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Barros v. Beard

September 4, 2009

CESAR BARROS, PETITIONER,
v.
JEFFREY BEARD, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, J.

MEMORANDUM

Petitioner Cesar Xaver Barros, filed this habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, collaterally attacking his sentence and asking the Court to vacate, set aside, or correct it. Petitioner alleges he was denied effective assistance of trial counsel, in violation of his Sixth Amendment rights.

For the following reasons, Petitioner's § 2254 motion, will be denied.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On November 3, 2000, Petitioner was convicted of third degree murder and possession of a firearm without a license. On December 19, 2000, Petitioner was sentenced to 21 to 45 years incarceration for the murder charge and a consecutive one to five years incarceration for the firearm violation.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the judgment of conviction and sentence and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied the petition for allowance of appeal. Petitioner filed a timely petition for collateral relief under the Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), which the PCRA court denied. The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the denial and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied the petition for allowance of appeal. Petitioner then filed the instant habeas petition, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. (Doc. no. 1). The Court referred the case to United States Federal Magistrate Judge Caracappa for a report and recommendation.

On February 28, 2008, Magistrate Judge Caracappa issued a report and recommendation, recommending that Petitioner's case be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies at the state level. Petitioner objected to the report and recommendation, arguing that his administrative remedies were in fact exhausted. The Court sustained Petitioner's objection, found the petition to be properly exhausted, and remanded the case to Magistrate Judge Caracappa for consideration on the merits of the petition.

On March 27, 2009, in a well reasoned report and recommendation, Magistrate Judge Caracappa reviewed and denied each of Petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel arguments (doc. no. 20). Petitioner filed three objections to the report and recommendation, challenging each of Magistrate Judge Caracappa's findings (doc. no. 21). Respondent filed responses thereto (doc. no. 23). Petitioner's habeas claims and objections to the report and recommendation are now ripe for decision.

II. ANALYSIS

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA") sets forth the standards for reviewing state court judgments in federal habeas petitions filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Werts v. Vaughn, 228 F.3d 178, 195 (3d Cir. 2000). The AEDPA increases the deference federal courts must give to the factual findings and legal determinations of state courts. Id. at 196 (citing Dickerson v. Vaughn, 90 F.3d 87, 90 (3d Cir. 1996)). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), federal habeas relief may be granted only when the state court's decision is "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States," or when the state court's decision is an "unreasonable determination of the facts" based on the evidence adduced at trial. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)-(2); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000); Appel v. Horn, 250 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2001).

The "clearly established Federal law" that governs ineffective assistance of counsel claims is the two-pronged standard set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). Williams, 529 U.S. at 363 (stating that the "Strickland test qualifies as 'clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court'"). In order to prevail upon an ineffective assistance of counsel argument, a petitioner must meet the two-pronged test set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). First, petitioner must show that his counsel's performance was deficient. Id. at 687. This requires a showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the "counsel" guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Id. Second, Petitioner must show that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. Id.

In Petitioner's objections to the report and recommendation, Petitioner claims that his trial counsel was ineffective for three reasons: (1) failure to preserve the issue of whether the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter; (2) failure to object to the trial court's jury instructions regarding first and third degree murder; and (3) failure to adequately cross-examine prosecution witness Joel Colon. The Court considers each objection in turn.

A. Voluntary Manslaughter Jury Instruction

First, Petitioner alleges that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to preserve for review the issue of whether the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter. Under Pennsylvania law, voluntary manslaughter occurs under two circumstances. First, where a person "kills another without lawful justification if, at the time of the killing, he is ...


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