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Hawkins v. Nogan

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 7, 2019

VINCENT HAWKINS, Petitioner,
v.
PATRICK NOGAN, et al., Respondents.

          OPINION

          ROBERT B. KUGLER United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Petitioner, 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.

         II. FACTS

         This Court, affording the state court's factual determinations the appropriate deference, see 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1)[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”):

         On 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 pockets.
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 well.
[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 before trial.
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).

         III. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The New 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).

         In 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).

         In late 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.)

         In 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 (N.J. 2016).

         On April 20, 2016, Petitioner filed the instant habeas action.[2] (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.)

         IV. HABEAS CORPUS LEGAL STANDARD

         An 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).

         As a 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)).

         The 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.” Id.

         In 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 (1989)).

         V. ...


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