United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
WILLIAM W. CALDWELL, District Judge.
Fredrick Campfield, an inmate at the State Correctional Institution in Somerset, Pennsylvania, has filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his 1997 conviction for first-degree murder. He was also convicted of third-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, two counts each of attempted murder, and recklessly endangering another person. (Doc. 15-3, ECF p. 2, Commonwealth v. Campfield , No. 949 MDA 2002, slip op. at 1 (Pa.Super. Ct. Dec. 4, 2003). Petitioner is serving a sentence of life imprisonment on the conviction for first-degree murder. ( Id. , ECF p. 4). He is serving an aggregate sentence of life imprisonment plus seventeen to thirty-four years on all the convictions. (Doc. 1, ECF p. 1).
Petitioner's first-degree murder conviction is based on the fact that, as he himself concedes, he shot the victim in the back of the head. At the time, the victim was sitting in the back seat of a car that was being driven away from a bar where a tense situation had developed. The situation involved Petitioner and his brother on the one hand and the victim's brother on the other. Petitioner said he was shooting low in the direction of the car but not at the car, and in self-defense, because he saw a passenger in the car pointing a gun in his direction. He fired some five or six shots although only one hit the victim.
Petitioner presents two grounds for relief, both bearing on the specific intent to kill required under Pennsylvania law for a first-degree murder conviction. First, trial counsel was ineffective in not objecting to the prosecutor's prejudicial remarks during his closing argument when he misstated the testimony of the Commonwealth's ballistics expert and when the prosecutor gave a demonstration that was not supported by the expert's testimony. As a result, the prosecutor's conduct improperly rebutted Petitioner's defense that the rising pattern of shots on the vehicle showed only the natural recoil of the gun as Petitioner repeatedly fired it down low, not that Petitioner had the intent to kill the victim.
Second, trial counsel was ineffective in not having Petitioner and a defense expert on ballistics provide testimony relating to the gun's recoil. Petitioner asserts that counsel should have had Petitioner testify that not only was he holding the weapon slanting downward but also in a vertical position, meaning the top of the gun was facing upward. Petitioner's testimony about the vertical holding of the gun would have permitted the defense expert to testify in turn to the recoil effect of a vertically held gun, that a gun held in such a way would recoil upward so that when successive shots are fired, the pattern of the shots would move successively higher. The expert's testimony would have bolstered Petitioner's defense at trial that he was not intentionally shooting at the victim but that the pattern of shots merely represented the recoil effect.
II. Standard of Review
Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, a state prisoner can seek federal habeas relief from his conviction for violations of federal law. Swarthout v. Cooke ___, U.S. ___, ___, 131 S.Ct. 859, 861, 178 L.Ed.2d 732 (2011). In pertinent part, as stated in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a), the petitioner can seek relief "on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States."
When a petitioner seeks relief on federal claims adjudicated against him by the state courts, habeas review of the state courts' resolution of the claims is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) and (d)(2). Under subsection (d)(1), we may grant the writ if the state courts' adjudication of the claims was contrary to clearly established Supreme Court precedent or an unreasonable application of that precedent. A state court judgment is "contrary to" Supreme Court precedent when it is "diametrically different, opposite in character or nature, or mutually opposed" to "clearly established" decisions of the United States Supreme Court. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 1519, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000). "A state-court decision will also be contrary to" Supreme Court "precedent if the state court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the] Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [the] precedent." Id. at 406, 120 S.Ct. 1519-20.
"[A] state court ruling is considered an unreasonable application' if the state court unreasonably applies the correct legal rule to the particular facts, unreasonably extends a legal principle to a new context, or unreasonably refuses to extend the principle to a new context where it should apply." McMullen v. Tennis, 562 F.3d 231, 236 (3d Cir. 2009)(cited cases omitted). "The unreasonable application test is an objective one - a federal court may not grant habeas relief merely because it concludes that the state court applied federal law erroneously or incorrectly." Jacobs v. Horn, 395 F.3d 92, 100 (3d Cir. 2005)(cited cases omitted). If "fairminded jurists could disagree' on the correctness of the state court's decision, " habeas relief cannot be granted. Harrington v. Richter, U.S. ___, ___, ___, 131 S.Ct. 770, 786, 178 L.Ed.2d 624 (2011)(quoted case omitted).
Under subsection (d)(2), we may grant the writ if the state courts' adjudication of the claims "resulted in a decision that was based on a unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2). "A state court decision is based on an unreasonable determination of the facts' only if the state court's factual findings are objectively unreasonable in light of the evidence presented in the state-court proceeding.'" Eley v. Erickson , 712 F.3d 837, 846 (3d Cir. 2013)(quoted case omitted). State-court fact finding "is presumed to be correct." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). The petitioner has "the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence." Id.
A. The Petition Is Timely
Respondents first argue that the petition is barred by the one-year statute of limitations for filing section 2254 petitions. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1). In pertinent part, the statute begins to run from the date the judgment of conviction becomes final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review. See Wall v. Kholi , ___ U.S. ___, ___, 131 S.Ct. 1278, 1283, 179 L.Ed.2d 252 (2011) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A)); see also Pace v. DiGuglielmo , 544 U.S. 408, 410, 125 S.Ct. 1807, 1810, 161 L.Ed.2d 669 (2005).
The limitations period is subject to equitable tolling, Jenkins v. Superintendent of Laurel Highlands, 705 F.3d 80, 88-89 (3d Cir. 2013), and to statutory tolling. Id. at 85. Statutory tolling occurs during the time "a properly filed application for State post conviction or other collateral review with respect to the pertinent judgment or claim is pending...." 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2); Swartz v. Meyers, 204 F.3d 417, 419 (3d Cir. 2000).
Statutory tolling applies to those periods when an application for discretionary review is pending in a state appellate court from the denial of postconviction relief, see Kindler v. Horn , 542 F.3d 70, 77 n.5 (3d Cir. 2008)(noting that the petitioner's PCRA petition was pending at least through the date the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied his petition for review), rev'd on other grounds , Beard v. Kindler, 558 U.S. 53, 130 S.Ct. 612, 175 L.Ed.2d 417 (2009). It also applies to the time period for seeking state-court appellate review from the denial of postconviction relief even if such review is not sought. Jenkins , supra , 705 F.3d at 85 n.4.
A properly filed state petition "is one submitted according to the state's procedural requirements, such as the rules governing the time and place of filing." Lovasz v. Vaughn , 134 F.3d 146, 148 (3d Cir. 1998). A PCRA petition that is filed untimely is not "properly filed" so as to suspend the running of the limitations period, see Pace v. DiGuglielmo, 544 U.S. 408, 417, 125 S.Ct. 1807, 1814, 161 L.Ed.2d 669 (2005), and whether a state petition was untimely is a matter of state law that cannot be reconsidered by a federal habeas court. Satterfield v. Johnson, 434 F.3d 185, 192 (3d Cir. 2006)("If a state court determines that a petition is untimely, that would be the end of the matter, regardless of whether it also addressed the merits of the claim, or whether its timeliness ruling was entangled' with the merits.")(internal quotations omitted).
The parties' filings reveal the following on the timeliness issue. On July 7, 2000, the jury found Petitioner guilty. On September 27, 2000, he was sentenced. After Petitioner's first direct appeal was dismissed for failing to file a brief, his direct-appeal rights were restored, and on December 4, 2003, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed his conviction. Petitioner did not file a petition for allowance of appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
On October 17, 2002, Petitioner filed his first postconviction petition under the Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA). 42 Pa. Con. Stat. Ann. § 9541-9546. Thereafter, he filed "a lineage of amendments" to the petition. (Doc. 1, trial court's PCRA opinion, ECF p. 19). On November 10, 2010, the trial court denied relief. On Petitioner's appeal, the superior court reversed and remanded for a " Grazier hearing." That hearing was held on March 8, 2012, and Petitioner was allowed to proceed pro se.
Petitioner again filed several amendments to his PCRA petition, among them one filed on June 21, 2012, which raised the two claims presented in the instant 2254 petition. On August 24, 2012, the trial court denied relief. It decided that the June 21 filing was untimely under the statute of limitations for filing PCRA petitions under state law, which generally requires that the petition be filed within one year of the judgment's becoming final. (Doc. 1, trial court's PCRA opinion, ECF pp. 23, 25). The court cited the superior court's December 4, 2003, affirmance on direct appeal as the indication of finality. Respondents rely on the trial court's ruling in arguing that the 2254 petition is untimely.
If the June 21, 2012, filing did raise the two claims for the first time, and was untimely under state law, the current 2254 petition would be untimely as the instant petition was filed on July 8, 2013, well more than one year after the judgment would have become final under federal limitations law.
However, Petitioner appealed the trial court's denial of postconviction relief. On May 31, 2013, the superior court affirmed the trial court's order, but in doing so, it disagreed with the trial court that the two claims had been raised untimely, holding that the claims had been raised in Petitioner's original PCRA petition, as well as in the June 21, 2012, filing. (Doc. 1, superior court's PCRA opinion, ECF pp. 38, 40). We disagree with Respondents' contention that the superior court did not disturb the trial court's ruling that the PCRA claims were untimely.
We are bound by the superior court's timeliness ruling. Whether a state petition was untimely is a matter of state law that cannot be reconsidered by a federal habeas court. See Satterfield, supra, 434 F.3d at 192 ("If a state court determines that a petition is untimely, that would be the end of the matter"); Darden v. Sobina , 477 F.Appx. 912, 917 (3d Cir. 2012)(nonprecedential)(it would be undue interference for a federal court to revisit a state court's ruling on the untimeliness of a PCRA petition); Campbell v. Henry , 614 F.3d 1056, 1057 (9th Cir. 2010)(if a higher state court determines that a claim is timely, it is timely under state law).
Since the claims were timely under state law, the federal limitations period was statutorily tolled while postconviction proceedings were pending in state court, from October 17, 2002, when the first PCRA petition was filed, through May 31, 2013, when the superior court issued its PCRA opinion. It was also tolled until July 1, 2013, the expiration of the thirty-day period Petitioner had to appeal to the state supreme court from the superior court's ruling. In fact, since Petitioner's direct appeal was decided after he filed his PCRA petition, the statute did not ...