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Baenig v. Patrick

August 3, 2009

CHARLES BAENIG, PETITIONER
v.
GEORGE W. PATRICK AND THE PENNSYLVANIA ATTORNEY GENERAL RESPONDENTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the court is an amended petition for writ of habeas corpus (Doc. 30), filed by pro se petitioner Charles Baenig ("petitioner") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner contends (1) that the sentencing court abused its discretion by imposing a minimum of fifteen and a maximum of 225 years' imprisonment for his offense of conviction, (2) that the sentence imposed is illegal because it is uncertain or of indeterminate length, (3) that his guilty plea is unconstitutional because it was not made knowingly and intelligently, and that his counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the defects of the guilty plea, and (4) that he is "actually innocent" of two of the counts to which he pled guilty. On December 2, 2008, the magistrate judge filed a report (Doc. 15) recommending that the petition be denied. After an independent review of the record, the court concludes that petitioner's claims are without merit and will deny his petition.

I. Factual Background & Procedural History

On December 8, 2003, petitioner pled guilty to forty-six counts of harassment by communication and forty-five counts of stalking by communication. (See Doc. 8, Ex. A.) Petitioner was sentenced on April 8, 2004 to a term of four to sixty months' incarceration on each of the forty-five counts of stalking by communication; these terms were ordered to run consecutively. (See Doc. 8, Ex. B at 85-89.) Additionally, petitioner was sentenced to one year probation for each count of harassment by communication, also to run consecutively. (See id. at 89.) The total term of incarceration amounted to a minimum of fifteen years and a maximum of 225 years' imprisonment with forty-six years' probation. (See id. at 85-89.) A fine of $100 per count, totaling $9,100, was also assessed. (See id.) The sentencing judge also imposed a number of conditions on petitioner's eligibility for parole, to wit: (1) completion of 9,100 hours of community service; (2) constraints on the use of any communication devices; (3) prohibitions on alcohol or illegal drug use; and (4) the requirement that prior to his release, three psychiatric professionals conclude that petitioner is not a danger to society. (See id. at 89-93.)

Petitioner appealed his sentence to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, alleging that the sentencing court abused its discretion by imposing a sentence that was manifestly excessive and by ordering conditions on the sentence that were illegal. (See Doc. 8, Ex. E at 10.) On April 20, 2005, the superior court affirmed the sentence. (Id. at 21.) Petitioner filed an allowance of appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on May 2, 2005, (Doc. 8, Ex. F), which was denied on October 27, 2005, (Doc. 8, Ex. G).

On December 20, 2005, petitioner filed a petition for relief under the Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 PA. CONS. STAT. § 9545(b)(1). (Doc. 8, Ex. I.) He therein alleged that prior to accepting his guilty plea, he was not informed of the potential conditions of parole and of the statutory maximum sentence. Thus, petitioner contended that his due process was violated when he pled guilty. Petitioner also claimed that his counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the purported defects of the plea agreement. (See id.) The PCRA court denied petitioner's motion, (Doc. 8, Ex. L), and the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed on appeal, (Doc. 8, Ex. N). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied an allowance of appeal on July 18, 2007. (Doc. 8, Ex. P.)

Petitioner filed the instant petition for writ of habeas corpus in this court on November 27, 2007. (Doc. 1.) The Dauphin County District Attorney ("respondent") filed an opposition to the petition on December 27, 2007. (Doc. 8.) On December 2, 2008, the magistrate judge issued a report recommending that this court deny petitioner's request for a writ of habeas corpus.*fn1 (Doc. 15.) After the magistrate judge recommended a disposition, however, petitioner filed a motion to amend the petition for writ of habeas corpus (Doc. 26). The court granted this request on June 5, 2009 (Doc. 29). In the amended petition, petitioner raises a fourth claim not addressed in the original petition or in the magistrate judge's report and recommendation-namely, that he is actually innocent of two of the counts for which he was convicted. (Doc. 30 at 10.) Respondent filed a brief in opposition to the amended petition (Doc. 32) on July 9, 2009, to which petitioner filed a reply brief (Doc. 33) on July 22, 2009. The petition is now 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 in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." § 2254(a); Estelle, 502 U.S. at 67-68; 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 ("AEDPA") prescribes the appropriate standard for a federal court to review the claims of a state prisoner challenging his conviction. See § 2254(d). An application for a writ of habeas corpus premised on a claim previously adjudicated on the merits in state court shall only be granted if

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

Id.

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)). Upon a finding that "the state court decision is not 'contrary to' the applicable Supreme Court precedent," the reviewing court must "advance to the second step in the analysis," which is to determine if "the state court decision was based on an 'unreasonable application' of Supreme Court precedent." Id. at 413-14 (quoting Werts v. Vaughn, 228 F.3d 178, 197 (3d Cir. 2000)). "[The reviewing court] should not grant the petition unless the state court decision, evaluated objectively and on the merits, resulted in an outcome that cannot reasonably be justified under existing Supreme Court precedent." Id. at 414 (quoting Hackett, 381 F.3d at 287).

Petitioner raises four separate grounds for relief in his application for a writ of habeas corpus. He first contends that the sentencing court abused its discretion by imposing a sentence that was manifestly excessive. (See Doc. 30 at 6.) Petitioner argues that his sentence will likely result in a term of life imprisonment, and he asserts that such a result is contrary to the purpose underlying the Pennsylvania state sentencing guidelines because the crime to which he pled guilty did not invite a life sentence. (See id.) In his second ground for relief, petitioner contends that his sentence is illegal because it imposed conditions that potentially exceed the statutory maximum permitted for his sentence. (See id. at 7.) Specifically, petitioner asserts that (1) his completion of 9,100 hours of community service is unreasonable, rendering his sentence indefinite; (2) the restrictions on his intake of alcohol and drugs, and the restrictions upon his use of communication devices are unreasonable because they will be imposed after he leaves prison; and (3) the requirement that three psychiatric professionals consent to petitioner's release renders his sentence indefinite because no unanimous opinion may ever materialize. (See id. at 7-8.) Petitioner's third ground for relief reasserts a claim raised in his PCRA petition, to wit, that his guilty plea was not knowing and intelligent and that his counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the purported defects of his guilty plea. (See id. at 9.) Finally, petitioner asserts that he is actually innocent of two of the counts to which he pled guilty. (See id. at 10.) The court will address these claims seriatim.

A. First & Second Grounds for Relief

The first and second grounds raised in the amended petition constitute challenges to the length and conditions of petitioner's sentence. Petitioner first claims that the sentencing court abused its discretion by imposing a sentence that is manifestly excessive. (See id. at 6.) He argues that his sentence essentially amounts to a term of life imprisonment, considering that the maximum term of incarceration is 225 years. (See id.) In his second ground for relief, petitioner alleges that his sentence is illegal because it imposes "conditions of indeterminate length potentially exceeding the statutory maximum, or [that are] of such uncertainty that performance may be rendered impossible for the petitioner to ever be able to accomplish them." (See id. at 7.) The specific conditions about which petitioner complains include the sentencing court's imposition of 9,100 hours of community service, prohibitions on petitioner's use of alcohol, drugs, and communication devices, and the requirement that ...


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