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Jones v. Tennis

November 8, 2010

KEVIN JONES, PETITIONER
v.
FRANKLIN TENNIS, RESPONDENT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Malcolm Muir United States District Judge

(Judge Muir)

Petition Filed 7/27/09)

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Petitioner, Kevin Jones, filed the instant counseled petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. He attacks a conviction imposed by the Court of Common Pleas for York County, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1). For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny the petition.

I. Background

The following background has been extracted from the Pennsylvania Superior Court's April 23, 2009 Opinion affirming the denial of Jones' petition pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA).

Appellant was charged with burglary, theft by unlawful taking, and receiving stolen property. The Commonwealth alleged that on July 26, 2007, appellant entered an apartment and took a stereo. ... On November 27, 2007, appellant appeared for the scheduled pretrial conference and pled guilty to burglary. The charges of theft and receiving stolen property were dismissed. The [trial judge] sentenced appellant to 35 months to 72 months in the state correctional institution, costs associated with the prosecution, and restitution in the amount of $70.33.

On December 7, 2007, appellant filed a petition to amend sentencing order to include a drug evaluation.

On December 11, 2007, the court amended the sentencing order to include a drug evaluation. (Doc. 12, App. C, Memorandum Opinion of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania dated April 23, 2009). No direct appeal was filed.

On January 1, 2008, Jones filed a pro se petition for relief under the Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 PA. CONS. STAT. §§ 9541-9546. (Doc. 12, App. D, Pro Se PCRA Petition). He claimed that plea counsel was ineffective for failing to timely provide discovery to him, for her completion of most of the written guilty plea, her willingness to proceed despite the petitioner's mental problems, and her unwillingness to file a motion to withdraw petitioner's guilty plea. Id. The trial court appointed counsel, and an evidentiary hearing was held on March 26, 2008. Id.

On May 28, 2008, the trial court denied Jones' petition Petitioner filed a timely appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, in which he raised the following issues of trial counsel's ineffectiveness:

1. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to provide a copy of the discovery information to him until the day of the scheduled pretrial conference when he entered his guilty plea.

2. The plea was involuntary due to trial counsel's ineffectiveness in (1) completing and placing appellant's initials on each page of the written colloquy, and (2) failing to state in the written guilty plea colloquy that appellant was bipolar, or otherwise brining this condition to the attention of the trial court.

3. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to withdraw the guilty plea when asked.

(Doc. 12, App. E, petitioner's Superior Court brief).

By Memorandum Order filed April 23, 2009, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the PCRA court's denial of Jones' PCRA petition. (Doc. 12, App. C, Memorandum Opinion of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania dated April 23, 2009). Petitioner did not file for allowance of appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

On July 27, 200, Jones filed the instant petition for writ of habeas corpus in which he raises the following challenges to his conviction and sentence:

1. Counsel was ineffective for timely providing petitioner with discovery materials.

2. Counsel was ineffective for "pressuring petitioner into a plea and completing the colloquy form instead of petitioner."

3. Counsel was ineffective for proceeding despite petitioner's mental health issues.

4. Counsel was ineffective for failing to timely withdraw petitioner's plea after petitioner specifically instructed her do so.

(Doc. 1, petition).

In accordance with United States v. Miller, 197 F.3d 644 (3d Cir. 1999) and Mason v. Meyers, 208 F.3d 414 (3d Cir. 2000), the Court issued formal notice to Jones that he could either have the petition ruled on as filed, that is, as a § 2254 petition for writ of habeas corpus and heard as such, but lose his ability to file a second or successive petition, absent certification by the court of appeal, or withdraw his petition and file one all-inclusive § 2254 petition within the one-year statutory period prescribed by the Antiterrorism Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"). (Doc. 4). Jones returned the notice of election form, indicating that he wished to proceed with the petition for writ of habeas corpus as filed. (Doc. 6). Thus, a Show Cause Order was issued on October 9, 2009. (Doc. 8). A response to the petition has been filed. (Doc. 12). Although Jones was provided the opportunity to file a traverse, no traverse was filed.

II. Standards of Review

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, 67-8 (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." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); Estelle, 502 U.S. at 67-8 (1991); see also Pulley v. Harris, 465 U.S. 37, 41 (1984); Johnson v. Rosemeyer, 117 F.3d 104 (3d Cir. 1997).

A. Exhaustion

"A federal court may not grant a writ of habeas corpus unless (1) 'the applicant has exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the state', (2) no such state remedy is available or (3) available remedies are ineffective to protect the applicant's rights. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)." Henderson v. Frank, 155 F.3d 159, 164 (3d Cir. 1998). "The exhaustion requirement is satisfied when the state courts have had an opportunity to pass upon and correct alleged constitutional violations." Evans v. Court of Common Pleas, Delaware County, Pa., 959 F.2d 1227, 1230 (3d Cir. 1992). The exhaustion requirement "is not a mere formality. It serves the interests of comity between the federal and state systems by allowing the state an initial opportunity to determine and correct any violations of a federal prisoner's federal rights." Gibson v. Scheidemantel, 805 F.2d 135, 138 (3d Cir. 1986). "Unless it would be patently futile to do so [state prisoners] must seek relief in state court before filing a federal habeas petition...." Santana v. Fenton, 685 F.2d 71, 77 (3d Cir. 1982).

The habeas corpus petitioner shoulders the burden of establishing exhaustion of state court remedies. McMahon v. Fulcomer, 821 F.2d 934, 940 (3d Cir. 1987). The threshold inquiry in the exhaustion analysis is whether the claims asserted in the habeas corpus petition have been "fairly presented" to the state courts. Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275 (1971). "All claims that a petitioner in state custody attempts to present to a federal court for habeas review must have been fairly presented to each level of the state courts." Lines v. Larkins, 208 F.3d 153, 159 (3d Cir. 2000), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 1082 (2001). Fair presentation requires that the "substantial equivalent" of a petitioner's federal habeas claims be presented to the state courts. Lambert v. Blackwell, 134 F.3d 506, 513 (3d Cir. 1997).

The respondent concedes that petitioner has exhausted his state court remedies. The merits of the claims will therefore be addressed.

B. Merits

"The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") modified a federal habeas court's role in reviewing state prisoner applications in order to prevent federal habeas 'retrials' and to ensure that state-court convictions are given effect to the extent possible under law." Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693 (2002). Specifically, when a federal-law issue has been adjudicated on the merits by a state court, the federal court reverses only when the decision was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, as determined by the United States Supreme Court.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) (1).*fn1 See generally, Knowles v. Mirzayance, --- U.S. ----, ---- - ----, 129 S.Ct. 1411, 1418-19, 173 L.Ed.2d 251 (2009); Gattis v. Snyder, 278 F.3d 222, 234 (3d Cir.2002); Moore v. Morton, 255 F.3d 95, 104-05 (3d Cir.2001). The Supreme Court has held that the "contrary to" and "unreasonable application" clauses of § 2254(d)(1) have independent meaning. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 404-405 (2000). As explained in Bell:

A federal habeas court may issue the writ under the "contrary to" clause if the state court applies a rule different from the governing law set forth in our cases, or if it decides a case differently than we have done on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. The court may grant relief under the "unreasonable application" clause if the state court correctly identifies the governing legal principle from our decisions but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular case. The focus of the latter inquiry is on whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law is objectively unreasonable ....

Bell, 535 U.S. at 694 (citations omitted).

In a recently announced decision, Renico v. Lett, --- U.S. ----, 130 S.Ct. 1855, 176 L.Ed.2d 678 (2010), the United States Supreme Court, quoting Williams, explained that "an unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of federal law." Id. at 1862. Therefore, a federal court may not grant habeas relief simply because it has concluded in its independent judgment that the state court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly.*fn2 Id. Rather, the state court application must be objectively unreasonable. Renico added that this distinction creates a substantially higher threshold for obtaining relief under ยง 2254 and imposes a highly deferential standard ...


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