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Fuller v. Wenerowicz

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

February 13, 2014

JOHN FULLER, Petitioner,
v.
MICHAEL WENEROWICZ; THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA, Respondents.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

MAUREEN P. KELLY, Magistrate Judge.

I. RECOMMENDATION

It is respectfully recommended that the Petition Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus By A Person In State Custody (the "Petition") be denied and that a Certificate of Appealability likewise be denied.

II. REPORT

John Fuller ("Petitioner") has filed this Petition, seeking to attack his state court conviction for first degree murder for which he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Witnesses, who had known the Petitioner, saw the Petitioner stab the victim with a kitchen knife. At trial, Petitioner's strategy was to maintain his innocence. Petitioner now raises one ground in support of his request for habeas relief. Specifically, Petitioner claims that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request a jury instruction on voluntary intoxication. The jury instruction would have permitted the jury to find that Petitioner committed the killing but lacked the specific intent necessary to find him guilty of first degree murder. In effect, the jury instruction would have required Petitioner to concede that he stabbed the victim but that he lacked the requisite intent to find him guilty of first degree murder and instead the jury would be required to find him guilty of third degree murder, which carried a sentence of 20 to 40 years, according to Petitioner. ECF No. 2 at 10.

The state courts found that because an actual innocence defense was inconsistent with a voluntary intoxication defense, Petitioner failed to show that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request a voluntary intoxication instruction for the jury.

Because Petitioner fails to carry his burden to show that the state courts' adjudication of this claim of ineffective assistance of counsel was contrary to or an unreasonable application of United States Supreme Court precedent, the Petition should be denied. A certificate of appealability should also be denied.

A. Procedural History

Petitioner initiated these proceedings by the filing of the Petition, ECF No. 1, and a Brief in Support of the Petition. ECF No. 2. The sole issue Petitioner raised was whether: "Petitioner's confinement results from a violation of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution in that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance [for failing to request a jury instruction on voluntary intoxication]." Id. at 3. Respondents filed their Answer, attaching a large portion of the state court record as exhibits. ECF Nos. 6, 7 and 8. Respondents also caused the original state court record to be transmitted to this Court.

B. Applicable Legal Principles

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-132, tit. I, §101 (1996) (the "AEDPA") which amended the standards for reviewing state court judgments in federal habeas petitions filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 was enacted on April 24, 1996. Because Petitioner's habeas Petition was filed after its effective date, the AEDPA is applicable to this case. Werts v. Vaughn , 228 F.3d 178, 195 (3d Cir. 2000).

Where the state courts have reviewed a federal issue presented to them and disposed of the issue on the merits, and that issue is also raised in a federal habeas petition, the AEDPA provides the applicable deferential standards by which the federal habeas court is to review the state courts' disposition of that issue. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) and (e).

In Williams v. Taylor , 529 U.S. 362 (2000), the United States Supreme Court has expounded upon the standard found in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). In Williams, the Supreme Court explained that Congress intended that habeas relief for errors of law may only be granted in two situations: 1) where the state court decision was "contrary to... clearly established Federal law as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States" or 2) where that state court decision "involved an unreasonable application of[] clearly established Federal law as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States." Id. at 404-05 (emphasis deleted). The Supreme Court explained the two situations in the following terms:

Under the "contrary to" clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by this Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than this Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Under the "unreasonable application" clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from this Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.

Id. at 412-13. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has also elucidated the "contrary to" clause by noting that "it is not sufficient for the petitioner to show merely that his interpretation of Supreme Court precedent is more plausible than the state court's; rather, the petitioner must demonstrate that Supreme Court precedent requires the contrary outcome." Werts , 228 F.3d at 197 (quoting Matteo v. Superintendent, SCI-Albion , 171 F.3d 877, 888 (3d Cir. 1999)(en banc)). Moreover, it is Petitioner's burden to prove the state court decision is either contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law. See Matteo , 171 F.3d at 888; Werts , 228 F.3d at 197. Under the "contrary to" clause, the relevant universe of analysis is restricted to the holdings of United States Supreme Court cases as they existed at the time of the state court decision. Williams , 529 U.S. at 412. In contrast, under the ...


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