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Fritz v. Warren

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

November 27, 2018

BRANDON J. FRITZ, Petitioner,
v.
CHARLES E. WARREN, JR., et al., Respondents.

          OPINION

          FREDA L. WOLFSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Petitioner, Brandon J. Fritz (“Fritz” or “Petitioner”), commenced this proceeding by filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus, under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Pet., ECF No. 1.) The Court denied his petition on May 21, 2015. (ECF Nos. 24 & 25.) Presently before the Court is a motion by Fritz seeking relief from that Opinion and Order, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). (ECF No. 25.) Fritz has also repeatedly filed a “motion to accept confidential appendix, ” each of which seems to pertain to the same exhibits to his Rule 60(b) motion. (See ECF Nos. 27-31.) Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78, these motions are decided without oral argument, and, for the following reasons, the motions to accept a “confidential appendix” are GRANTED insofar as the Court will consider the included documents as exhibits to the Rule 60(b) motion and the Rule 60(b) motion, however, is DENIED.

         II. BACKGROUND

         As the Court's prior Opinion recites the underlying facts and procedural history in detail, only the most pertinent, undisputed facts are here repeated. In May 2006, Fritz kidnapped and raped a 20-year-old woman. Around 10 weeks later, Fritz broke into another woman's home and attempted to rape her. (See ECF No. 24 at 2.) Fritz pleaded guilty, in November 2007, to charges of first-degree kidnapping, first-degree sexual assault, and second-degree burglary, in an exchange for dismissal of other charges and a recommendation that his sentence not exceed 40 years. (See Ans., Ex. D, Plea Form, ECF No. 16-6.) The trial judge sentenced Fritz to 40 years imprisonment. (See Ans., Exs. B & C, ECF Nos. 16-4 & 16-5.) Fritz appealed the length of his sentence, which the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, affirmed. (See Ans., Ex. E, Order (Jan. 7, 2009), State v. Fritz, Docket No. A-004425-07T4 ( N.J.Super. Ct., App. Div.), ECF No. 16-7.) The Supreme Court of New Jersey denied a petition for certification. State v. Fritz, 973 A.2d 944 (N.J. 2009).

         Fritz, acting through counsel, filed a petition for post-conviction relief (“PCR”), arguing that his acceptance of the plea deal was the product of ineffective assistance of counsel (“IAC”), and, thus, was not knowing and voluntary. (Ans., Ex. H, Pet. for PCR Relief, ECF No. 16-10, at 12-19.) Specifically, Fritz asserted that trial counsel misled and coerced him into accepting the plea by telling him that his sentences would run concurrently, resulting in a 27-year aggregate prison term, but, instead, the deal permitted consecutive sentences, thus subjecting him to a 40-year aggregate term. (Id. at 14-15.) This PCR petition was denied. (Ans., Ex. J, Order Denying PCR (May 12, 2010), State v. Fritz, Indict. No. 06-10-1619 ( N.J.Super. Ct., Ocean Cty., Law Div.), ECF No. 16-12.) The denial was affirmed on appeal. State v. Fritz, Docket No. A-4565-09T4, 2011 WL 4577752 ( N.J.Super. Ct., App. Div. Oct 5, 2011). The New Jersey Supreme Court denied another petition for certification. State v. Fritz, 40 A.3d 57 (N.J. 2012).

         Fritz also filed a second state PCR petition, raising, among other arguments, that his PCR counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to raise all issues Fritz asked him to and that the PCR court should have reversed the underlying conviction because the trial court did not hold a competency hearing. (See Ans., Exs. Q & Z, ECF Nos. 16-19 & 16-28.) The second state PCR petition was dismissed while Fritz completed the appeal of his first PCR petition, but was revived when Fritz subsequently refiled his second PCR petition. (See Ans., Exs. V-Z, ECF Nos. 16-24 through 16-28.)

         Meanwhile, Fritz filed with this Court a petition for writ of habeas corpus, under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, on December 7, 2012. (ECF No. 1.) The Petition raised four grounds for relief:

1. ineffectiveness of trial counsel, by failing to pursue a competency evaluation, failing to seek funds to retain an expert witness, and for rendering the plea unknowing or involuntary;
2. ineffectiveness of appellate counsel;
3. ineffectiveness of PCR counsel; and
4. imposition of an excessive sentence.

(Id.) After Respondents had answered the Petition, Fritz sought a protective stay of the proceeding to permit him to exhaust his claim of ineffective assistance of PCR counsel before the state courts. (ECF Nos. 18 & 20.) The Court denied the stay motion, finding that the only unexhausted ground was alleged ineffective assistance of PCR counsel, which is not a cognizable claim under § 2254. (ECF No. 23.)

         On May 21, 2015, the Court issued an Opinion and Order denying Fritz's habeas petition on the merits. (ECF Nos. 24 & 25.) The Court found appropriate the Appellate Division's affirmance of the denial of Fritz's IAC claim concerning plea negotiations because there was no evidence that Fritz had been misled or coerced into accepting his plea deal and as, in fact, the evidence showed that Fritz understood the plea deal and entered into it voluntarily. (ECF No. 24 at 9-10.) The Court further found that the state courts had not acted unreasonably by denying relief on Fritz's IAC arguments regarding the failure to obtain a competency evaluation or seek funds for an expert witness on the basis, given the significant evidence before ...


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