United States District Court, D. New Jersey
B. KUGLER United States District Judge.
Vincent Hawkins, is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a
petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254. Petitioner was convicted in 2006 by a jury of
second-degree burglary and third-degree theft. He is
currently serving a sentence of twenty years imprisonment
with an eighty-five percent period of parole ineligibility
pursuant to New Jersey's No. Early Release Act
(“NERA”). N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:43-7.2. For
the reasons set forth below, the petition will be denied and
a certificate of appealability shall not issue.
Court, affording the state court's factual determinations
the appropriate deference, see 28 U.S.C. §
2254(e)(1), will recount salient portions of the
recitation of facts as set forth by the New Jersey Appellate
Division on Petitioner's appeal of his petition for
post-conviction relief (“PCR”):
direct appeal, we outlined the facts proved at trial:
The victim, Pedro Santiago, testified at trial that at
approximately 11:00 a.m. on September 23, 2005, he was in bed
in his apartment in Bridgeton when he heard his apartment
door open. He went into the living room to find defendant
stuffing his belongings into a bag. As Santiago approached,
defendant, who was wearing white and grey socks on his hands,
dropped the bag and pulled out an approximately three to four
inch knife. The two men struggled, and the struggle continued
into the street. When defendant heard someone say that the
police had been called, he redoubled his efforts and fled.
When his shirt came off, he was freed from Santiago's
grip and ran.
When the dispatch went out regarding the incident, police who
were gathered at an unrelated investigation site nearby
almost immediately observed a man who matched defendant's
description running toward them. Among others, Patrolman
Deena Glover-Bertolini and Lieutenant Mark Ott pursued
defendant in their separate patrol cars. Glover-Bertolini
pulled up in front of defendant, who upon seeing her, said
“Oh, s-t, ” and ran the other way. Lieutenant Ott
also pulled up alongside defendant, got out of his car and
drew his weapon, at which time defendant stopped running and
dropped to his knees. Once arrested, police found a pocket
knife, a screwdriver, and some socks in defendant's
Patrolman John Sloboda observed fresh pry marks on
Santiago's door, the door latch and the knob. There were
paint chips on the floor, directly below the door frame.
One of the State's witnesses was the victim's
landlord, who observed the struggle between Santiago and
defendant. She testified that defendant shouted out,
“Does anybody here speak English?” and,
“Can't you tell them I just wanted to feed my
family?” She was the person who triggered
defendant's flight by saying that she was calling police.
At trial, defendant testified that he was in Santiago's
apartment solely to collect $80 he had loaned Santiago the
prior day to buy drugs. He said that the victim would not pay
him back in cash, but agreed that he could take some of the
victim's belongings in lieu of the money. When he
attempted to place items of value in the bag, however,
Santiago assaulted him. Defendant claimed that the
screwdriver actually belonged to Santiago, who threw it at
him, striking the door and thereby causing the pry marks and
chipping the paint. Defendant also claimed that he had been
wearing two pairs of socks and had to remove one pair while
running from the scene because his shoes were falling off.
Defendant acknowledged three sanitized convictions on direct
and was briefly examined about them on cross-examination as
[State v. Hawkins, No. A-0782-07, 2009 WL 1872330,
at *1-2 (N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div. July 1, 2009).]
Defendant also claimed that he had asked the landlord to call
the police, and that he ran away to call the police, but he
was afraid when he saw the first police car and kept going
until the officer from the second police car drew his weapon.
A grand jury issued a five-count indictment, charging
defendant with third-degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A.
2C:12-1b; third-degree possession of a weapon for unlawful
purposes, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4d; second-degree burglary, N.J.S.A.
2C:18-2a(1); fourth-degree criminal trespass, N.J.S.A.
2C:18-3a; and second-degree robbery, N.J.S.A.
2C:15-1a(1)-(2). The criminal trespass count was dismissed
Defendant was tried in August 2006 before Judge Timothy G.
Farrell. The jury acquitted defendant of aggravated assault,
possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes, and robbery.
The jury convicted defendant only of burglary and a lesser
included charge of third-degree theft, N.J.S.A.
2C:20-2b(2)(d). At sentencing, the theft conviction merged
into the burglary conviction. The trial judge sentenced
defendant to twenty years in prison.
State v. Hawkins, No. A-1093-11T2, 2013 WL 1953647,
at *1-2 (N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div. May 14, 2013).
Jersey Appellate Division affirmed Petitioner's
conviction and sentence on July 1, 2009. See
Hawkins, 2009 WL 1872330, at *4. Petitioner appealed to
the New Jersey Supreme Court, but on October 23, 2009, the
court denied his petition for certification. See State v.
Hawkins, 988 A.2d 565 (N.J. 2009).
January 2010, Petitioner filed his first petition for PCR.
(See ECF No. 6-16.) Following an evidentiary hearing
where Petitioner's trial counsel testified, the court
denied Petitioner's application. (See ECF Nos.
6-17, 6-18.) The Appellate Division affirmed the denial of
Petitioner's PCR, Hawkins, 2013 WL 1953647, at
*7, and the New Jersey Supreme Court denied certification,
State v. Hawkins, 80 A.3d 746 (N.J. 2013).
2013, Petitioner submitted a petition for a writ of habeas
corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. See Vincent
Hawkins v. Paul Lagana et. al., Civ. No. 13-7319
(D.N.J.). On December 16, 2013, the Court issued a notice to
Petitioner, pursuant to Mason v. Meyers, 208 F.3d
414 (3d Cir. 2000), informing him of the consequences of
filing a habeas petition under the Antiterrorism and
Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”), Pub. L.
104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (Apr. 24, 1996), and permitting him
the opportunity to file one all-inclusive § 2254
petition. (See Hawkins, Civ. No. 13-7319, at ECF No.
2.) Petitioner was provided the option of having his petition
ruled upon as filed or withdrawing his petition and filing
one all-inclusive § 2254 petition subject to AEDPA's
one-year statute of limitations. (See id.)
Petitioner submitted a letter advising the court of his
request to withdraw his petition in order to return to state
court to exhaust additional claims. (See Hawkins,
Civ. No. 13-7319, at ECF No. 3.) Petitioner did not request a
stay, and the Court withdrew his petition. (See
Hawkins, Civ. No. 13-7319, at ECF No. 4.)
January 2014, Petitioner filed his second PCR in state court.
(See ECF No. 6-22.) The state court denied the PCR
as time-barred, as well as on the merits. (See ECF
No. 6-27.) The Appellate Division affirmed the denial of
Petitioner's second PCR for substantially the same
reasons. See State v. Hawkins, No. A-5035-13T2, 2015
WL 7079060, at *1 (N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div. Nov. 12, 2015). On
March 18, 2016, the New Jersey Supreme Court denied
certification. See State v. Hawkins, 135 A.3d 146
April 20, 2016, Petitioner filed the instant habeas
action. (See ECF No. 1.) Respondents
filed an answer, addressing the Petitioner's claims on
the merits and raising the affirmative defense that the
Petition was time-barred. (See ECF No. 6.)
Petitioner filed a traverse in response. (ECF No. 7.)
HABEAS CORPUS LEGAL STANDARD
application for writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody
under judgment of a state court can only be granted for
violations of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the
United States. See Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107, 119
(1982); see also Mason v. Myers, 208 F.3d 414, 415
n.1 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254). Petitioner
filed this petition for writ of habeas corpus after April 24,
1996, thus, AEDPA applies. See Lindh v. Murphy, 521
U.S. 320, 326 (1997). Under AEDPA, federal habeas corpus
relief is not available for any claim decided on the merits
in state court proceedings unless the state court's
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 state court.
See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).
threshold matter, a court must “first decide what
constitutes ‘clearly established Federal law, as
determined by the Supreme Court of the United
States.'” Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63,
71 (2003) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)).
“‘[C]learly established federal law' under
§ 2254(d)(1) is the governing legal principle set forth
by the Supreme Court at the time the state court renders its
decision.” Id. (citations omitted). A federal
habeas court making an unreasonable application inquiry
should ask whether the state court's application of
clearly established federal law was “objectively
unreasonable.” See Williams v. Taylor, 529
U.S. 362, 409 (2000). Thus, “a federal court may not
issue a writ simply because the court concludes in its
independent judgment that the relevant state court decision
applied clearly established federal law erroneously or
incorrectly. Rather, that application must also be
unreasonable.” Id. at 411. “[Federal
courts] may not characterize  state-court factual
determinations as unreasonable ‘merely because [they]
would have reached a different conclusion in the first
instance.' [. . .] If ‘[r]easonable minds reviewing
the record might disagree' about the finding in question,
‘on habeas review that does not suffice to supersede
the trial court's … determination.'”
Brumfeld v. Cain, 135 S.Ct. 2269, 2277 (2015)
(alterations in original) (quoting Wood v. Allen,
558 U.S. 290, 301 (2010)).
AEDPA standard under § 2254(d) is a
“difficult” test to meet and is a “highly
deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings,
which demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit
of the doubt.” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S.
170, 181 (2011). The petitioner carries the burden of proof
and with respect to review under § 2254(d)(1), that
review “is limited to the record that was before the
state court that adjudicated the claim on the merits.”
applying AEDPA's standards, the relevant state court
decision that is appropriate for federal habeas corpus review
is the last reasoned state court decision. See Bond v.
Beard, 539 F.3d 256, 289-90 (3d Cir. 2008). Furthermore,
“[w]here there has been one reasoned state judgment
rejecting a federal claim, later unexplained orders upholding
that judgment or rejecting the same claim rest upon the same
ground.” Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 803
(1991); see also Dennis Sec'y Dep't of
Corr., 834 F.3d 263, 353 n.10 (3d Cir. 2016) (Jordan,
J., concurring in part and concurring in the judgment)
(noting that while Ylst predates the passage of
AEDPA, the Ylst presumption that any subsequent
unexplained orders upholding the judgment will be presumed to
rest upon the same ground is still valid). Additionally,
AEDPA deference is not excused when state courts issue
summary rulings on claims as “[w]hen a federal claim
has been presented to a state court and the state court has
denied relief, it may be presumed that the state court
adjudicated the claim on the merits in the absence of any
indication or state-law procedural principles to the
contrary.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86,
99 (2011) (citing Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 265