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Steven Roberts v. David Varano

October 31, 2012

STEVEN ROBERTS, PETITIONER
v.
DAVID VARANO,
RESPONDENT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conaboy

MEMORANDUM

Background Steven Roberts, an inmate presently confined at the State Correctional Institution, Coal Township, Pennsylvania (SCI-Coal Twp.), filed this pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Named as Respondent is SCI-Coal Twp. Superintendent David Varano.

According to the Petition, on January 7, 2009, Roberts was convicted of aggravated assault following a jury trial in the Huntingdon County Court of Common Pleas. Petitioner was sentenced to a ten (10) to twenty (20) year term of imprisonment on February 17, 2009. There is no indication by Petitioner that he either filed a direct appeal or sought relief pursuant to Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA).*fn1

Petitioner's pending action states that a pro se pre-trial motion as well as a supplemental pre-trial motion by his standby trial counsel included challenges to the trial court's jurisdiction.*fn2 See Doc. 1, ¶ 6. Roberts vaguely contends that he is entitled to federal habeas corpus relief on the basis that "the Trial Court lacked Subject Matter Jurisdiction" Id., ¶ 7. He generally alleges that the original Pennsylvania State constitution does not confer the Pennsylvania courts of common pleas with jurisdiction over criminal matters. Accordingly, Petitioner concludes that since the Pennsylvania courts of common pleas are only vested with civil jurisdiction, his criminal sentence which was imposed by the Huntingdon County Court of Common Pleas is illegal. The Petition offers no other supporting facts or allegations.

Discussion

Habeas corpus petitions are subject to summary dismissal pursuant to Rule 4 ("Preliminary Consideration by the Judge") of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts, 28 U.S.C. foll. § 2254 (1977). See Patton v. Fenton, 491 F. Supp. 156, 158-159 (M.D. Pa. 1979).

Rule 4 states in relevant part that "[i]f it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court, the judge must dismiss the petition and direct the clerk to notify the petitioner." A petition may be dismissed without review of an answer "when the petition is frivolous, or obviously lacking in merit, or where. . . the necessary facts can be determined from the petition itself. . . ." Gorko v. Holt, 2005 WL 1138479 *1(M.D. Pa. May 13, 2005)(McClure, J.)(quoting Allen v. Perini, 424 F.2d 134,141 (6th Cir. 1970).

Fair Presentation

"The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 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).*fn3 See generally, Knowles v. Mirzayance, __ U.S. __, 2009 WL 746274 *3 (March 24, 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, 535 U.S. at 694:

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 . . . .

Furthermore, resolution of factual issues by the state courts are presumed to be correct unless the petitioner shows by clear and convincing evidence that they are not. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e) (1).

In summary, the appropriate inquiry for federal district courts in reviewing the merits of § 2254 petitions is whether the state court decisions applied a rule different from the governing law set forth in United States Supreme Court cases, decided the case before them differently than the Supreme Court has done on a set of materially indistinguishable facts, or unreasonably applied Supreme Court governing principles to the facts of the particular case. See Keller v. Larkins, 251 F.3d 408, 417-18 (3d Cir. 2001) (a district court entertaining a § 2254 action must first address whether the state court decision was contrary to Supreme Court precedent); Martini v. Hendricks, 188 F. Supp.2d 505, 510 (D. N.J. 2002) (a § 2254 applicant must show that the state court decision was based on an unreasonable determination of facts in light of evidence presented in the state court proceeding).

Fair presentation requires that the substantial equivalent of the legal theory and the facts supporting the federal claim are submitted to the state courts, and the same method of legal analysis applied in the ...


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