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Eagen v. Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

November 21, 2006

FRANCIS P. EAGEN, III, PETITIONER,
v.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY OF LACKAWANNA COUNTY, AND THE PROBATION AND PAROLE DEPARTMENT OF LACKAWANNA COUNTY, RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: A. Richard Caputo United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM

Before me is Petitioner Francis Eagen III's Amended Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. 16.) Respondents Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et al., have filed an Answer to the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus. (Doc. 17.)

In his Amended Petition, Petitioner challenges his conviction in the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas on the following grounds: (1) the conviction was unconstitutionally obtained by coerced and false accusations against Petitioner; (2) the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania coerced the false accusations; (3) trial and appellate counsel were ineffective on twelve grounds; (4) the conviction was obtained by a grand jury that was unconstitutionally selected and impaneled; (5)the conviction and denial of Petitioner's original Petition under the Post-Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA")were based upon a violation of Petitioner's due process rights and rights to confrontation; (6) the Commonwealth did not disclose to Petitioner favorable evidence; and (7) the conviction is a miscarriage of justice because Petitioner is actually innocent. The matter is fully discussed below.

According to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), An application for writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim: (1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) (1996).

A district court reviewing a motion for writ of habeas corpus shall presume that factual determinations made by a state court are correct. Id. The petitioner has the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness with clear and convincing evidence. § 2254 (e)(1).

Pursuant to § 2254(d), a district court reviewing a habeas petition must first determine whether the claim was adjudicated on the merits. "An 'adjudication on the merits' has a well-settled meaning: a decision finally resolving the parties' claims, with res judicata effect, that is based on the substance of the claim advanced, rather than on a procedural, or other, ground." Rompilla v. Horn, 355 F.3d 233, 247 (3d Cir. 2004), rev'd on other grounds sub nom. Rompilla v. Beard,545 U.S. 374, 125 S.Ct. 2456 (2005). "A state court may render an adjudication or decision on the merits of a federal claim by rejecting the claim without any discussion whatsoever." Id. (citing Chadwick v. Janecka, 312 F.3d 597, 605-07 (3d Cir. 2002) (discussing Weeks v. Angelone, 528 U.S. 225, 237 (2000)); see also Sellan v. Kuhman, 261 F.3d 303, 312 (2d Cir. 2001) (a state court adjudicates a claim on the merits when it: "(1) disposes of the claim 'on the merits,' and (2) reduces its disposition to judgment... [e]ven if the state court does not explicitly refer to... relevant federal case law"). If the district court determines that a claim was not adjudicated on the merits in state court, § 2254(d) does not apply. Chadwick, 312 F.3d at 605-07. In that case, "the federal habeas court must conduct a de novo review over pure legal questions and mixed questions of law and fact, as a court would have done prior to the enactment of AEDPA." Appel v. Horn, 250 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2001).

Conversely, if the district court determines a claim was adjudicated on the merits in state court, then the district court may proceed to the exceptions under § 2254(d). Under the first exception, the district court shall not grant a habeas motion "with respect to any claim adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the adjudication of the claim "[resulted] in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States. § 2254(d).

"Contrary to" and "unreasonable application" have independent meanings. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 404-06 (2000). "Under the 'contrary to' clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ only if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the Supreme] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts." Id. at 412-13; see also Werts v. Vaughn, 228 F.3d 178, 197 (3d Cir. 2000). On the other hand, "[u]nder the 'unreasonable application' clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal rule from [the Supreme] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the particular case." Williams, 529 U.S. at 407. The "unreasonable application" test is objective. Id. at 410-11 ("[A] federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because the court concludes... that the relevant state court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather, that application must also be unreasonable.").

Under the second exception, the district court shall not grant a habeas motion "with respect to any claim adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the adjudication of the claim [resulted] in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding." § 2254(d). As noted, a district court reviewing a motion for writ of habeas corpus shall presume that factual determinations made by a state court are correct. Id. The petitioner has the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness with clear and convincing evidence. § 2254 (e)(1); see also Campbell v. Vaughn, 209 F.3d 280, 285 (3d Cir. 2000).

Respondent contends that Petitioner is barred by § 2254(d) on the following claims: Claim 1: Coerced and False Accusations Petitioner claims he is entitled to relief because his conviction was unconstitutionally obtained by coerced and false accusations against Petitioner (Doc. 16). Respondent contends that Petitioner is barred by § 2254(d). (Doc. 17 at 21.)

The Court must first determine whether Petitioner's claim was adjudicated on the merits in state court. The Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, denied Petitioner's PCRA Petition. (App. Tab U). Regarding Petitioner's present claim of coerced and false allegations, the Court of Common Pleas held that Petitioner's accuser "did not recant any of his testimony against [Petitioner] pertaining to the obstruction of justice charge for which [Petitioner] was convicted." (App. Tab T at 5.) Further, the Court of Common Pleas also held that "whether [testimony of Petitioner's accuser] was facilitated by the district attorney's office... [was] for the jury to decide." (App. Tab T at 5.) The court rendered its decision based on the substance of this claim; therefore, this claim was adjudicated on the merits, and § 2254(d) applies.

Next, the Court must turn to whether Petitioner is barred by § 2254(d). Petitioner's claim is based on factual determinations made by the state court, so it must be examined in light of the "unreasonable determination of the facts" exception. In denying Petitioner's PCRA Petition, the Court of Common Pleas found as fact that Petitioner's accuser, Philip Bosha, invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination on ten questions at the PCRA hearing, including whether Bosha recanted or told others he falsely testified. (App. Tab T at 3.) The Court of Common Pleas also noted, however, that "[a]t the PCRA hearing Philip Bosha testified that his trial testimony was truthful about the activities of [Petitioner] [regarding the charge Petitioner was convicted of]." (App. Tab T at 5.)

In his amended petition, Petitioner seems to argue that Bosha's invocation of this privilege equates to recantation. (Doc. 16 at 19.) Further, Petitioner cites testimony from the PCRA hearing concerning statements Philip Bosha allegedly made to third parties after Petitioner's trial. (Doc. 16 at 15-16.) The Court of Common Pleas, however, ruled these statements were inadmissible as hearsay. (App. Tab T at 5.) The Court of Common Pleas thus held that "no legally admissible evidence was presented at the PCRA hearing which would constitute a recantation, either in whole or in part, of Philip Bosha's testimony with respect to the single count of obstruction of justice for which Petitioner was convicted." App. Tab T at 5.)

In light of the legally admissible evidence presented at the PCRA hearing, the Court of Common Pleas made no finding that Philip Bosha recanted his testimony. Petitioner's argument is largely based on legally inadmissible evidence and the assumption that invocation of the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination at the PCRA hearing constitutes recantation of testimony at Petitioner's trial, where Bosha answered every question. It should also be noted that Philip Bosha was one of many persons who testified at Petitioner's trial concerning the charge against Petitioner. Additionally, the elements of the charge of which Petitioner was convicted were varied, and were not limited solely to testimony of Philip Bosha or any other single witness. For these reasons, Petitioner has failed to prove that the Court of Common Pleas' finding that Philip Bosha recanted his testimony was an "unreasonable determination of the facts," pursuant to § 2254(d). Therefore, Petitioner is not entitled to relief on this claim.

Claim 2: Coercion of False Accusations

Petitioner claims he is entitled to relief because the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania coerced the aforementioned false accusations against Petitioner.(Doc. 16). Respondent contends that Petitioner is barred by § 2254(d). (Doc. 17 at 21.)

The Court must first determine whether Petitioner's claim was adjudicated on the merits in state court. The Court of Common Pleas denied Petitioner's PCRA Petition. (App. Tab U.) Regarding Petitioner's present claim of coercion of false accusations, the Court of Common Pleas held that whether [testimony of Petitioner's accuser] was facilitated by the District Attorney's office... [was] for the jury to decide at the trial." (App. Tab T at 5.) The court rendered its decision based on the substance of this claim; therefore, this claim was adjudicated on the merits.

Next, the Court must turn to whether Petitioner is barred by § 2254(d). Petitioner's claim must be examined in light of the "unreasonable determination of the facts" exception, as it is a factual determination made by the state court. In denying Petitioner's PCRA Petition, the Court of Common Pleas found as fact that Petitioner's accuser, Philip Bosha, invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination to ten questions at the PCRA hearing, including whether he was coerced or threatened by the Attorney General's Office or the Lackawanna County District Attorney's Office. (App. Tab T at 3-4.) The Court of Common Pleas also noted, however, that "no state or federal prosecutor or investigator requested any favorable treatment for Philip Bosha during the course of his incarceration at the Lackawanna County Prison." (App. Tab T at 4.)

In his Amended Petition, Petitioner makes the same arguments as he made for claim one, coerced and false accusations, which were previously discussed. The Court of Common Pleas held that Philip Bosha's testimony was lacking in credibility, but "whether such was facilitated by the District Attorney's Office... [was] for the jury to decide at the trial." (App. Tab T at 5.)

In light of the legally-admissible evidence presented at the PCRA hearing, the Court of Common Pleas made no finding that any state or federal prosecutor or investigator coerced false accusations. As noted, Petitioner's argument is largely based on legally inadmissible evidence and the assumption that invocation of the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination at the PCRA hearing constitutes recantation of testimony at Petitioner's trial, where Bosha answered all questions. For these reasons, Petitioner has failed to prove that the state court's finding that no state or federal prosecutor or investigator coerced ...


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