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Boyer v. Britton

United States District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania

April 17, 2014

JAY BOYER, JR., Petitioner
RANDALL BRITTON, Superintendent

Rambo Judge


Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge

I. Introduction

In the instant habeas corpus petition we are presented with an unusual circumstance: In the context of two state prosecutions of Jay Boyer, the Pennsylvania courts have twice examined the petitioner’s conviction and the admission of a statement allegedly made by the petitioner in violation of his Miranda rights. In one instance, the Pennsylvania courts found that the circumstances surrounding this interrogation compelled a new trial. In the second instance, the Pennsylvania courts upheld Boyer’s conviction and sentence of an aggregate term of imprisonment of 19 years to 55 years in a state correctional facility. Invited by this Court to reconcile these seemingly contradictory outcomes, the state courts have declined to further address the merits of Boyer’s claims. Therefore, it falls to this Court to reconcile these seemingly irreconcilable outcomes. Having undertaken this task, for the reasons set forth below, we conclude that the Pennsylvania courts that addressed this Miranda issue on its merits in Boyer’s companion case correctly concluded that a remand of this case for further proceedings was necessary. Therefore, consistent with the findings of the Pennsylvania courts that have examined the merits of this issue, for the reasons set forth below, we recommend that this petition for writ of habeas corpus be granted.

II. Statement of Facts and of The Case

A. Boyer’s Northumberland County Prosecution

The petitioner, Jay Boyer, was convicted in two adjoining rural Pennsylvania counties, Northumberland and Union County, for his role in a home invasion on October 5, 2001, during which a husband and wife were brutally assaulted before the assailants robbed them of a safe containing a quantity of rare coins. For his alleged role in the robbery, petitioner was charged in a ten count information in the Northumberland County Court of Common Pleas with robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, conspiracy to commit burglary, theft by unlawful taking, terroristic threats, and criminal mischief.

Prior to trial commencing in his Northumberland County criminal case, Boyer’s lawyer filed a motion to suppress a confession that petitioner purportedly made while he was in the custody of the Pennsylvania State Police. (Doc. 21, Ex. A.) In this motion, counsel argued that Mr. Boyer’s confession should have been suppressed because it was involuntary. Notably, the motion did not raise, and Boyer’s state defense counsel did not litigate, any separate claim that this statement was obtained from Boyer in violation of his Miranda rights since police may not have scrupulously honored Boyer’s apparent invocation of his right to counsel, a threshold duty imposed upon law enforcement by the Supreme Court’s Miranda decision. The failure to raise this issue was an oversight by defense counsel, an attorney who was new to the practice of law; as counsel later acknowledged: he “did not think of that [the Miranda claim] at that time.” (Doc. 54, p. 18.)

This oversight, in turn, distorted the prism of the court’s perspective in this case. Thus, the trial court denied Boyer’s motion to suppress in a ruling which did not analyze this threshold requirement under Miranda that police scrupulously honor an invocation of counsel. (Doc. 58-4.) Instead, the court’s opinion focused on the voluntariness of this statement, and considered the issue of whether Boyer’s subsequently waived counsel during his second police interrogation. Following a trial which began and ended on May 14, 2003, petitioner was convicted and sentenced to an aggregate term of imprisonment of 19 years to 55 years in a state correctional facility.[1]

Plaintiff’s trial counsel filed a timely direct appeal on his behalf to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. On June 9, 2004, the Superior Court affirmed the trial court in a non-precedential opinion. (Doc. 58-4) Mr. Boyer did not file a petition for allowance of appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

On January 4, 2005, Boyer, at this time represented by different counsel, filed a petition for post-conviction collateral relief under Pennsylvania’s post-conviction relief act (“PCRA”). (Doc. 21, Ex. F.) The trial court held a hearing on the petition on April 12, 2005, and entered an order denying the petition on April 11, 2006. (Doc. 58-4, Ex. F.) That opinion disposed of ineffectiveness claims relating to this Miranda issue in a summary fashion, stating generally that this issue had been previously litigated without focusing on the fact that the threshold Miranda claim that police had failed to scrupulously honor his initial invocation of a right to remain silent had never been expressly addressed by the trial court. (Id.) Boyer filed a timely appeal of the unfavorable PCRA decision with the Pennsylvania Superior Court, which affirmed the denial of PCRA relief in a non-precedential decision entered on May 10, 2007. (Doc. 58-4, Ex. G.) That Superior Court decision also failed to address the merits of this specific Miranda claim, concluding instead that the trial court had found that this issue had been previously litigated. (Id.) On or about June 8, 2007, Boyer filed a petition for allowance of appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. On December 3, 2007, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied allocatur.

B. Boyer’s Union County Litigation

While this federal proceeding was pending, and while the parties were litigating whether Boyer’s federal filing was barred by the statute of limitations, Boyer continued to actively litigate similar issues in state court involving his 2001 confession. This litigation took place in the context of state post-conviction proceedings regarding Boyer’s separate conviction in Union County for his role in this 2001 home invasion crime spree.

In the Union County litigation, Boyer’s efforts yielded different, and significantly more favorable, results. On December 10, 2008, the Pennsylvania Superior Court vacated the Union County conviction and sentence in this companion case, and remanded to the Court of Common Pleas for a new suppression hearing after finding that Boyer’s Miranda rights may have been violated in connection with a confession that he purportedly made to state police officers. Notably, this confession, which the Superior Court found may have been obtained in violation of Miranda, also formed the principal basis for the habeas corpus relief that Petitioner sought before this Court. See Commonwealth v. Boyer, 523 MDA 2008 (Pa. Super. Ct. Dec. 10, 2008) (Doc. 21, Ex. C.); Commonwealth v. Boyer, 962 A.2d 1213 (2008).

The Superior Court’s precedential opinion provided the first detailed description of the circumstances surrounding this interrogation, a factual recital which is largely unchallenged in this federal habeas corpus proceeding. According to the state court:

¶ 11 At some point before being arrested in the present case, [Boyer] was jailed with respect to a separate matter. Pennsylvania State Trooper Reeves (“Trooper 1”) suspected [Boyer]'s involvement in the case sub judice and, as such, arranged for another prisoner, who would act as an informant, to be assigned as [Boyer]'s cellmate. Thereafter, [Boyer] made one or more inculpatory statements to the informant. The informant then advised Trooper 1 regarding the information obtained from [Boyer].
¶ 12 [Boyer] was later arrested on the instant matter and was taken to a state police barracks for questioning by Trooper 1. Trooper 1 gave [Boyer] his Miranda warnings, and [Boyer] stated, “I don't want to talk to you.” N.T., 06/20/02 at 23. Trooper 1 then ended the interview and left [Boyer] alone. At that time, State Trooper Watson (“Trooper 2”) had just arrived at work. He asked Trooper 1 if he could “take a shot at interviewing [Boyer] .” N.T., 06/20/02, at 27. Trooper 2 then questioned [Boyer] without administering Miranda warnings. During that questioning, [Boyer] confessed to the charges for which he was eventually tried and convicted.
¶ 13 Before trial, [Boyer]'s counsel filed a motion seeking to suppress his statements to the informant and to Trooper 2. In that motion, [Boyer] complained his statements to the informant were obtained in violation of his constitutional rights, particularly his right to counsel. [Boyer] further alleged that Trooper 2 interviewed him, thereby obtaining statements from him, as a result of the constitutionally infirm statements police received from the informant. After an evidentiary hearing, the court denied the motion, finding [Boyer] had no right to counsel when he spoke to the informant.
¶ 14 In his PCRA petition, and on this appeal, [Boyer] contends his counsel was ineffective in failing to advance a Miranda theory to suppress his confession to Trooper 2. More specifically, [Boyer] maintains counsel should have argued it was a Miranda violation for Trooper 2 to interrogate him and thereby obtain the confession.
¶ 15 The PCRA court found [Boyer]'s aforesaid statement to Trooper 1 (i.e., “I don't want to talk to you”) was not an invocation of the right to remain silent but, rather, a declaration that Appellant would not talk specifically to Trooper 1 because of [Boyer]'s animosity toward him. Having found [Boyer] did not invoke his Miranda rights, the court reasoned there was no merit to the Miranda theory—that is, the theory that Trooper 2 should have administered Miranda rights and that [Boyer]'s confession was obtained in violation of those rights. Finding no merit to the Miranda theory, the court ...

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