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Bekes v. Rozum

April 5, 2007

ANDREW L. BEKES, PETITIONER
v.
GERALD ROZUM, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caldwell

MEMORANDUM

I. Introduction

Petitioner Andrew L. Bekes, an inmate at SCI - Somerset, has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus (doc. 9) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 as well as an application to proceed without prepayment of fees. (doc. 1, ex. 4). Bekes' habeas petition contends that the Pennsylvania Superior Court erred in denying his petition for collateral relief. After a careful review of Bekes' claims, we will dismiss the habeas petition and deny his motion to proceed without prepayment of fees.

II. Background

On September 29, 2000, Bekes was sentenced in state court to fourteen to twenty years' imprisonment after pleading guilty to five counts of possession with intent to deliver narcotics, one count of delivery of narcotics, one count of criminal conspiracy, and one count of corrupt organizations.*fn1

Bekes appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, claiming that his sentence was unlawful and excessive compared to the sentences received by his co-defendants. The Superior Court affirmed the sentence, concluding that he waived the argument by failing to file the proper statement of intended grounds for appeal.*fn2

Bekes then filed a petition for post-conviction relief pursuant to Pennsylvania's Post-Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 9541-9546. The court appointed counsel and Bekes filed an amended PCRA petition. In the amended PCRA petition, Bekes claimed that (1) his guilty plea was unknowing or involuntary because he received ineffective assistance of counsel, (2) he received ineffective assistance of counsel in his direct appeal, and (3) the trial court should not have sentenced him for the drug and corrupt organizations offenses because the drug offenses were an element of corrupt organizations. The Court of Common Pleas for Centre County held a hearing for the PCRA petition and denied the claim.

Bekes appealed the denial of his PCRA petition but the Superior Court affirmed, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court subsequently denied the petition for allocatur. Bekes then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in this Court.*fn3

III. Discussion

A. Timeliness & Exhaustion

A habeas claim filed in federal court by a state prisoner must be timely, and the prisoner must exhaust every avenue of state review. A state prisoner must file the habeas petition within one year of the date of the state court's final judgment. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A). Section 2254(b) also requires that the prisoner exhaust state court remedies by presenting each claim in at least one round of state appellate review. Carey v. Saffold, 536 U.S. 214, 219 (2002) (quoting O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845 (1999)).

Respondents concede that Bekes' petition is timely, and that he has properly exhausted all three of his claims. (doc. 16, pp. 5, 7-9). Upon of review of the record, we agree and we will consider each of the grounds in the habeas petition.

B. Standard of Review

28 U.S.C. § 2254(a) authorizes a federal court to consider a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by a state prisoner in custody claiming that his detention violates the Constitution or the laws or treaties of the United States. According to § 2254, however, a federal court may not grant the petition unless it determines that the state court proceedings (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.

A state court judgment is "contrary to" federal law when it is "diametrically different, opposite in character or nature, or mutually opposed" to "clearly established" decisions of the United States Supreme Court. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000). This may occur if "the state court ignores or misapprehends clear precedent or it 'confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme] Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [Supreme Court] precedent." Wilkerson v. Klem, 412 F.3d 449, 452 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 406). Alternatively, a state court judgment is an "unreasonable application" of federal law if the state court chose the correct rule of law based on the facts, but unreasonably extended the rule to a new context or unreasonably refused to extend the rule to a new context. Id. (citing Williams).

The Third Circuit has set forth a two-step process for reviewing a § 2254 petition. First, we identify the applicable Supreme Court precedent. Outten v. Kearney, 464 F.3d 401, 413 (3d Cir. 2006). The petitioner must show that Supreme Court precedent requires the opposite result, not merely that his interpretation is more plausible than that of the state court. Id. In step two, we objectively evaluate whether the state court decision was an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent. Id. at 414 (citing Werts v. Vaughn, 228 F.3d 178 (3d Cir. 2000)). It is not enough for us to disagree with the state court decision or conclude that we may have reached a different result. Id. We may only grant habeas relief if "the state court decision, evaluated ...


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