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Weaver v. Palakovich

May 30, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner


Presently before the court is a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, filed on September 11, 2006, by petitioner Dennis L. Weaver ("Weaver"), an inmate currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution Smithfield in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1.) Weaver is challenging the validity of his guilty plea entered on April 7, 1997, in the Court of Common Pleas for Perry County, Pennsylvania ("trial court"). For the reasons that follow, the petition will be dismissed.

I. Procedural History

On November 8, 2006, Weaver filed a notice of election (Doc. 10) indicating he wished to proceed with his petition as filed. He also filed a motion for an extension of time to file a supporting memorandum of law. (Doc. 9.) The court granted his motion, and Weaver filed his supporting memorandum of law on December 26, 2006. (Doc. 18.) On January 25, 2007, the court ordered service upon the respondents and directed them to answer the petition.

On February 8, 2007, respondents filed their answer asserting that Weaver's petition is time barred by the one-year statute of limitations found at 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d). The parties have fully briefed this issue, which is ripe for decision.

II. Discussion

A. Relevant Legal Standard

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). A petition filed under § 2254 must be timely filed under the stringent standards set forth in the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (Apr. 24, 1996). See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1). Additionally, the court may only reach the merits of a petitioner's federal claims if each claim in the petition (1) has been exhausted in the state courts, and (2) is not procedurally defaulted. See 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)) (internal quotations and additional citations omitted). In order to provide the state with the opportunity to address the prisoner's federal claims, a state 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. Id. (citing Duncan, 513 U.S. at 365-66).

B. Timeliness of Habeas Petition

A state prisoner requesting habeas corpus relief pursuant to § 2254 must adhere to a statute of limitations that provides, in relevant part, as follows:

(d)(1) A 1-year period of limitation shall apply to an application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court. The limitation period shall run from the latest of --

(A) the date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review . . . .

(2) The time during which a properly filed application for State post-conviction or other collateral review with respect to the pertinent judgment or claim is pending shall not be counted toward any period of limitation under this subsection.

28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)-(2); see generally Jones v. Morton, 195 F.3d 153, 157 (3d Cir. 1999). Thus, under the plain terms of § 2244(d)(1)(A), a state court criminal judgment becomes "final," and the statute of limitations begins to run, "at the conclusion of review in the United States Supreme Court or when the time for seeking certiorari review expires." Kapral v. United States, 166 F.3d 565, 575 (3d Cir. 1999).

In the present case, on June 16, 1997, before the trial court Weaver entered a guilty plea to thirty-one counts of corruption of minors, see 18 PA. CONS. STAT. § 6301; thirty-one counts of indecent assault, see id. § 3126; and three counts of aggravated indecent assault, see id. § 3125. On August 14, 1997, the trial court sentenced Weaver to a term of imprisonment for a period of not less than seventeen and one-half years and not more than thirty-five years on two counts of aggravated indecent assault and three counts of corruption of minors. Weaver was represented by counsel at the time of the guilty plea and at sentencing.

Following the imposition of sentence, Weaver retained new counsel, who filed motions to withdraw the guilty plea and to modify the sentence. The trial court denied the motions and a timely appeal was taken to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. On January 28, 1999, the superior court affirmed the judgment of sentence. Commonwealth v. Weaver, 736 A.2d 919 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1999) (mem.). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Weaver's petition for allowance of appeal on September 28, 1999. Commonwealth v. Weaver, 743 A.2d 919 (Pa. 1999) (mem.). On December 27, 1999, ninety days after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied his petition for allowance of appeal, Weaver's conviction became final. See Morris v. Horn, 187 F.3d 333, 337 n.1 (3d Cir. 1999) ("After ninety days, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision became final because the time for seeking certiorari expired."). Thus, the limitations period for filing a ยง 2254 petition began on December 27, 1999, and Weaver had until December 27, 2000, to file a timely habeas corpus petition. However, the Court's analysis ...

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