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Pope v. The Attorney General of State

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

January 10, 2020

TYSHAUN POPE, Petitioner,
v.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, et al., Respondents.

          OPINION

          HON. BRIAN R. MARTINOTTI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before this Court is a writ of habeas corpus filed by Petitioner Tyshaun Pope (“Petitioner”), a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a petition filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons set forth below, the petition is DENIED and a certificate of appealability shall not issue.

         I. Background

         On September 14, 2009, Petitioner conspired with Terrell Majette (“Majette”) to steal cocaine from another individual named Herman Neely. See ECF No. 8-5 at 13-14. During his plea colloquy, Petitioner stated he had been armed with a gun and that he intended to use it to place the victim in fear during the commission of the crime. See id. at 16-17. Although the robbery never occurred, Petitioner was ultimately still apprehended by law enforcement and he provided a statement indicating his role in conspiracy. See Id. at 18. Petitioner and Majette were subsequently indicted, under Indictment Number 10-05-0894, for: conspiracy, in violation of N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:5-2 and § 2C:15-1; unlawful possession of a weapon, in violation of N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:39-5b; possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, in violation of N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:39-4a; attempted armed robbery, in violation of N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:15-1 and § 2C:5-1; attempted possession of a controlled dangerous substance, in violation of N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:5-1 and § 2C:23-10a(1); obstructing the administration of law or other governmental function, in violation of N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:29-1; and certain persons not to have weapons, in violation of N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:39-7b(1). See ECF No. 8-3.

         A few months later, on December 12, 2009, Petitioner was in Neptune Township, New Jersey, when two police officers observed Petitioner making a hand-to-hand drug transaction with another individual. See ECF No. 8-24 at 9. When the officers approached Petitioner and indicated they believed he may have an outstanding warrant, Petitioner admitted, “I know I do.” See id. One of the officers, Officer Byham, then told Petitioner that if the warrant was confirmed, “[Petitioner] better not have any drugs on him.” See id. Petitioner immediately confessed to having a “package” between his buttocks. See id. Petitioner was arrested and transported to police headquarters where he was strip searched. See id. During the strip search, when Petitioner was asked to remove his pants, a plastic bag containing eighteen (18) bags of cocaine fell to the ground. See id. Petitioner was subsequently indicted, under Indictment Number 10-03-0437, for: possession of a controlled dangerous substance, in violation of N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:35-10a(1); possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute, in violation of N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:35-5b(3); and possession of a controlled dangerous substance on or within 1, 000 feet of school property with intent to distribute, in violation of N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:35-7. See ECF No. 8-2.

         On July 19, 2010, Petitioner entered into a plea agreement with the State. See ECF Nos. 8-4, 8-5. Under Indictment Number 10-03-0437, Petitioner pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine with intent to distribute within 1, 000 feet of school property, and under Indictment Number 10-03-0894, Petitioner pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit armed robbery and certain persons not to have firearms. See ECF No. 8-4 at 1. The State agreed to dismiss the remaining counts charged in the indictments and to recommend an aggregate term of ten (10) years imprisonment, subject to an eight-and-one-half (8 ½) year period of parole ineligibility. See id. at 3. Petitioner's sentencing recommendation was contingent upon his truthful testimony at the trial of his co-conspirator, Majette. See id.

         Although Petitioner testified at the trial of Majette, he failed to provide truthful testimony. See ECF No. 8-9 at 6-7, 26-27. Majette's trial ended in a hung jury. See ECF No. 8 at 10. Petitioner thereafter filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea, based upon the fact that the prosecutor believed he had provided untruthful testimony at Majette's trial and based upon Petitioner's belief that he had provided an inadequate factual basis for his crimes during his plea colloquy. See ECF Nos. 8-6, 8-7. The sentencing court ultimately denied Petitioner's motion to withdraw his guilty plea and sentenced him to an aggregate term of ten (10) years in prison, subject to an eight-and-one-half (8 ½) year period of parole ineligibility, as well as various fines and penalties. See ECF No. 8-9 at 26, 33-35.

         II. Procedural History

         On appeal to the New Jersey Appellate Division, Petitioner challenged only his ten (10) year sentence. See ECF No. 8-23 at 45. On August 1, 2012, the Appellate Division denied Petitioner's appeal, and held that the sentence was not “manifestly excessive or unduly punitive and does not constitute an abuse of discretion.” See id. Petitioner thereafter filed a petition for certification to the New Jersey Supreme Court. See id. at 46. Petitioner's certification was denied. See id.

         On May 29, 2013, Petitioner filed a pro se petition for Post-Conviction Relief (“PCR”) with the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division. See ECF No. 8-18. In his application, Petitioner raised numerous claims, including several ineffective assistance of counsel claims. See ECF No. 8-21. Following oral argument from both defense counsel and the State, the PCR court denied Petitioner's application. See ECF Nos. 24, 25. Petitioner appealed the denial to the New Jersey Appellate Division. See ECF No. 8-26. On March 29, 2016, the Appellate Division denied Petitioner's appeal, and affirmed the PCR court's decision. See State v. Pope, A-1429-14T2, 2016 WL 1192616 ( N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div. Mar. 29, 2016). Petitioner subsequently appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court. See ECF No. 8-32. His petition for certification was denied on June 24, 2016. See State v. Pope, 141 A.3d 229 (2016).

         In November 2016, Petitioner filed the instant Petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. See ECF No. 1. Subsequent to this Court's order directing Petitioner to provide sufficient factual and contextual support for the claims he raised in his first petition, Petitioner filed an amended Petition in April 2017. See ECF No. 5. On July 24, 2017, Respondent filed an answer in opposition. See ECF No. 8. Petitioner thereafter filed a brief in reply. See ECF No. 12.

         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, and therefore, 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). Therefore, “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 ...

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