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Hatcher v. DiGuglielmo

October 26, 2009

VINCENT HATCHER, PETITIONER,
v.
DAVID DIGUGLIELMO, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jones, J.

MEMORANDUM

I. Procedural History

On March 6, 2002, Vincent Hatcher (hereinafter "Petitioner"), pled guilty in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, to murder generally and related charges for the shooting death of Devon Jacobs on October 7, 2001. Petitioner was represented by Charles Peruto, Jr., Esquire, who requested a degree-of-guilt hearing before the Honorable Benjamin Lerner. At the conclusion of same, Petitioner was convicted of first-degree murder and on May 1, 2002, the court sentenced him to life imprisonment.*fn1

Petitioner appealed his conviction to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his convictions and that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence. The Superior Court rejected Petitioner's claims and affirmed judgment of sentence. Petitioner then sought allocatur, which was ultimately denied by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. See Commonwealth v. Hatcher, 851 A.2d 141 (Pa. 2004).

On August 30, 2004, Petitioner filed a pro se petition for relief under Pennsylvania's Post-Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa.C.S. § 9541, et seq.. Attorney Paul J. Hetznecker was appointed to represent Petitioner and filed an Amended Petition on May 17, 2005. An evidentiary hearing was held, during which time Petitioner, his family members and trial counsel, Charles Peruto, Jr., testified. On November 20, 2006, the PCRA court dismissed Petitioner's claims for lack of merit. Petitioner appealed the PCRA decision to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, arguing that: 1) appellate counsel was ineffective for not raising trial counsel's ineffectiveness for allegedly inducing Petitioner to plea guilty generally and proceed with a degree-of-guilt hearing; and, 2) appellate counsel was ineffective for not raising trial counsel's ineffectiveness for not filing a motion in limine to exclude the Commonwealth's bad character evidence. The Superior Court affirmed the PCRA Court's decision on November 15, 2007 and Petitioner again sought allocatur from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which was denied on April 29, 2008.

On July 22, 2008, Petitioner filed the instant Petition for federal habeas relief, raising the same two claims that were raised in his PCRA appeal.*fn2 Said Petition was referred to Magistrate Judge Elizabeth T. Hey for a Report and Recommendation and upon review, Judge Hey ultimately recommended that the Petition, as well as a Certificate of Appealability, be denied. Petitioner filed Objections to the Report and Recommendation, in which he simply reiterated the same two claims of ineffective assistance of counsel that were initially presented in his original Petition, and added two new claims regarding weight and sufficiency of evidence. The final determination of this Petition is now before this Court.

II. Standard of Review

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), this Court may refer a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus to a magistrate judge for a Report and Recommendation. When a petitioner files an Objection to a Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, this Court is required to conduct a de novo review and determination of those portions of the report to which objections have been made. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)( C); Fed. R. Civ. P. 72. See also Kirk v. Meyer, 279 F. Supp. 2d 617, 619 (E.D. Pa. 2003); Terry v. Gillis, 93 F. Supp. 2d 603, 605 n.1 (E.D. Pa. 2000). District judges enjoy wide latitude in how they may treat the recommendations of a magistrate judge. United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 673-677(1980). A district court "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate."

28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)( C).

III. Discussion

A. Inducement of Guilty Plea

In his Objections to Magistrate Judge Hey's Report and Recommendation, Petitioner first contends that Magistrate Judge Hey incorrectly applied a "presumption of correctness" to the PCRA Court's findings regarding his ineffectiveness claims. In support of this Objection, Petitioner provides his version of the facts surrounding the murder, recites portions of Mr. Peruto's correspondence and testimony, and presents legal authority to support his position that his guilty plea was induced. He further asserts that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to inform him that he could withdraw his guilty plea during the degree-of-guilt hearing.

This Court has assessed Petitioner's claims in conjunction with the record before it, and has determined that based upon the complete record as read in context, Judge Hey correctly denied relief on same. Accordingly, Petitioner's Objection with ...


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