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Lewis v. Fisher

United States District Court, Third Circuit

May 28, 2013

RICHARD LEWIS,
v.
JON FISHER, et al.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

CYTHIA M. RUFE, District Judge.

Petitioner Richard Lewis, proceeding pro se , objects to the Report and Recommendation ("R&R") of Magistrate Judge Jacob P. Hart, which recommended that the Court deny the petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.

I. BACKGROUND

The R&R sets forth the full procedural history, which the Court adopts. The R&R carefully evaluated each claim and concluded that the evidentiary decisions of the state courts did not deprive Petitioner of a fair criminal trial or contradict any Supreme Court precedent. Petitioner has objected to the R&R arguing, as he did in the petition and the briefing, that the exclusion of evidence denied him a fair trial and that his counsel was ineffective. Upon careful, de novo , review of the record, the Court agrees with the thorough analysis set forth in the R&R and will overrule Petitioner's objections; in doing so the Court will assume the parties' familiarity with the R&R and will discuss the record only as necessary to rule on the objections. The Court agrees with the R&R that Petitioner has failed to overcome the hurdle of the deference afforded to state courts on evidentiary matters, and counsel cannot be deemed ineffective if the underlying claims lack merit, as they do here.[1]

II. LEGAL STANDARD

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996[2] ("AEDPA"), governs habeas petitions like the one before this Court. Under the AEDPA, "a district court shall entertain an application for writ of habeas corpus [filed on] 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 the laws or treaties of the United States."[3] Where, as here, the habeas petition is referred to a magistrate judge for a report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), a district court conducts a de novo review of "those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made, " and "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge."[4]

Where the claims presented in a federal habeas petition have been decided on the merits in state court, a district court may not grant relief unless the adjudication of the claim in state court:

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.[5]

A state court's decision is "contrary to" clearly established law if the state court applies a rule of law that differs from the governing rule set forth in Supreme Court precedent or "if the state court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme Court] and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [its] precedent."[6] A decision is an "unreasonable application of" clearly established law if "the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle... but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case."[7] The "unreasonable application" clause requires more than an incorrect or erroneous state court decision.[8] Rather, the application of clearly established law must be "objectively unreasonable."[9]

III. PETITIONER'S OBJECTIONS

A. Sentence

Petitioner objects to the statement in the R&R, taken from the Superior Court Opinion, that Petitioner "was sentenced to a term of five to ten years imprisonment with a consecutive term of probation, "[10] arguing that the sentence was modified. The R&R accurately quoted the Superior Court Opinion, and the state-court record supports the accuracy of the sentence as stated, ...


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