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Adkins v. Wetzel

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 18, 2014

ERNEST ADKINS, Petitioner,


JOEL H. SLOMSKY, District Judge.


On April 13, 1982, a jury found Ernest Adkins ("Petitioner") guilty of second-degree murder, robbery, criminal conspiracy, and possession of an instrument of crime. (Doc. No. 20 at 2.) At trial, he was represented by Vincent Ziccardi, Esquire ("Trial Counsel"). (Doc. No. 1 at 3.) The Superior Court of Pennsylvania summarized the facts of the case as follows:

The Commonwealth presented evidence that on September 24, 1981, co-defendant Paul Boatwright entered the home of the [Petitioner's] next-door neighbor, Edward Rambert, through a window and then open[ed] the door, admitting [Petitioner]. The two men ransacked the house, looking for money. A boarder, Maurice Ingraham[, ] was threatened. Rambert was knifed to death, suffering two stab wounds to the chest. A color television and silverware were taken from the house. It was the Commonwealth's theory that Boatwright committed the murder and that [Petitioner] was liable as his accomplice. [Petitioner's] defense was that Boatwright committed the killing after [Petitioner] had left the premises.

Commonwealth v. Adkins, No. 3568 Phila. 1993, slip op. at 1 (Pa.Super. Ct. Nov. 1, 1994). Petitioner received a mandatory life sentence for his crimes. (Doc. No. 20 at 2.) He appealed his conviction and sentence and was represented by Francis E. Gleeson, Esquire, ("Appellate Counsel") on appeal.[1] (Doc. No. 1 at 3.) On March 1, 1985, the Superior Court affirmed the judgment of sentence. (Doc. No. 20 at 2.) Petitioner did not seek allocatur from the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. (Id.)

On January 6, 1988, Petitioner attempted to collaterally attack his sentence pursuant to Pennsylvania's Post-Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa. Con. Stat. Ann. §§ 9541-46, by filing a pro se petition for relief. (Id.) Then, on February 4, 1998, the PCRA Court appointed Patricia M. Dugan, Esquire ("PCRA counsel") to represent Petitioner. (Doc. No. 1 at 3.) She later filed an Amended PCRA Petition on Petitioner's behalf. (Id.) On October 26, 1993, after holding an evidentiary hearing, the PCRA court dismissed the Amended Petition. (Doc. No. 20 at 2.) Following the denial of his PCRA petition, Petitioner retained Paul J. Hetznecker, Esquire, to represent him on PCRA appeal. (Doc. No. 1 at 3.) On November 1, 1994, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the dismissal of the PCRA petition. (Doc. No. 20 at 2.) Then, on April 7, 1995, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Petitioner's request for allocatur. (Id.)

More than eighteen years later, on June 19, 2013, Petitioner initiated the present action by filing a pro se Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. No. 1.) The following day, he filed a second pro se PCRA petition in state court. (Id. at 2.) He later filed an amended PCRA petition on August 23, 2013. (Id.) Petitioner also filed an amended § 2254 petition on September 3, 2013, pursuant to the Court's order directing him to use the proper form. (Doc. No. 3.) Then, on January 6, 2014, the Court referred the case to the Honorable Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Carol Wells for a Report and Recommendation. (Doc. No. 6.) Respondents subsequently filed a Response in Opposition. (Doc. No. 18.)

On May 14, 2014, Judge Wells issued her Report, recommending that Petitioner's claims for relief be denied and that a certificate of appealability should not be issued. (Doc. No. 20.) On June 26, 2014, Petitioner filed timely objections to the Report and Recommendation. (Doc. No. 26.) He simultaneously filed an Application for a Certificate of Appealability. (Doc. No. 27.) In the weeks to follow, Petitioner submitted various documents to either supplement or amend these filings. (Doc. Nos. 30, 31, 33.) Petitioner's objections to the Report and Recommendation are now before the Court for review. For reasons that follow, the Court will deny Petitioner's objections and will adopt and approve the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation.[2]


Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and local rules of court, a district judge may designate a magistrate judge to file proposed findings and recommendations in regard to a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. "Within fourteen days after being served with a copy [of the magistrate's report], any party may serve and file written objections to such proposed findings and recommendations as provided by rules of court." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). E.D. Pa. Local Civil Rule 72.1.IV(b) requires an objecting party to "specifically identify the portions of the proposed findings, recommendations or report to which objection is made and the basis for such objections." With respect to pro se litigants, however, this rule may be relaxed. See McCabe v. Pennsylvania , 419 F.Supp.2d 692, 695 (E.D. Pa. 2006) (treating pro se litigant's letter to court as an objection).

The district judge "shall [then] make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made. [The] judge... may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Sample v. Diecks , 885 F.2d 1099, 1106 n.3 (3d Cir. 1989). "Although [the] review is de novo, [a district judge] [is] permitted, by statute, to rely upon the magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations to the extent [the judge], in the exercise of sound discretion, deem[s] proper." Owens v. Beard , 829 F.Supp. 736, 738 (M.D. Pa. 1993) (citing United States v. Raddatz , 447 U.S. 667, 676 (1980)). The Third Circuit has "assumed that the normal practice of the district judge is to give some reasoned consideration to the magistrate's report before adopting it as the decision of the court." Henderson v. Carlson , 812 F.2d 874, 878 (3d Cir. 1987).


In his habeas petition, Petitioner raised the following claims for relief: 1) Under Miller v. Alabama , 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012), Petitioner's sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole violates the Eighth Amendment; and 2) Petitioner was denied effective assistance of counsel at trial and on direct appeal, and PCRA counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the issue of their ineffectiveness on collateral appeal. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 1-2.) In recommending that Petitioner's habeas petition be denied, the Magistrate Judge found that the petition was untimely and that neither one of Petitioner's claims for relief were sufficient to excuse the delay. (Doc. No. 20 at 3-6.) Furthermore, the Magistrate Judge determined that neither statutory nor equitable tolling applies in this instance. (Id. at 6-7.) Petitioner objects to those findings. (Doc. Nos. 26, 33.)

In his objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, Petitioner substantially expands upon arguments that he initially made in his habeas petition.[3] At this stage in the litigation, it is not appropriate for Petitioner to raise new claims for relief. See E.D. Pa. Local R. Civ. P. 72.1.IV(c) ("[N]ew issues and evidence shall not be raised after the filing of the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation if they could have been presented to the magistrate judge."). Instead, he must specifically identify the portions of the Report and Recommendation that he objects to and must also assert a basis for those objections. E.D. Pa. Local R. Civ. P. 72.1.IV(b). After reviewing Petitioner's sixty-one-page brief, the Court has identified three objections. First, Petitioner contends that the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that Miller does not apply to him. (Doc. No. 26 at 23.) He also alleges that the Magistrate Judge erred in concluding that Martinez v. Ryan , 132 S.Ct. 1309 (2012) does not entitle him to relief. (Id. at 33.) Finally, Petitioner objects to the Magistrate Judge's determination that the principle of equitable tolling does not apply here. (Doc. No. 33 at 49.) The Court will discuss each objection seriatim.

A. Petitioner's First Objection is Without Merit Because Miller Does Not Apply to Him

As noted above, the Magistrate Judge recommended that Petitioner's claims for relief be denied because his habeas petition is untimely. The AEDPA imposes a one-year statute of limitations on federal habeas petitioners. The ...

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