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William C. Williams v. Tabb Bickle

December 12, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul S. Diamond, J.


State prisoner William C. Williams seeks habeas relief. 28 U.S.C. § 2254. I will overrule Petitioner's objections (Doc. No. 24), accept the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (Doc. No. 21), and deny Williams' Petition.


After a trial in the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, a jury convicted Petitioner of third-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, homicide by vehicle, causing an accident while not properly licensed, fleeing and attempting to elude a police officer, theft by receiving stolen property, and aggravated assault. The trial evidence showed that while attempting to evade police in a stolen Mercedes, Petitioner sped through numerous intersections, disregarding stop signs, and slammed into another car. Commonwealth v. Williams, No. 2484 EDA 2003, slip op. at 2-3 (Pa. Super. Ct. July 8, 2004). One passenger in that car was killed, the other seriously injured. Id.

The trial court sentenced Petitioner to twenty-two to forty-four years imprisonment. Id., at 3. The Pennsylvania Superior Court rejected Petitioner's direct appeal, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied allocatur. Commonwealth v. Williams, 868 A.2d 1199 (Pa. 2005).

Petitioner unsuccessfully sought relief under Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act. See 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 9541, et seq. The Superior Court affirmed. Commonwealth v. Williams, No. 2989 EDA 2009, slip op. at 3 (Pa. Super. Nov. 17, 2010).

Petitioner sought habeas relief in this Court on November 14, 2011, raising nine claims in his original Petition and later seeking to add five more. The Magistrate Judge recommends that I grant Petitioner leave to amend and deny the Petition. (Doc. No. 21, 7.)

Objections to the Report & Recommendation

Although his submissions are confusing and unclear, Petitioner apparently seeks to raise ten categories of objections to the Report and Recommendation. These categories include numerous objections within objections, many of which are simply restatements of unsuccessful arguments Petitioner made in the Pennsylvania appellate courts. Almost all Petitioner's objections are simply restatements of arguments that Petitioner made in his original Petition and that the Magistrate Judge rejected. I am nevertheless obliged to "make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).

1. Appellate Counsel's "Failure" to Raise Victim's Contributory Negligence At trial, Petitioner sought unsuccessfully to convince the jury that the victim's contributory negligence caused the collision to occur. On direct appeal, Petitioner's counsel did not raise this contributory negligence defense. At PCRA, Petitioner argued unsuccessfully that his direct appeal counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the contributory negligence defense. As the Superior Court explained, because under Pennsylvania law contributory negligence is not a defense to the crimes with which Petitioner was charged, failure to raise the argument on direct appeal was not ineffective. See Commonwealth v. Long, 624 A.2d 200, 204 (Pa. Super. 1993).

The Magistrate Judge accepted the Superior Court's correct application of Pennsylvania law. "The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly declared that, in a federal habeas proceeding such as this, 'state courts are the ultimate expositors of state law . . . and we are bound by their constructions except in rare circumstances.'" Humanik v. Beyer, 871 F.2d 432, 436 (3d Cir. 1989) (quoting Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684, 691(1975)). Although Petitioner apparently objects to the Magistrate's deference, his reasoning is extremely unclear. The Magistrate Judge properly deferred to the Pennsylvania Court's application of Pennsylvania law-especially because that application was plainly correct. See id.

Petitioner also objects to the application of § 2254(d). He argues that the Pennsylvania Superior Court's decision was not an "adjudication on the merits" sufficient to trigger deference under AEDPA. (Doc. No. 24, 7.) I disagree. Petitioner's ineffectiveness claim was adjudicated on the merits by the Pennsylvania courts. See Harrington v. Richter, 131 S. Ct. 770, 784 (2011).

2. Ineffective Assistance of Trial Counsel for Failing to Investigate Weight of Mercedes At trial, defense counsel did not challenge the Commonwealth's evidence respecting the weight of the stolen Mercedes Petitioner was driving. Petitioner alleges that had trial counsel conducted a proper investigation, he could have refuted the Commonwealth's ...

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