United States District Court, D. New Jersey
B. KUGLER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on Petitioner Boyce
Singleton's motion to stay his petition under 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254 pending exhaustion of state court remedies. For
the reasons stated herein, the motion is granted.
Singleton was convicted by a Burlington County jury of
murder, N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:1 l-3(a)(1),
-3(a)(2); possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose,
N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:39-4(a); possession of a weapon for
an unlawful purpose, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:39-4(d);
unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J. Stat. Ann. §
2C:39-5(b); hindering apprehension, N.J. Stat. Ann. §
2C:29-3(b)(1); and tampering with or fabricating evidence,
N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:28-6(1). He was sentenced to
fifty-five years in custody with an 85% parole disqualifier
on September 12, 2008.
direct appeal, the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate
Division reversed Mr. Singleton's convictions based on
the trial court's failure to give the proper instructions
on the insanity defense. The state Supreme Court reversed and
remanded to the Appellate Division for consideration of the
remainder of the direct appeal. The appellate court
thereafter affirmed the convictions and sentence. After the
completion of his direct appeal, Mr. Singleton filed a
petition for post-conviction relief ("PCR") in the
state courts on May 20, 2013. The petition was denied without
an evidentiary hearing, and the New Jersey Supreme Court
denied certification of the PCR petition on February 1, 2017.
Singleton submitted his § 2254 petition for mailing on
October 24, 2017. Shortly thereafter, he filed a motion to
stay the proceedings as he was exhausting his state court
remedies in a second PCR petition.
Singleton's habeas petition is governed by the
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
("AEDPA"). AEDPA provides prisoners one
opportunity, except in limited circumstances, to challenge
the legality of their detention pursuant to the judgment of a
state court. Petitioners must also exhaust the remedies
available in state courts before a federal court can grant a
§ 2254 petition unless "there is an absence of
available State corrective process" or
"circumstances exist that render such process
ineffective to protect the rights of the application."
28 U.S.C. §§ 2254(b)(1)(B)(i)-(ii).
Singleton's motion indicates he wishes to add several
admittedly-unexhausted claims to his § 2254 petition.
His petition is therefore "mixed, " "that is,
... containing both exhausted and unexhausted claims."
Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 273 (2005). Under
Rhines, this Court has discretion to stay the §
2254 proceedings in limited circumstances. See Id.
at 277 ("Because granting a stay effectively excuses a
petitioner's failure to present his claims first to the
state courts, stay and abeyance is only appropriate when the
district court determines there was good cause for the
petitioner's failure to exhaust his claims first in state
court. Moreover, even if a petitioner had good cause for that
failure, the district court would abuse its discretion if it
were to grant him a stay when his unexhausted claims are
plainly meritless."). "On the other hand, it likely
would be an abuse of discretion for a district court to deny
a stay and to dismiss a mixed petition if the petitioner had
good cause for his failure to exhaust, his unexhausted claims
are potentially meritorious, and there is no indication that
the petitioner engaged in intentionally dilatory litigation
tactics." Id. at 278.
Court finds that a stay and abeyance is appropriate in this
case due to the likelihood of timeliness concerns under
AEDPA's one-year statute of limitations if this Court
were to dismiss the mixed petition. See Duncan v.
Walker, 533 U.S. 167, 181-82 (2001) ("Section
2244(d)(2) therefore did not toll the limitation period
during the pendency of respondent's first federal habeas
petition."). Mr. Singleton indicates the failure to
exhaust was due to the ineffective assistance of trial and
PCR counsel. Without deciding whether there was in fact
ineffective assistance, said ineffective assistance may
excuse a failure to exhaust. See, e.g., Martinez v.
Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012). It is not clear from the face
of the petition that Mr. Singleton is not entitled to relief,
see 28 U.S.C. § 2254 Rule 4, and there are no
indications of abusive litigation tactics or intentional
delay. The Court will therefore stay the proceedings to
permit Mr. Singleton to present his claims in the state
courts for them to decide in the first instance.
Singleton shall file his second PCR petition in the state
courts within 30 days of this Opinion and Order, if he has
not already done so. Within 30 days of the conclusion of
state court proceedings, Mr. Singleton shall file an amended
§ 2254 petition in this Court containing all of the
grounds he wishes the Court to review.
foregoing reasons, Mr. Singleton's motion to stay is
granted. An ...