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BEST v. DEGUGLIELMO

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania


April 7, 2004.

Earl Best, Petitioner
v.
David DeGuglielmo, et al., Respondents

The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES MELINSON, Chief Magistrate Judge

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

Before this court is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner, Earl Best, is currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford, Pennsylvania. For the reasons below, it is recommended that Best's petition be DENIED with prejudice.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

  On September 15, 1982, following a jury trial in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Best was found guilty of three counts of second-degree murder, and two counts of arson. On May 11, 1983, post-verdict motions were denied and Best was sentenced to three consecutive terms of life imprisonment for his murder convictions, and two consecutive terms of ten (10) to twenty (20) years' imprisonment on the arson counts.

  The Superior Court affirmed judgment of sentence on February 6, 1985. Commonwealth v. Best, 491 A.2d 915 (Pa. Super. 1985) (table). Best did not file a timely petition for review in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. In September, 1985, Best filed a pro se petition for collateral relief pursuant to Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Hearing Act ("PCHA"), 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 9541 et seq. This petition was dismissed, and on October 12, 1989, the Superior Court affirmed the order of the PCHA court. Commonwealth v. Best. 570 A.2d 585 (Pa. Super. 1989) (table). Best did not seek further review.

  On September 26, 2003, Best filed the instant pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus. On April 2, 2004, the Commonwealth filed its response asserting that the petition is untimely.

  DISCUSSION

  The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") imposes a one year limitation period for filing applications for writs of habeas corpus. 28 U.S.C.A. § 2244(d)(1). Specifically, 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1) provides as follows:

A 1-year period of limitation shall apply to an application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court. The limitation period shall run from the latest of —
(A) the date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review;
(B) the date on which the impediment to filing an application created by State action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed, if the applicant was prevented from filing by such State action;
(C) the date on which the constitutional right asserted was initially recognized by the Supreme Court, if the right has been newly recognized by the Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral appeal; or
(D) the date on which the factual predicate of the claim or claims presented could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence.
Section 2244 further provides that "[t]he time during which a properly filed application for State post-conviction or other collateral review with respect to the pertinent judgment or claim is pending shall not be counted toward any period of limitation under this subsection." 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2).

  Following the enactment of this one-year period of limitations, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals interpreted this amendment to provide for a "one year grace period" following its effective date of April 24, 1996. See Burns v. Morton, 134 F.3d 109, 111 (3d Cir. 1998) ("applying § 2244(d)(1) to bar the filing of & habeas petition before April 24, 1997, where the prisoner's conviction became final before April 24, 1996, would be impermissibly retroactive"). As a result, a petitioner whose conviction was final prior to the enactment of the limitations period was permitted to file for federal habeas corpus relief on or before April 23, 1997.

  Best's judgment of sentence became final on March 8, 1985, thirty (30) days after the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the judgment of sentence and the time to seek review in the Supreme Court expired. See Morris v. Horn, 187 F.3d 333, 337 n.1 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing Kapral v. United States, 166 F.3d 565, 577 (3d Cir. 1999) (judgment final after the expiration of the time for seeking certiorari has expired whether or not review is actually sought)). Therefore, he was required to file the instant petition by April 23, 1997.

  The earliest date the instant petition can be deemed filed is September 24, 2003, the date on which Best's petition was signed. Burns. 134 F.3d at 113 ("a pro se prisoner's petition is deemed filed at the moment he delivers it to prison officials for mailing to the district court"). Thus, this petition is untimely and must be dismissed unless Best can establish that the limitations period was tolled through September 24, 2003.

  The limitations period may be tolled during the time a state collateral proceeding is pending if the collateral petition was properly filed under state law. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2). A properly filed state petition is one that is "submitted according to the state's procedural requirements, such as the rule governing the time and place for filing." Lovasz v. Vaughn, 134 F.3d 146, 148(3d Cir. 1998).

  A review of the procedural history in this case reveals that Best has not filed any challenges to his convictions for more than fourteen years. Thus, there is no state proceeding that might toll the limitations period.

  This court must also conclude that Best does not satisfy any of the exceptions to the period of limitations set forth in § 2244(d)(1)(B)-(D). Best does not allege any state action that prevented him from filing his petition; he does not assert any claim that relies on a new rule of retroactively applicable constitutional law; and the factual predicates upon which his claims are based concern events that took place during his trial proceedings and were discoverable in the exercise of due diligence.

  Finally, Best does not present any extraordinary circumstance beyond his control that would meet the judicially established criteria for disregarding the limitations period pursuant to the doctrine of equitable tolling. See Miller v. New Jersey Dept. of Corrections. 145 F.3d 616, 617-18 (3d Cir. 1998) (petitioner must show that he exercised reasonable diligence in bringing his claims; mere excusable neglect is not sufficient); Fahy v. Horn, 240 F.3d 239, 244 (3d Cir. 2001) (in non-capital cases, attorney error, miscalculation, inadequate research, or other mistakes do not rise to the extraordinary circumstances required for equitable tolling).*fn1 Having determined that this petition is untimely and fails to meet any exception to the limitations period of § 2244(d)(1), this court makes the following:

RECOMMENDATION
  AND NOW, this day of April, 2004, IT IS RESPECTFULLY RECOMMENDED that the petition for a writ of habeas corpus be DENIED with prejudice. It is also RECOMMENDED that a certificate of appealability not be granted.


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