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Lepre v. Commonwealth

June 24, 2008

GERALD S. LEPRE, JR., PETITIONER
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA AND ATTORNEY GENERAL OF PENNSYLVANIA, RESPONDENTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner

MEMORANDUM

Petitioner Gerald S. Lepre, Jr. ("Lepre"), who is presently on parole from a state sentence, has filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. 1.) Lepre contends that he received ineffective assistance of counsel during both his guilty plea and resentencing hearings. The court finds that Lepre's claims are without merit and will deny his petition.

I. Procedural History

In June of 1997, Lepre was arrested and charged with robbing two gasoline stations in northeastern Pennsylvania. On March 2, 1998, Lepre pled guilty to two counts of robbery. (Doc. 1 at 29.) On May 1, 1998, Lepre was sentenced in the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas to a term of 60 to 120 months' imprisonment. Lepre appealed to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania which affirmed on June 22, 1999. (Id. at 30.)

On July 26, 1999, Lepre filed a petition pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. §§ 9541-9546. (Doc. 1 at 30.) The PCRA hearing was held on March 24, 2000, at which time Lepre was resentenced to a term of 57 to 120 months because of an incorrect prior record score. (Id. at 31-32.)

On June 5, 2000, Lepre again appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, which dismissed for failure to file an appellate brief. On December 20, 2000, Lepre filed a second PCRA petition. (Doc. 1 at 32.) On June 25, 2003, Lepre's PCRA petition was granted, reinstating his direct appellate rights nunc pro tunc. On August 5, 2003, Lepre again appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court which affirmed. (Id. at 34.)

On August 4, 2004, Lepre filed a third PCRA petition, which was denied on June 20, 2006. (Doc. 1 at 34-35.) Lepre again appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court which affirmed on January 12, 2007. (Doc. 10-2 at 1.) The instant § 2254 petition (Doc. 1) was filed on March 30, 2007. The petition has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

II. Discussion

A habeas corpus petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 is the proper mechanism for a prisoner to challenge the "fact or duration" of his confinement. Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 498-499 (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*fn1 in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); Estelle, 502 U.S. at 67-68 (1991); see also Pulley v. Harris, 465 U.S. 37, 41 (1984); Johnson v. Rosemeyer, 117 F.3d 104 (3d Cir. 1997).

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act significantly revised the standard of review for habeas claims by state prisoners when a state court has previously considered and rejected those claims. See Dickerson v. Vaughn, 90 F.3d 87, 89 (3d Cir. 1996). Section 2254(d) of Title 28 of the United States Code provides, in pertinent part, that an application for a writ of habeas corpus premised on a claim previously adjudicated on the merits in state court shall not be granted unless:

(1) [the decision] 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) [the decision] was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). 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 (2000). This occurs when "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. Klein, 412 F.3d 449, 452 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 406). Additionally, an "unreasonable application" of federal law "occurs when a state court applies the correct rule to specific facts in an objectively unreasonable way," such as "unreasonably extend[ing] an established rule to a new context where it should not apply or, in the alternative, unreasonably fail[ing] to extend such a rule to a new context where it should apply." Id. (citing Williams, 529 U.S. at 407, 409).

The Third Circuit has set forth a two-step process for reviewing § 2254 petitions. First, the court must "identify the applicable Supreme Court precedent and determine whether it resolves [petitioner's] claims." Outten v. Kearney, 464 F.3d 401, 413 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Hackett v. Price, 381 F.3d 281, 287 (3d Cir. 2004)). "In performing this inquiry, it is not sufficient for [a petitioner] to show merely that his interpretation of Supreme Court precedent is more plausible than the state court's; rather, [the petitioner] must demonstrate that Supreme Court precedent requires the contrary outcome." Id. (emphasis added). The reviewing court, upon a finding that "the state court decision is not 'contrary to' the applicable ...


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