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Harold Ford v. Michael

February 6, 2013

HAROLD FORD
v.
MICHAEL WENEROWICZ, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Padova, J.

MEMORANDUM

Before the Court is Petitioner Harold Ford's Motion to Re-Open his Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6). For the reasons that follow, the Motion is denied.

I.BACKGROUND

On December 18, 2002, a jury convicted Petitioner of robbery and conspiracy. Commonwealth v. Ford, No. 3457-02, slip op. at 1 (Chester County Ct. Com. Pl. Sept. 30, 2003). The conviction arose from the June 24, 2002 robbery of two employees of the Hilton Garden Inn in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, as the employees were cashing out their drawers. Id. at 8-9. Petitioner was sentenced to twenty-five to fifty years' imprisonment on the robbery count pursuant to Pennsylvania's mandatory "three strikes" statute, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 9714,*fn1 and to ten to twenty years' imprisonment on the conspiracy count, to be served concurrently.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed Petitioner's conviction and sentence on July 12, 2004, Commonwealth v. Ford, No. 2087 EDA 2003, slip op. at 3-5 (Pa. Super. Ct. July 12, 2004), and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied his request for allowance of appeal on April 19, 2005, Commonwealth v. Ford, 872 A.2d 1198 (Pa. 2005). Petitioner timely filed a petition under the Post-Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 9541-46, in which he argued in part that the trial court erred in applying the three-strikes statute to him. He was appointed counsel who filed an amended petition on October 20, 2006, and argued in that petition that (1) Petitioner was improperly sentenced under the three-strikes statute because he was never sentenced as a "second strike offender," (2) there was insufficient evidence to establish that Petitioner committed the enumerated prior offenses, and (3) the court's consideration of a conviction that occurred more than seven years before the instant offense constituted a retroactive application of the three-strikes statute against Petitioner. The PCRA court dismissed the petition, and the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed in a published opinion on April 29, 2008, reasoning that § 9714 is not illegally retroactive, and that Petitioner need not have been sentenced as a second strike offender in order to be sentenced under § 9714. Commonwealth v. Ford, 947 A.2d 1251, 1253-54 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2008). Petitioner filed a petition for allowance of appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which was denied on October 8, 2008. Commonwealth v. Ford, 959 A.2d 319 (Pa. 2008).

On July 13, 2009, Petitioner filed a pro se Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, which raised three claims for relief: (1) the sentencing court's enhancement of Petitioner's sentence with convictions that occurred more than seven years before the instant conviction violated his Due Process rights (the first claim that the application of § 9714 was illegally retroactive); (2) the court's enhancement of his sentence with convictions prior to § 9714's enactment violated the Ex Post Facto Clause (the second claim that the application of § 9714 was illegally retroactive); and (3) his trial and appellate counsel were ineffective for failing to argue that his sentence violated the Due Process and Ex Post Facto Clauses of the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions. However, Petitioner had not used the correct form for his Petition and, in an Order dated September 30, 2009, we provided him with a copy of the correct form and directed him to return it within thirty days.

Petitioner then filed a revised Petition on October 15, 2009, in which he raised the following four issues: (1) his conviction was based upon evidence obtained pursuant to an unconstitutional search and seizure in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights; (2) his conviction was based upon an unlawful arrest in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights; (3) the prosecution failed to disclose evidence that was favorable to Petitioner; and (4) his counsel was ineffective in failing to file a post-sentencing motion or petition for reconsideration. On December 30, 2009, Petitioner filed a Memorandum of Law in which he addressed the issues raised in both his original and revised Petitions. After the District Attorney's office filed its Answer and Petitioner filed a response thereto, the Magistrate Judge directed the parties to address whether any of Petitioner's claims were time-barred.

On April 16, 2010, the Magistrate Judge issued her Report and Recommendation, recommending that the revised Petition be dismissed as untimely filed and that the original Petition be denied. With respect to the revised Petition, the Magistrate Judge recommended that the Petitioner's allegations of errors relating to the validity of his conviction had nothing to do with the claims he raised in his original Petition, which were based on the constitutionality of his sentence under § 9714. The Magistrate Judge thus recommended that enforcement of the time bar was appropriate and that Petitioner was not entitled to equitable tolling. In connection with the claims Petitioner raised in his original Petition, the Magistrate Judge recommended that Petitioner's second claim that the application of § 9714 was illegally retroactive should be denied because he failed to exhaust that claim in state court. The Magistrate Judge addressed the remainder of Petitioner's retroactivity claim on the merits, and recommended that Petitioner's sentence under the three-strikes statute did not violate the Ex Post Facto Clause and that the Pennsylvania courts' decisions to that effect were neither contrary to, nor an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law.*fn2 Relatedly, the Magistrate Judge recommended that Petitioner's counsel could not have been ineffective for failing to argue the Ex Post Facto issue, since that issue was meritless. Petitioner objected to all of the Magistrate Judge's recommendations except her recommendation as to his ineffectiveness claim.

On July 7, 2010, we issued a Memorandum and Order overruling all of Petitioner's objections and adopting the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation. Petitioner now asks that we reopen his Petition pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6) based on Martinez v. Ryan, --- U.S. ---, 132 S. Ct. 1309 (2012). Petitioner contends that his PCRA counsel was ineffective in failing to exhaust his second claim that the application of § 9714 was illegally retroactive, and that his counsel's ineffectiveness constitutes good cause to excuse the procedural bar caused by his failure to exhaust that claim.

II.LEGAL STANDARD

Petitioner asks that we reopen his Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to Rule 60(b)(6) which provides that "[o]n motion and just terms, the court may relieve a party . . . from a final judgment . . . for the following reasons . . . (6) any other reason that justifies relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b). "Rule 60(b)(6) relief from judgment is only granted in extraordinary circumstances." Jackson v. Danberg, 656 F.3d 157, 165 (3d Cir. 2011) (footnote omitted) (citing Martinez--McBean v. Gov't of Virgin Islands, 562 F.2d 908, 911--12 (3d Cir. 1977)). Relief is available under Rule 60(b)(6) "where the party seeking relief demonstrates that 'extreme' and 'unexpected' hardship will result absent such relief." Id. at 165-66 (citing United States v. Swift & Co., 286 U.S. 106, 119 (1932)). The Supreme Court has recognized that extraordinary circumstances warranting relief pursuant to Rule 60(b)(6) "will rarely occur in the habeas context." Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524, 535 (2005).

III.DISCUSSION

Petitioner asks that we vacate our July 7, 2010 Order adopting the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation and denying his Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus so that we may consider the merits of his second claim that the application of § 9714 in the determination of his sentence was illegally retroactive because it violated the Ex Post Facto Clause. The Magistrate Judge recommended that we deny Petitioner's second claim that the application of § 9714 was illegally retroactive in this case because it was unexhausted and, since it is now loo late for Petitioner to raise this claim in state court, it is procedurally defaulted. Petitioner relies on Martinez, in which the Supreme Court narrowly expanded the grounds upon which a procedural default may be excused.

Pursuant to the doctrine of procedural default, "a federal court will not review the merits of claims, including constitutional claims, that a state court declined to hear because the prisoner failed to abide by a state procedural rule." Martinez,132 S.Ct. at 1316(citing Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 747-48 (1991), and Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72, 84--85 (1977)). Thus, "[a] state court's invocation of a procedural rule to deny a prisoner's claims precludes federal review of the claims if, among other requisites, the state procedural rule is a nonfederal ground adequate to support the judgment and the rule is firmly established and consistently followed." Id. (citing Walker v. Martin, 562 U.S. ---, 131 S. Ct. 1120, 1127--28 (2011), and Beard v. Kindler, 558 U.S. ---, 130 S. Ct. 612, 617--18 (2009). There is, however, an exception to ...


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