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Lance Michael Barnes v. Erie County Court of Common Pleas

September 5, 2012

LANCE MICHAEL BARNES, PETITIONER,
v.
ERIE COUNTY COURT OF COMMON PLEAS;
ERIE COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE;
ERIE COUNTYCONTRACT JAIL ALBION;
PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter

OPINION AND ORDER*fn1

Presently before the Court is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by Lance Michael Barnes. [ECF No. 4]. For the reasons set forth below, the petition will be summarily dismissed and a certificate of appealability will be denied.

I.

A. Relevant Background

Petitioner was charged in the Court of Common Pleas of York County at Criminal Docket No. 6511 of 2005 with 19 counts, including multiple counts of Rape (18 Pa.C.S. § 3121), Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse (18 Pa.C.S. § 3123), Aggravated Indecent Assault (18 Pa.C.S. § 3125) and Indecent Assault (18 Pa.C.S. § 3126), and one count each of Statutory Sexual Assault (18 Pa.C.S. § 3122.1) and Corruption of Minors (18 Pa.C.S. § 6301). On March 8, 2007, a jury found him guilty on several of the counts. [ECF No. 10, Ex. 1].

Pennsylvania's statutory sentence scheme is indeterminate. Commonwealth v. Yuhasz, 923 A.2d 1111, 1117 (Pa. 2007). This means that a court will impose a sentence with two numbers, the earliest time that the defendant will be eligible for discretionary parole release and the latest date upon which the defendant may be released from confinement or parole supervision. Id. at 1114-15, 1117-18 (citing 42 Pa.C.S. § 9756(a)). Pennsylvania's statutory scheme also is "guided," meaning that it "require[es] a judge to consider the guidelines by the Pennsylvania Commission of Sentencing in choosing a minimum sentence." Id. at 1118. Importantly, a court may impose a sentence outside the sentencing guidelines as long as it provides a contemporaneous written statement of the reason or reasons for the deviation from the guidelines. Id. (citing 42 Pa.C.S. § 9721(b)). Thus, "[i]t is well established that the Sentencing Guidelines are purely advisory in nature." Id. (emphasis added). "[D]espite the recommendations of the Sentencing Guidelines, 'the trial courts retain broad discretion in sentencing matters, and therefore, may sentence defendants outside the Guidelines.'" Id. at 1118-19 (quoting Commonwealth v. Mouzon, 812 A.2d 617, 621 (Pa. 2002)). "The only line that a sentence may not cross is the statutory maximum sentence." Id. at 1119 (citing Mouzon, 812 A.2d at 621 n.4, and Commonwealth v. Saranchak, 675 A.2d 268, 277 n.17 (Pa. 1996)).

On or around September 6, 2007, the Court of Common Pleas sentenced Petitioner to an aggregate term of imprisonment of 15-30 years', as follows: upon conviction of Rape at Count 3, to a term of not less than five years nor more than ten years imprisonment; upon conviction of Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse at Count 5, to a term of not less than five years nor more than ten years imprisonment, to be served consecutive to Count 3; upon conviction of Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse at Count 7, to a term of not less than five years nor more than ten years imprisonment, to be served consecutive to Counts 3 and 5; upon conviction of Aggravated Indecent Assault at Counts 9 and 12, to terms of not less than two-and-one-half years nor more than five years imprisonment, both to be served concurrent with each other and concurrent with Counts 3, 5 and 7. [ECF No. 10 at 2].

On or around April 30, 2012, Petitioner filed with this Court a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. [ECF No. 4]. He claims that his sentence is excessive because it exceeds the recommended range set forth by Pennsylvania's Sentencing Guidelines. [ECF No. 4 at 2-3]. As a result, he claims, his sentence "lacked finality" and did not authorize his detention. He further claims that when the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (the "DOC") took custody of him after his sentencing, it was aware that it did not have the authority to detain him. The DOC therefore contracted with "the Erie County Court of Common Pleas, its Executive/Council, its administrative contract jail Albion Warden, formerly and now Michael W. Harlow, and Records Supervisor Cheryl Gill to 'alter' cause of detainment record for express purpose to 'hold' [him] at Albion[.]" [ECF No. 4 at 4]. Petitioner also claims that when he was temporarily transferred to a prison in Muskegon County, Michigan, for service of his Pennsylvania sentence from February 17, 2010, through May 25, 2011, his underlying sentence was "cancelled/terminated." [ECF No. 4 at 4-6]. As relief, Petitioner seeks an order from this Court directing that he be released from custody and that he receive "compensatory relief from each defendant" pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. [ECF No. 4 at 1, 7].

The DOC and the Erie County Contract Jail have filed an Answer [ECF No. 10] in which they submit that the petition should be dismissed with regard to them because it cannot be disputed that they are detaining Petitioner pursuant to the sentence imposed by the Court of Common Pleas of York County, and that sentence has not been modified or vacated. The Erie County District Attorney's Office has filed a motion to transfer the duties to file an Answer to the York County District Attorney's Office [ECF No. 6] because Petitioner's judgment of sentence was imposed by the Court of Common Pleas of York County. Petitioner has filed a Response [ECF No. 12].

B. Discussion

This case is governed by the federal habeas statute applicable to state prisoners, 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Under this statute, habeas relief is only available on the grounds that Petitioner's judgment of sentence is violative of his federal constitutional rights. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Errors of state law are not cognizable. See, e.g., Priester v. Vaughn, 382 F.3d 394, 402 (3d Cir. 2004) ("Federal courts reviewing habeas claims cannot 're-examine state court determinations on state-law questions.'") (quoting Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991)). See also Real v. Shannon, 600 F.3d 302, 309-10 (3d Cir. 2010).

Petitioner named as Respondents in this action the Erie County District Attorney's Office, the Erie County Court of Common Pleas, the Erie County Contract Jail Albion, and the DOC. [ECF No. 6]. In a habeas case such as this, the proper respondent is the individual who has custody over the petitioner. See 28 U.S.C. § 2242 (the proper respondent to a habeas petition is "the person who has custody over [the petitioner]."); id. § 2243 ("The writ, or order to show cause shall be directed to the person having custody of the person detained."). See also Rule 2(a) of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases In the United States District Court; LCvR 2254.B.1; Rumsfeld v. Padilla, 542 U.S. 426, 434-35 (2004). In this case, that person is Michael Harlow, the Superintendent of SCI Albion, but Petitioner did not name him as a respondent in this action. As for the Respondents that Petitioner has named, they will be summarily dismissed from this action.

It is not necessary to provide Petitioner with the opportunity to add Harlow as a Respondent to this case because it plainly appears that his allegations do not entitle him to relief in habeas.

Accordingly, this case will be summarily dismissed and a certificate of appealability will be denied. See 28 U.S.C. ยง 2243; Rule 4 of ...


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