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Poteat v. Attorney General of State

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

January 31, 2017

JOHN WESLEY POTEAT, Petitioner,
v.
ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, et al., Respondents.

          OPINION

          ROBERT B. KUGLER United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner challenges his conviction for murder and other charges. He is currently serving a life sentence. The respondents have filed a motion to dismiss the habeas petition as untimely. For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss will be granted and petitioner's habeas petition will be dismissed because it was not filed within the one-year limitations period.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Following a jury trial in 1997, petitioner was convicted of murder, armed robbery, attempted murder and hindering amongst other charges. He received a sentence by the New Jersey Superior Court as follows: (1) murder - life with thirty-year parole disqualifier; (2) armed robbery - twenty years with nine-year parole disqualifier consecutive to murder conviction; (3) attempted murder - life with twenty-five-year parole disqualifier consecutive to armed robbery conviction; and (4) hindering - five years with two-and-one-half-year parole disqualifier consecutive to attempted murder conviction.

         Petitioner appealed his judgment of conviction to the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division. The Appellate Division affirmed the judgment of conviction, but modified the sentence to reflect that petitioner was to serve his two life sentences prior to his twenty-year sentence for armed robbery. In an order filed on February 16, 2000, the New Jersey Supreme Court denied certification.

         Petitioner filed a post-conviction relief (“PCR”) petition on March 10, 2002. Petitioner's PCR petition was denied by the Superior Court on May 4, 2006. Thereafter, in March, 2014, petitioner filed a second PCR petition. That second PCR petition was denied on March 25, 2014 as untimely. Petitioner then appealed the denial of his second PCR to the Appellate Division. The Appellate Division affirmed the denial of the second PCR petition on June 15, 2015. The Appellate Division noted that petitioner had filed his second PCR petition seventeen years after petitioner's conviction and that there was no basis to extend the five-year time period for which petitioner should have filed a PCR petition. It does not appear that petitioner filed a petition for certification with the New Jersey Supreme Court on his second PCR petition.

         This Court applies the prisoner mailbox rule to determine when petitioner is deemed to have filed this federal habeas petition. See Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266, 270-71 (1988). In this case, petitioner is deemed to have filed his federal habeas petition on April 21, 2016, as that is the date that petitioner dated his federal habeas petition. See Maples v. Warren, No. 12-0993, 2012 WL 1344828, at *1 n.2 (D.N.J. Apr. 16, 2012) (“Often times, when the court is unable to determine the exact date that a petitioner handed his petition to prison officials for mailing, it will look to the signed and dated certification of the petition.”). Petitioner argues that his habeas petition is timely as he actually filed his first PCR petition on June 23, 2000. After not getting a response from the Superior Court about this filing, petitioner states that he wrote a letter to the state court on October 25, 2001, that inquired about the status of his PCR filing. Thereafter, according to petitioner, he refiled his PCR petition on March 10, 2002. Petitioner then states that after the PCR court denied his PCR petition on May 4, 2006, he filed a letter-brief with the Superior Court for reconsideration on May 26, 2006. According to petitioner, after not hearing anything for seven years, petitioner explains that he received a letter from the public defender in 2013, after he inquired into the status of his case. That letter stated that petitioner did not have anything pending at the appellate level. (See Dkt. No. 1-1 at p.2-3; Dkt. No. 1-16 p.6) At that point, according to petitioner, he moved forward with filing his second PCR petition.

         Respondents have filed a motion to dismiss arguing that the habeas petition is untimely. Petitioner filed a response in opposition to the motion to dismiss. Respondents did not file a reply in support of their motion.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Respondents argue that the habeas petition should be denied because it is untimely. “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 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1). That limitations period begins to run when the criminal judgment becomes “final.”[1] A state-court criminal judgment becomes “final” within the meaning of § 2244(d)(1) at the conclusion of direct review or at the expiration of time for seeking such review. See Swartz v. Meyers, 204 F.3d 417, 419 (3d Cir. 2000); Morris v. Horn, 187 F.3d 333, 337 n.1 (3d Cir. 1999); see also 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A) (the 1-year period begins on ‘the date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review'). In particular, when a defendant does not file a petition for certiorari with the United States Supreme Court, the one-year limitations period starts to run when the ninety-day period for seeking certiorari expires. See Gonzalez v. Thaler, 132 S.Ct. 641, 653 (2012); Clay v. U.S., 537 U.S. 522, 532 (2003); Morris, 187 F.3d at 337 n.1 (holding that the period of direct review “include[s] the 90-day period for filing a petition for writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court”); U.S. SUP. CT. R. 13 (ninety-day deadline to petition for certiorari).

         The New Jersey Supreme Court denied certification on petitioner's direct appeal on February 16, 2000. As petitioner did not seek certiorari from the United States Supreme Court, his judgment became final ninety days thereafter, or on May 16, 2000. The one-year habeas deadline began to run then. He did not file this federal habeas petition, however, until almost sixteen years later, on April 21, 2016. Therefore, unless the limitations period is tolled, petitioner's habeas filing is untimely.

         A. Statutory Tolling

         The filing of a PCR petition may statutorily toll (i.e., suspend) the running of the one-year habeas limitations period. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2) (“The time during which a properly filed application for State post-conviction or other collateral review with respect to the pertinent judgment or claim is pending shall not be counted toward any period of limitation under this subsection.”). A prisoner's application for state collateral review is “‘properly filed' when its delivery and acceptance are in compliance with the applicable laws and rules ...


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