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Cruz v. Holder

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

August 22, 2014

ABEL GONZALEZ CRUZ, Petitioner,
v.
ERIC HOLDER, Jr., et al., Respondents.

OPINION

KEVIN MCNULTY, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Petitioner, Abel Gonzalez Cruz, is currently incarcerated at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark, New Jersey, as an immigration detainee. He has brought this action pro se for a petition for writ of error coram nobis. For the following reasons, the petition will be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

II. BACKGROUND

Mr. Cruz is a native and citizen of the Dominican Republic. In 2004, he was convicted in New Jersey state court for possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute within 1000 feet of a school. On May 21, 2004, he received a sentence of four years of probation. That conviction eventually led to immigration removal proceedings. Indeed, Mr. Cruz states that he has been in immigration detention since October 4, 2013. According to Mr. Cruz, an Immigration Judge denied him cancellation of removal because his 2004 offense of conviction is considered an aggravated one under state law.

In August 2014, this Court received Mr. Cruz's petition for a writ of error coram nobis. He requests that this Court reopen and vacate his 2004 state conviction. He claims that his attorney failed to advise him about the mandatory immigration consequences of pleading guilty to the state charges. Mr. Cruz's attorney, he says, assured him that he would never be deported. In light of this allegedly ineffective assistance of counsel, Mr. Cruz argues that his state conviction should be vacated.

III. STANDARD FOR SUA SPONTE DISMISSAL

With respect to screening the instant petition, 28 U.S.C. § 2243 provides in relevant part:

A court, justice or judge entertaining an application for a writ of habeas corpus shall forthwith award the writ or issue an order directing the respondent to show cause why the writ should not be granted, unless it appears from the application that the applicant or person detained is not entitled thereto.

As petitioner is proceeding pro se, his petition is held to less stringent standards than pleadings drafted by lawyers. See Rainey v. Varner, 603 F.3d 189, 198 (3d Cir. 2010) ("It is the policy of the courts to give a liberal construction to pro se habeas petitions.") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); United States v. Otero, 502 F.3d 331, 334 (3d Cir. 2007) ("we construe pro se pleadings liberally.") (citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)). Nevertheless, "a district court is authorized to dismiss a [habeas] petition summarily when it plainly appears from the face of the petition and any exhibits annexed to it that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court[.]" Lonchar v. Thomas, 517 U.S. 314, 320 (1996).

IV. DISCUSSION

A. Coram Nobis

Mr. Cruz seeks to have his state conviction vacated through a petition for writ of error coram nobis. "The writ of error coram nobis is an infrequent' and extraordinary' form of relief that is reserved for exceptional circumstances.'" United States v. Babalola, 248 F.Appx. 409, 411 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing United States v. Stoneman, 870 F.2d 102, 106 (3d Cir. 1989); United States v. Osser, 864 F.2d 1056, 1059 (3d Cir. 1988); United States v. Gross, 614 F.2d 365, 368 (3d Cir. 1980) (per curiam); Carlisle v. United States, 517 U.S. 416, 429 (1996)). A petition for writ of error coram nobis "is used to attack allegedly invalid convictions which have continuing consequences, when the petitioner has completed serving his sentence and is no longer in custody' for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 2255." Id . (citing Stoneman, 870 F.2d at 105-06). "A coram nobis petitioner must... show that (1) he is suffering from continuing consequences of the allegedly invalid conviction; (2) there was no remedy available at the time of trial; and that (3) sound reasons exist for failing to seek relief earlier." Id. at 412 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Although a petitioner seeking a writ of error coram nobis faces a heavy burden, the Supreme Court has "reaffirmed the continued existence of coram nobis relief in the appropriate circumstances." Id. (citing United States v. Morgan, 346 U.S. 502, 511 (1954)) (footnote omitted).

I have no jurisdiction to issue the relief that Mr. Cruz seeks through a petition for writ of error coram nobis. "[C]oram nobis is not available in a federal court as a means of attack on a state criminal judgment." Obado v. State of New Jersey, 328 F.3d 716, 718 (3d Cir. 2003); see also Goodman v. Grondolsky, 427 F.Appx. 81, 84 n.2 (3d Cir. 2011) (not precedential); United States v. Terry, Crim. No. 92-119-07, 2014 WL 1199344, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 20, 2014) ("[C]oram nobis is not available in a federal court to attack a petitioner's prior state-court criminal judgments.") (citations omitted); Cabrera v. Walton, No. 12-6580, 2013 WL 1288212, at *3 (D.N.J. Mar. 26, 2013). If Mr. Cruz seeks to bring a petition for writ of error coram nobis, he must bring that petition in the state court where he was convicted. See Cabrera, 2013 WL 1288212, at *3 (" [C]oram nobis relief from a state conviction must be sought in the state court that rendered that judgment."); Ramnauth v. United States District Court, No. 12-2402, 2013 WL 822092, at *2 (D.N.J. Mar. 6, 2013) ("Petitioner's only course for relief ...


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