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Baker v. Buechele

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 19, 2017

JAMES BAKER, Petitioner,
ROBERT BUECHELE, et al., Respondents.



         Presently before the Court is the amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus of James Baker (“Petitioner”) brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (ECF No. 6). Following an order to answer, Respondents filed a response to the petition (ECF No. 8), to which Petitioner replied. (ECF No. 14). For the following reasons, this Court will deny the petition and will deny Petitioner a certificate of appealability.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In affirming Petitioner's conviction, the Superior Court of New Jersey - Appellate Division provided the following summary of the factual background of this matter:

We discern the following facts from the testimony at trial. At 6:00 a.m. on January 22, 2009, several members of the Elizabeth Police Department executed a search warrant at a one-family residence. When detectives entered, they first encountered [Petitioner]'s mother Alberta, his brother Ernest, and his juvenile cousin on the first floor. Detectives then proceeded upstairs to an attic bedroom where they found [Petitioner] alone, dressed only in his boxer shorts. When detectives searched the bedroom, they found five glassine envelopes of heroin in a coffee cup on the dresser and eighty more glassine envelopes packaged together inside an eyeglass case on the nightstand. Detectives also recovered $2000 from [Petitioner]'s shoe in the closet, two cell phones and [Petitioner]'s car keys on top of the dresser, and several pieces of mail addressed to [Petitioner] in the top dresser drawer. [Petitioner] was arrested and later indicted.
At trial, the State presented the testimony of three officers who participated in the search. The State also presented an expert in narcotics distribution who testified that the amount of heroin recovered, and the manner in which it was packaged, indicated it would not have been for personal use, but for sale and distribution.
[Petitioner] presented the testimony of his mother Alberta, and his brothers Ernest, Jerome, and Edward Baker. They all testified essentially that the bedroom in the attic was not assigned to anyone in particular; rather, it was first-come-first-serve for the brothers, including another non-testifying sibling, Jeffrey, depending on who stayed at the residence on a particular night. None of the defense witnesses knew who was staying in the bedroom that night or how the heroin got there.
Edward Baker further testified that he had given [Petitioner] $2000 to use to get an apartment and left the money in [Petitioner]'s shoe in the attic closet. He also testified that he had been arrested numerous times for heroin possession, that he had an addiction spanning twenty years, that he was purchasing and using heroin at the time of the search, and that he was using up to twenty envelopes of heroin per day. However, he denied putting the heroin in the attic.

(Document 5 attached to ECF No. 8 at 3-4).

         Based on the testimony produced at trial, a jury convicted Petitioner of third degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance in violation of N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:35-10(a)(1) and third degree possession with intent to distribute in violation of N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:35-5(a)(1) and 5(b)(3). (Id. at 1). A third charge for which Petitioner was indicted, distribution of a controlled substance within five hundred feet of a public park, was dismissed prior to trial. (Id. a 2). Petitioner's convictions were merged for sentencing purposes, and Petitioner was sentenced to five years in custody with a thirty-month period of parole ineligibility. (Id.).

         Following his sentencing, Petitioner appealed. On June 5, 2014, the Appellate Division affirmed Petitioner's conviction and sentence by way of a written opinion, but remanded Petitioner's criminal matter so that the judgment of conviction could be edited to reflect the fact that Petitioner's charge for distribution near a park was dismissed prior to trial. (Id. at 1-11). Petitioner filed a petition for certification with the New Jersey Supreme Court, but that petition was denied on November 14, 2014. (Document 8 attached to ECF No. 8). Petitioner did not file a petition for certiorari, nor did he file a petition for post-conviction relief prior to the filing of his habeas petition in this matter. Instead, Petitioner filed his initial habeas petition on or about December 24, 2014. (ECF No. 1). That petition was terminated on March 4, 2015, because Petitioner had not used the form required for all pro se habeas petitions. (ECF No. 2). Petitioner filed an amended petition on or about April 1, 2015, (ECF No. 3), but that petition was dismissed on May 4, 2015. (ECF No. 5). Petitioner thereafter filed his current amended habeas petition on or about May 26, 2015. (ECF No. 6).


         A. Legal Standard

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a), the district court “shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus [o]n 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.” A habeas petitioner has the burden of establishing his entitlement to relief for each claim presented in his petition based upon the record that was before the state court. See Eley v. Erickson, 712 F.3d 837, 846 (3d Cir. 2013); see also Parker v. Matthews, 567 U.S. 37, 40-41 (2012). Under the statute, as amended by the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, 28 U.S.C. ยง ...

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