Douglas v. Hendricks

Decision Date01 August 2002
Docket NumberCiv. No. 99-5642 (WHW).
PartiesROBERT E. DOUGLAS, Petitioner, v. ROY L. HENDRICKS, Superintendent, and JOHN FARMER, Attorney General of New Jersey, Respondents.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of New Jersey

Robert E. Douglas, New Jersey State Prison, Trenton, NJ, Pro Se Petitioner.

Raymond Hoffman, Office of the County Prosecutor, Newark, NJ, Attorney for Respondents Roy L. Hendricks and The Attorney General of the State of New Jersey, John J. Farmer.


WILLIAM H. WALLS, District Judge.

Petitioner Robert E. Douglas ("Petitioner" or "Defendant") petitions pro se for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2254. The grounds for the Petition can be divided into the following categories: (1) denial of speedy trial rights; (2) erroneous reinstatement of indictment; (3) unconstitutional search and seizure; (4) unconstitutional arrest warrant; (5) inadequate representation, including denial of counsel, constructive denial of counsel and ineffective assistance of counsel; (6) denial of a fair trial, including prosecutorial misconduct, erroneous admission of evidence, erroneous jury instructions, failure to declare mistrial and verdict against the weight of the evidence; (7) denial of a direct appeal; (8) erroneous opinion by the Appellate Division; (9) denial of a speedy appeal and (10) deprivation of liberty. Respondent, State of New Jersey opposes the Petition. The Petition is denied on all grounds for the reasons stated herein.


On October 14, 1987, Defendant was charged in Essex County Indictment No. 3400-10-87, with two counts of murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1) and (2) (Counts One and Two); aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(1) (Count Three); possession of a handgun without a permit, N.J.S.A 2C:39-5b (Count Four); and possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a (Count Five). He was convicted by a jury on all counts in a verdict returned on November 16, 1990. The jury elected not to impose the death penalty and on December 13, 1990, Defendant was sentenced to concurrent terms of life imprisonment with thirty years parole ineligibility on Counts One and Two and concurrent terms on the remaining counts. The trial court denied Petitioner's motion for a new trial.

The Superior Court, Appellate Division affirmed Defendant's conviction on June 23, 1995, and in doing so declined to consider several of Petitioner's constitutional claims because of the "undeveloped and incomplete" nature of the record and directed petitioner to seek post-conviction relief on those grounds. The New Jersey Supreme Court denied a petition for Certification on October 11, 1995. Petitioner filed a petition for habeas corpus relief in federal district court, which was dismissed on December 20, 1996 because Petitioner had not exhausted State remedies. On December 2, 1997, Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief in Superior Court, Law Division, Essex County. On October 6, 1998 Hon. Alvin Weiss, granted Petitioner's request for post-conviction relief on the basis that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial and dismissed the indictment.

The dismissal was stayed until October 22, 1998 to enable the state to file a Notice of Appeal to the Appellate Division, which was filed on October 7, 1998. On November 6, 1998, the post-conviction relief court ("PCR court") granted the state an extension of the stay until December 7, 1998. The state moved before the Appellate Division for an additional stay of the Order on November 13, 1998. Petitioner was released from prison on December 7, 1998. On December 14, 1998, the Appellate Division granted the state's motion. Petitioner was taken into custody on December 21, 1998, and released on his own recognizance until January 6, 1999. On June 17, 1999, the Appellate Division reversed the grant of post-conviction relief and reinstated his conviction, finding that Petitioner's right to a speedy trial had not been violated. On October 12, 1999, the New Jersey Supreme Court denied a petition for certification.

Factual Background Established At Trial

The following facts were stipulated at trial: At approximately 9:30 a.m. on August 8, 1987, Deborah Neal ("Neal") called the East Orange Police to report a shooting at 7 Chestnut Street, Apartment 2E in East Orange, New Jersey. She indicated that "Skeet", the occupant of Apartment 2D, was the shooter. The dispatcher informed the responding officer, Michael Brown, that there were two victims of a shooting in Apartment 2E, that the suspect possibly lived in Apartment 2D and that he might still be in the area.

Officer Brown, accompanied by Officers Tisdale and Powell, entered 7 Chestnut Street and found the door of Apartment 2E ajar. The officers conducted a search and found sisters Estella and Charlene Moore lying in the bedroom, each with multiple gun wounds. They did not find any other persons or weapons, however, they did recover a spent round under a radiator in the bedroom.

The officers then entered Apartment 2D, whose door was also ajar. Their visual search of the apartment did not reveal any weapons or persons. At 10:00 a.m. Captain John Armeno of the East Orange Police Department arrived and searched for weapons or "any other thing of evidentiary value" as he later admitted during trial. Captain Armeno confiscated a photograph of a man, whom he believed was the occupant of the apartment. The building manager confirmed the Captain's belief and explained that the man in the photograph was known as "Skeet". Sergeant Ronald Sepe then took the photograph to University Hospital, where the third shooting victim, Georgianna Broadway, was being treated.

When Sepe arrived at the hospital, he found Broadway lying on a stretcher in the emergency room with multiple gun wounds. She had been intubated and was having difficulty speaking. Sepe asked Broadway if she knew the person or persons responsible for the shooting. Broadway shook her head "yes" and said "Skeet". Sepe showed her the photograph of "Skeet" and asked her if that was the person responsible for the crime. Broadway nodded her head "yes" and began to cry.

Later that afternoon, an arrest warrant for Defendant's arrest and a search warrant for his apartment were executed. The application for the search warrant requested, among other things, seizure of photographs of Petitioner. At the hearings on the Motions to Suppress, Detective John Lee testified that he did not mention in the application for the search warrant that a photograph of petitioner had already been seized during an earlier search of the apartment. After obtaining the warrant police officers searched the apartment and seized various drug paraphernalia and cocaine, a Rolodex file, two black leather fighting gloves, and an empty black leather handgun holster. The officers examined the Rolodex and found Irving Gaskins' name listed.

On August 9, 1987, the day after the shootings, Sergeants Whitner and Sepe went to Gaskins' apartment in Newark, New Jersey. The officers were voluntarily admitted by a woman, who indicated that Defendant and Gaskins were in the living room. The officers informed Defendant that he was under arrest and they handcuffed him and patted him down. Defendant allegedly had a fully loaded six-shot .38 caliber revolver in his waistband and five additional .38 caliber cartridges in his right front pants pocket. Petitioner was then taken into custody.

Forensic tests proved that the fatal rounds and the bullets recovered at the crime scene had been fired from the revolver seized from the Petitioner.

Broadway testified at trial that on August 7, 1987 she visited the Moore apartment and smoked cocaine and drank alcohol with Charlene Moore until 5 a.m, when Estelle Moore returned to the apartment. At about 5:30 a.m. she and Charlene went to sleep in the bedroom. Broadway awakened some time later and heard Estella speaking to a man. Broadway testified that she questioned Charlene as to whom Estella was speaking. Broadway then recognized the voice as that of "Skeet," whom she had met for the first time the previous week. While Estella was in the bedroom with Charlene and Broadway, someone pushed open the door, fired six fast shots and shot each of them. Although Broadway heard the shots, she did not see the shooter. When Broadway noticed that Charlene and Estella had been shot and were dead, she immediately went home and told her roommate Deborah Neal that "Skeet" had shot her. Neal contacted the ambulance and police, however she never informed the dispatcher that Broadway did not see the shooter. Before being transported to the hospital, Broadway told the Responding Officer that "Skeet" had shot her.

Factual Background For Speedy Trial Violation

On August 9, 1987 Petitioner was arrested and a public defender from the Office of Public Defenders ("OPD") was immediately appointed to represent him. On November 18, 1987, Petitioner entered a plea of not guilty and the State served a notice of aggravating factors on him, which indicated that his case would be tried as a capital one. On January 21, 1988, the OPD notified petitioner that it would no longer represent him because its investigation revealed that he did not qualify as indigent. The OPD based this determination on the fact that Defendant owned a home with a market value of between $70,000 and $110,000 and he was expecting recovery from a pending civil action. At the time of the public defender's withdrawal, four witnesses had been interviewed.

Through a series of errors by the court and the OPD, it was difficult for Petitioner to appeal the withdrawal of appointed counsel. Defendant nonetheless objected to the OPD's determination and following hearings on February 2 and 16, August 18 and October 12, 1988, Judge Falcone determined that Petitioner was in fact indigent and instructed the OPD to represent him.1 Consequently, Petitioner was without representation for...

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