SINGLETON v. JOHNSON et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Robert B. Kugler on 1/3/2018. (rtm, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civ. No. 17-10729 (RBK)
STEVEN JOHNSON, et al.,
ROBERT B. KUGLER, U.S.D.J.
This matter comes before the Court on Petitioner Boyce Singleton’s motion to stay his
petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 pending exhaustion of state court remedies. For the reasons
stated herein, the motion is granted.
Mr. Singleton was convicted by a Burlington County jury of murder, N.J. STAT. ANN. §§
2C:11-3(a)(1), -3(a)(2); possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose, N.J. STAT. ANN. §
2C:39-4(a); possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J. STAT. ANN. § 2C:39-4(d);
unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J. STAT. ANN. § 2C:39-5(b); hindering apprehension, N.J.
STAT. ANN. § 2C:29-3(b)(1); and tampering with or fabricating evidence, N.J. STAT. ANN. §
2C:28-6(1). He was sentenced to fifty-five years in custody with an 85% parole disqualifier on
September 12, 2008.
On direct appeal, the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division reversed Mr.
Singleton’s convictions based on the trial court’s failure to give the proper instructions on the
insanity defense. The state Supreme Court reversed and remanded to the Appellate Division for
consideration of the remainder of the direct appeal. The appellate court thereafter affirmed the
convictions and sentence. After the completion of his direct appeal, Mr. Singleton filed a petition
for post-conviction relief (“PCR”) in the state courts on May 20, 2013. The petition was denied
without an evidentiary hearing, and the New Jersey Supreme Court denied certification of the
PCR petition on February 1, 2017.
Mr. Singleton submitted his § 2254 petition for mailing on October 24, 2017. Shortly
thereafter, he filed a motion to stay the proceedings as he was exhausting his state court remedies
in a second PCR petition.
Mr. Singleton’s habeas petition is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death
Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”). AEDPA provides prisoners one opportunity, except in limited
circumstances, to challenge the legality of their detention pursuant to the judgment of a state
court. Petitioners must also exhaust the remedies available in state courts before a federal court
can grant a § 2254 petition unless “there is an absence of available State corrective process” or
“circumstances exist that render such process ineffective to protect the rights of the application.”
28 U.S.C. §§ 2254(b)(1)(B)(i)-(ii).
Mr. Singleton’s motion indicates he wishes to add several admittedly-unexhausted claims
to his § 2254 petition. His petition is therefore “mixed,” “that is, . . . containing both exhausted
and unexhausted claims.” Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 273 (2005). Under Rhines, this Court
has discretion to stay the § 2254 proceedings in limited circumstances. See id. at 277 (“Because
granting a stay effectively excuses a petitioner's failure to present his claims first to the state
courts, stay and abeyance is only appropriate when the district court determines there was good
cause for the petitioner's failure to exhaust his claims first in state court. Moreover, even if a
petitioner had good cause for that failure, the district court would abuse its discretion if it were to
grant him a stay when his unexhausted claims are plainly meritless.”). “On the other hand, it
likely would be an abuse of discretion for a district court to deny a stay and to dismiss a mixed
petition if the petitioner had good cause for his failure to exhaust, his unexhausted claims are
potentially meritorious, and there is no indication that the petitioner engaged in intentionally
dilatory litigation tactics.” Id. at 278.
The Court finds that a stay and abeyance is appropriate in this case due to the likelihood
of timeliness concerns under AEDPA’s one-year statute of limitations if this Court were to
dismiss the mixed petition. See Duncan v. Walker, 533 U.S. 167, 181–82 (2001) (“Section
2244(d)(2) therefore did not toll the limitation period during the pendency of respondent's first
federal habeas petition.”). Mr. Singleton indicates the failure to exhaust was due to the
ineffective assistance of trial and PCR counsel. Without deciding whether there was in fact
ineffective assistance, said ineffective assistance may excuse a failure to exhaust. See, e.g.,
Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012). It is not clear from the face of the petition that Mr.
Singleton is not entitled to relief, see 28 U.S.C. § 2254 Rule 4, and there are no indications of
abusive litigation tactics or intentional delay. The Court will therefore stay the proceedings to
permit Mr. Singleton to present his claims in the state courts for them to decide in the first
Mr. Singleton shall file his second PCR petition in the state courts within 30 days of this
Opinion and Order, if he has not already done so. Within 30 days of the conclusion of state court
proceedings, Mr. Singleton shall file an amended § 2254 petition in this Court containing all of
the grounds he wishes the Court to review.
For the foregoing reasons, Mr. Singleton’s motion to stay is granted. An appropriate
order will be entered.
DATED: January 3, 2018
s/Robert B. Kugler
ROBERT B. KUGLER
United States District Judge
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