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.

SUTTON v. GILLIS

July 26, 2004.

SHAWN SUTTON
v.
FRANK D. GILLIS, et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN PADOVA, District Judge

MEMORANDUM

Before the Court is Shawn Sutton's pro se Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons that follow, the Court denies the Petition in its entirety.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

  On April 10, 1997, before the Honorable Paula Francisco Ott of the Court of Common Pleas for Chester County, Petitioner pled guilty to two counts of robbery, two counts of aggravated assault, two counts of terroristic threats and eight other related offenses. The conviction resulted from Petitioner's robbery of an elderly couple who operated a local grocery store. On May 23, 1997, the trial court sentenced Petitioner to an aggregate term of 20 to 50 years imprisonment. On October 1, 1997, after conducting a hearing on Petitioner's motion for reconsideration of sentence, the trial court reduced Petitioner's sentence to 18 to 40 years imprisonment. Petitioner thereafter filed an appeal with the Pennsylvania Superior Court challenging the modified sentence. On March 5, 1998, upon consideration of a joint motion filed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania ("Commonwealth") and Petitioner, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ("Superior Court") vacated Petitioner's judgment of sentence and remanded the case for resentencing because there was no stenographic record of the reconsideration of sentence hearing. After conducting sentencing hearings on June 8, 1998 and July 8, 1998, the trial court resentenced Petitioner to an aggregate term of 18 to 36 years imprisonment. Petitioner thereafter filed a post-sentence motion to withdraw his guilty plea and a motion for reconsideration of sentence, both of which were denied after evidentiary hearings on August 27, 1998 and September 8, 1998. On appeal to the Superior Court, Petitioner argued that the trial court committed several errors in calculating his sentence and further erred in denying his post-sentence motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The Superior Court held that Judge Ott erred in calculating Petitioner's sentence and remanded the case for resentencing. Commonwealth v. Shawn Sutton, No. 3283 Phila. 1998, J.A17936/99 (July 12, 1999). However, the Superior Court rejected Petitioner's remaining contentions. Id. On November 17, 1999, Judge Ott resentenced Petitioner to an aggregate term of 15 to 30 years imprisonment. Petitioner appealed the judgment of sentence and raised the following three issues:
[1.] Whether the trial court violated the fundamental norms of sentencing when it sentenced appellant to an aggregate term of imprisonment of fifteen (15) years to thirty (30) years, a sentence unreasonable and excessive.
[2.] Whether the trial court abused its discretion in sentencing appellant outside the applicable guidelines as determined by the Sentencing Commission.
[3.] Whether the trial court erred in failing to address count one, robbery, at the time of resentencing, likewise failing to demonstrate consideration of the guidelines with respect to count one of the record.
Commonwealth v. Sutton, No. 373 EDA 2000, slip op. at 3 ( Pa. Super. Ct. Sept. 11, 2000). The Superior Court affirmed the judgment of sentence on September 11, 2000. Commonwealth v. Sutton, 766 A.2d 892 (Pa. Super. 2000) (table). Petitioner did not seek direct review in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.*fn1
  On September 5, 2001, Petitioner timely filed a pro se petition pursuant to the Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 9541. The PCRA court appointed counsel for Petitioner. After reviewing the record, counsel filed a "no merit" letter pursuant to Commonwealth v. Finley, 550 A.2d 213 (Pa. Super. 1988), seeking permission to withdraw as counsel. The PCRA court granted counsel permission to withdraw and informed Petitioner of its intention to dismiss the petition pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 907. On February 26, 2002, the PCRA court dismissed Petitioner's petition without a hearing. Petitioner appealed to the Superior Court and raised the following three issues:
[1.] Whether trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the constitutionally impermissible plea colloquy which failed to inform the defendant of his right to trial by jury & counsel was ineffective for failing to withdraw the unknowing and involuntary plea; all prior counsel was [sic] ineffective for failing to raise & preserve this claim for relief?
[2.] Whether trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the constitutionally impermissible plea colloquy which failed to inform the defendant that he was presumed innocent until found guilty & counsel was ineffective for failing to withdraw the unknowing and involuntary plea; all prior counsel was [sic] ineffective for failing to raise & preserve this claim for relief?
[3.] Whether trial counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the defective plea colloquy insofar as there was no factual basis established on the record for the sentence imposed & counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the subsequent unknowing and unintelligent plea; all prior counsel was [sic] ineffective for failing to raise & preserve this claim for relief?
Commonwealth v. Sutton, No. 987 EDA 2002, slip. op. at 5-6 ( Pa. Super. Ct. July 18, 2003). On July 18, 2003, the Superior Court affirmed the decision of the PCRA court in an unpublished opinion. Commonwealth v. Sutton, 835 A.2d 837 ( Pa. Super. 2003). On December 23, 2003, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Petitioner's Petition for Allowance of Appeal.
  On January 6, 2004, Petitioner filed a pro se Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. He raises thirteen grounds for relief, which are summarized as follows:
(A) The trial court erred in sentencing Petitioner to an unreasonable and excessive term of imprisonment under the applicable sentencing guidelines;
(B) The trial court erred in sentencing Petitioner outside the applicable sentencing guidelines;
(C) The trial court erred in sentencing Petitioner, without any explanation, outside the sentencing guidelines applicable to count one (robbery);
(D) Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the trial court's guilty plea colloquy on the ground that Petitioner was not advised of his right to a jury trial and for failing to move to withdraw Petitioner's involuntary guilty plea;
(E) Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the trial court's guilty plea colloquy on the ground that Petitioner was not advised of the presumption of innocence standard and for failing to move to withdraw Petitioner's involuntary guilty plea;
(F) Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the trial court's guilty plea colloquy insofar as there was no factual basis established on the record for the sentence imposed, and for failing to move to withdraw Petitioner's involuntary guilty plea;
(G) Trial counsel was ineffective in advising Petitioner that the issues raised by his suppression motion would be preserved for appeal even though he had entered a guilty plea;
(H) The trial court erred in failing to advise Petitioner of his right to withdraw or otherwise challenge the validity of his guilty plea within ten days of entry of the plea;
(I) The trial court erred in advising Petitioner that the court "would give a strong indication of leniency" at his sentencing hearing based on his decision to plead guilty;
(J) Trial counsel was ineffective in advising Petitioner that he was required to answer in the affirmative all of the questions asked by the trial court during the guilty plea colloquy; (K) The trial court erred in sentencing Petitioner based on the sentences imposed upon defendants in unrelated cases;
(L) The trial court erred in accepting Petitioner's guilty plea as knowing and voluntary given that the court was aware that he intended to appeal the court's ruling on his suppression issues; and
(M) The prosecutor committed misconduct by advising Petitioner that he could file a post-sentence motion pertaining to the suppression issues and for leading Petitioner to believe that his suppression motion did not pertain to any evidence that the prosecutor intended to present at trial.
The Court referred this case to Magistrate Judge Thomas J. Reuter for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636. On March 4, 2004, the Magistrate Judge filed a Report and Recommendation recommending that the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus be denied in all respects, without an evidentiary hearing. After receiving an extension of time, Petitioner timely filed objections to the Report and Recommendation on May 10, 2004. In his objections, Petitioner advised the Court that he had not yet received Respondents' Answer to his Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus. The Court thereafter ordered the Clerk to send Petitioner a copy of the Respondents' Answer and provided Petitioner with additional time in which to file supplemental objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation. As the deadline for filing supplemental objections has now passed without any further response from Petitioner, the Court will proceed to review his objections as set forth in the May 10, 2004 filing. II. LEGAL STANDARD

  Where a habeas petition has been referred to a magistrate judge for a Report and Recommendation, the district court "shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made . . . [The Court] may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) (1994).

  III. DISCUSSION

  A. Claims Not Cognizable on Federal Habeas Review

  Petitioner's claims A, B and C challenge the validity of the sentence imposed upon him by the trial court under the Pennsylvania Sentencing Guidelines. Petitioner never challenged his sentence on federal constitutional grounds in the state courts, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected claims A, B, and C as a matter of state law. "[I]t is not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determinations on state-law questions. 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 (1991); see also Jones v. Sup't of Rahway State Prison, 725 F.2d 40, 43 (3d Cir. 1984) (holding that errors of state law in sentencing are not cognizable in federal habeas proceedings). As Claims A, B, C are not cognizable on federal habeas review, the Court must deny habeas relief with respect to these claims.

  B. Procedural Default

  In order to exhaust the available state court remedies on a claim, a petitioner must fairly present all the claims that he will make in his habeas corpus petition in front of the highest available state court, including courts sitting in discretionary appeal. O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 847-48 (1999). To "fairly present" a claim, a petitioner must present a federal claim's factual and legal substance to the state courts in a manner that puts them on notice that a federal claim is being asserted. McCandless v. Vaughn, 172 F.3d 255, 261 (3d Cir. 1999). Thus, "[b]oth the legal theory and the facts underpinning the federal claim must have been presented to the state courts, and the same method of legal analysis must be available to the state court as will be employed in the federal court." Evans v. Court of Common Pleas, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, 959 F.2d 1227, 1231 (3d Cir. 1992). The burden of establishing that a habeas claim was fairly presented in state court falls upon the petitioner. Lines v. Larkins, 208 F.3d 153, 159 (3d Cir. 2000). "[I]f [a] petitioner failed to exhaust state remedies and the court to which petitioner would be required to present his claims in order to meet the exhaustion requirement would now find the claims procedurally barred . . . there is procedural default for the purpose of federal habeas. . . ." Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 735 n. 1 (1991). Procedural default bars federal review of those claims precluded by state law. Coleman, 501 U.S. at 729.

  In his Petition, Petitioner concedes that he has not previously raised claims G, H, I, J, K, L, and M in the state courts.*fn2 Petitioner further admits that he cannot return to the state courts to file a successive PCRA petition on his unexhausted claims because the one-year statute of limitations for such petitions has expired.*fn3 See 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9545(b)(1).*fn4 Moreover, Petitioner has not alleged, nor would the state court likely find, that any of the three exceptions to the PCRA statute of limitations apply in this instance. Id. Accordingly, Petitioner has procedurally defaulted claims G, H, I, J, K, L, and M.

  Where a state prisoner has procedurally defaulted his federal claims in state court, federal habeas review of the claims is barred "unless the prisoner can demonstrate cause for the default and actual prejudice as a result of the violation of federal law, or demonstrate that failure to consider the claims will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice." Coleman, 501 U.S. at 750. The Magistrate Judge concluded that Petitioner failed to demonstrate cause and actual prejudice or a fundamental miscarriage of justice because of actual ...


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.