The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sylvia H. Rambo United States District Judge
Before the court is a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, filed by petitioner Ronald L. Bricker ("Bricker"), an inmate currently incarcerated at the State Regional Correctional Facility in Mercer, Pennsylvania ("SRCF-Mercer"). (Doc. 1.) Bricker is challenging his state conviction and sentence in the Court of Common Pleas for Dauphin County, Pennsylvania ("trial court" or "Dauphin County trial court"). For the reasons that follow, the petition will be denied.
During 2003 and 2004, Bricker was charged with various offenses at multiple docket numbers within the trial court.*fn1 Initially, at docket number 1246 CR 2003, following a jury trial, Bricker was found guilty of one count of bad checks, see 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 4105(a)(1). On January 8, 2004, Bricker was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than one (1) nor more than two (2) years. On January 12, 2004, Bricker filed a motion for modification of sentence, which was denied by the trial court on January 15, 2004. On September 23, 2004, Bricker filed an untimely motion for appeal in the trial court. Bricker filed an addendum to that motion on October 26, 2004. Bricker claims that the trial court appointed counsel to file an amended notice of appeal, but his appointed counsel failed to file that appeal. (Doc. 1 at 6.)
Additionally, following a jury trial conducted from August 9 to 12, 2004, Bricker was found guilty of eight (8) counts of theft by deception, see 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 3922(a)(1), and seven (7) counts of deceptive business practices, see 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 4107(a)(2).*fn2 On October 7, 2004, the trial court sentenced Bricker to an aggregate term of imprisonment of not less than twenty-one (21) months nor more than eighty-four (84) months. On October 15, 2004, Bricker filed a motion to modify sentence, arguing that the sentence imposed was outside the statutory maximum. The trial court granted the motion on October 19, 2004, and adjusted the maximum sentence to sixty (60) months. Bricker filed no further appeals with the trial court, the Pennsylvania Superior Court, or the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. In addition, Bricker did not seek collateral relief by filing a petition pursuant to the Post-Conviction Relief Act, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 9541, et seq., in the trial court.
On September 21, 2005, Bricker filed a praecipe for writ of summons in a civil action in the Court of Common Pleas of Mercer County against several parties including the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the trial court judge, his defense attorneys, and witnesses for the Commonwealth. All parties objected to the writ on the basis that it was filed in the inappropriate venue. The Mercer County trial court agreed, and on January 12, 2006, transferred the case to the Dauphin County trial court. On April 19, 2006, the trial court dismissed the complaint against all defendants. Bricker filed a timely notice of appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court which transferred the matter to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. On January 29, 2007, the Commonwealth Court dismissed Bricker's appeal for failure to file a brief. Bricker filed a petition for allowance of appeal which was denied by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on May 7, 2007.
On March 3, 2007, Bricker filed the instant petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. 1.) In his petition, Bricker appears to be asserting claims of ineffective assistance of counsel as to his trial counsel and appellate counsel. Additionally, he appears to be claiming that all parties involved, including the trial court judge, the district attorney, the Commonwealth witnesses, and his own attorneys, conspired to have him convicted of the charges set forth against him. On April 26, 2007, the court issued an order to show cause, directing Respondents to reply to Bricker's petition. (Doc. 7.) The matter is now ripe for disposition.
A habeas corpus petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 is the proper mechanism for a state prisoner to challenge the "fact or duration" of his confinement. Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 498-99 (1973). "[I]t is not the province of a federal habeas court to re-examine state-court determinations on state-law questions." Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991). Rather, federal habeas review is restricted to claims based "on the ground that [petitioner] is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." § 2254(a); see also Estelle, 502 U.S. at 68; Johnson v. Rosemeyer, 117 F.3d 104, 109 (3d Cir. 1997).
A. Exhaustion and Procedural Default
Petitions under § 2254 are not a substitute for direct appeal. It is well established that all claims that a petitioner in state custody attempts to present to a federal court for habeas corpus review must have been fairly presented to each level of the state courts. § 2254(b)(1)(A) ("An application for a writ of habeas corpus . . . shall not be granted unless it appears that . . . the applicant has exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State"); O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 844 (1999); Lines v. Larkins, 208 F.3d 153, 159 (3d Cir. 2000). "The exhaustion requirement ensures that state courts have the first opportunity to review federal constitutional challenges to state convictions and preserves the role of state courts in protecting federally guaranteed rights." Caswell v. Ryan, 953 F.2d 853, 857 (3d Cir. 1992). The burden of establishing that such claims were "fairly presented" falls upon the petitioner. Lambert v. Blackwell, 134 F.3d 506, 513 (3d Cir. 1997). See also Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 29 (2004) ("To provide the State with the necessary 'opportunity,' the prisoner must 'fairly present' his claim in each appropriate state court (including a state supreme court with powers of discretionary review), thereby alerting that court to the federal nature of the claim."). The petitioner must show that "the claim brought in federal court [is] the substantial equivalent of that presented to the state courts." Lesko v. Owens, 881 F.2d 44, 50 (3d Cir. 1989) (citations omitted).
If a petitioner presents unexhausted habeas claims to a federal court, but state procedural rules bar further state court review, the federal court will excuse the failure to exhaust and treat the claims as exhausted. McCandless v. Vaughn, 172 F.3d 255, 260 (3d Cir. 1999); Wenger v. Frank, 266 F.3d 218, 223 (3d Cir. 2001); see Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288, 297-98 (1989). Although deemed exhausted, such claims are considered procedurally defaulted. Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 749 (1991); McCandless, 172 F.3d at 260.
Upon a finding of procedural default, review of a federal habeas petition is barred unless the habeas petitioner can show that "(1) the procedural rule was not independent and adequate; (2) cause for his failure to comply with state procedural rules and prejudice resulting therefrom; or (3) that a fundamental miscarriage of justice will occur if not considered." Peterkin v. Horn, 176 F. Supp. 2d 342, 353 (E.D. Pa. 2001), ...