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Reddinger v. Palakovich

December 4, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sylvia H. Rambo United States District Judge

(Judge Rambo)


I. Background

Carl Reddinger, III, an inmate presently confined at the Smithfield State Correctional Institution, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Smithfield"), initiated this pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Named as Respondents are SCI-Smithfield Superintendent John Palakovich and the Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Service of the petition was previously ordered. For the reasons that follow, the petition will be denied.

Following a jury trial in the Court of Common Pleas for Lebanon County ("trial court"), Pennsylvania Reddinger was convicted of criminal homicide in the third degree, criminal conspiracy to commit criminal homicide in the third degree, aggravated assault and criminal conspiracy to commit aggravated assault.*fn1 On December 2, 1998, he was sentenced to a twenty (20) to forty (40) year term of incarceration. After sentencing, Reddinger's trial counsel was granted leave to withdraw due to health reasons. The Lebanon County Public Defender's Office was appointed to serve as Reddinger's appellate counsel. Post-sentence motions were denied on June 10, 1999. By decision dated June 9, 2000, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed Reddinger's conviction.

Reddinger next filed a pro se petition under Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Collateral Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9541 et seq.*fn2 A hearing on the PCRA petition was conducted by the trial court on September 18, 2001. By Order dated April 22, 2002, the trial court denied Reddinger's request for PCRA relief. Reddinger appealed the denial to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. On June 3, 2003, the Superior Court affirmed the trial court's denial of relief. See Commonwealth v. Reddinger, 830 A.2d 1052 (Pa. Super. 2003) (Table). A petition for allowance of appeal was subsequently denied by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on March 30, 2004. See Commonwealth v. Reddinger, 847 A.2d 1283 (Pa. 2004) (Table).

Reddinger claims that he is entitled to federal habeas corpus relief on the grounds that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance to his defense for failure to object, move for mistrial, move to strike, or otherwise take action to: (1) "bar Dr. Isidore Mihalakis, the forensic pathologist*fn3 called by the prosecution, from testifying that the boots worn by your petitioner, Mr. Reddinger, were the cause of pattern injuries he observed on David Shutter's head and neck regions" (Doc. 1 at 13); (2) "challenge the qualifications of Dr. Isidore Mihalakis to offer opinion testimony suggesting that the pattern injuries he observed on David Shutter's head and neck regions were caused by the boots worn by your petitioner" (Id. at 17); (3) "protect Carl Reddinger's vital interests against the introduction, through Dr. Isidore Mihalakis, of inadmissible and highly prejudicial hearsay testimony that improperly bolstered the prosecution's case" (Id. at 20); (4)bar "trial testimony by Commonwealth witness Joseph Knier regarding a prior act, in the form of a comment allegedly made by the petition [sic], offered for the purpose of establishing intent and conformity with habit" (Id. at 25); and (5) "seek supplemental and curative jury instructions when the trial judge improperly charged the jury regarding the penalties for murder but not the other charged offenses" (Id. at 29). He argues that appellate counsel also rendered ineffective assistance because none of these issues were raised on direct appeal.*fn4

II. Threshold Issues Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)

Before a federal court may reach the merits of an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court, it must be shown that the applicant has exhausted the remedies available in state courts, there is no available state corrective process, or there are circumstances that render the state process ineffective. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1). The prisoner must have properly exhausted those remedies; that is, he must have fairly presented his claims to the state courts. O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 848 (1999); Wenger v. Frank, 266 F.3d 218, 223 (3d Cir. 2001).

Fair presentation requires that the "substantial equivalent" of both the legal theory and the facts supporting the federal claim be submitted to the state courts. Evans v. Court of Common Pleas, 959 F.2d 1227, 1231 (3d Cir. 1992). The same method of legal analysis applied in federal court must be available to the state courts. Id.; Lambert v. Blackwell, 134 F.3d 506, 513 (3d Cir. 1997). Moreover, to satisfy exhaustion, the state court must be put on notice that a federal claim is being asserted. Keller v. Larkins, 251 F.3d 408, 413 (3d Cir. 2001). The exhaustion requirement is satisfied if the petitioner's claims are either presented to the state courts directly on appeal from the judgment of sentence, or through a collateral proceeding, such as a petition under the PCRA. Evans, 959 F.2d at 1230. It is not necessary to present federal claims to state courts both on direct appeal and in a PCRA proceeding. Id.

When a claim has not been fairly presented to the state courts but further state-court review is clearly foreclosed under state law, exhaustion is excused on the ground of futility. See Lines v. Larkins, 208 F.3d 153, 160 (3d Cir. 2000); Toulson v. Beyer, 987 F.2d 984, 987-88 (3d Cir.1993). Such a claim is procedurally defaulted, not unexhausted, and may be entertained in a federal habeas petition if there is a basis for excusing the procedural default. Procedural default may only be excused if a petitioner can show "cause" and "prejudice" or that a "fundamental miscarriage of justice" would result. Edwards v. Carpenter, 529 U.S. 446, 451 (2000).

Respondents maintain that Petitioner "has waived (and thus not exhausted) his claims of ineffectiveness of appellate counsel because he failed to present evidence of counsel's ineffectiveness at the PCRA hearing." (Doc. 12 at 4.) They offer no authority to support their contention. In contrast, the record demonstrates that Reddinger presented his ineffective assistance claims to the state courts in his PCRA proceedings and appeals. Further, he presented the substantial equivalent of the instant federal claims in both his brief in support of his PCRA petition and in his PCRA appeal to the Superior Court. (See Doc. 1 Ex. A.) His appellate counsel and the legal assistant who assisted in his appeal testified at the PCRA hearing. The PCRA court did not indicate that his failure to present supporting testimony at the PCRA hearing was a factor in denying him relief. Thus, Reddinger fairly presented the substance of his present federal claims for consideration before the Pennsylvania state courts as contemplated under Evans. Petitioner is not in procedural default and this court will turn to the merits of his claim.

III. Legal Standards for Review of a State Court Decision Under § 2254(d)

"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);*fn5 Gattis v. Snyder, 278 F.3d 222, 228 (3d Cir. 2002); Moore v. Morton, 255 F.3d 95, 104-05 (3d Cir. 2001). The ...

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