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Huertas v. Taylor

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 14, 2018

VICTOR HUERTAS, Petitioner,
v.
KAREN TAYLOR, et al., Respondents.

          Victor Huertas, Petitioner pro se.

          OPINION

          JEROME B. SIMANDLE U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Petitioner Victor Huertas filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Petition, Docket Entry 1. For the reasons expressed below, the petition is dismissed without prejudice.

         II. BACKGROUND

         On December 28, 2016, Petitioner attempted to avoid an accident by driving on the shoulder of Route 38 in Cherry Hill, New Jersey for a brief period of time. Petition 5. He was subsequently pulled over by a Cherry Hill police officer. Id. ¶ 7. The officer asked for Petitioner's identification, registration, and insurance information, which Petitioner provided. Id. ¶¶ 8-9. Shortly thereafter, the officer asked Petitioner to step out of his vehicle. Id. ¶ 10. The officer claimed in a later state court proceeding that he smelled marijuana in Petitioner's car and he discovered Petitioner had a criminal record. Id. The officer proceeded to search Petitioner and the inside of the car, but did not find any contraband. Id. ¶ 11. The officer then searched the trunk and found narcotics (heroin) and guns. Id. ¶ 12. Petitioner was arrested. No. marijuana was recovered. Id. ¶ 14.

         Petitioner filed this habeas petition on September 19, 2017. The Court originally administratively terminated the petition on September 28, 2017 as Petitioner had not paid the filing fee or submitted a complete in forma pauperis application. Docket Entry 2. Petitioner submitted an in forma pauperis application, and the Court granted the application. Docket Entries 3 & 4.

         Petitioner argues his confinement is unconstitutional due to the illegality of the search of the vehicle and seizure of the narcotics and guns. He asserts the seized evidence is the fruit of the poisonous tree, but a state court judge denied his motion to suppress the evidence. He argues he should be released from incarceration.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Petitioner brings this petition for a writ of habeas corpus as a pro se litigant. The Court has an obligation to liberally construe pro se pleadings and to hold them to less stringent standards than more formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Higgs v. Attorney Gen. of the U.S., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011), as amended (Sept. 19, 2011) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). A pro se habeas petition and any supporting submissions must be construed liberally and with a measure of tolerance. Nevertheless, a federal district court must dismiss a habeas corpus petition if it appears from the face of the petition that Petitioner is not entitled to relief. 28 U.S.C. § 2254 Rule 4 (made applicable through Rule 1(b)); see also McFarland v. Scott, 512 U.S. 849, 856 (1994); Siers v. Ryan, 773 F.2d 37, 45 (3d Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 490 U.S. 1025 (1989).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         District courts have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 to issue a writ of habeas corpus before a criminal judgment is entered against an individual in state court, see Moore v. De Young, 515 F.2d 437, 441-42 (3d Cir. 1975), but “that jurisdiction must be exercised sparingly in order to prevent in the ordinary circumstance ‘pre-trial habeas interference by federal courts in the normal functioning of state criminal processes.'” Duran v. Thomas, 393 F. App'x 3, 4 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Moore, 515 F.3d at 445-46). “The district court should exercise its ‘pre-trial' habeas jurisdiction only if petitioner makes a special showing of the need for such adjudication and has exhausted state remedies.” Moore, 515 F.2d at 443.

         Petitioner filed this petition before entry of a judgment; however, on December 27, 2017 Petitioner informed the Court that he was now incarcerated in Bayside State Prison. Notice of Change of Address, Docket Entry 5. The Court takes judicial notice of a public record, Petitioner's entry on the New Jersey Department of Correction's Inmate Search, indicating that he was sentenced on November 17, 2017 for an offense dated December 28, 2016. See Inmate Search, available at https://www20.state.nj.us/DOCInmate/inmatefinder?i=I (last visited Mar. 13, 2018). December 28, 2016 is the date Petitioner states he was arrested by the Cherry Hill police. Petition ¶ 4(a). It would therefore appear Petitioner has been convicted and sentenced for the offense stemming from the allegedly unlawful search. Petitioner would therefore need to challenge this conviction under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 after he has exhausted his state court remedies.

         Even if Petitioner were a pre-trial detainee, the Court would still decline to exercise habeas jurisdiction because he has not exhausted his state court remedies. “‘[T]he practice of exercising [federal habeas] power before the question has been raised or determined in the state court is one which ought not to be encouraged.'” Moore, 515 F.2d at 442 (quoting Cook v. Hart, 146 U.S. 183, 195 (1892)). The state courts are equally responsible for “protecting the accused in the enjoyment of his [federal] constitutional rights, ” and “comity demands that the state courts, under whose process he is held . . . should be appealed to in the first instance.” Id. at 442-43 (internal quotation marks and ...


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