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Gould v. Bonds

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 30, 2019

CHARLES W. GOULD, Petitioner,
v.
WILLIE BONDS, et al., Respondents.

          Charles W. Gould, No. 693505/C-398136, South Woods State Prison, Petitioner pro se.

          Patrick Daniel Isbill, Camden County Prosecutor's Office, Counsel for Respondents.

          OPINION

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         Petitioner Charles Gould (“Petitioner”), a prisoner presently incarcerated at South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton, New Jersey, has filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (the “Petition”). (ECF No. 1.) Respondents Willie Bonds and the Attorney General for the State of New Jersey (“Respondents”) filed an Answer to the Petition (the “Answer”). (ECF No. 9.) For the following reasons, the Court will deny the Petition and a certificate of appealability will not issue.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In its opinion on direct appeal, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, provided the following summary of the factual background of Petitioner's case:

Around 4:00 p.m. on March 30, 2010, Brandon Adams was standing at the corner of Rand and Thorndyke in Camden selling drugs with Kelly Robinson who was acting as a look-out. Alcedes Santori walked past the two men and greeted Adams. Santori continued toward a friend's house nearby. While in the house, Santori noticed Victoria Long outside and went down to smoke a cigarette with her. Long only had one cigarette so she walked toward Adams to see if he had any. Long returned with a cigarette and then walked with Santori back towards Adams.
As Santori and Long approached Adams, they noticed two men. One stayed at the corner while the other, armed with a handgun, approached Adams. The gunman, later identified as defendant, put the gun to Adams's stomach and demanded his money. Adams appeared to recognize the gunman and, at first, thought he was joking. Once he realized the gunman was serious, Adams turned over his money.
Defendant then ordered Adams to take him to where his “stash” of drugs was hidden. Adams directed defendant to an alleyway where he had kept some of his drugs, but explained that there were no drugs there. Defendant became irate and shot Adams five times, causing severe injuries to his arm, stomach and liver. Defendant then left with the other person.
After the shooting, Santori and Long fled back to their friend's house. Adams followed them and asked them to call an ambulance. When the ambulance did not arrive promptly, Long and her brother, Michael Leslie, drove Adams to Cooper University Hospital. Adams underwent several surgeries to repair injuries from gunshot wounds to his abdomen and liver, and two fractured bones in his right arm.
New Jersey State Trooper Arthur Barilotti led the investigation into Adams's shooting. Barilotti conducted a tape-recorded interview of Robinson who provided a description of the gunman. Robinson said he had seen the gunman before.
The following day, Barilotti went back to the hospital to question Adams. While Adams provided a description of the gunman, he would not cooperate further with the investigation. Barilotti learned from Michael Leslie, Long's brother, that the “the word on the street” was that the shooter's nickname was “Mister.” On April 1, 2010, Adams's mother, Jean Adams, contacted the Camden Police Department and informed them that her son told her that a man named “Mister” had shot him, but he did not want her to tell the police because he did not want to be known as a “snitch.” After speaking with Ms. Adams, Detective Barilotti returned to the hospital with her. Ms. Adams went into her son's room first, while Barilotti waited outside the room. Barilotti heard Adams yelling at his mother for talking to the police and told her that he could be in danger now. After hearing this, Barilotti entered the hospital room to try and speak with Adams but he became angry and refused to provide any information.
After learning that defendant was known as “Mister, ” Barilotti prepared a photo array for the three eyewitnesses to the shooting, Long, Santori and Robinson. Santori picked up defendant's photo, hesitated, but did not identify any of the photos as the shooter.
While the police were transporting Santori home, he began to cry and expressed concern for his family's safety. Trooper Michael Legati asked him if he saw the shooter in the photo array and he responded that it was number four, “Mister.” The police, however, were not able to obtain a formal statement from Santori.
Long was shown the same photo array and identified defendant, whom she knew as “Mister.” She told police that the way “Mister” shot Adams was not right and that it seemed “personal.” Robinson viewed the photo array and also identified defendant as the shooter. He said he was “positive it's him, ” and that he was “a hundred percent” positive. Robinson then explained that “Mister” threatened him the night of the shooting and said what happened to Adams could happen to him.
At trial, Long, Santori and Robinson all denied identifying defendant as the shooter in the photo arrays. The State conducted a Gross hearing to determine if the witnesses' prior inconsistent statements identifying defendant could be admitted. The trial court found these pre-trial identifications to be reliable and permitted their admission.
During the trial, Adams was called as a witness for defendant and testified that he was able to see who shot him and Adams was not the shooter. On cross-examination, the State asked Adams whether he told his mother that “Mister” was the person who shot him. When he denied this, the trial court permitted the State to call Ms. Adams as a rebuttal witness. Ms. Adams testified that while Adams was in the hospital he told her that “someone named ‘Mister' shot him.” She indicated that Adams described “Mister” as a light-skinned male who wore glasses.
Defendant told her not to tell anyone about this.
Defendant did not testify on his behalf.

State v. Gould, A-2756-11T3, 2013 WL 5300618, at *1-3 ( N.J.Super. App. Div. 2013) (internal footnotes omitted).

         Petitioner was sentenced to an aggregate term of twenty-five years imprisonment. (ECF No. 9-3.) The Appellate Division affirmed Petitioner's conviction and sentence. See id. at *7. On April 4, 2014, the New Jersey Supreme Court denied Petitioner's application for a writ of certiorari. See State v. Gould, 88 A.3d 936 (N.J. 2014).

         Thereafter, Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief (“PCR”). (ECF No. 9-13.) Following oral argument, the PCR court denied Petitioner's application. (ECF No. 9-35 at 2.) The Appellate Division affirmed the PCR court's denial but remanded the matter for a correction of the judgment of conviction to reflect the accurate period of parole ineligibility. See State v. Gould, A-5052-14T1, 2017 WL 4079023, at *5 ( N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div. Sept. 15, 2017). The New Jersey Supreme Court denied Petitioner's request for a writ of certiorari. See State v. Gould, 180 A.3d 697 (N.J. 2018).

         In May 2018, Petitioner filed the instant habeas petition, pro se. (ECF No. 1 at 16.) Petitioner raises claims of prosecutorial misconduct, trial court error, and ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. (See generally ECF No. 1-4.) On August 28, 2018, Respondents filed an answer opposing Petitioner's § 2254 application. (ECF No. 9.)

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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. Rodriquez, 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, 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).

         If a claim has been adjudicated on the merits in state court, [1] 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 (2012) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)).

         A court begins the analysis under § 2254(d)(1) by determining the relevant law clearly established by the Supreme Court. See Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 660 (2004). Clearly established law “refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme Court's] decisions as of the time of the relevant state-court decision.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000). A court must look for “the governing legal principle or principles set forth by the Supreme Court at the time the state court renders its decision.” Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 71-72 (2003). “[C]ircuit precedent does not constitute ‘clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court,' [and] therefore cannot form the basis for habeas relief under AEDPA.” Parker, 567 U.S. at 48-49 (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)).

         A decision is “contrary to” a Supreme Court holding within 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), if the state court applies a rule that “contradicts the governing law set forth in [the Supreme Court's] cases” or if it “confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme Court] and nevertheless arrives at a [different result.]” Williams, 529 U.S. at 405-06. Under the “‘unreasonable application' clause of § 2254(d)(1), a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme Court's] decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.” Williams, 529 U.S. at 413. “[A]n unreasonable application of federal law, ” however, “is different from an incorrect application of federal law.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 410).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Prosecutor's Misuse of Testimonial Hearsay

         In his first ground for relief, Petitioner submits that the prosecutor's introduction of hearsay testimony from non-testifying witnesses violated his rights under the Confrontation Clause. (ECF No. 1-4, at 5-7.) Specifically, Petitioner contends that Detective Barilotti improperly testified about out-of-court statements obtained from individuals who did not testify at trial. (Id.)

         Throughout trial, defense counsel attacked Detective Barilotti's investigation as having focused on Petitioner, also known as “Mister”, based solely upon speculation and “the word on the street.” (ECF No. 9-28, at 15; ECF No. 9-32, at 21.) On cross-examination of Detective Barilotti, the defense attempted to emphasize this point by eliciting testimony from Detective Barilotti that two individuals who were not called as witnesses at trial had identified Petitioner as the shooter based solely upon “the word on the street.” (ECF No. 9-31, at 11.)

Defense Counsel: Detective, isn't [it] true that before the photo array was prepared you had actually only heard the name “Mister” from two people?
Detective Barilotti: That's correct.
Defense Counsel: And neither one of those people were witnesses ...

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