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Hoosier v. Northern State Prison

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

December 12, 2018


          Rashan Hoosier Plaintiff Pro Se

          Alexis R. Agre, Esquire, Assistant Prosecutor Jennifer L. Bentzel, Esquire, Assistant Prosecutor Burlington County Prosecutor's Office Attorneys for Respondents




         Rashan Hoosier (“Petitioner”) has submitted a petition (“Petition”) for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (ECF 1.) Respondents Northern State Prison and the Attorney General of the State of New Jersey (“Respondents”) oppose the Petition. (ECF 6.) For the reasons stated herein, the Petition shall be denied and no certificate of appealability shall issue.


         This Court, affording the state court's factual determinations the appropriate deference, see 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1), [1] will reproduce the recitation of facts as set forth by the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey (“Appellate Division”) in its June 20, 2013 written opinion. State v. Hoosier, No. A-3891-10T4, 2013 WL 3064507, at *1 ( N.J.Super. Ct. June 20, 2013). (ECF 6-44 at 1-2.) The Appellate Division affirmed the October 1, 2010 opinion (ECF 6-39) of the Law Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey (“Law Division”) denying Petitioner's petition for post-conviction relief (“PCR”).

         The Appellate Division discerned the following facts and procedural history from the record on appeal:

From March through August 2002, grand juries in Burlington County, New Jersey returned nine indictments against Petitioner, containing a total of thirty-eight counts. The charges included five counts of first-degree armed robbery, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:15-1, and a host of weapons, assault, conspiracy, resisting arrest, and other offenses. Petitioner was accused of committing store robberies, street muggings, assaults on police officers, and crimes related to those incidents. See Hoosier, 2013 WL 3064507, at *1.

         At the time of the indictments, the twenty-four-year-old Petitioner already had an extensive juvenile offense history, including charges of robbery and assault, and he had also been convicted as an adult several times on charges disposed of in municipal courts and twice in the Superior Court for indictable offenses. He had previously been sentenced to five years in state prison for committing a robbery. If convicted of one or more of the first-degree armed robbery charges in the pending indictments, Petitioner was subject to a potential extended-term sentence pursuant to N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:44-3, which meant that he was exposed to a maximum possible sentence of life imprisonment. In addition, because the indictments pertained to separate crimes at different times and against different victims, he could have been sentenced to consecutive terms on one or more of the indictments. See id.

         In October 2002, Petitioner entered into a plea agreement with the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office and pleaded guilty to two counts of armed robbery. The State agreed to dismiss the other thirty-six counts and to recommend two concurrent terms of twenty years' imprisonment, one of which was subject to the parole ineligibility and special five-year parole provisions of the No. Early Release Act (NERA), N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:43-7.2. As part of the plea agreement, Petitioner agreed to waive his right to appeal. In March 2003, the court sentenced Petitioner to seventeen years in prison subject to NERA. Hoosier, 2013 WL 3064507, at *1.

         Despite the terms of the plea agreement, Petitioner filed a notice of appeal on January 26, 2004. On April 29, 2004, the State filed a letter with the Appellate Division stating that Petitioner had violated the terms of his plea agreement by appealing his convictions and that, pursuant to New Jersey Rule of Court 3:9-3(d), the State would seek to annul the plea agreement. The State requested a remand to the Law Division so that it could file a motion to withdraw from the plea agreement. After defense counsel confirmed that Petitioner wished to pursue his appeal, the Appellate Division entered an order on June 10, 2004, granting the State's application for remand. Hoosier, 2013 WL 3064507, at *1. The June 10 order stated:

Pursuant to R. 3:9-3(d), the matter is remanded to the Law Division so that the State may annul the plea agreement and for restoration of all charges. The appeal is dismissed.

(Id. at *2.)

         After the remand, however, the State did not move immediately to annul the plea agreement and to reinstate the charges. Defense counsel and the prosecutor proceeded under the erroneous belief that the Appellate Division order's reference to dismissal of the appeal meant that Petitioner was no longer in breach of the waiver provision of his plea agreement. The prosecutor consulted with defense counsel and then wrote to the trial court on June 23, 2004, that it was “no longer necessary for the State to pursue [its] motion” to annul the plea agreement because Petitioner's appeal had been dismissed. (Id.)

         For the next two years, Petitioner continued to serve his seventeen-year prison sentence, but he made requests of the Public Defender's Office to reinstate his appeal. In August 2006, Petitioner filed a pro se PCR petition alleging ineffective assistance of counsel leading to his guilty pleas. He sought to vacate his convictions and sentence. The prosecutor's office reviewed the matter and determined that Petitioner had not intended to abandon his prior appeal to the Appellate Division. In early 2007, almost three years after the Appellate Division's June 2004 order remanding the matter to the Law Division, the State finally filed a motion to annul the 2003 plea agreement and to reinstate the nine indictments. (Id.)

         The Law Division heard the motion on May 18, 2007. New counsel for Petitioner explained that she had discussed the matter with Petitioner and informed him that his pursuit of an appeal gave the State the right to annul the prior plea agreement, that the original charges of the nine indictments would be reinstated, and that, because of his prior criminal record and the nature of the offenses, he faced a substantially heavier sentence than the seventeen years imposed if he chose to proceed to trial on the several charges. The court spoke to Petitioner directly, repeating that his actions would expose him to higher sentences than he was serving and asking whether he still wished to pursue an appeal of the original convictions. Petitioner answered yes. (See ECF 6-48 at 5-6.) The court then granted the State's motion to annul the 2003 plea agreement and reinstated the indictments for trial, entering an order to that effect on June 28, 2007. With the convictions vacated, the court set bail at $200, 000 pending trial of the charges. Petitioner posted a bail bond and was released from custody. See Hoosier, 2013 WL 3064507, at *2.

         A year later, on May 18, 2008, the date scheduled for trial of one of the indictments, Petitioner appeared before the trial court and entered into a new plea agreement with the prosecutor's office. The new plea agreement was similar to the previous one in that Petitioner agreed to plead guilty to two counts of first-degree armed robbery in exchange for the State's recommendation of twenty years' imprisonment subject to NERA. Again, the plea agreement indicated that Petitioner agreed to a “waiver of appeal.” Pursuant to the second plea agreement, Petitioner entered pleas of guilty to two charges of first-degree armed robbery. See id.

         On August 8, 2008, the court conducted a sentencing hearing at which it heard extensively from Petitioner and his family members and friends requesting leniency. The court found that aggravating factors three, six, and nine were applicable to Petitioner's sentence. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:44-1(a)(3), (6), (9). The court considered several mitigating factors under N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:44-1(b) as argued by defense counsel, but the court did not find any that were applicable. The court sentenced Petitioner to twenty years' imprisonment subject to NERA. See Hoosier, 2013 WL 3064507, at *3.

         The Public Defender's Office filed a notice of appeal on behalf of Petitioner but then withdrew it on April 22, 2009, with a notation from Petitioner that he had not requested that a direct appeal be filed from the second conviction and sentence. On July 9, 2009, however, Petitioner filed a second PCR petition. He alleged ineffective assistance of counsel at the sentencing phase following his second guilty plea and by his first PCR attorney. He also alleged infringement of his due process rights on the ground that his sentence of twenty years imprisonment was a “vindictively motivated harsher sentence” than his original sentence of seventeen years. See id.

         On August 20, 2010, the New Jersey Superior Court (albeit a different Judge than the sentencing Judge) heard argument on Petitioner's PCR petition and denied it by oral opinion, subsequently entering the order of October 1, 2010. See id. (See also ECF 10 at 19-28 (summarizing procedural history as to State's twenty-year plea offers both in 2003 and in 2008; and Judge Thomas S. Smith, Jr.'s March 28, 2003 and August 8, 2008 considerations of various aggravating and mitigating factors as to Petitioner's sentencings).)

         Petitioner appealed denial of PCR (ECF 6-41; ECF 6-42), asserting various ineffective assistance of counsel claims as well as claims for an evidentiary hearing. (Id.)

         The Appellate Division “f[ound] no merit in any of [Petitioner's] arguments, ” pointing out:

This appeal has a convoluted procedural history, but the essence of it is that defendant obtained the relief he originally sought - his 2003 conviction after a guilty plea was vacated and he had a second opportunity either to stand trial on a multitude of indictments or to enter into a new plea agreement. He chose the latter option and pleaded guilty a second time. He now appeals from denial of his PCR petition after the second guilty plea. It appears that defendant seeks relief that he is simply not entitled to, namely, a capping of his sentencing exposure in accordance with the original guilty plea and sentencing without his complying with all the conditions of that first plea agreement.

Hoosier, 2013 WL 3064507, at *1, *3.

         This Court now reviews the submissions of the parties and denies the Petition, for the reasons explained below.


         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 permits a federal court to entertain a petition for writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in state 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).

         With respect to any claim adjudicated on the merits by a state court, the writ 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). A state court decision is “contrary to” Supreme Court precedent “if the state court applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases, ” or “if the state court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of th[e] Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [the Court's] precedent.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000). “[A] state-court decision is an unreasonable application of clearly established precedent if it correctly identifies the governing legal rule but applies that rule unreasonably to the facts of a particular prisoner's case.” White v. Woodall, 572 U.S. 415, 425, reh'g denied, 134 S.Ct. 2835 (2014). Habeas courts must presume that state court factual findings are correct unless petitioners rebut the presumption by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Petitioner raises the following points in Grounds One, Two, and Three of the ...

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