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Hamilton v. Nogan

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 13, 2019

CHARLES HAMILTON, Petitioner,
v.
PATRICK NOGAN, et al., Respondents.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          PETER G. SHERIDAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Petitioner Charles Hamilton ("Petitioner" or "Hamilton"), a convicted criminal in the State of New Jersey, has filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus (the "Petition"), pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (ECF Nos. 1, 9.) Having considered the parties' submissions and the relevant records of this case, the Petition will be denied and a certificate of appealability will not issue.

         II. BACKGROUND

         On March 14, 2005, Hamilton was charged in a multi-count, multi-defendant indictment with first-degree conspiracy to commit racketeering. The Counts are as follows:

Count One: First-degree conspiracy to commit racketeering (N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C41-2(d) 2C:5-2)
Count Two: First-degree racketeering (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:41-2;
Count Three: First-degree leader of a narcotics trafficking network (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C35-3)
Count Four: First-degree distribution of a controlled dangerous substance (N.J. Stat Ann §§ 2C:35-5(a)(1), (b)(1), 2C:2-6;
Count Six: Third-degree distribution of a controlled dangerous substance on or within 1000 feet of school property (N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:35-7, 2C:2-6;
Count Eight: Second-degree possession with intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance (N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:35-5(a)(1), (b)(2), 2C:2-6)
Count Nine: Third-degree possession with intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance (N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:35-5(a)(1), (b)(3), 2C:2-6; Counts Ten, Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen: Second-degree possession of weapons during the commission of certain crimes (N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C35-5, 2C:39-4.1(a), 2C:2-6)
Count Fourteen: Second-degree possession with intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:35-5(a)(1), (b)(2), 2C:2-6;
Counts Fifteen, Sixteen and Seventeen: Second-degree possession of weapons during the commission of certain crimes (N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:35-5(a)(1), (b)(3), 2C:2-6;
Counts Twenty, Twenty-One, Twenty-Two, Twenty-Three, Twenty-Four, and Twenty-Five: Fourth-degree unlawful purchase of a handgun (N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C58-3 2C39-10(a), 2C:2-6);
Counts Twenty-Seven and Twenty-Eight: Second-degree money laundering (N.J. Stat Ann § 2C:21-25(a))

(ECF No. 34-2.)

         The Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division described the facts underlying Hamilton's conviction, as adduced at a jury trial, as follows:

The investigation started in April of 2004 when [Investigator Brian Kiely] received information from a confidential informant that Larry Willis was selling heroin. A wiretap on Mr. Willis's phone revealed that his supplier was "Mark" who was later identified as Robert Cashwell. A wiretap was placed on Mr. Cashwell's phone to determine who else he supplied heroin to and who supplied heroin to him. Through the wiretap, the police discovered that Mr. Cashwell supplied heroin to Akeem Blue, Coby Welch, Larry Willis, and Jameel Alford. The individuals were identified through surveillance. The police would intercept the calls, listen to the individuals arrange meetings, and set up surveillance where the meeting was to take place.
By setting up surveillances at meetings, investigators learned that the petitioner was sometimes referred to as "Black." On cross, Investigator Kiely indicated that the petitioner never referred to himself as Black, and no one called him Black directly. However, people referred to him as Black when speaking about him. Investigator Kiely further indicated that he identified the petitioner's voice and was able to determine that he was recorded during the wiretap by making conversation with him after his arrest and by asking "pedigree questions" during processing.
On June 24, 2004, Mr. Cashwell and the defendant [Hamilton] arranged to meet at 413 Dodd Street. Mr. Cashwell and Shameekah Melvin went to 413 Dodd Street in a blue Infiniti. Mr. Cashwell exited 413 Dodd Street carrying a black bag, which he put into the trunk of the Infiniti.
Mr. Cashwell then met with Mr. Willis. He then met Mr. Blue at ¶ 7-11 on Broad Street in Hamilton, where they were both arrested. In the trunk of Mr. Cashwell's car, police found heroin and $4, 670 in cash. Over $40, 000 was seized from Mr. Blue's car.[1]

(ECF No. 34-14, at 94-96 (footnotes omitted).) Following the arrests at the Hamilton 7-Eleven, law enforcement executed search warrants at several properties based on information received via the wire taps. (Id. at 96.) Notably, law enforcement executed a search warrant at two apartments of 413 Dodd Street in West Orange, New Jersey where they found 50 bricks of heroin, $84, 455 in cash, and identification cards for Hamilton. (Id.) Law enforcement also intercepted a call at 2:00 a.m. on June 25, 2004 between Hamilton and Haseezah Harris, in which Hamilton "told Ms. Harris the building was going to be raided" and instructed her to "put. .. them hammers in the bag and . . . put dem outside ... the back door." (Id. at 97-98.) When law enforcement searched 12 Hawthorne Place in East Orange, "investigators located heroin and three loaded semi-automatic handguns in a bag underneath the backdoor steps." (Id.)

         Hamilton denied any involvement in the distribution of heroin and several of his codefendants testified on his behalf. Cashwell testified that Hamilton "owns a construction business" and "that he did not work for the petitioner in the construction business or in any illegal enterprise." (Id. at 99.) Cashwell also testified that Hamilton did not go by the alias "Black," but his brother Daron Hamilton, who was also a codefendant in this matter, did. (Id.) Nevertheless, on cross-examination, Cashwell identified Hamilton's voice on several recorded phone calls and admitted that a call between him and Hamilton did discuss "a heroin customer and a brand of heroin." (Id. at 99-100.) That call arranged for the sale of heroin to Willis and Blue on June 24, 2004. (ECF No. 34-43, at 33-34.)

         A jury convicted Hamilton of Counts One, Two, Four, Fifteen, Sixteen, Seventeen, and Twenty-Seven. (ECF No. 34-3, at 1.) The jury was unable to reach a unanimous on the remaining counts. (ECF No. 34-48, at 5-6.)

         While the jury was deliberating, Hamilton fled the jurisdiction. (See ECF No. 34-45, at 23-24, 27.) Hamilton was apprehended approximately one year later in Georgia and was returned to New Jersey for sentencing. (ECF No. 34-52, at 4.) A sentencing hearing was held on February 21, 2008, at which time the trial court granted the State's motion for extended term sentencing. (ECF No. 34-3, at 3.) Hamilton was ultimately sentenced to life in prison with a twenty-five-year period of parole ineligibility on Count Four; a consecutive term of fifteen years with a five-year period of parole ineligibility on Counts One and Two; three concurrent ten-year terms on Counts Fifteen, Sixteen, and Seventeen; and a concurrent five-year term on Count Twenty-Seven. (Id. at 1.)

         Hamilton appealed his conviction and sentence to the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division. (ECF No. 34-4.) On June 29, 2010, in an unpublished, per curiam opinion, the Appellate Division affirmed Hamilton's conviction and sentence. (ECF No. 34-6.) Hamilton filed a motion for reconsideration of the Appellate Division's decision, which was denied on July 27, 2010. (ECF No. 34-8.) Hamilton thereafter filed a petition for certification to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which was denied on January 7, 2011. (ECF No. 34-12.)

         On February 18, 2011, Hamilton filed his first petition for post-conviction relief (the "First PCR") in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division. (ECF No. 34-13, at 80-88.) On January 23, 2013, the Superior Court denied the First PCR, finding that certain claims were procedurally barred under the New Jersey Court Rules and that the claims otherwise lacked merit. (ECF No. 34-14, at 91-120.) On February 22, 2013, Hamilton appealed. (Id. at 122.)

         While Hamilton's appeal of the First PCR was pending, on December 30, 2013, Hamilton filed a second petition for post-conviction relief (the "Second PCR"). (ECF No. 34-21, at 25.) On January 30, 2014, the Second PCR was denied as procedurally barred by the Superior Court. (Id. at 24.) Hamilton appealed that denial to the Appellate Division. (ECF No. 34-21, at 22-23.) While the appeal was pending, Hamilton filed a motion for a limited remand to the Second PCR court for it to consider alleged newly discovered evidence, which was denied. (ECF Nos. 34-23, 25.)

         On January 26, 2016, in a consolidated opinion, the Appellate Division denied Hamilton's appeals of both his First and Second PCRs, affirming the Superior Court's determination that the claims raised in both petitions were procedurally barred under the New Jersey Court Rules. (ECF No. 34-26.) On February 19, 2016, Hamilton filed a petition for certification of his First and Second PCRs with the New Jersey Supreme Court. (ECF No. 34-27.) The New Jersey Supreme Court denied certification on July 11, 2016. (ECF No. 34-29.)

         While the appeals of Hamilton's First and Second PCRs were pending in the Appellate Division, Hamilton filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, arguing that the State's motion for an extended term sentence was time-barred and should have been denied. (ECF No. 26-8, at 4-12.) On September 4, 2014, Hamilton's motion was denied. (ECF No. 26-9, at 2.) Hamilton thereafter moved for reconsideration of that denial, (Id. at 4), which was denied on March 31, 2015, (ECF No. 26-10). Hamilton appealed that decision, which was affirmed by the Appellate Division on September 1, 2016. (ECF No. 34-33.) The New Jersey Supreme Court denied certification on January 20, 2017. (ECF No. 34-36.)

         On or about September 19, 2016, Hamilton, acting pro se, filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (ECF No. 1.) On October 20, 2016, Hamilton's habeas action was administratively terminated for failure to file an account certification in support of his application to proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF No. 2.) Hamilton refiled his application to proceed in forma pauperis, which was denied by this Court on March 1, 2017. (ECF No. 6.) Following receipt of the filing fee from Hamilton, this Court reopened the matter on May 26, 2017. (ECF No. 9.)

         In the Petition, Hamilton raises the following claims for relief:

Ground One: The trial court deprived Mr. Hamilton of his Constitutional Right to Counsel of [his] Choice.
Ground Two: The trial court improperly instructed the jury concerning the elements of possession of a firearm while committing certain drug crimes, which constituted an amendment to counts 15, 16, and 17 of the indictment.
Ground Three: The trial court improperly charged the jury as to count four, in violation of Petitioner's rights to due process and a fair trial in violation of U.S. Const. Amends. V, VI, XIV.
Ground Four: There is a Reasonable Probability That, but for Trial and Appellate Counsel's Deficient Performance in Five Critical Aspects, the Outcome Would Have been Different: (1) His failure to make sure that the alleged alias name "Black" was redacted off of th[e] recorded voice transcripts[;] (2) His failure to object to jury instructions that Constructively Amended the indictment concerning count's [sic] 15, 16, and 17[;] (3) His failure to object to jury instructions that Constructively Amended this indictment concerning count four[;] (4) His failure to object permitted the Trial to be Tainted by highly prejudicial other crimes evidence, as to count 4[; and] (5) Sentencing, appellate and 1st PCR counsel's failure to notice and challenge the time barred extended term motion.

(ECF No. 1, at 25-30.) While Hamilton acted pro se in filing the Petition, he later retained counsel, who filed a brief on his behalf on or about January 13, 2018. (ECF No. 25-1.) Counsel's brief only pertains to Ground One of the Petition-that Hamilton was denied his Sixth Amendment right to choose his own counsel. (See id.) Respondents filed an Answer to the Petition, in which they argue that certain of Hamilton's claims are procedurally defaulted and that Hamilton has failed to show the denial of any federal constitutional right. (ECF No. 33.) Hamilton filed a pro se Reply to the Answer. (ECF No. 35.)[2]

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2254, "a district court shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a).

         "[Section] 2254 sets several limits on the power of a federal court to grant an application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a state prisoner." Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170 (2011); Glenn v. Wynder, 743 F.3d 402, 406 (3d Cir. 2014). Section 2254(a) permits a court to entertain only claims alleging that a person is in state custody "in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." Id.

         A federal court's authority to grant habeas relief is further limited when a state court has adjudicated petitioner's federal claim on the merits. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). If a claim has been adjudicated on the merits in state court proceedings, 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 the State court proceeding.'" Parker v. Matthews, 567 U.S. 37, 40-41 (2012) (quoting 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254(d)). However, when "the state court has not reached the merits of a claim ...


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