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Araiza-Avila v. Warden of New Jersey State Prison

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 25, 2019



          Jesus A. Araiza-Avila New Jersey State Prison, Petitioner pro se.

          Jennifer L. Bentzel Burlington County Prosecutor's Office New Courts Facility Counsel for Respondents.



         Petitioner Jesus A. Araiza-Avila ("Petitioner"), a prisoner presently incarcerated at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, New Jersey has filed a petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (the "Petition"). (ECF No. 1.) By order of the Court, (ECF No. 2), Respondent the Warden of New Jersey State Prison ("Respondent") filed an answer to the Petition (the "Answer"), (ECF No. 8). Petitioner filed a reply to the Answer (the "Reply"). (ECF No. 9.) The Petition is ripe for disposition. For the reasons stated below, the Petition will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division set forth the facts underlying Petitioner's conviction, as established at a jury trial, as follows:

The State's evidence revealed the following facts. Defendant and Autumn Moyer lived together and had a baby girl. Their relationship ended and Moyer began another relationship with Gilbert Parra. On August 31, 2007, in a telephone conversation, defendant threatened to assault Moyer. Parra then took the phone from Moyer and told defendant that his child referred to Parra as "daddy" now. During the early morning hours of September 1, 2007, defendant and his uncle went to the house of Moyer's family. Defendant called and spoke to Moyer's sister. He asked her to come outside. She complied, but upon seeing defendant, ran back into the house and told her sister and Parra of defendant's presence in front of her home.
Parra and Moyer then went outside. Shortly thereafter, both were shot. Parra was killed and Moyer was shot in the ankle. Immediately after the shootings, Moyer told her family "Chaparro shot me" and "He shot me, he shot Gilbert, why did he shoot us, why did he shoot me?" Moyer testified at trial that defendant ran from the bushes and shot Parra first. He then told her in Spanish that it was her turn before shooting her in the ankle. She also testified about prior threats made against her by defendant. Shortly after the shootings, police stopped a pick-up truck in which defendant and his uncle were traveling with two other individuals. The uncle was bare-chested and appeared intoxicated. Defendant was wearing a green shirt. Police later found a pair of gloves and a .38 caliber revolver containing six spent cartridges in the truck. Forensic investigation revealed that the gun fired the bullets that killed Parra. No. fingerprints were found on the gun, but defendant's DNA was found on the gloves. Defendant's cell phone records indicated he called the victim's residence fourteen times that night.
Moyer's brother, Jonathan, testified that defendant's uncle, Rafael Nava-Avila, who appeared intoxicated, had knocked on their door and asked for a beer. Jonathan sent him away. Shortly thereafter, Parra was killed. Assuming it to be true, Jonathan told the police that Nava-Avila had killed Parra.

State v. Araiza-Nava-Avila, Indictment No. 07-11-1631, 2012 WL 1231888, at *1 ( N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div. Apr. 13, 2012) (footnote omitted).

         In his defense, Petitioner presented testimony from one of Moyer's neighbors, who observed some men around the house and heard gunshots around 3:00 a.m. Id. While the neighbor had originally told police that the shooter was wearing a white shirt, he testified at trial that he recalled the shooter to have worn a green shirt. Id. Petitioner also called Detective Jayson Abadia of the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office, who had interviewed Nava-Avila on the day of the shooting. Id. at *2. In response to questioning by defense counsel, "Abadia testified to learning later in the investigation that Jonathan had stated Nava-Avila was the shooter. Abadia testified: "But what occurred that night, the information that was related that evening, we were confident based on the investigation that the defendant was the trigger man, was the shooter." Id. Defendant did not testify on his own behalf and maintained throughout trial that Nava-Avila was the shooter. Id.

         The jury convicted Petitioner of first-degree murder, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:11-3(a)(1), (2), and second-degree aggravated assault, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:12-1(b)(1). (ECF No. 8-8.) Petitioner was sentenced to a 30-year prison term on the murder conviction, with a 30-year mandatory minimum; and a 5-year prison term on the aggravated assault conviction, subject to the No. Early Release Act, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:43-7. (ECF No. 8-8.)

         Petitioner filed an appeal of his conviction and sentence to the Appellate Division. (ECF No. 8-14.) In an unpublished, per curiam decision, issued on April 13, 2012, the Appellate Division affirmed Petitioner's conviction and sentence. Araiza-Nava-Avila, 2012 WL 1231888. Petitioner then filed a petition for certification to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which was denied on October 25, 2012. State v. Araiza-Nava-Avila, 54 A.3d 811 (N.J. 2012) .

         Thereafter, Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief (the "PCR Petition") in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division. (ECF No. 8-24.) Petitioner raised one claim in the PCR Petitioner: that his counsel was ineffective for failing to provide copies of discovery that had been translated into Spanish for Petitioner. (ECF No. 8-25, at 9-10.) The PCR Petition was denied without an evidentiary hearing. (ECF No. 8- 27.) Petitioner appealed that decision to the Appellate Division, which affirmed the decision of the PCR Court in an unpublished opinion dated June 23, 2015. See State v. Araiza- Avila, A-3148-13T3, 2015 WL 3843509 ( N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div. June 23, 2015). The Supreme Court denied certification on June 3, 2016. State v. Araiza-Avila, 141 A.3d 297 (N.J. 2016).

         On or about July 1, 2016, Petitioner filed the instant Petition seeking relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (ECF No 1.) In the Petition, Petitioner raises five claims for relief:

Ground One: The Court ordered sequential deliberations which effectively prevented the jury's consideration of Passions/Provocation Murder.
Ground Two: The Court erred in admitting prior threats allegedly made by the Defendant because they were highly prejudicial and should have been excluded under rule 403.
Ground Three: The Defendant was denied a fair trial when the court failed, sua sponte, to strike the testimony of Detective Abadia in which he stated that the defendant was guilty of the shooting.
Ground Four: The Court failed to instruct the jury on the inherent unreliability of oral statements allegedly made by the Defendant.
Ground Five: Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to provide [a] translator translated copy of discovery.[1]

(ECF No. 1, at 5-9.) Respondent filed an Answer in which he argues that Petitioner has failed to state a claim upon which habeas relief may be granted. (ECF No. 8, at 41-44.) Petitioner filed a timely Reply. (ECF No. 9.)

         Petitioner was advised of his rights pursuant to Mason v. Meyers, 208 F.3d 414 (3d Cir. 2000). (ECF No. 10). Petitioner has advised the Court that he would like the Petition to be ruled on as filed. (ECF No. 11.)


         A petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 is the proper mechanism for a state prisoner to challenge the fact or duration of his confinement where the petitioner claims his custody is in violation of the Constitution or the laws of the United States. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011); Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 498-99 (1973). A habeas petitioner bears the burden of establishing his entitlement to relief for each claim presented in the petition. See Harrington v. Richter, 62 U.S. 86');">562 U.S. 86, 98 (2011).

         The standard used in reviewing habeas claims under § 2254 depends on whether those claims have been adjudicated on the merits by the state court. If they have not been adjudicated on the merits, the Court reviews de novo both legal questions and mixed factual and legal questions. See Appel v. Horn, 250 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2001). If the state court adjudicated the claim on the merits, then 2254(d) limits the review of the state court's decision as follows:

An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings 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). The statute is clear. If a claim has been adjudicated on the merits in state court, [2] this Court has "no authority to issue the writ of habeas corpus unless the [state court's] decision 'was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal Law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States,' or 'was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in ...

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