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Buccheri v. Nogan

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

August 6, 2019

PATRICK NOGAN, et al., Respondents.




         The petitioner in this matter, Leonardo Buccheri, has submitted a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (DE 1.) For the reasons stated herein, Buccheri's petition is denied and no certificate of appealability shall issue. Buccheri's related motion for an evidentiary hearing (at DE 16) is also denied.


         On August 10, 2008, Buccheri's fiancée, Soveira Rojas (“Sophie”), died from a gunshot wound to her chest that she suffered while she and Buccheri were alone in their bedroom. State v. Buccheri, No. A-1086-11T4, 2013 WL 844362, at *11 ( N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div. Mar. 8, 2013). Buccheri's position throughout has been that Sophie accidentally shot herself. On November 17, 2009, he was nonetheless formally charged with, among other crimes, “purposefully or knowingly [causing] the death of [Sophie, ]” i.e., murder. (See Nov. 17, 2009 Indictment, DE 13-2.)

         The Honorable Joseph V. Isabella, J.S.C., presided over Buccheri's subsequent six-day jury trial in New Jersey Superior Court. On August 13, 2010, the jury acquitted Buccheri of the most serious charge he faced, i.e., first-degree murder.[1] (See Aug. 13, 2010 Trial Tr. 3, DE 13-37). That same jury, however, convicted him of the lesser-included offense of second-degree passion/provocation manslaughter, as well as second-degree possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose and fourth-degree possession of a defaced firearm. Buccheri, 2013 WL 844362, at *1. Then, “[a]fter the verdict was returned, [Buccheri] pled guilty to second-degree certain persons not to have weapons[.]” Id. at *1.

         The Appellate Division, on direct appeal, summarized the evidence underlying Buccheri's convictions as follows:[2]

According to the State's proofs, on August 10, 2008, [Buccheri, Sophie], and their children attended a summertime reunion barbeque for [Buccheri's] motorcycle club. Most people were eating, drinking and having a good time. Toward the end of the day, however, [Buccheri] and another man got into a heated verbal argument. Sophie, who appeared “intoxicated” to Harriet Collazo, the girlfriend of another club member, intervened and tackled [Buccheri] to the ground to prevent him from hitting the other man.
The picnic was winding down at that point, and everyone was packing up. Another couple, Vanessa and Vic, drove [Buccheri's] seven-year-old son and three-year-old daughter, and Sophie's nine-year-old son, back to [Buccheri's] Jersey City home. As [Buccheri] and Sophie were leaving the parking lot, he drove over a concrete parking barrier and got stuck. As several people assisted in lifting the car off the barrier, Sophie got into the driver's seat to prevent [Buccheri], who she believed was drunk, from driving, and locked the door. After arguing with Sophie about who would drive, [Buccheri] eventually got into the passenger's seat and Sophie drove them out of the park.
Collazo and her boyfriend also headed to [Buccheri's] house and arrived about twenty minutes before [Buccheri]. Vanessa, Vic, and the children were already there. When [Buccheri] and Sophie arrived, [Buccheri] was driving. As [Buccheri] exited the car, he looked angry and had “a whole bunch of scars, scratches in his face and head, ” which he did not have when he got into the car at the park. Sophie's “face was blotchy” as if she had “been smacked”; her ear was red; her chest was scratched; and she was crying and holding her thumb, which was swollen. A portion of her hair had also been ripped out. Collazo consoled her while [Buccheri] brought items from the barbeque into the house. When [Buccheri] heard Sophie complaining about her hand, he said, “That ain't fucking nothing. I'm sorry. But that ain't fucking nothing, I have had worse, it will heal.”
Shortly thereafter, Vanessa and Vic left, and about thirty minutes later, Collazo and her boyfriend also departed, leaving only [Buccheri], Sophie, and the three children at the house. On their return to the Bronx, Collazo's boyfriend got a phone call informing him that Sophie had died.
[Buccheri] called 911 at 7:43 p.m. and told the dispatcher, “I have an emergency, I have a gunshot wound at 312 Webster Avenue” and that “it was an accident.” He reported that Sophie “shot herself by accident, she grabbed the firearm . . . she put it to herself, she pulled the trigger” and that “she's bleeding profusely, she's throwing up blood from her mouth.” [Buccheri] stayed on the line as the 911 dispatcher told him to continue to monitor her condition and put a clean cloth or towel over her wound. [Buccheri] said that Sophie “was arguing, she was saying that she didn't wanna live anymore but we were at a barbeque and she was drinking a little bit.” A few minutes into the call, [Buccheri] reported that Sophie had stopped breathing and that he didn't feel a pulse. He also told the dispatcher, “I don't know where the gun came from. I just empt[ied] the clip out I'm dumping all the bullets.” According to the dispatcher, [Buccheri] sounded hysterical and his voice was so high-pitched that she thought he was a woman.
Jersey City police officer Kevin O'Connell was the first to respond at 7:49 p.m. When [Buccheri] eventually answered the door, he was talking on his cell phone-evidently to the 911 dispatcher-and was clearly upset and had blood on his hands, face, and clothing. Shortly thereafter, other police officers and an ambulance arrived, followed by personnel from the Prosecutor's Office. [Buccheri] directed them to the upstairs middle bedroom, where O'Connell and another officer found Sophie lying in a pool of blood, not breathing, on the bedroom floor very close to the doorway. They also observed a gun and shell casing on the floor. The paramedics pronounced Sophie dead at 8:02 p.m.
Thereafter, two officers brought [Buccheri] outside and sat him in a police car with the door left open. Without being questioned, [Buccheri] started talking about the incident to Jersey City Police Detective Keith Armstrong. [Buccheri] said that he had gone down to the car to look for Sophie's ring and when he returned with it, Sophie was on the bedroom floor crying. [Buccheri] was standing in the bedroom doorway and “tried to get to [Sophie, ]” but she was on the floor crying and holding the gun, stating something to the effect of “this is what [I] want.”
Although [Buccheri] was not under arrest, Detective Armstrong read him his Miranda rights. [Buccheri] continued to talk about the incident, stating that Sophie had stood at the foot of the bed near the closet and held the gun in her right hand with her left hand over the right, and that she had the gun to her chest and cocked it back and that it must have gone off by accident. After the gun had gone off, he grabbed Sophie and held her and tried to stop the bleeding, and then called 911.
Detective Armstrong provided [Buccheri] with a written Miranda rights and waiver form, which he signed at 8:38 p.m. Again, without being questioned, [Buccheri] further explained that he had met Sophie through the Myspace social networking website in January 2010, and that she had been living with him for about a month. He kept the gun, a black .45-caliber handgun, which he had gotten from a former tenant who owed him money, in his top drawer loaded with eight bullets. According to Armstrong, [Buccheri] did not appear drunk or upset, but was “rambling on, stating things over and over.”
Crime Scene Investigator Detective Michael Crowe arrived at the scene at around 8:58 p.m., took photographs and collected evidence. He recovered the .45-caliber handgun, which had blood stains on it, and an eight-round-capacity magazine, removed from the handgun, containing three live rounds, three blood-stained live rounds on the floor, one spent shell casing, and one spent bullet. These items were found between Sophie's body near the doorway and the bed, and not at the foot of the bed. Broken jewelry was also on the floor. No. suicide note was found.
New Jersey State Police Investigator James Joyce, a firearms expert, examined the handgun, the magazine, the discharged shell and bullet, and the seven unfired cartridges collected from the scene. Joyce found that the gun was in proper working condition, and explained that it would take five-and-one-half pounds of pressure to fire it in single action (with the hammer manually cocked back), and ten pounds of pressure in double action (without the hammer cocked back). He also observed that the gun's serial number had been removed.
Joyce concluded that the bullet recovered from the scene had been discharged from the gun. Of the seven live rounds recovered, one had a small indentation suggesting that it may have been struck by the firing pin, but not with enough force to discharge the cartridge from the gun. Such a small indentation can also be made when a cartridge is cycled in the chamber of the gun. Joyce also conducted a test firing, known as a pattern test, to determine how far the front of the barrel of the gun was from its trigger when it was fired. With the same type of ammunition found at the scene, Joyce fired rounds into a cloth at three-inch intervals, beginning at “contact, ” where the muzzle actually touches the surface, and ending at 36 inches, at which very few particles are left around the surface. The results of that testing were then photographed and submitted to the medical examiner's office.
On August 11, 2008, Dr. Jennifer Amolat performed the autopsy of Sophie. Regional Medical Examiner/Assistant State Medical Examiner Dr. Lyla E. Perez, who was in charge when the autopsy was conducted, and who testified at trial, also examined the body and reviewed Dr. Amolat's autopsy report, which included photographs taken during the examination. Both Dr. Amolat and Dr. Perez determined the cause of death to be a gunshot wound to the upper right chest.
The manner of death was left pending because the autopsy findings were inconsistent with other information the medical examiner's office had received indicating the manner of death was suicide. Yet, the absence of gunpowder inside the bullet wound indicated that the gun was not pressed tightly against the skin when it was fired. Instead, there was stippling, or gunpowder residue, around the entry wound, which Dr. Perez testified is unusual for suicide wounds. The short exit wound indicated that Sophie's back was pressed against a very hard object, which Dr. Perez testified would not have been the floor.
On October 20, 2008, Dr. Perez determined the manner of death to be homicide based on the distance of the muzzle and the positioning of the gun. She formed this opinion only after she compared the autopsy photographs with the results of the test firing performed on the gun, which led her to conclude that the muzzle of the gun had been three to six inches away from where the bullet entered Sophie when it was fired, and that the stippling was perpendicular to the skin. She thus concluded that, in her opinion, it is “very unlikely that a person shooting herself will hold the gun-the gun at that particular angle and cause this gunpowder residue, stippling. It is usually very much a contact wound when there is a suicidal shot.”
The autopsy also turned up evidence that Sophie died from aspirating blood, in which case her death would not have been instantaneous. Dr. Perez testified that it may have taken a “few minutes” for Sophie to die after being shot.
The examination also exposed other injuries to Sophie, namely, bruises and scrapes on her earlobe, thumb, arms, elbow, feet, and knees, as well as a broken fingernail. There was also subcutaneous bleeding in her lower abdomen that was most likely the result of blunt force trauma. The injuries were consistent with a physical struggle.
The toxicology report revealed that Sophie had a blood-alcohol level of 0.125. Although Sophie's hands were swabbed for gunpowder residue, no tests were conducted on that evidence. Nor was the gun tested for fingerprints.

Id. at *1-4.

         Three days after the jury returned its verdict, Buccheri, on August 16, 2010, filed a motion for a judgment of acquittal and a new trial. (See Trial Court's Nov. 16, 2010 Op. 2, DE 13-16 at PageID: 510.) During the November 16, 2010 hearing on that motion, Buccheri's trial counsel, A. Paul Condon, among other things, noted the critical nature of Dr. Perez's testimony in securing Buccheri's manslaughter conviction, claimed that her testimony constituted an impermissible net opinion, and requested that Buccheri therefore be acquitted of manslaughter notwithstanding the jury's verdict. (See, generally, Nov. 16, 2010 Hr'g Tr., DE 13-38.) Judge Isabella denied Buccheri's motion by way of a written opinion issued later that day. (DE 13-16 at PageID: 509-19.)

         On May 13, 2011, Judge Isabella “sentenced [Buccheri] on the manslaughter conviction to a ten-year term with an eighty-five percent parole ineligibility . . .; a concurrent eighteen-month term on the fourth-degree weapons offense; and a consecutive five-year term with a five-year period of parole ineligibility on the ‘certain persons' offense. [Buccheri's] aggregate sentence then was a fifteen-year term, thirteen and one-half years to be served without parole.” Buccheri, 2013 WL 844362, at *1. The Appellate Division affirmed Buccheri's conviction and sentence on March 8, 2013. Id. The New Jersey Supreme Court denied certification of Buccheri's direct appeal on October 3, 2013. State v. Buccheri, 75 A.3d 1161 (N.J. 2013) (table).

         On November 25, 2013, Buccheri filed an application for post-conviction relief (“PCR”) in Superior Court's Law Division (hereinafter, the “PCR court”). (See, e.g., PCR court's July 19, 2015 Op. 2, DE 13-19; accord Pet'r's Nov. 25, 2013 PCR Br. 5, DE 13-8.) Buccheri argued to the PCR court that his trial counsel, Condon, was ineffective because he “failed to investigate and proffer [a] medical expert to testify in support of his defense at trial[] that [Sophie] shot herself[.]” (DE 13-19 at 9; accord DE 13-8; Pet'r's Nov. 24, 2014 PCR Br. 47-50, DE 13-15.)

         On or about September 22, 2014, Buccheri's PCR counsel, Craig S. Leeds, filed a motion to compel Condon to produce a full and complete copy of Condon's criminal trial file. (DE 13-9.) By way of a letter date October 7, 2014, Leeds advised the PCR court that the purportedly “entire file” which Condon produced did not contain any time sheets or a copy of the parties' retention agreement. (DE 13-10.) Buccheri claimed that these documents were critical for purposes of substantiating his ineffective assistance claim because they would demonstrate what steps, if any, Condon agreed to and/or did take with respect to his investigation and retention of an expert to refute Dr. Perez's testimony. (See Oct. 10, 2014 Hr'g Tr. 5-6, DE 13-40.) Judge Isabella, then sitting as judge of the PCR court, held a hearing on this issue on October 10, 2014. (Id.) At that hearing, Condon - through another attorney at his firm - represented that there were no time sheets to produce due to the parties' flat fee arrangement. ( 7.) In accepting that representation as true, Judge Isabella noted that he “knew there was no time sheets[.]” (Id.) With respect to the parties' retention agreement, Condon took the position that he was not required to provide this document to Leeds because it “is not part of the trial file[, ]” but nonetheless provided a copy of the agreement to the PCR court for in camera review. (Id. at 9-10.) On October 23, 2014, the PCR court issued an order denying Leeds's request for a copy of the retainer agreement “as it [did] not contain any relevant information[.]” (DE 13-12.)

         Thereafter, on April 6, 2015, the PCR court conducted a non-evidentiary hearing[3] on the merits of Buccheri's PCR application. (Apr. 6, 2015 Hr'g Tr., DE 13-41.) On June 19, 2015, the PCR court entered an order denying Buccheri's PCR petition for the reasons set forth in its accompanying opinion. (DEs 13-18 and 13-19, respectively.) The Appellate Division affirmed that denial on April 3, 2017. State v. Buccheri, No. A-1482-15T3, 2017 WL 1207981, at *1 ( N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div. Apr. 3, 2017). The New Jersey Supreme Court denied certification of Buccheri's PCR appeal on July 20, 2017. State v. Buccheri, 182 A.3d 1280 (N.J. 2017) (table).

         Buccheri filed his § 2254 petition on December 8, 2017.[4] (DE 1.) Respondents submitted their answer on June 18, 2018. (DE 13.) Buccheri filed his traverse, i.e., reply, on or about July 5, 2018. (DE 15.) Thereafter, on or about February 20, 2019, Buccheri filed a motion formally requesting that this Court hold an evidentiary hearing with respect to his § 2254 ineffective assistance of counsel claim. (DE 16.)


         This Court can only grant habeas relief to a person in custody under judgment of a state court for violations of the Constitution, 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). Buccheri filed his § 2254 petition 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). This Court must accordingly “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). Critically, “a federal court may not [grant habeas relief] 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. 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 habeas petitioner bears the burden of proof in a § 2254 proceeding and, with respect to § 2254(d)(1), 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, this Court will assume that, “[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 Wilson v. Sellers, 138 S.Ct. 1188, 1194 (2018). Additionally, AEDPA deference is not excused when state courts issue summary rulings. For example, “[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, 62 U.S. 86, 99 (2011) (citing Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 265 (1989)).

         In addition to the above requirements, a federal court may not grant a writ of habeas corpus under § 2254 unless the petitioner has “exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A). To do so, a petitioner must “‘fairly present' all federal claims to the highest state court before bringing them in federal court.” Leyva v. Williams, 504 F.3d 357, 365 (3d Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). This requirement ensures that state courts “have ‘an initial opportunity to pass upon and correct alleged violations of prisoners' federal rights.'” Id. (citations omitted). To the extent that a petitioner's constitutional claims are unexhausted, a court can nevertheless deny them on the merits under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(2). See Taylor v. Horn, 504 F.3d 416, 427 (3d Cir. 2007); Bronshtein v. Horn, 404 F.3d 700, 728 (3d Cir. 2005).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Buccheri raises the following points for this Court's review:

Ground One: [Buccheri] was denied his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel during criminal proceedings and trial; trial counsel failed to consult with an[d] obtain a medical expert to investigate the forensics of shooting incident which prejudiced [Buccheri's] defense and violated his due process right to a fair trial.
Ground Two: Without medical basis the medical examiner testified that the gunshot “was not self-inflicted, ” thus directly contradicting the defense's claim [that] it was self-inflicted.
Ground Three: The jury should have been charged on the affirmative defense of prevention of suicide under N.J.S.A. 2C:7-7e.
Ground Four: There was insufficient evidence to warrant an instruction and conviction on passion provocation manslaughter.
Ground Five: It was flagrant misconduct for the prosecutor to manufacture the charge that [Buccheri] “waited until [Rojas] was dead to call 911.”

(Pet'r's § 2254 Br. at i, DE 1-1.)

         A. Ground Two: Buccheri's Challenges to Dr. Perez's Trial Testimony

         Buccheri, in Ground Two, claims that “the medical examiner[, Dr. Lyla E. Perez, ] testified [without medical basis] that [Sophie's gunshot] ‘was not self-inflicted,' thus directly contradicting the defense's claim [that] it was self-inflicted.” (DE 1-1 at 8.) He asserts that the “[a]dmission of [Dr. Perez's] net opinion [testimony] violated his constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial.”[5] (See Pet'r's Direct Appeal Br. 22, DE 13-4; DE 1-1 at 8 (incorporating the same arguments in support of this claim that he advanced on direct appeal).) In short, Buccheri is challenging the admission of Dr. Perez's expert testimony at trial.

         The admissibility of evidence at a state criminal proceeding is normally considered a question of state law which is not cognizable on federal habeas review. See Keller v. Larkins, 251 F.3d 408, 416 n.2 (3d Cir. 2001) (“A federal habeas court . . . cannot decide whether the evidence in question was properly allowed under the state law of evidence”); accord Marshall v. Lonberger, 459 U.S. 422, 438 (1983) (“[T]he Due Process Clause does not permit the federal courts to engage in a finely-tuned review of the wisdom of state evidentiary rules”); see also Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-70 (1991); Wilson v. Vaughn, 533 F.3d 208, 213-14 (3d Cir. 2008), cert. denied, 556 U.S. 1170 (2009). A § 2254 petitioner may nonetheless be entitled to federal habeas relief based a state court's purportedly improper evidentiary rulings, if, and only if, he can show that the admission of that challenged evidence deprived him of the “fundamental elements of fairness in [his] criminal trial[, ]” thereby violating his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. Glenn v. Wynder, 743 F.3d 402, 407 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Riggins v. Nevada, 504 U.S. 127, 149 (1992) (Thomas, J. dissenting)).

         Pertinently, “[t]he Supreme Court has ‘defined the category of infractions that violate ‘fundamental fairness' very narrowly, based on the recognition that, beyond the specific guarantees enumerated in the Bill of Rights, the Due Process Clause has limited operation.'” Id. (quoting Medina v. California, 505 U.S. 437, 443 (1992)). Indeed, “[i]n order to satisfy due process, [a petitioner's] trial must have been fair, it need not have been perfect.” Id. (citing United States v. Hasting, 461 U.S. 499, 508 (1983)). In the context of a state court evidentiary ruling, a due process violation will only be found if that ruling was “so arbitrary or prejudicial that it rendered the trial fundamentally unfair.” Scott v. Bartkowski, No. 11-3365, 2013 WL 4537651, at *9 (D.N.J. Aug. 27, 2013) (citing Romano v. Oklahoma, 512 U.S. 1, 12-13 (1994)).

         It is against this backdrop that this Court considers the extensive analysis and findings made by the Appellate Division in rejecting Buccheri's Ground Two arguments on direct appeal:

[Buccheri] contends it was reversible error to admit Dr. Perez's expert testimony because it critically failed to account for the possibility of an accidental shooting. As such, the omission of this vital link reduces the expert's testimony to no more than a “net opinion.” We disagree.
In the first place, no such objection was voiced during Dr. Perez's testimony, and only raised for the first time during the post-verdict motion for a new trial, when it was soundly rejected. And for good reason. The key issue at trial was whether the gunshot wound was self-inflicted or caused by [Buccheri]. In opining about the manner of death, Dr. Perez ruled out both “suicide” and “self-inflicted” injury. To be sure, Dr. Perez never explicitly discussed the possibility that Sophie accidentally shot herself, nor did she expressly indicate whether she meant “self-inflicted” to encompass accidental self-inflicted injury or was simply using the term interchangeably with “suicide.” However, by concluding that the death was a homicide, Dr. Perez clearly implied that the death was not self-inflicted, either intentionally or unintentionally. Indeed, in determining the victim's death to be a homicide, Dr. Perez testified that it is “very unlikely that a person shooting herself” would have held the gun from that angle and distance. This reasoning seems no less applicable to an unintentional self-inflicted bullet wound.
But even assuming the expert failed to rule out an accidental self-inflicted shooting, that fact does not render her opinion an inadmissible “net opinion.” As a threshold matter, it is undisputed that Dr. Perez was qualified to offer her expert opinion as to the cause and manner of death, and she testified to such without objection, based on her occupational experience and specialized scientific knowledge in forensic pathology acquired over many years. See Bellardini v. Krikorian, 222 N.J.Super. 457, 463 (App. Div. 1988); Correa v. Maggiore, 196 N.J.Super. 273, 282 (App. Div. 1984).
In addition to her qualifications to testify as an expert, Dr. Perez formed her opinion as to the cause and manner of death based on facts and data. See Biunno, Current N.J. Rules of Evidence, comment 2 on N.J.R.E. 702 (2002). ...

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