Washington v. Ricci, Civil No. 06-3546 (RMB).

Citation631 F.Supp.2d 511
Decision Date29 September 2008
Docket NumberCivil No. 06-3546 (RMB).
PartiesSean WASHINGTON, Petitioner, v. Michelle RICCI, et al., Respondents.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey

Page 511

631 F.Supp.2d 511
Sean WASHINGTON, Petitioner,
v.
Michelle RICCI, et al., Respondents.
Civil No. 06-3546 (RMB).
United States District Court, D. New Jersey.
September 29, 2008.

Page 512

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

Page 513

Sean Washington, # 633705B, Trenton, NJ, petitioner pro se.

Robin A. Hamett, Acting Assistant Prosecutor, Joshua M. Ottenberg, Acting Camden County Prosecutor, Camden, NJ, for Respondents.

OPINION

BUMB, District Judge.


Sean Washington filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging a judgment in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Camden County, on September 24, 1996, after a jury found him guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, two counts of purposeful or knowing murder, and possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose in violation of N.J. STAT. ANN. §§ 2C:5-2, 2C:11-3a(1) & (2), 2C:39-4a. Respondents filed an Answer, and Petitioner filed a Reply. For the reasons expressed below, this Court will dismiss the Petition with prejudice and decline to issue a certificate of appealability.

I. BACKGROUND

On July 30, 1996, a jury found Petitioner and co-defendant Kevin Baker guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, two counts of purposeful or knowing murder, and possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose in violation of N.J. STAT. ANN. §§ 2C:5-2, 2C:11-3a(1) & (2), 2C:39-4a. By judgment of conviction entered September 24, 1996, the Law Division sentenced Petitioner to life imprisonment, with 60 years of parole ineligibility.

The pertinent facts, as recounted by the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey, are as follows:

In summary, the trial testimony was that minutes before 6 a.m. on January 28, 1995, Camden police were dispatched to the Roosevelt Manor housing project following a report of gunshots fired. On arrival they saw the bodies of Rodney Turner and Margaret Wilson on the street in front of 1822 South 8th Street. Both victims had been shot in the head at close range. The police recovered three 9 mm shell casings, which tests revealed were fired by the same gun. No gun was ever found.

The State eyewitness was Denise Rand. She testified that about 6 a.m. on January 28, 1995, she was with her cousin Tyrone Moore outside the Roosevelt Manor housing project to purchase crack cocaine. She admitted that she used cocaine two hours earlier. Rand heard two to three gunshots. She said that while Moore ran off, she remained. She then saw Sean Washington and Kevin Baker run past her. She knew Washington since he was a small child and Baker for a few years. She added that before the two defendants ran by her, she saw the two victims "get shot." At first she said she was not certain which defendant committed the homicides, but after reviewing an earlier statement, she recalled that Baker shot Turner and Washington shot Wilson. Neither Baker nor Washington testified. No witnesses or evidence was adduced by the defense.

Page 514

State v. Washington, Docket No. A-4730-02T4 slip op., pp. 2-3, 2005 WL 2994284 (N.J.Super., App.Div., Nov. 9, 2005).

Petitioner appealed, and on March 17, 1999, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey affirmed. See State v. Washington, Docket No. A-3943-96T4 slip op., p. 2 (N.J.Super., Mar. 17, 1999). On June 9, 1999, the New Jersey Supreme Court denied certification. See State v. Washington, 161 N.J. 150, 735 A.2d 574 (1999) (table).

On January 4, 2000, Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief in the Law Division. By order filed November 17, 2000, the Law Division denied post-conviction relief. See State v. Washington, Indictment No. 1950-08-95 order (N.J.Super., Law Div., Nov. 17, 2000). Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration, which the Law Division denied on March 1, 2001, because it was not filed within 20 days after service of the final order, and because the court lacked jurisdiction, as the final order was on appeal. Petitioner appealed, arguing he was entitled to an evidentiary hearing, post-conviction relief counsel was ineffective, and the Law Division judge should have recused himself. In an opinion filed June 27, 2002, the Appellate Division remanded the matter to the Law Division with instructions to afford Petitioner's counsel an opportunity to call Dwight Collins (Petitioner's nephew and alleged alibi witness) as a witness in order that the PCR judge could assess his credibility and make a more informed decision as to whether trial counsel was derelict in failing to call the witness, and whether the testimony created a reasonable probability that the jury verdict would have been different. See State v. Washington, Docket No. A-3140-00T4 slip op., p. 7 (N.J.Super., App. Div., June 27, 2002).

The evidentiary hearing on remand was held on March 25, 2003. Dwight Collins testified on Petitioner's behalf. By order filed April 3, 2003, the Law Division denied Petitioner's motion to raise new claims (ineffective assistance of prior post-conviction relief counsel), and denied the petition on the merits. Petitioner appealed. On November 9, 2005, the Appellate Division affirmed. See State v. Washington, Docket No. A-4730-02T4 slip op., 2005 WL 2994284 (N.J.Super., App.Div., Nov. 9, 2005). The New Jersey Supreme Court denied certification on February 9, 2006. See State v. Washington, 186 N.J. 255, 893 A.2d 722 (2006) (table).

Petitioner executed the Petition which is now before this Court on July 28, 2006. The Clerk received it on August 1, 2006. After receiving this Court's Order issued pursuant to Mason v. Meyers, 208 F.3d 414 (3d Cir.2000), Petitioner elected to withdraw the Petition and file one all-inclusive Petition. Consequently, this Court dismissed the Petition without prejudice by Order entered October 3, 2006. Based on Petitioner's letter request filed August 21, 2007, this Court reopened the file and ordered Respondents to file an answer.

The Petition raises four grounds:

Ground One: PETITIONER WAS DENIED A FAIR TRIAL, DUE PROCESS AND RIGHT TO CONFRONTATION BY TRIAL COURT'S ADMISSION OF STATE'S WITNESS PRIOR INCONSISTENT STATEMENT AND LIMITATION OF CROSS EXAMINATION.

Ground Two: PETITIONER WAS DENIED A FAIR TRIAL AND DUE PROCESS BY PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT WHEN THE STATE FAILED TO INFORM DEFENSE COUNSEL THAT THEIR WITNESS GAVE THEM A FICTITIOUS ADDRESS.

Ground Three: INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL FOR FAILURE TO INVESTIGATE, PRESENT

Page 515

ALIBI WITNESS, ALONG WITH OTHER EXCULPATORY WITNESSES AND PUT THE STATE'S CASE THROUGH THE MEANINGFUL ADVERSARY PROCESS.

Ground Four: THE CUMULATIVE ERRORS AND PETITIONER'S CLAIM OF ACTUAL INNOCENCE AFFORDS HIM A NEW TRIAL.

(Pet. ¶ 12.A. to 12.D.)

Respondents filed an Answer and a copy of the state court record.1 Petitioner filed a Reply to the Answer.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A habeas corpus petition must meet "heightened pleading requirements." McFarland v. Scott, 512 U.S. 849, 856, 114 S.Ct. 2568, 129 L.Ed.2d 666 (1994) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254 Rule 2(c)). The petition must specify all the grounds for relief available to the petitioner, state the facts supporting each ground, and state the relief requested. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254 Rule 2(c)(1), (c)(2), (c)(3).

Section 2254(a) of Title 28 of the United States Code gives the court jurisdiction to entertain a habeas petition challenging a state conviction or sentence only where the inmate's custody violates federal law:

[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).

"In conducting habeas review, a federal court is limited to deciding whether a conviction violated the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68, 112 S.Ct. 475, 116 L.Ed.2d 385 (1991); 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); accord Barry v. Bergen County Probation Dept., 128 F.3d 152, 159 (3d Cir.1997). "Federal courts hold no supervisory authority over state judicial proceedings and may intervene only to correct wrongs of constitutional dimension." Smith v. Phillips, 455 U.S. 209, 221, 102 S.Ct. 940, 71 L.Ed.2d 78 (1982). "If a state prisoner alleges no deprivation of a federal right, § 2254 is simply inapplicable." Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107, 120 n. 19, 102 S.Ct. 1558, 71 L.Ed.2d 783 (1982). Moreover, "a state court's interpretation of state law, including one announced on direct appeal of the challenged conviction, binds a federal court sitting in habeas corpus." Bradshaw v. Richey, 546 U.S. 74, 76, 126 S.Ct. 602, 163 L.Ed.2d 407 (2005).

In reviewing a § 2254 petition, a federal court is not permitted to address a federal constitutional claim pertinent to the facts of the case unless the petitioner asserts the claim as a ground for relief.2

Page 516

Nor may the court recharacterize a ground asserted under state law into a federal constitutional claim.3 "[E]rrors of state law cannot be repackaged as federal errors simply by citing the Due Process Clause." Johnson v. Rosemeyer, 117 F.3d 104, 110 (3d Cir.1997). Moreover, "it is well established that a state court's misapplication of its own law does not generally raise a constitutional claim." Smith v. Horn, 120 F.3d 400, 414 (3d Cir.1997) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Smith v. Zimmerman, 768 F.2d 69, 71, 73 (3d Cir.1985).

The AEDPA limits a federal court's authority to grant habeas relief when a state court has adjudicated petitioner's federal claim on the merits. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Where a federal claim was "adjudicated on the merits" in state court proceedings, the writ must be denied unless adjudication of the claim either involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law, or was based on unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence before the state court. See 28 U.S.C. §...

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