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Trinidad v. Court of Common Pleas of York County

March 20, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Kosik


I. Introduction

Jose Trinidad, an inmate currently confined at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill (SCI-Camp Hill), Pennsylvania, filed this petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. He has paid the required filing fee. In the petition, it is clear that Petitioner is challenging his September 7, 2004 conviction for Delivery of a Controlled Substance (cocaine). Because the petition fails to set forth the grounds Petitioner seeks to raise in the habeas petition, an Order was issued on March 21, 2006, advising Petitioner that the court would assume he intended to raise the same grounds as raised in the direct appeal. (Doc. 5.) If this was not the case, Petitioner was to advise the court within ten (10) days. Also in this Order, Petitioner was also informed of the limitations upon his right to file another habeas petition in the future if his current petition is considered by the court. He was provided with the opportunity to inform the court within twenty (20) days as to whether he intended to withdraw his current § 2254 petition without prejudice to filing another § 2254 petition raising all grounds for relief from his conviction - one which would need to be filed before the expiration of the one-year statute of limitations. If he failed to notify the court within the specified time period, he was advised that the court would rule on his § 2254 petition as filed. Because the relevant time period passed, and the court received no contact from Petitioner, an order directing service of the petition, construed to raise those grounds raised in Petitioner's direct appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior, was issued on May 2, 2006. (Doc. 6.) A response to the petition and supporting exhibits were thereafter filed on May 19, 2006 (Doc. 10). On July 12, 2006, a document was filed by Petitioner entitled "Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus" (Doc. 12). This document will be construed to be Petitioner's traverse.*fn1 The petition is ripe for consideration.

II. Background

Petitioner was convicted in the Court of Common Pleas of York County, Pennsylvania, on September 7, 2004, for Delivery of a Controlled Substance. He was sentenced to a term of 7 - 14 years imprisonment. He filed a direct appeal with the Pennsylvania Superior Court and raised the ground that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction. Specifically, he argued that the trial court erred in determining there was sufficient circumstantial evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew what was in the bag he handed to Roque Lopez. The Superior Court affirmed the judgment of conviction on September 26, 2005. No further appeal was pursued by Petitioner. Petitioner also did not file any petition for post-conviction relief (PCRA) pursuant to 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9543. In the instant habeas petition the following ground has been raised: "[k]nowledge of illegal substance being present cannot be proved as there was no proof of monetary exchange and the informant did not testify at trial." (Doc. 1, Pet. at 3.)

In answering the petition, Respondent states that no statute of limitations objection is raised. However, Respondent does seek the dismissal of the petition on two grounds. The first is Petitioner's alleged failure to exhaust available state court remedies. Respondent maintains that Petitioner failed to pursue his claims on direct appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and did not seek collateral relief by filing a PCRA petition. The second ground of dismissal is based upon Petitioner's failure to set forth any claim for relief. Specifically, Respondent cites the fact that Petitioner left those portions of the petition form blank instead of listing the grounds he wished to raise in his petition.

III. Discussion

A. Respondent's Grounds for Dismissal of Petition

The arguments raised by Respondent are rejected for the following reasons. With regard to the blank form, in the order issued on March 21, 2006, Petitioner was advised that the court would construe the petition to raise those grounds pursued by Petitioner in his direct appeal to the Superior Court unless he notified the court within ten (10) days. This order was also served upon Respondent. As such, because Petitioner never notified the court, Respondent was on notice that the petition would be construed to raise said grounds.

The exhaustion argument is also without merit. Pursuant to Pennsylvania Supreme Court Order 218, effective May 9, 2000, issues presented to the Superior Court are considered exhausted for the purpose of federal habeas corpus relief under section 2254. See In Re: Exhaustion of State Remedies in Criminal and Post Conviction Relief Cases, No. 218 Judicial Administration Docket No. 1 (Pa. May 9, 2000)(per curiam); Lambert v. Blackwell, 387 F.3d 210, 233-34 (3d Cir. 2004); Hannon v. Allen, Civil No. 1:CV-03-2227, slip op at 5-6 (M.D. Pa. Aug. 16, 2006)(Caldwell, J.).*fn2 Thus, the claims Petitioner presented to the Superior Court on direct appeal, the same claims as presented in the instant petition, are considered exhausted.

To the extent Respondent argues that Petitioner must also exhaust his claims by pursuing collateral relief via a PCRA petition, this argument is also rejected. It is well established that it is not necessary for a petitioner seeking federal habeas relief to present his federal claims to state courts both on direct appeal and in a PCRA proceeding. See Evans v. Court of Common Pleas, 959 F.2d 1227, 1230 (3d Cir. 1992); Swanger v. Zimmerman, 750 F.2d 291, 295 (3d Cir. 1984). As such, because Petitioner exhausted his claims on direct review, he need not present them through PCRA proceedings. Accordingly, the claims raised in the habeas petition will be addressed on the merits.

B. Merits of Petition

Petitioner may not obtain relief in this court with respect to any claim adjudicated on the merits in the 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 ...

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