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Young v. Philadelphia County District Attorney's Office

February 5, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Berle M. Schiller, J.


Plaintiff John K. Young, proceeding pro se, brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the Philadelphia County District Attorney's Office ("D.A.'s Office") and the City of Philadelphia alleging they have violated his constitutional rights by denying him DNA testing of physical evidence used to convict him of murder. The only relief Plaintiff seeks is an order requiring Defendants to perform this DNA testing. Currently before the Court is the D.A.'s Office's motion to dismiss. For the following reasons, the motion is granted.*fn1


A. Procedural History of Young's Criminal Case

On March 11, 1975, Plaintiff was arrested and charged with the murder of Marlene Mapp.*fn2

On that date, Ms. Mapp's neighbor, Jacqueline Mack, heard screaming and footsteps coming from the Mapp residence. She also heard Ms. Mapp's six-year old son, Larry Mapp, telling someone to "leave his mother alone." Ms. Mack called the police and then called over to the house. Larry answered the phone and stated that his mother had been stabbed.

Ms. Mack went to the Mapp residence and found Larry covered in blood. Shortly thereafter, the police arrived and found Ms. Mapp against the front door at the foot of the staircase. Her purse was lying open on the living room sofa and its contents were strewn about the room. The front door was locked; police determined that the perpetrator entered via the back door by unlatching it with a coat hanger. Additionally, the police found a blood-stained black scarf in the backyard.

The police went to the house directly behind the Mapp home and asked Young, who was four months shy of eighteen at the time, to accompany them to the station to answer some questions. At the station, he was placed in an interrogation room and advised of his Miranda rights. Young eventually admitted that he broke into the home and killed Ms. Mapp when she tried to disarm him.*fn3 During a search of Young's home pursuant to a warrant, the police seized a knife, shoes, pants and a washcloth, all of which were stained with human blood and introduced at trial. Additionally, Larry Mapp testified at trial and identified Young as the perpetrator. Young was convicted of murder, burglary, and related charges on August 26, 1975. He was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder conviction and a concurrent ten to twenty years imprisonment for the burglary conviction.

Young appealed directly to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which rejected his sole argument - that he was deprived of a fair trial because the prosecutor made improper remarks during closing argument - and affirmed Young's conviction. Young, 383 A.2d 899. Young subsequently filed an unsuccessful Post Conviction Hearing Act ("PCHA") petition in the Court of Common Pleas, primarily arguing that his confession was obtained in violation of his constitutional rights and that his trial counsel had been ineffective for failing to raise on appeal both this issue and an alleged violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. The Superior Court affirmed the Court of Common Pleas's rejection of these and other challenges, noting that counsel could not have been ineffective in failing to attack on appeal a confession that was never introduced into evidence. Young, 465 A.2d 684. In a second PCHA petition, Young asserted that the trial court committed reversible error by permitting the introduction of physical evidence that, as the fruit of his involuntary confession, was improperly seized. Young, 873 A.2d at 722 (citing Commonwealth v. Young, 635 A.2d 209 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1993) (Table)). In rejecting this petition, the Superior Court determined that Young's confession was voluntary. Id. at 726. Thereafter, Young unsuccessfully petitioned the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to hear his appeal. Commonwealth v. Young, 642 A.2d 485 (Pa. 1994) (Table).

On January 12, 1996, Young filed, in federal district court, a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, which was ultimately denied. Young v. Frank, Civ. A. No. 96-215 (E.D. Pa.) (Docket) [hereinafter "Habeas Docket"]. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals subsequently denied Young's request for a certificate of appealability and his federal case was closed on May 6, 1997. (Id.)

B. Young's Attempts to Obtain Post-Conviction DNA Testing

On November 27, 2002, Young filed a motion in the Court of Common Pleas - pursuant to Pennsylvania's Post-Conviction Relief Act, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 9543.1 - requesting that the court order DNA testing on the blood-stained items the police seized from his home. Pursuant to that statute, a movant is entitled to DNA testing on evidence used to convict him where the movant: (1) asserts that he is actually innocent of the offense for which he was convicted; and (2) presents a prima facie case demonstrating that the identity of the perpetrator was an issue at trial and that DNA testing, assuming exculpatory results, would establish actual innocence. Young sought to establish, through DNA testing, that the blood on the items found in his home was his blood, not that of the victim. The Commonwealth filed an opposition on June 2, 2003, and the court subsequently denied Young's motion.

On appeal, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the Court of Common Pleas's denial of Young's motion. The Superior Court concluded that Young's identity was an issue at trial. However, the court found that Young failed to establish a prima facie case under the statute because "his confession to the murder bars him from asserting a claim of actual innocence for the offense for which he was convicted." Young, 873 A.2d at 727; see also id. ("[A]n appellant cannot assert a claim of actual innocence where, as here, the validity of the confession has been finally litigated, found not to be coerced, and was knowingly and voluntarily given."). Furthermore, Young could not show actual innocence because Larry Mapp, the victim's son, unequivocally identified Young at trial as the perpetrator. Young appealed to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which denied his petition for allowance of appeal. Commonwealth v. Young, 891 A.2d 733 (Pa. 2005) (Table).

On June 3, 2006, Young sought permission to file a second habeas petition so that he could further pursue DNA testing. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss [hereinafter "Pl.'s Resp."] Ex. A [Req. for Permission to File a Second Habeas Corpus Pet.].) In this filing, Young alleged that the state court, in denying his motion for post-conviction DNA testing, suppressed exculpatory evidence, violated his due process rights and his Sixth Amendment rights, and precluded ...

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