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Royal v. Attorney General of State

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

May 9, 2018

HOZAY ROYAL, Petitioner,
v.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, et al., Respondents.

          OPINION

          Claire C. Cecchi United States District Judge

         Petitioner Hozay Royal files the instant Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging a conviction and sentence imposed by the State of New Jersey for credit card fraud and other related crimes. ECF No. 12. Respondents have filed a Response, (ECF No. 18), and Petitioner has filed a Reply (ECF No. 22). For the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES the Petition.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         For the purposes of this Opinion, the Court recites only relevant facts, as summarized by the state appellate court on direct appeal in State v. Royal, No. A-6069-12T2, slip op. at 2-8 (N.J. Sup. Ct. App. Div. Feb. 17, 2016) (ECF No. 18-17). On July 17, 2010, the owner of a retail appliance store in Flanders, New Jersey, received a call from a person who identified himself as "Eldridge" to purchase goods totaling $1, 612.49. Eldridge provided a credit card number as payment. Two days later, a man who claimed to be Eldridge's nephew arrived in a white Ryder van to pick up the merchandise. The owner, suspicious of fraud, asked for identification, and the man immediately left without taking possession of the merchandise. The owner contacted the authorities, and gave them the license plate number of the van as well as the paperwork for the credit card transaction. The credit card number, as it turned out, belonged to a person in Switzerland who did not authorize the purchase.

         In a separate incident that occurred a few days earlier on July 12, 2010, a man who identified himself as "Tom Hanson" called a different appliance store in Rutherford, New Jersey, also to purchase some merchandise with a credit card. The first credit card number given to the store clerk was declined, but the second was accepted. Hanson also provided a phone number to the store clerk that was the same phone number provided to the Flanders store. A person driving a white Ryder van picked up the item a few days later. On July 16, 2010, Hanson placed another purchase with the Rutherford store, using the same credit card that was accepted on July 12. This time, the card was declined, so Hanson gave the clerk a third credit card, but instructed the clerk to charge only $300 on the card, and that the rest would be paid at pickup. The clerk immediately called the police.

         On July 20, Hanson called the Rutherford store again, and provided a fourth credit card number to pay the remaining balance. The card was declined, and Hanson provided a fifth credit card number. Although this fifth card was again declined, at the instruction of the police, the clerk told Hanson the card had been accepted. That afternoon, Petitioner, who identified himself as Hanson's nephew, arrived in the same white Ryder van to pick up the merchandise. The clerk testified at trial that this was the same man who picked up the July 12 order. When Petitioner was loading the merchandise into the van, police officers, who had been posing as store employees while waiting for Petitioner's arrival, arrested him. Police then searched the van, and seized a bag inside, which contained a number of documents with numerous credit card numbers on them. The white Ryder van seized on July 20 had the same license plate number as the one identified by the owner of the Flanders store.

         Using the details of the Rutherford incident, as well as information obtained in the documents seized, Rutherford police created and disseminated a "Critical Reach Flyer" (the "Flyer"), intended to inform other jurisdictions of the charges against Petitioner. Flanders police saw the Flyer, and recognized that Petitioner may be the same person who committed the Flanders offense. A photo array identification procedure was conducted with the owner of the Flanders store, and Petitioner was identified as the person who attempted to pick up the merchandise at the Flanders store. Petitioner was charged for the Flanders crime after this positive identification. This charge and the subsequent conviction is the subject of the instant Petition.

         During pretrial, Petitioner filed two motions to suppress, arguing that the information obtained from the search of the van and seizure of the bag at Rutherford was the result of an illegal search and seizure. Because the information used to create the Flyer contained this illegally obtained information, Petitioner asserts that the Flyer, and all subsequent evidence procured through the Flyer, must be suppressed. The trial court found the search and seizure illegal, and suppressed part of the Flyer that was derived using the illegally obtained information. It refused to suppress the rest of the Flyer, created using information related to the investigation and arrest that occurred before the search, and found that the unsuppressed portion contained enough information to sufficiently connect Petitioner to the Flanders crime to arrest and charge Petitioner. Petitioner was convicted in a jury trial.

         After the instant Petition was filed, the Court screened the Petition, and dismissed Ground Two of the Petition for failure to state a cognizable habeas claim, and allowed the rest of the Petition to proceed. ECF No. 15. Petitioner sought reconsideration of the dismissal, which was denied. ECF No. 26.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2254, "a district court shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus in 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." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). When a claim has been adjudicated on the merits in state court proceedings, a writ for habeas corpus shall not issue unless the adjudication of the claim (1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); see also Parker v. Matthews, 132 S.Ct. 2148, 2151 (2012).

         A state-court decision involves an "unreasonable application" of clearly established federal law if the state court (1) identifies the correct governing legal rule from the Supreme Court's cases but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular case; or (2) unreasonably extends a legal principle from Supreme Court precedent to a new context where it should not apply or unreasonably refuses to extend that principle to a new context where it should apply. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 407 (2000). Federal courts must follow a highly deferential standard when evaluating, and thus give the benefit of the doubt to, state court decisions. See Felkner v. Jackson, 131 S.Ct. 1305, 1307 (2011); Eley v. Erickson, 712 F.3d 837, 845 (3d Cir. 2013). A state court decision is based on an unreasonable determination of the facts only if the state court's factual findings are objectively unreasonable in light of the evidence presented in the state-court proceeding. Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003). Moreover, a federal court must accord a presumption of correctness to a state court's factual findings, which a petitioner can rebut only by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e); see Rice v. Collins, 546 U.S. 333, 339 (2006) (petitioner bears the burden of rebutting presumption by clear and convincing evidence); Duncan v. Morton, 256 F.3d 189, 196 (3d Cir. 2001) (factual determinations of state trial and appellate courts are presumed to be correct).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Petitioner raises three claims in the Petition: (1) the trial court erred in not suppressing the Flyer in its entirety, and all evidence that was gathered due to the existence of the Flyer; (2) the government did not follow proper identification procedures under state law; and (3) evidence on the record did not sustain the government's burden of proof at trial. As stated above, the Court has already ...


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