United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
RICHARD P. CONABOY, District Judge.
This pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 was initiated by Thomas Harvey Matthews, an inmate presently confined at the Benner State Correctional Institution, Bellefonte, Pennsylvania (SCI-Benner). Service of the Petition was previously ordered.
Matthews states that he was convicted of aggravated assault, assault, corruption of minors, and indecent assault following a 2006 jury trial in the Pike County, Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas. On November 2, 2006, Petitioner was sentenced to an aggregate eleven and one half (11½) to twenty-four (24) year term of imprisonment. On direct appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, Petitioner raised the following five issues: (1) the evidence was insufficient to establish indecent assault against the two student victims; (2) the cases against the two victims should have been severed; (3) the trial court erred by not excluding the testimony of a third student; (4) the trial court erred in concluding that Matthews was a sexually violent predator; and (5) the trial court abused its discretion in imposing the statutory maximum sentence for each count. See Doc. 8-15, p. 6.
Petitioner's conviction and sentence were affirmed on January 4, 2008 by the Pennsylvania Superior Court. See Commonwealth v. Matthews , 947 A.2d 828 (Pa.Super. 2008)(Table). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court subsequently denied Matthews' petition for allowance of appeal by decision dated October 1, 2008. See Commonwealth v. Matthews , 958 A.2d 1047 (Pa. 2008)(Table).
Thereafter, Matthews sought collateral relief via an August 20, 2009 petition pursuant to Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA). He was represented by counsel during this proceeding. A hearing on the matter was conducted by the Court of Common Pleas on February 19, 2010. Petitioner's PCRA action which asserted claims of ineffective assistance of counsel was denied on April 26, 2010.
Matthews appealed that decision to the Superior Court. His PCRA appeal raised three issues: (1) trial counsel was ineffective for not requesting a failure to promptly complain about instructions; (20 the trial court erred in not providing the failure to promptly complaint instruction; and (3) trial counsel was deficient for introducing damaging evidence that was previously ruled inadmissible. See Doc. 8-22, Exhibit 18, p. 4. The PCRA appeal was denied by the Superior Court on March 22, 2011. See Commonwealth v. Matthews , 26 A.3d 1202 (Pa.Super. 2011)(Table). A motion for reconsideration was denied by the Superior Court on May 10, 2011. See id. By decision dated January 30, 2012, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Matthews' petition for allowance of appeal. See Commonwealth v. Matthews , 38 A.3d 824 (Pa. 2012)(Table). This pro se petition, dated August 27, 2012, was thereafter filed.
Respondent notes that following the initiation of this matter, Matthews filed a second, pro se, PCRA petition on October 11, 2013 in the Pike County Court of Common Pleas. See Doc. 7, ¶ 18. His second PCRA action was dismissed by the Court of Common Pleas on November 13, 2012. It is unclear as to whether Petitioner appealed the dismissal of that action.
Ground One of Matthews' present petition claims entitlement to federal habeas corpus relief on the basis that trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by allowing the introduction of potentially damaging evidence which the trial court had previously ruled was inadmissible. Petitioner indicates that this argument was included in his initial PCRA action. He further contends that trial counsel failed to object to improper cross examination and present witnesses that could have created reasonable doubt. See Doc. 1, ¶ 12.
Ground Two claims that the Commonwealth violated Petitioner's right to a fair trial by manipulating the meaning of the memorandum (impeachment evidence) and tampering with the victims' testimony to establish a pattern. Matthews concedes that this argument was not previously presented to the Pennsylvania state courts. See Doc. 1, pp. 7-8.
Petitioner's next argument (Ground Three) maintains that the trial court violated due process by falsely stating that counsel had requested a prompt complaint instruction and by imposing a sentence in excess of the applicable guidelines. It is also asserted that sequestered witnesses were allowed visitors and that a transport order was not issued for him to attend an appellate proceeding. Matthews' pending petition also indicates that this argument was not presented before the Pennsylvania state courts. See id. at p. 8.
Respondent states that Petitioner's pending claims "may be subject to further state court legal analysis if the Petitioner files additional actions in state court." Doc. 7, ¶ 23. The Respondent further contends that two of the three grounds presently raised by Matthews (his challenges to actions attributed to the Commonwealth and the trial court) "are unexhausted as they are raised for the first time in this federal action and have not been presented in the Pennsylvania state courts." Id. at ¶ 27. The response concludes that since the matter before this court is a mixed petition it is subject to dismissal as it contains unexhausted claims. See id. at ¶ 29.
The exhaustion requirement is not a mere formality. It serves the interests of comity between the federal and state systems, by allowing the state an initial opportunity to determine and correct any violations of a prisoner's federal rights. Crews v. Horn , 360 F.3d 146, 151 (3d Cir. 2004). The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has stated that "[U]nder 28 U.S.C. § 2254(c), such a petitioner shall not be deemed to have exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State... if he has the right under the law ...