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Hyman v. Nogan

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 27, 2019

JEROME HYMAN, Petitioner,
PATRICK NOGAN, et al., Respondents.



         Before this Court is a writ of habeas corpus filed by Petitioner Jerome Hyman (“Petitioner”), a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a petition filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner also filed a motion for an evidentiary hearing. Having reviewed the submissions filed in connection with the petition and for the reasons set forth below, the petition and motion for an evidentiary hearing are DENIED and a certificate of appealability shall not issue.

         I. Background

         On October 31, 2003, Petitioner was in Lakewood, New Jersey at a local Veterans of Foreign War (“VFW”) post when he became involved in a verbal altercation with a man named Shawn Maples (“Maples”). (See ECF No. 25-1 at 6.) The verbal altercation escalated in the VFW parking lot. (See id.) When Petitioner began to walk away, Maples followed, coming towards Petitioner. (See id.) At that point, Petitioner pulled out a loaded pistol from his pocket and fired towards Maples. (See id.) The bullet struck the ground. (See id.) Despite that first shot, Maples continued to come towards Petitioner and Petitioner again fired his pistol. (See Id. at 7-8.) Maples was approximately five to six feet away from Petitioner at the time and was struck by the second bullet. (See id.) Maples later died from his injury. (See Id. at 7) At no time during this altercation did Maples ever exhibit a weapon. (See id.)

         Petitioner was subsequently charged in a three-count indictment with first-degree murder for knowingly or purposely causing the death of Shawn Maples; second-degree possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose; and second-degree possession of a weapon by a convicted person. See State v. Hyman, Indictment No. 04-09-1530, 2013 WL 3014006, at *1 ( N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div. June 19, 2013). Petitioner was also later indicted for second-degree witness tampering. See id.

         On August 23, 2005, Petitioner agreed to a plea agreement. (See ECF No. 25-1; ECF No. 14-1.) Pursuant to the plea agreement, Petitioner pled guilty to an amended charge of first-degree aggravated manslaughter. (See ECF No. 14-1 at 1.) In exchange, the State dismissed the remaining charges against Petitioner and recommended to the court that Petitioner serve a twenty-five-year sentence subject to New Jersey's No Early Release Act (“NERA”). (See Id. at 2-4.) At the plea hearing, Petitioner indicated that he understood all of the terms of the plea agreement, that he was entering into the agreement knowingly and voluntarily, and that he was satisfied with his attorney's representation. (See ECF No. 25-1 at 3-5.) When Petitioner's counsel elicited the factual basis for the plea, Petitioner admitted to firing his gun at Maples, but stated that he never intended to shoot him. (See Id. at 6-7.) On October 14, 2005, Petitioner was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison with a mandatory period of parole ineligibility pursuant to NERA. See Hyman, 2013 WL 3014006, at *1.

         II. Procedural History

         The New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed Petitioner's conviction and sentence on November 14, 2007. See State v. Hyman, Indictment No. 04-09-1530, 2013 WL 3014006, at *1 ( N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div. June 19, 2013). However, the Appellate Division vacated the order of restitution that the trial court had imposed and remanded the matter for a restitution hearing. See Id. Upon remand, Petitioner's amount of restitution was reduced to $5, 000. See Id. Petitioner appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court, but the court denied his petition for certification on May 6, 2008. See State v. Hyman, 950 A.2d 906 (N.J. 2008).

         On April 1, 2008, Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief (“PCR”). See Id. at *2. On July 29, 2009, a hearing on the petition was held before the Honorable James Den Uyl, J.S.C. (See Dkt. No. 25-2.) Following oral argument, Judge Uyl denied the petition from the bench. (See Id. at 36.) The Appellate Division affirmed Petitioner's appeal for substantially the same reasons as the PCR court, holding that Petitioner's arguments were “clearly without merit.” See Hyman, 2013 WL 3014006, at *1, 3.

         In early 2014, Petitioner filed the instant habeas action. Respondent filed an answer in opposition, and Petitioner filed a traverse thereafter. In August 2018, Petitioner also filed a motion for an evidentiary hearing, and Respondent subsequently filed an answer in opposition.

         III. 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, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), Pub. L. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (Apr. 24, 1996), 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)).

         IV. Decision

         Petitioner's habeas action consists of several ineffective assistance of counsel claims against his plea counsel and direct appeal counsel. The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.” U.S. Const. amend. VI. The Supreme Court has recognized that “the right to counsel is the right to the effective assistance of counsel.” Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686 (1984) (quoting McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 771 n.14 (1970)). To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance, a party must establish that: 1) counsel's performance was deficient; and 2) the petitioner was prejudiced by counsel's deficiency. See Id. at 687. The first Strickland prong is an objective standard which requires the petitioner to show that counsel made errors “so serious that counsel was not functioning as the ‘counsel' guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.” Id. at 687. In evaluating whether counsel was deficient, “the proper standard for attorney performance is that of reasonably effective assistance.” Id. The Constitution requires a fair trial, not some higher quality of legal representation. See Id. at 688-89. Thus, the standard is highly deferential, and counsel is “strongly presumed to have rendered adequate assistance” and to have used “reasonable professional judgment.” Woods v. Etherton, 136 S.Ct. 1149, 1151 (2016).

         The second prong of the Strickland test requires that a petitioner demonstrate that “there is a reasonable probability, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.” Id. at 694. The petitioner bears the burden of demonstrating how he was prejudiced. Therefore, where a petition contains “no factual matter . . . and only provides unadorned legal conclusion[s] . . . without supporting factual allegations, that petition is insufficient to warrant an evidentiary hearing, and the petitioner has not shown his entitlement to habeas relief.” Judge v. United States, 119 F.Supp.3d 270, 280-81 (D.N.J. 2015) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

         This two-prong test also governs ineffective assistance of counsel claims arising out of the plea process. See Hill v. Lockhart,474 U.S. 52, 57-59 (1985). In the context of guilty pleas, the first element of the Strickland test remains “nothing more than a restatement of the standard of attorney competence.” Id. at 58. The prejudice prong, on the other hand, requires that a petitioner demonstrate that, “there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.” Id. at 59. Moreover, where a petitioner pleads guilty, he must show not only that he would not have pleaded guilty and would have instead ...

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