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James E. Frey v. Jeffrey Beard

November 19, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner


This is a capital habeas corpus proceeding brought by a Pennsylvania state prisoner. Following his plea based conviction for first-degree murder and related counts, Petitioner, James E. Frey, was sentenced to death on January 27, 2003, in the Court of Common Pleas, Northumberland County. (Doc. 1). Petitioner's convictions and sentence of death were affirmed on August 22, 2006. Commonwealth v. Frey, 904 A.2d 866 (Pa. 2006), reargument denied, Commonwealth v. Frey, No. 475 CAP (October 19, 2006). His petition for certiorari review was denied on January 22, 2007. Frey v. Pennsylvania, 549 U.S. 1184 (2007).

On February 9, 2007, Frey filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and appointment of federal habeas corpus counsel. (Doc. 1). The court granted the motion on February 12, 2007, and petitioner was directed fo file a petition for writ of habeas corpus on or before August 13, 2007. (Doc. 2). By Order dated May 4, 2007, petitioner's motion for stay of execution was granted. (Doc. 7).

Before his habeas petition was due, petitioner requested three extensions of time in which to file the petition, (Docs. 8, 13, 15) which were granted, (Docs. 10, 14, 16) respectively.

On February 13, 2008, petitioner filed a motion to stay the federal proceedings or, in the alternative, dismiss the petition without prejudice to permit petitioner to exhaust claims in state court. (Doc. 17). By Memorandum and Order dated February 27, 2008, petitioner's motion to stay federal proceedings was granted and petitioner was directed to file quarterly reports as to the status of the state court proceedings. (Doc. 18). Since the issuance of this Court's February 27, 2008 Memorandum and Order, there have been eighteen status reports submitted. (See Docs. 19-23, 26-37).

Petitioner's recent status report, filed on July 6, 2012, indicates that on March 28, 2012, the PCRA Court denied the Commonwealth's motion to dismiss the PCRA petition, and directed the parties to contact the Court Administrator to schedule an evidentiary hearing. (Doc. 37). Petitioner indicates that as of the July 6, 2012, no hearing date had been set. Id. Moreover, petitioner's most recent status report filed on October 4, 2012, states that the amended PCRA petition and accompanying motions are still pending before the PCRA court. (Doc. 38). Based on this new information, and the fact that this case has yet to proceed beyond the PCRA Court since February 27, 2008, the Court finds it necessary to revisit the need for a stay of execution and a stay of proceedings. For the reasons that follow, the Court will lift the previously imposed stay of proceedings and execution, and dismiss the petition.

I. Discussion

A. Statutory Framework

A district court is authorized to "entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). A petition for writ of habeas corpus is the exclusive federal remedy for a state prisoner challenging the very fact or duration of his or her confinement. Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 499 (1973).

A petitioner filing for relief under the federal Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), must generally comply with the exhaustion requirement of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A), before a federal court can consider the merits of his habeas corpus petition. Pursuant to § 2254(b)(1)(A), the petitioner must give the state courts an opportunity to review allegations of error before seeking relief in federal court. Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 29 (2004). "An applicant shall not be deemed to have exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State, within the meaning of this section, if he has the right under the law of the State to raise, by any available procedure, the question presented." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(c); see also Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 518-19 (1982) (finding that before a federal court can adjudicate claims under habeas corpus, interests of comity and federalism dictate that the state courts must have the first opportunity to decide a petitioner's claims).

The AEDPA also establishes a one-year statute of limitations for filing a federal habeas corpus petition. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1); Wilson v. Beard, 426 F.3d 653, 659 (3d Cir. 2005). This one-year period runs from the date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or when the time for seeking certiorari review expires. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A); Clay v. United States, 537 U.S. 522, 525 (2003). The one-year limitations period is tolled, however, while a properly filed application for state post-conviction or other collateral review is pending. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2); see also Pace v. DiGuglielmo, 544 U.S. 408 (2005).

Under Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act, a petitioner must file for PCRA relief within one year of the date the judgment becomes final. 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9545(b)(1). For purposes of the PCRA, a judgment becomes final at the conclusion of direct review, including discretionary review in the United States Supreme Court and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, or at the expiration of time for seeking such review. Id. § 9545(b)(3).

B. Frey's Petition

Although courts have routinely entered stays to permit petitioners to exhaust state post-conviction proceedings, the United States ...

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