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Strait v. Beard

June 26, 2007

CHARLES ALLEN STRAIT, JR., PETITIONER,
v.
JEFFREY A. BEARD, SECRETARY OF PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, AND ATTORNEY GENERAL OF PENNSYLVANIA. RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge McClure

Magistrate Judge Mannion

MEMORANDUM

BACKGROUND

On December 19, 2005, petitioner, Charles Allen Strait, Jr. filed the instant petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 along with the proper filing fee. In his petition, Strait names two defendants: 1) Jeffrey A. Beard, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and 2) the Attorney General of Pennsylvania. Strait complains of his 2002 Pennsylvania state conviction and sentence for possession with intent to deliver cocaine.

The matter was initially referred to United States Magistrate Judge Malachy E. Mannion. On December 28, 2005, the magistrate judge issued an order in accordance with United States v. Miller, 197 F.3d 644 (3d Cir. 1999) and Mason v. Meyers, 208 F.3d 414 (3d Cir. 2000), directing petitioner to file a notice of election. On January 9, 2006, petitioner filed his notice of election in which he indicated that he wished to proceed with his petition as filed.

On February 9, 2006, respondents file a response to the petition. (Rec. Doc. No. 14.) On February 23, 2007, petitioner filed a traverse. (Rec. Doc. No. 17.) On May 10, 2007, the magistrate judge issued a twenty-one page report recommending that the petition be denied. (Rec. Doc. No. 20.)

On May 22, 2007, petitioner filed objections to the magistrate judge's report and recommendation. (Rec. Doc. No. 21.) Thus, the matter is ripe for disposition. Now, for the following reasons, the court will adopt the magistrate judge's report to the extent it is consistent with this opinion, and we will dismiss the petition.

DISCUSSION

I. Relevant Legal Standard

A district court reviews de novo those portions of a magistrate judge's report and recommendation to which a party objects. L.R. 72.3. The court may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." Id.

Petitioner has filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The court may "entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Yet, we may only reach the merits of a petitioner's federal claims if each claim in his petition (1) has been exhausted in the state courts, and (2) is not procedurally defaulted. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A); Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 731-32 (1991); Slutzker v. Johnson, 393 F.3d 373, 379-81 (3d Cir. 2004).

Exhaustion is required because it gives the state the "opportunity to pass upon and correct alleged violations of its prisoners' federal rights." Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 29 (2004) (quoting Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364, 365 (1995) (per curiam)) (internal quotations and additional citations omitted). It is designed to protect the state court's role in enforcement of federal law and to prevent disruption of state judicial proceedings. Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 515 (1982). Yet, it is only applicable when there may still be some opportunity to present the claim to the state court. Therefore, even if a state court remedy is no longer available because of a failure to comply with a deadline set for seeking review, that claim is technically exhausted. Gray v. Netherland, 518 U.S. 152, 161 (1996).

Yet, even if a claim has been exhausted, it may nevertheless be procedurally defaulted if a state court has been presented with a federal claim but declined to reach the issue for procedural reasons, or if it is clear that the state court would hold the claim procedurally barred. Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750 (1991); Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 260-64 (1989). A federal court should only review the merits of procedurally defaulted claims if the petitioner demonstrates "cause and prejudice" or if failing to do so would cause a "fundamental miscarriage of justice." McCandless v. Vaughn, 172 F.3d 255, 260 (3d Cir. 1999) (quoting Coleman, 501 U.S. at 750).

II. Petitioner's Claims

Petitioner sets forth eight different claims in support of his petition. His first claim is that the trial court erred as a matter of law by imposing two punitive sentences for one offense in violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause. (Rec. Doc. No. 1, at 4.) His second claim is that the recidivist statute that was applied to enhance his sentence was legally barred from being a factor in the sentence imposed. (Id.) His third and fourth claims are ineffective assistance of counsel claims. (Id.) His fifth claim is that the state appellate court erred by not considering all issues raised on direct appeal. (Id.) His sixth claim is that the prosecutor violated the terms of the plea agreement. (Id.) His seventh claim is that the sentencing court erred by not recusing itself for bias. (Id.) Finally, his eighth claim is that the sentencing court abused its discretion by imposing an illegal sentence in violation of due process. (Id.)

A. Ground One: Double Jeopardy

Petitioner's first claim is that the sentencing court erred as a matter of law by imposing two punitive sentences for one offense in violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause. (Id.) Specifically, the petitioner argues that the amount of money he was ordered to pay constitutes a sentence. (Id.) Additionally, he argues that his term of imprisonment is also a sentence. (Id.) Therefore, he received two sentences for one crime and this violates the Double Jeopardy Clause. (Id.)

The magistrate judge recommended that this claim be denied. After reviewing the transcript of the plea colloquy, the magistrate judge concluded that petitioner entered into his plea agreeing to pay a monetary penalty. (Rec. Doc. No. 20, at 11.) Furthermore, it was explained to petitioner at the plea that he could face imprisonment of up to ten years as a result of his plea, and petitioner acknowledged that he understood. (Id.) Therefore, the plea ...


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