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Hopkins v. Diguglielmo

July 6, 2009

ELWOOD PATRICK HOPKINS, PETITIONER
v.
DAVID DIGUGLIELMO, ET. AL, RESPONDENTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge John E. Jones III

MEMORANDUM

This matter is before the Court on the petition of Elwood Patrick Hopkins for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons set forth below, the petition will be dismissed as untimely.

I. BACKGROUND

The factual and procedural background to this action are comprehensively set forth in the Court's May 27, 2009 memorandum and order (Doc. 23). Therefore, summarized below are only the procedural history and factual background necessary to the disposition of the statute of limitations issue.

On November 14, 1990, a jury found Hopkins guilty of involuntary manslaughter, arson endangering persons, arson endangering property, risking a catastrophe, causing a catastrophe, and reckless burning or exploding. The offenses arose from a fire that damaged an apartment building and an adjacent personal care home in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, and which resulted in the death of one of the residents of the personal care home. On April 26, 1993, the Schuylkill County Court of Common Pleas sentenced Hopkins to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole on the arson conviction and various concurrent sentences on the remaining convictions.

Hopkins filed a timely appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, raising the following issues: (i) weight and sufficiency of the evidence; (ii) the trial court erroneously permitted introduction of a videotape of the fire; (iii) impermissible closing argument by the prosecutor; (iv) the trial court unduly pressured the jury to reach a verdict; (v) the trial court imposed an illegal sentence; and (vi) the trial court erroneously denied his motion for a new trial based the allegation that one of the prosecution's witnesses testified falsely at trial. By memorandum of April 15, 1994, the Superior Court affirmed Hopkins's conviction and sentence. Hopkins did not file a petition for allowance of appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

On January 16, 1997, Hopkins, through counsel, filed his first petition for relief under Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), arguing that Hopkins's trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to challenge Hopkins's conviction and sentence on constitutional grounds. On December 30, 1997, the PCRA court denied Hopkins's petition. Hopkins appealed, and on July 13, 1998, the Superior Court affirmed the denial the petition on the merits. Hopkins did not seek review by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

On June 26, 2001, Hopkins, again through counsel, filed a second PCRA petition, arguing that the trial court's jury instructions regarding 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 3301 were unconstitutional in light of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000). On March 22, 2002, the PCRA court dismissed the petition as untimely. Hopkins appealed, and on June 3, 2003, the Superior Court affirmed dismissal of Hopkins's second PCRA petition as untimely. Hopkins filed a petition for allowance of appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which was denied by order of December 2, 2003.

On August 1, 2006, Hopkins, acting pro se, filed a third PCRA petition arguing (i) that his sentence was beyond the maximum allowed by statute; (ii) that the trial court erred by allowing the admission of hearsay in violation of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004); and (iii) that the findings of the fire investigation report used as evidence against him at trial were "contradictive to the law of nature, physics and human experience" and he therefore should be permitted to have an arson expert conduct further investigation. By order of December 28, 2006, the PCRA court dismissed the petition as untimely. The Superior Court affirmed this dismissal by order of August 9, 2007. Hopkins did not appeal the denial of this third PCRA petition to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

On September 18, 2007, Hopkins filed his current petition for writ of habeas corpus under § 2254, raising the following grounds for relief: (i) that the mandatory sentencing provisions of the arson statute violate due process and equal protection; (ii) that his life sentence is prohibited in light of his acquittal of second degree murder; (iii) that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the mandatory sentencing provisions of the arson statute; and (iv) that the prosecutor failed to disclose exculpatory evidence that the fire started in a way other than described by law enforcement officers at trial. By memorandum and order of May 27, 2009, the Court sua sponte noted that the petition appears to be untimely, but pursuant to United States v. Bendolph, 409 F.3d 155 (3d Cir. 2005), gave Hopkins notice of the statute of limitations problem and the opportunity to respond. Hopkins has filed additional briefs addressing the statute of limitations issue. (Docs. 24, 26.)

II. DISCUSSION

Under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"), § 2254 petitions are subject to a one-year limitations period which runs 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;

(B) the date on which the impediment to filing an application created by State action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed, if the applicant was prevented from filing by such State action;

(C) the date on which the constitutional right asserted was initially recognized by the Supreme Court, if the right has been newly recognized by the Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review; or

(D) the date on which the factual predicate of the claim or claims presented could have been discovered through ...


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