The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. John E. Jones III
Timothy W. Fletcher, an inmate presently confined at the State Correctional Institution, Somerset, Pennsylvania, initially filed this pro se habeas corpus petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.*fn1 By Order dated June 26, 2008, Petitioner's action was transferred to the Middle District of Pennsylvania. See Fletcher v. Rozum, Civil Action No. 08-716, 2008 WL 2609826 (E.D. Pa. June 26, 2008).
Fletcher challenges the validity of a "no contest" plea to sexual assault which he entered in the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas on September 5, 2001.*fn2 Following entry of his plea, Petitioner was sentenced on December 10, 2001 to a period of incarceration of not less than five (5) years and no more than ten (10) years. (Doc. 1, ¶ 2(a).) Petitioner seeks federal habeas corpus relief on the grounds that: (1) his plea was unlawfully induced or involuntarily made; (2) his conviction was obtained through use of a coerced confession because he was subjected to several hours of intense questioning; (3) the Commonwealth failed to disclose exculpatory evidence; and (4) he received ineffective legal representation as a result of trial counsel's alleged failure to conduct an adequate investigation.
A November 9, 2009 Memorandum and Order issued by Judge Vanaskie of this Court dismissed Petitioner's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, unlawfully induced plea, and coerced confession as untimely pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A). (Doc. 18.) In addition, Judge Vanaskie appointed the Federal Public Defender's Office to represent Fletcher with respect to his surviving claim that the Commonwealth failed to disclose favorable evidence as mandated under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963) (hereinafter Brady claim) and directed the parties to submit supplemental memorandums addressing the issues of timeliness and exhaustion of state court remedies issues as well as the merits of the Brady claim. This matter was subsequently reassigned to the undersigned.
As previously noted, Fletcher entered his no contest plea on September 5, 2001. (Doc. 1, ¶ 2(a).) He was sentenced on December 10, 2001. His post-sentence reconsideration motion was denied during early January, 2002. A direct appeal was not filed.
On September 21, 2005, Petitioner sought relief pursuant to Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), 42 Pa. C. S. A. § 9541, et seq. By decision dated February 16, 2006, Fletcher's PCRA petition, which was filed almost four (4) years after his conviction became final, was dismissed as untimely.
A pro se appeal of that ruling was filed with the Pennsylvania Superior Court on March 7, 2006. Appellate counsel was appointed for Fletcher on March 14, 2006. Counsel was ordered to file a concise statement of matters complained of on appeal in accordance with Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure Rule 1925(b) by April 20, 2006.
While his state court appeal was pending, Fletcher allegedly obtained a copy of a DNA report on April 26, 2006, which he describes as being exculpatory.*fn3 This DNA report, dated November 7, 2001 (post-plea but pre-sentencing), concerned testing performed on a towel which allegedly had been used to wipe the victim's blood from her body. The report, a copy of which has been submitted by Fletcher, appears to conclude that the blood on the towel belonged to Petitioner, not the victim, and that semen on the towel did not belong to Fletcher.*fn4
Petitioner filed an untimely 1925(b) statement with the Superior Court on May 12, 2006. Therein, Fletcher's PCRA counsel raised a Brady claim purportedly for protective purposes due to the Pennsylvania state court requirement that a claim based upon newly discovered evidence must be raised within sixty (60) days of its discovery.
Fletcher also brought a second action pursuant to Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), 42 Pa. C. S. A. § 9541, et seq. which similarly sought relief on the ground that the Commonwealth failed to disclose favorable evidence as mandated under Brady. The second PCRA petition was dismissed by the Court of Common Pleas on June 6, 2006 for lack of jurisdiction because Fletcher's appeal of the dismissal of his first PCRA action was still pending. (Doc. 1, ¶ 11(b)(5).)
On or about August 21, 2006, Petitioner's PCRA counsel filed a motion with the Superior Court, requesting a remand to the PCRA court so that an evidentiary hearing regarding the Brady claim could be conducted. By Order dated September 1, 2006, the Superior Court denied Petitioner's motion for remand, but permitted him to reiterate his request for remand in his appellate brief.
The Superior Court affirmed the decision of the PCRA court dismissing Fletcher's first PCRA petition as untimely in an opinion filed on February 8, 2007. See Commonwealth v. Fletcher, 924 A.2d 691 (Pa. Super. 2007)(Table).*fn5 The Superior Court's decision concluded that all issues raised by Petitioner had been waived under 1925(b) due to PCRA counsel's untimely filing of a Rule 1925(b) statement. (Doc. 15, p. 4.) The Opinion further noted that while Fletcher had been permitted to reiterate in his appellate brief a request for remand to the PCRA court for an evidentiary hearing on the Brady claim, that determination did not shield the Brady claim from ...