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Eric Jevon Hall v. Gerald L. Rozam

August 16, 2012

ERIC JEVON HALL, PETITIONER
v.
GERALD L. ROZAM, ET AL., RESPONDENTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William W. Caldwell United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM

I. Introduction

Petitioner Eric Jevon Hall, an inmate at the State Correction Institution at Somerset, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner raises four grounds for relief: (1) ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to preserve a weight of the evidence claim; (2) ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to transcribe the preliminary hearing; (3) ineffective assistance of counsel for not challenging the trial court's bias; and (4) ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to challenge the trial court's abuse of discretion in not affording petitioner an opportunity to speak at his sentencing. After a careful review of Petitioner's claim, we will deny his petition.

II. Background

While Petitioner was an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Frackville ("SCI-Frackville"), he was charged with aggravated assault on a correctional officer, simple assault, and harassment. A jury trial was held in September 2007 in Schuylkill County. The evidence admitted at trial indicated that on October 18, 2006, Nurse Tracy Frantz and Correctional Officer ("CO") Daniel Hughes were assigned to deliver medication to prisoners in the restricted housing unit of SCI-Frackville. Frantz testified that she approached Petitioner's cell to provide him with a medication cup through a wicket in the cell door. Petitioner called out to Frantz through the wicket and demanded that she come closer. Frantz stepped back and Petitioner stuck his hands through the wicket. CO Hughes stepped between them and attempted to secure the wicket. Frantz testified that she saw Petitioner's hands extend through the wicket and around the neck area of CO Hughes. CO Hughes testified that Petitioner struck him below the jaw on his neck and continued swinging at him until the incident ended upon the arrival of other officers.

The jury found Petitioner not guilty of aggravated assault and simple assault, but the court found him guilty of harassment.*fn1 Petitioner was sentenced to thirty to ninety days imprisonment to be served consecutively to the sentence he is currently serving. Petitioner filed a pro se appeal on September 28, 2007. New counsel was appointed, and the appeal proceeded. The Superior Court found that there was sufficient evidence to sustain Petitioner's harassment conviction and affirmed the sentence. On April 30, 2009, Petitioner filed a pro se Post-Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA") petition, alleging ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel for failing to preserve a weight of the evidence claim. PCRA counsel was appointed but did not file an amended petition. The petition was dismissed without a hearing, and Petitioner appealed to the Superior Court. The Superior Court affirmed the dismissal.

III. Discussion

A. Timeliness and Exhaustion

A habeas claim filed in federal court by a state prisoner must be timely, and the prisoner must exhaust every avenue of state review. A state prisoner must file the habeas petition within one year of the date of the state court's final judgment. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A). Section 2254(b) also requires that the prisoner exhaust state court remedies by presenting each claim in at least one round of state appellate review. Carey v. Saffold, 536 U.S. 214, 220 (2002) (quoting O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845 (1999)). Upon review of the record, we find that Petitioner has filed within the time required by 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A). However, Petitioner admits that he has not exhausted grounds two, three, and four. (Doc. 1, at 12). He asserts that this failure to exhaust should be excused, because his PCRA counsel refused to raise and brief these issues on appeal. Petitioner alleges that he filed a pro se appellate brief with the Superior Court that included these claims, but only the counseled brief was considered by the court. Because we find that Petitioner's claims fail on the merits, we shall bypass the exhaustion requirement. See Roman v. Diguglielmo, 675 F.3d 204, 209 (3d Cir. 2012) (finding "we may bypass the exhaustion issue altogether should we decide that the petitioner's habeas claim fails on the merits."); 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(2) ("An application for a writ of habeas corpus may be denied on the merits, notwithstanding the failure of the applicant to exhaust the remedies available in the courts of the State.").

B. Standard of Review

28 U.S.C. § 2254(a) authorizes a federal court to consider a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by a state prisoner in custody claiming that his detention violates the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States. A federal court may not grant the petition unless it determines that the state court proceedings

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or

(2) 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).

A state court judgment is "contrary to" federal law when it is "diametrically different, opposite in character or nature, or mutually opposed" to "clearly established" decisions of the United States Supreme Court. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405, 120 S.Ct. 1495 (2000). This may occur if "the state court ignores or misapprehends clear precedent or it 'confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme] Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [Supreme Court] precedent.'" Wilkerson v. Klem, 412 F.3d 449, 452 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 406). Alternatively, a state court judgment is an "unreasonable application" of federal law if it chose the correct rule of law based on the facts, but applied the rule in an "objectively unreasonable way." Id. "A court that unreasonably extends an ...


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