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Roach v. Giroux

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 22, 2014

LOUIS WILLIAM ROACH, Petitioner,
v.
NANCY GIROUX, et al., Respondents.

OPINION AND ORDER [1]

SUSAN PARADISE BAXTER, Magistrate Judge.

Presently before the Court is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by state prisoner Louis William Roach pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. [ECF No. 1]. He is challenging the judgment of sentence imposed upon him by the Court of Common Pleas of McKean County on May 8, 1992. Respondents have filed a motion to dismiss in which they assert that Petitioner's claims are untimely. [ECF No. 13]. For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss is granted, the petition for a writ of habeas corpus is dismissed with prejudice, and a certificate of appealability is denied.

I.

A. Relevant Background

In March of 1991, Petitioner stabbed and killed a woman while she was working as a convenience store clerk. On May 8, 1992, he appeared before the Court of Common Pleas of McKean County (the "trial court") and pleaded guilty to first degree murder in exchange for concessions from the Commonwealth. On that same date, the trial court sentenced him to a term of life imprisonment. See Commonwealth v. Roach, No. 148 WDA 2006, slip op. at 1 (Pa.Super. Aug. 8, 2006) (attached to Respondents' motion to dismiss at ECF No. 13-1 at 1-10).

Petitioner subsequently filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea. On November 12, 1992, the trial court conducted an evidentiary hearing on the motion and denied it. Petitioner filed a timely notice of appeal and new counsel was appointed to represent him. However, that appeal was discontinued by praecipe. It is not clear when that occurred, but it appears to have been sometime in January of 1994. Id. at 2. The precise date is not important to the resolution of this case. A prisoner's judgment of sentence becomes final at the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of time for seeking such review, Swartz v. Meyers , 204 F.3d 417, 419 (3d Cir. 2000), and it is undisputed that Petitioner's judgment of sentence became final prior to April 24, 1996, which is the relevant date for reasons discussed below.

In the meantime, in April of 1993, Petitioner filed with the trial court a motion under Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa.C.S. § 9541 et seq. He asserted claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and once again requested leave to withdraw his guilty plea. After considerable delay, the trial court appointed new counsel to represent Petitioner and counsel filed an amended PCRA motion. The trial court held a hearing on Petitioner's PCRA claims on March 2, 2001. Petitioner "presented his own testimony relative to alleged coercion by his [trial] counsel which he claimed caused him to enter a guilty plea. The Commonwealth presented contrary testimony by [Petitioner's] counsel of record at the time of the plea as well as the prosecuting district attorney." Id. at 3-4.

On June 18, 2001, the trial court issued an order in which it denied Petitioner's request for PCRA relief and:

[i]n an accompanying opinion, the trial court explained that the March 2001 hearing merely repeated the evidence presented at the November 1992 hearing on the same issue, and it incorporated its reasoning as stated at that November 1992 hearing. Trial Court Opinion, 6/18/01, at 4-5. Specifically, the trial court had reviewed [Petitioner's] written and oral guilty plea colloquies from the May 8, 1992 hearing and determined his plea was knowingly and voluntarily entered. N.T. Hearing, 11/12/92, at 60. It also found that [Petitioner] was not denied effective assistance of counsel in the investigation and preparation of his case, in the plea itself, and in the attorney-client communications. Id. at 61-63.

Id. at 4.

Petitioner, through counsel, filed a timely notice of appeal from the trial court's decision to deny PCRA relief. On August 18, 2006, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania issued a Memorandum in which it affirmed the trial court's order, holding:

[W]e find [Petitioner's] underlying claim cannot form the basis for post-conviction relief merely because he couches it in terms of ineffective assistance of counsel. As set forth above, the validity of [Petitioner's] guilty plea was considered by the trial court in a post-sentence motion, and its ruling thereon became final upon discontinuance of the appeal from that November 12, 1992 order. Because the standard for permitting withdrawal of a guilty plea is the same in the ineffectiveness context, [ Commonwealth v. Morrison , 878 A.2d 102 (Pa.Super. 2005)], [Petitioner] cannot obtain review of the identical issue simply by phrasing it as one involving ineffective assistance of counsel. Furthermore, we find that the trial court's analysis of the evidence of the validity of the plea is wholly supported by the record, and we perceive no error in its conclusion that [Petitioner's] guilty plea was not the result of any action or inaction on the part of his counsel and did not amount to manifest injustice. See Trial Court Opinion, 6/18/01, at 4-5; N.T. Hearing, 11/12/92 at 60-63. [Petitioner's] argument rests on rejection of the trial court's credibility determinations, which we may not disturb. Commonwealth v. Williams , 581 Pa. 57, 83, 863 A.2d 505, 521 (2004). Accordingly, we conclude [Petitioner] is not entitled to any relief.

Id. at 9-10.

Petitioner filed a petition for allowance of appeal ("PAA") with the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which was denied on January 17, 2007. See Appeal Docket Sheet for Commonwealth v. Roach, No. 148 WDA 2006 (Pa. Super.) ...


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