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Clegg v. Sobina

August 9, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane


Before the Court is Petitioner George Lawrence Clegg's petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In the petition Clegg challenges his 2004 conviction in the Court of Common Pleas of York County, Pennsylvania, for aggravated assault and fleeing and attempting to elude police. He was sentenced, following a jury trial, to a twenty-seven (27) to fifty-four (54) month term of imprisonment. He has since been paroled from this sentence. In the petition, he raises four (4) grounds alleging the ineffective assistance of counsel. The petition is ripe for consideration and, for the reasons that follow, will be denied.

I. Background

The relevant factual background of this case, as extracted from the November 19, 2008 opinion of the Pennsylvania Superior Court denying Clegg's petition filed under the Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), 42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 9541-9546, is as follows:

In August of 2001 Nancy Wilson ("Wilson"), [who was] [Clegg's] fiancé, contacted the Springettsbury Township Police Department to report that [Clegg] was missing, as was [Wilson's] van. She informed Officer Brian Alu that she believed [Clegg] was suicidal; she had found ties bound together as though [Clegg] was planning to hang himself and reported that [Clegg] was not taking his depression medication, Prozac. Officer Alu entered [Clegg's] information into the NCIC database as an "endangered missing person." About one hour after Office Alu left [Wilson's] residence, [Wilson] decided to report her van as stolen.

In the early morning hours of August 24, 2001, Officer Joseph Jones of the Northern York County Regional Police Department noticed a van weaving over the centerline on North George Street. When a traffic signal in front of the van turned red, the van stopped well in front of the designated stop line, so much so that it was interfering with traffic traveling through the intersection. Officer Jones noticed that the van's driver yelled at one of the drivers traveling the other direction as the other driver drove around the van.

At this point, Officer Jones activated the signal lights on his marked patrol car in an attempt to indicate that the van should pull over as soon as it was able. The van then crossed all three lanes of traffic, moving from the far left to the far right. Upon stopping again, the driver yelled something at Officer Jones, who replied that the driver was to stop in a nearby McDonald's parking lot.

When the vehicle pulled into the McDonald's lot, Officer Jones relayed the vehicle's license plate number over the radio. As he was doing so, Sergeant David Steffen, also of the Northern York Regional Police Department, entered the plate number into the NCIC [National Crime Information Center] database in his marked vehicle. The information that Officer Alu had previously entered appeared, indicating that the driver may be an endangered missing person who was possibly suicidal. Sgt. Steffen immediately relayed this information to Officer Jones, who was approaching the van. Sgt. Steffen then proceeded to drive to the McDonald's lot.

Upon receiving Sgt. Steffen's transmission, Officer Jones drew his weapon. He ordered the driver, [Clegg], to show his hands. [Clegg] refused to comply and told Officer Jones that he had a gun and was going to kill somebody. After a few moments of Officer Jones trying to convince [Clegg] to comply, [Clegg] put the van into gear and fled the scene. Sgt. Steffen, who had arrived on the scene shortly after Officer Jones's initial approach, attempted to pepper spray [Clegg] as he sped off, but the spray either did not contact [Clegg] or did not inhibit him from driving away. [Clegg] traveled on several roads throughout central and eastern York County, many of them twice. He drove approximately 10-15 miles per hour over the speed limit the entire time and did not stop for any of the several stop signs or red lights he encountered. [Clegg] was consistently swerving from one side of the road to the other. Occasionally, [Clegg] drove over curbs, through grass, and through various commercial parking lots. At one point, between six and nine cruisers were involved in the chase.

Eventually, while traveling on Sherman Street, a State Police cruiser driven by Trooper Robin Feiser drove alongside [Clegg's] van. [Clegg] then braked, and pulled his vehicle slightly to the right as they were approaching a curve in the road. The cruiser hit the end of the guardrail, but neither Trooper Feiser nor Trooper Earl Eshleman, who was also in the cruiser, was injured. [Clegg's] van spun and was now facing the opposite direction. [Clegg] continued north on Sherman Street, turned onto U.S. 30, and then traveled south on North Hills Road.

Stop sticks, also known as spike strips, were deployed in North Hills Road and [Clegg] drove over them near the ramp to get onto Interstate 83. The van never merged with traffic, as the tires deflated near the Belmont Street exit, where [Clegg] finally crashed into the guardrail. Upon arriving at the scene, Officer Jack L. Graybill, II ("Graybill") of the Spring Garden Township Police Department, and Sgt. Steffen approached the passenger side of the van. Both officers testified that upon looking into the front passenger's side window, they saw a rifle or shotgun pointed in their direction. Once again, [Clegg] ignored the officers' orders to disarm himself and get out of the van.

Meanwhile, Officers James A. Miller and Eisenhart of the Springettsbury Township Police Department balanced themselves on the guardrail so they could approach the vehicle from the driver's side. The window was down and Officer Eisenhart began trying to pull [Clegg] out of the van.

On the other side of the van, Officer Graybill smashed the passenger's window with his baton and opened the door. At this point [Clegg] pointed the gun in the direction of Officer Graybill. Officer Graybill maced [Clegg], at which point [Clegg] was disarmed. [Clegg] reached for a second gun that was lying on the floor of the van and was disarmed again. Sgt. Steffen handed one of these guns to Officer Jones so it could be secured.

Officers Eisenhart and Miller then pulled [Clegg] out of the vehicle on the driver's side. Given the late hour of this incident and the speed at which these events progressed, Officers Eisenhart and Miller did not realize that they were actually on the edge of a small bridge or overpass. The force of removing [Clegg] from the van caused the officers and [Clegg] to fall approximately fifteen feet to the ground below. After landing on top of the officers, [Clegg] fled on foot. Officers Miller and Eisenhart tackled [Clegg], finally taking him into custody.

The chase lasted twenty-seven minutes. Officers Jones and Graybill, as well as Sgt. Steffen, all testified that they believed someone was going to be shot and/or that they would have to shoot [Clegg] during the struggle in the van. (Doc. No. 1-2 at 16-19, Commonwealth v. Clegg, 1573 MDA 2007 (Pa. Super. Nov. 19, 2008)).

On May 13, 2004, following a jury trial, Clegg was found guilty of Aggravated Assault and Fleeing and Attempting to Elude Police in the York County Court of Common Pleas. On September 17, 2004, he was sentenced to 27-54 months in a state correctional institution on the Aggravated Assault charge, and a concurrent term of twelve (12) months probation and a $500.00 fine on the Fleeing charge. He was additionally found guilty of summary offenses for which fines were imposed.

Following the reinstatement of his direct appeal rights, an appeal was filed in the Pennsylvania Superior Court on August 10, 2005.*fn1 On May 8, 2006, his conviction and sentence were affirmed. See Commonwealth v. Clegg, 903 A.2d 42 (Pa. Super. 2006). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court thereafter denied Clegg's petition for Allowance of ...

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