Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

FENNELL v. GOOLSBY

August 28, 1985

KAREN ANNE FENNELL a/k/a ANN FENNELL
v.
ANN GOOLSBY, WARDEN, State Correctional Institution, Muncy, Pennsylvania and THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA, DISTRICT ATTORNEY OF MONTGOMERY COUNTY



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SHAPIRO

 NORMA L. SHAPIRO, J.

 This petition for writ of habeas corpus challenges the constitutionality of petitioner's confinement after conviction in state court for voluntary manslaughter, recklessly endangering another person and simple assault. This court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a).

 On February 23, 1979, at 10:45 p.m., petitioner, a 46-year old woman, drove her car into a service station in Norristown, Pennsylvania where the automobile of her husband, Michael Fennell, was parked. Petitioner drove forward at a high rate of speed and struck her husband's automobile on the left side while he was in the driver's seat. She then backed up, came forward, and struck his car again. Her husband escaped from the car and attempted to run to the service station. Before he was able to reach the office, she struck him with her car several times. Michael Fennell was pronounced dead on arrival at a local hospital.

 On February 24, 1979, petitioner was charged with murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault and recklessly endangering another person. Following a jury trial in the Common Pleas Court in Montgomery County, she was convicted of voluntary manslaughter on August 31, 1979. On April 23, 1980, she was sentenced to 3-1/2 to ten years' imprisonment. Petitioner appealed the final judgment to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court; judgment of sentence was affirmed without opinion on December 29, 1982. On May 18, 1983, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied petitioner's request for reconsideration and/or reargument.

 Petitioner then filed a petition for habeas corpus with this court on the ground that the state court proceedings deprived her of her Sixth Amendment right to present witnesses in her defense and her Fourteenth Amendment right to due process of law. These challenges are based on two contentions: 1) petitioner was denied the right to present evidence in her defense in violation of the Sixth Amendment by the trial court's refusal to allow her to present an expert witness to testify on the effect of spousal abuse on her state of mind and to explain "battered woman syndrome"; 2) the trial judge did not charge the jury that intent was a necessary element of the offense of voluntary manslaughter nor did he instruct the jury that the prosecution was required to prove intent beyond a reasonable doubt, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

 Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b), a state prisoner is required to exhaust state remedies before presenting a claim for habeas corpus to a federal court. The exhaustion doctrine is an essential element of federal-state comity, "an accommodation of our federal system designed to give the State the initial opportunity to pass upon and correct alleged violations of its prisoners' federal rights." Wilwording v. Swenson, 404 U.S. 249, 92 S. Ct. 407, 30 L. Ed. 2d 418 (1971). In order to meet the exhaustion requirement, a petitioner must have presented all constitutional claims to the state courts at least once, on direct or collateral review. Where a petitioner raises more than one constitutional challenge, the district court must dismiss the petition unless all of the asserted claims have been exhausted. Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 71 L. Ed. 2d 379, 102 S. Ct. 1198 (1982).

 In determining what constitutes a fair presentation, the Supreme Court has required that the claim presented to the state court be the "substantial equivalent" of the claim asserted in a federal habeas corpus petition. See Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 278, 30 L. Ed. 2d 438, 92 S. Ct. 509 (1971). Such a determination requires "a searching scrutiny by the federal habeas court of the points that were raised in the state tribunals, in order to ensure that the state system was granted a fair opportunity to confront arguments that are propounded to the federal habeas courts." Zicarelli v. Gray, 543 F.2d 466, 472 (3d Cir. 1976) (en banc). Later decisions of the Supreme Court have clarified the scope of the word "claim" for purposes of exhaustion. The Court has held that the "method of analysis" asserted in the federal court must have been "readily available to the state court." Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 658, 31 L. Ed. 2d 551, 92 S. Ct. 1208 n.10 (1972). Within the contours of a particular argument, however, a petitioner is not required to present every facet of the argument to the state court in order to exhaust remedies. Smith v. Goguen, 415 U.S. 566, 578, 94 S. Ct. 1242, 39 L. Ed. 2d 605 (1974).

 In the present case, petitioner satisfactorily exhausted her remedies as to both claims. Her argument that the failure to allow spousal abuse testimony violated her Sixth Amendment right to present "relevant and important defensive evidence" was presented in post-trial motions and in her brief on appeal to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

 Petitioner's contention that her due process rights were violated by the trial court's failure to instruct the jury on the element of intent necessary for a conviction of voluntary manslaughter was also raised both in the trial court and in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, although in a cursory fashion.

 Petitioner's post-trial brief states: "If an unlawful state of mind or mens rea is not required for voluntary manslaughter, then 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2503 violates due process." (Petitioner's Post-Trial Brief, p. 27). Although the petitioner did not elaborate as to how her due process rights were violated by the allegedly faulty charge, the statement raised the identical issue presented here and was sufficient to put the court on notice of the constitutional claim. As long as an issue is generally presented to a state court, specific arguments in support of the claim need not be averred. United States ex rel. Johnson v. Johnson, 531 F.2d 169 (3d Cir. 1976).

 In a federal habeas corpus case, the review of state court proceedings is very narrow in scope. It is not the function of a federal court to determine whether, in reaching its conclusions, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania may have erred. See United States ex rel. Almeida v. Rundle, 383 F.2d 421, 427 (3d Cir. 1967). Rather, the court must decide whether the error was of sufficient magnitude to deny petitioner rights guaranteed by the Constitution. "Not every trial error or infirmity which might call for application of supervisory powers correspondingly constitutes a failure to observe that fundamental fairness essential to the very concept of justice." Donnelly v. DeChristoforo, 416 U.S. 637, 642, 94 S. Ct. 1868, 40 L. Ed. 2d 431 (1974).

 Petitioner first contends that the trial court erred in excluding the testimony of Elaine Sanders, a supervisor at the Marital Abuse Project of Delaware County, as a defense expert on the subject of battered women and that the refusal to admit this evidence denied petitioner's Sixth Amendment right to present a witness in her defense. An initial offer of proof on this issue was made on August 21, 1979. According to petitioner's counsel, the evidence was offered to establish the dynamics of an abusive relationship and to explain how prolonged abuse can affect behavior, perceptions, and mental state. Although Ms. Sanders had never personally treated petitioner, a counsellor supervised by her had interviewed Ms. Fennell and prepared several reports.

 Following the initial offer of proof, the trial court stated that Ms. Sanders would not be permitted to testify unless and until the defense put in direct evidence of abuse suffered by petitioner at the hands of her husband. After such evidence was presented, petitioner made another offer of proof regarding the proposed testimony of Ms. Sanders. The trial court refused to admit the expert testimony without stating any reasons for its refusal at the time of trial. However, it appears from the context of the questions asked of defense counsel by the trial judge that Ms. Sanders was not permitted to testify because she did not personally interview or treat petitioner. The trial court in its Opinion of March 4, 1981 denying petitioner's post-trial motions, stated:

 (Trial Court's Opinion of March 4, 1981 at p. 26).

 Prior to determining whether the exclusion of this testimony was error of constitutional magnitude, we must consider whether Ms. Sanders' testimony was admissible so that its exclusion was erroneous. Then we must determine whether the trial court's refusal to admit the testimony of Elaine Sanders constituted a denial of petitioner's Sixth Amendment right to present witnesses in her defense and, if so, whether the refusal was ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.