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Jones v. Commonwealth

United States District Court, Third Circuit

October 15, 2013

SASALADINE JONES
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, et al.

ORDER

STEWART DALZELL, District Judge.

AND NOW, this 15th day of October, 2013, upon consideration of petitioner Sasaladine Jones's pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (docket entry # 1), our Order referring this matter to the Honorable Jacob P. Hart for a report and recommendation (docket entry # 2), defendants' response (docket entry # 10), Judge Hart's report and recommendation ("R&R") (docket entry # 11), and Jones's objections thereto (docket entries # 12 & 13), and the Court finding that:

(a) A jury convicted Jones of first degree murder, carrying a firearm without a license, and possession of an instrument of crime on June 15, 2007, Commonwealth v. Jones, No. 2849 EDA 2011 (Pa.Super. Ct. Aug. 26, 2011), Comm. Resp. Exh. at 1-2 (quoting PCRA court findings);

(b) Jones received a sentence of life in prison and an aggregate, consecutive term of six to twelve years in prison for the firearm and possession convictions, Pet. at 1; R&R at 1, and his conviction became final on August 27, 2007, when his time for filing a direct appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court elapsed, R&R at 3 (citing Kapral v. United States , 166 F.3d 565, 575 (3d Cir. 1999));

(c) He filed two petitions in the courts of the Commonwealth pursuant to the Post-Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), on June 10, 2009 and August 3, 2010, see Commonwealth v. Jones, No. 2849 EDA 2011 at 3;

(d) Because a petitioner must file a PCRA petition within one year of the date on which his judgment becomes final, see 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 9545(b), these petitions were untimely, and the PCRA court dismissed them as such, see Commonwealth v. Jones, No. 2849 EDA 2011 at 6 (affirming the PCRA court's order dismissing Jones's PCRA petition without a hearing);

(e) Pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), petitioners must file actions for habeas corpus relief within one year of the date on which their convictions become final, see 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1), and because Jones's conviction became final on August 27, 2007, the deadline for filing a habeas corpus petition was August 27, 2008;

(f) Jones filed the instant action on October 31, 2012, over four years after the deadline, and absent a basis for tolling, his claim is thus time-barred;

(g) The habeas statute does contain a provision for statutory tolling, according to which, "[t]he time during which a properly filed application for state post-conviction or other collateral review with respect to the pertinent judgment or claim is pending shall not be counted toward any period of limitation under this subsection", 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2) (emphasis added);

(h) Judge Hart found, and we agree, that because Jones's PCRA petitions were untimely, they were not "properly filed" and thus cannot provide a basis for statutory tolling, see R&R at 5-6 (quoting Pace v. DiGuglielmo , 544 U.S. 408, 414 (2005) for the proposition that "[w]hen a postconviction petition is untimely under state law, that [is] the end of the matter' for purposes of § 2244(d)(2)");

(i) AEDPA's one-year time limit is also subject to equitable tolling where "principles of equity would make the rigid application of a limitation period unfair", Miller v. New Jersey State Dept. of Corrections , 145 F.3d 616, 618 (3d Cir. 1998) (internal alterations and quotations omitted);

(j) In order to claim equitable tolling, a petitioner must show "that he or she exercised reasonable diligence in investigating and bringing the claims. Mere excusable neglect is not sufficient", id. at 618-19 (internal alterations omitted);

(k) As our Court of Appeals explained in Jones v. Morton , 195 F.3d 153 (3d Cir. 1999), equitable tolling is appropriate where the party asserting it has (1) been actively misled, (2) "in some extraordinary way' been prevented from asserting his rights, " or (3) "timely asserted his rights mistakenly in the wrong forum", id. at 159;

(l) Jones asserted in his habeas petition, and he reiterates in his objections, that he thought his trial counsel had filed an appeal on his behalf, see Pet. at 3; R&R at 5; Obj. at 2-3;

(m) Judge Hart noted that Jones had informed the state court that he wanted to represent himself and did not want his appointed attorney to represent him, see Commonwealth v. Jones, No. 2849 EDA 2011 at 2; see also N.T. 7/27/07 at 3-5;

(n) As Jones's trial counsel, Jay Gottlieb, explained during Jones's sentencing, Jones had taken the stand during trial, and when trial counsel began questioning him, he said that he no longer wished to testify;

(o) As Mr. Gottlieb explained, Jones then said he wished to represent himself:

He came off the stand, we conducted another colloquy and at that time, he told the Court he wished to represent himself. The case closed and Mr. Jones made the closing argument to the jury. Your Honor at that time ...

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