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Chambers v. Rozum

October 26, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conaboy



Maurice Chambers, an inmate at the State Correctional Institution, Somerset, Pennsylvania (SCI-Somerset), filed this petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Named as Respondent is SCI-Somerset Superintendent Gerald Rozum. Service of the petition was previously ordered.

Chambers was convicted of second degree murder, robbery, and two (2) counts of criminal conspiracy following a jury trial in the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas. By way of background, the Petitioner conspired with Wesley Farmer and Rick Moore to rob Paul Garman of a quantity of marijuana. Chambers and his two accomplices entered Garman's residence on April 25, 1997. The Petitioner was armed with a revolver. During a drug transaction involving the purchase of one (1) ounce of marijuana, Chambers shot the victim in the back of the head. Following the shooting, a large bag containing marijuana was taken from the residence.

On December 5, 1997, Petitioner was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment. In a direct appeal, Chambers asserted that:

(1) the trial court erred in denying his suppression motion because he was not afforded custodial Miranda warnings;*fn1 (2) his robbery conviction should have been quashed because one cannot steal an illegal substance; (3) the evidence was insufficient to support the robbery and conspiracy verdicts; (4) the Commonwealth improperly shifted the burden of proof to the Petitioner during its closing argument; and (5) a discovery violation occurred. By Memorandum dated May 20, 1999, the Superior Court affirmed Petitioner's conviction and sentence. See Commonwealth v. Chambers, 742 A.2d 201 (Pa. Super. 1999)(Table). A request for allowance of appeal was subsequently denied by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. See Commonwealth v. Chambers, 749 A.2d 466 (Pa. 2000)(Table). Thereafter, the United States Supreme Court denied Chambers' petition for writ of certiorari. See Chambers v. Pennsylvania, 531 U.S. 853 (2000).

Chambers then sought relief under Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA).*fn2 His PCRA petition asserted that the criminal information failed to allege every element of the crime of second degree murder and was therefore insufficient. The trial court denied the PCRA petition on June 12, 2003. The Superior Court likewise denied relief. See Commonwealth v. Chambers, 852 A.2d 1197 (Pa. Super. 2004). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied a petition for allowance of appeal. See Commonwealth v. Chambers, 871 A.2d 188 (Pa. 2005)(Table).

In his present petition, Chambers claims entitlement to federal habeas corpus relief on the grounds that: (1) the underlying criminal indictment only set forth a general count of homicide and failed to allege every element of second degree murder in violation of the principles announced in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000) and Jones v. United States, 526 U.S. 227 (1999); (2) under the Apprendi and Jones standards, the insufficient criminal indictment as described above caused Petitioner's sentence to be improperly enhanced to a term of life imprisonment; (3) Chambers' robbery conviction violated due process in that he was charged with the robbery of an illegal substance; (4) since the evidence established that there was no theft, the robbery conviction and second degree murder convictions are unsupported.

It is undisputed that the substance of Chambers' present claims were raised and exhausted before the Pennsylvania state court on direct appeal or via his PCRA action. See Doc. 13, p.

2. Discussion

Standard of Review

"The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 modified a federal habeas court's role in reviewing state prisoner applications in order to prevent federal habeas 'retrials' and to ensure that state-court convictions are given effect to the extent possible under law." Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693 (2002). Specifically, when a federal-law issue has been adjudicated on the merits by a state court, the federal court reverses only when the decision was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the United States Supreme Court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1).*fn3 See generally, Gattis v. Snyder, 278 F.3d 222, 234 (3d Cir. 2002); Moore v. Morton, 255 F.3d 95, 104-05 (3d Cir. 2001). The Court has held that the "contrary to" and "unreasonable application" clauses of § 2254(d)(1) have independent meaning. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 404-405 (2000). As explicated in Bell, 535 U.S. at 694:

A federal habeas court may issue the writ under the 'contrary to' clause if the state court applies a rule different from the governing law set forth in our cases, or if it decides a case differently than we have done on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. . . . The court may grant relief under the 'unreasonable application' clause if the state court correctly identifies the governing legal principle from our decisions but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular case. . . . The focus of the latter inquiry is on whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law is objectively unreasonable . . . .

This deferential standard of review applies to state court decisions on ineffective assistance of counsel claims. Id. at 694-98. Furthermore, resolution of factual issues by the state courts are presumed to be correct unless the petitioner shows by clear and ...

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