explicitly stated that after an investigation and consultation with defendant, "[defense counsel] cannot file a motion for a new trial based upon newly discovered evidence" . . . . The letter [also stated that defendant's] "PCR counsel advised [the author of the letter] that [defendant] must refile [his] post-conviction relief petition." Another four years elapsed before a PCR application on defendant's behalf was actually filed in the Law Division [on] December 14, 2006 . . . . On July 17, 2007, . . . Judge Stuart L. Peim entered an order denying defendant's application for PCR "on the grounds that all claims in this PCR are time-barred by Rule 3:22-12." This appeal ensued. . . . Although the initial [PCR] application in 2000 was indubitably timely in light of Rule 3:22-12(a)'s five-year mandate, once defendant voluntarily changed the course of his litigation to instead pursue a motion for a new trial - an event that would be beyond the five-year bar - he became exposed anew to the running of the limitations period. By the time he got around to finally filing the 2006 PCR application, more than a decade had passed since the original judgment of conviction was entered against him. In this posture, defendant was obligated to explain the delay and allege facts showing excusable neglect [under the State's Rule] 3:22-12(a). "The concept of excusable neglect encompasses more than simply providing a plausible explanation for a failure to file a timely PCR petition." State v. Norman, 405 N.J. Super. 149, 159 ([N.J. Super. Ct.] App. Div.2009). Defendant in this case did neither, and Judge Peim was correct in his assessment of defendant's timeliness problem for the current PCR application. . . . [W]e have ...

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