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Johnson v. Chamberlain

August 19, 2010

LATEEFAH JOHNSON
v.
DAWN CHAMBERLAIN, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lowell A. Reed, Jr., Sr. J.

MEMORANDUM

Presently before this Court is a counseled petition for writ of habeas corpus filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 by Lateefah Johnson ("Petitioner") (Docs. No. 1 and 14), the Respondents' response thereto ("Response") (Doc. No. 7), and Respondents' supplemental response ("Supplemental Response") (Doc. No. 34). Petitioner is currently incarcerated in the State Correctional Institution in Muncy. For the reasons that follow, the petition will be denied.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:

The relevant facts, as set forth by the Pennsylvania Superior Court, are as follows:

On Thanksgiving Day of 1998, [Petitioner] invited numerous guests to her residence in Philadelphia to celebrate the holiday. Among these guests were [Petitioner's] two [2] [fourteen] 14 year old cousins, Adrian Travers and Joseph Sandonato, and [Petitioner's] boyfriend, Derrick Myrick. At approximately 9:00 p.m. that evening, Myrick returned to the house with an expensive pair of boots purchased for him by another woman. This led to a heated verbal and physical altercation between [Petitioner] and Myrick. In the course of the altercation, [Petitioner] pulled a 9-millimeter Luger pistol on Myrick and threw bleach in his face. Myrick attempted to leave, but [Petitioner] pursued him. Myrick's brother-in-law eventually restrained [Petitioner] and Myrick was able to leave on foot. [Petitioner] soon followed, using her car to search for Myrick. Numerous witnesses testified at trial that she returned long enough to dismiss her guests and then resume her search. According to witnesses, [Petitioner] did not return to the residence again until midnight, at which time she packed some belongings, left the keys to the house with her family, and proclaimed that she was leaving and would not ever be returning.

A passerby discovered Myrick's body the next morning, approximately six [6] blocks from the Johnson residence. Myrick's body contained several bullet wounds. The fatal bullet had struck him in the back, piercing his spine, lung and aorta. [Petitioner's] pistol and several shell casings were found at the crime scene.

Two [2] days later, police found [Petitioner] in the psychiatric wing of a New York hospital. [Petitioner] confessed to having the altercation with Myrick at the residence, and later confronting him and shooting him only a few blocks from her residence before fleeing to New York. [Petitioner] claimed that, after the first confrontation, she was on her way to take Travers and Sandonato to the bus station when she saw Myrick and confronted him a second time. According to her statement, the encounter escalated into a physical altercation, and she shot him to make him stop hitting her. [Petitioner] told police that they should interview Travers and Sandonato and tell her cousins that she wanted them to tell the truth. The police interviewed Travers and Sandonato who each signed written statements in which they plainly stated that they were with [Petitioner] and saw her shoot and kill Myrick.

Commonwealth v. Johnson, 817 A.2d 1179, No. 1500 EDA 2002, at 1-4 (Pa. Super. Dec, 13, 2002) (unpublished memorandum), attached as Exhibit "A" to Response.

On November 3, 2000, a jury before the Honorable David N. Savitt, Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, found Petitioner guilty of first degree murder and related weapons offenses. Judge Savitt sentenced Petitioner to a term of life imprisonment. On direct appeal, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the judgment of sentence on December 13, 2002. Commonwealth v. Johnson, 817 A.2d 1179, No. 1500 EDA 2002, at 1-4 (Pa. Super. Dec, 13, 2002) (unpublished memorandum), attached as Exhibit "A" to Response. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Petitioner's request for allocatur on July 15, 2003. Commonwealth v. Johnson, 829 A.2d 311, 76 EAL 2003 (Pa. Jul. 15, 2003) (table).

On July 8, 2004, Petitioner filed a counseled petition for post-conviction relief pursuant to Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa. Con. Stat. Ann. § 9541, et. seq., asserting eleven claims of ineffectiveness of trial counsel. The PCRA court dismissed Petitioner's petition on November 17, 2005. On April 18, 2007, the Superior Court affirmed the denial of PCRA relief. Commonwealth v. Johnson, 928 A.2d 1124 (Pa. Super. 2007) (table); No. 3477 EDA 2005 (Pa. Super. April 18, 2007), attached as Ex. "B" to Response. Petitioner filed a petition for allowance of appeal in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court which was denied on August 28, 2007. Commonwealth v. Johnson, 931 A.2d 656, No. 227 EAL 2007 (Pa. Aug. 28, 2007) (table).

On July 2, 2007,*fn1 Petitioner filed a petition for a federal writ of habeas corpus. Counsel was appointed to represent Petitioner (Doc. No. 9) and an amended petition was filed on June 2, 2008 (Doc. No. 14) advancing the following claims:

1. trial counsel provided ineffective assistance when he failed to adequately prepare to litigate a motion to suppress Petitioner's confession and appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to argue trial counsel ineffectiveness;

2. trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request a continuance to secure hospital records before the hearing on the motion to suppress Petitioner's confession;

3. trial counsel was ineffective for failing to argue applicability of New York state suppression law in relation to Petitioner's confession;

4. trial counsel was ineffective for failing to raise a diminished capacity defense and for failing to properly investigate to present such a defense; and

5. appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to argue that the trial court's denial of Petitioner's motion to suppress was erroneous under New York state law.

Respondents have filed responses asserting that Petitioner is not entitled to federal habeas relief because her claims are without merit.

DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"), a petition for habeas corpus may only be granted if (1) the state court's adjudication of the claim resulted in a decision contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, "clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States;" or if (2) the adjudication resulted in a decision that was "based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)-(2). Factual issues determined by a state court are presumed to be correct and the petitioner bears the burden of rebutting this presumption by clear and convincing evidence. Werts v. Vaughn, 228 F.3d 178, 196 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1)).

The Supreme Court expounded upon this language in Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000). In Williams, the Court explained that "[u]nder the 'contrary to' clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the Supreme] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts." 529 U.S. at 412-413 (quoted in Hameen v. Delaware, 212 F.3d 226, 235 (3d Cir. 2000)). The Court in Williams further stated that "[u]nder the 'unreasonable application' clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case." Id. at 413. The "unreasonable application" inquiry requires the habeas court to "ask whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law was objectively unreasonable." Id. at 409. "In further delineating the 'unreasonable application of' component, the Supreme Court stressed that an unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of such law and a federal habeas court may not grant relief unless that court determines that a state court's incorrect or erroneous application of clearly established federal law was also unreasonable." Werts, 228 F.3d at 196 (citing Williams, 529 U.S. at 411).

II. Petitioner's Claims

A. Claim One: Ineffective Assistance of Trial Counsel for Failure to Adequately Prepare to Litigate a Motion to Suppress Petitioner's Confession

Petitioner first claims that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to adequately prepare to litigate a motion to suppress her confession. Claims of ineffective assistance of counsel are governed by Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). In Strickland, the United States Supreme Court set forth the standard for ...


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