United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
WILLIAM H. YOHN, District Judge.
Joed Valentin-Morales, an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Coal Township, has filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Valentin-Morales was convicted of attempted homicide, aggravated assault, and reckless endangerment in the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas, and sentenced thereafter to a total of 28½-60 years incarceration. The magistrate judge issued a report and recommendation that the petition be denied.
After conducting a de novo review of the magistrate judge's report and recommendation, and upon careful consideration of Valentin-Morales's objections thereto, I will deny the petition as to two of Valentin-Morales's claims, and I will order additional briefing from the Commonwealth as to the third.
I. Factual and Procedural Background
The Pennsylvania Superior Court, in reviewing Valentin-Morales's direct appeal, summarized the facts which led to his arrest as follows:
In the early morning hours of June 27, 2007, Gabriel Morales, a cousin of [Valentin-Morales]'s girlfriend, was beaten up as he walked past a porch where his attackers were sitting. Morales fled to an apartment building where he and [Valentin-Morales] both resided, and barricaded himself inside. He was pursued by his attackers, among them Marisol Ramos and Michael Orasio, who after pounding on the door left the immediate area after hearing someone threaten to call the police. When [Valentin-Morales], disturbed by the noise, saw his friend's injuries, he retrieved his shotgun, and chasing Orasio and Ramos down the street, confronted them. Seeing the weapon, both victims raised their hands to show they were unarmed, but [Valentin-Morales], from about 10 feet away fired the shotgun, first at Ramos, and then after reloading, at Orasio who was attempting to flee. [Valentin-Morales] then hid the shotgun. Ramos's wounds necessitated removal of the midsection of her large intestine and a piece of her small intestine; her right arm, after attempts to save it failed, was eventually amputated. Orasio's injuries, less serious but also life-threatening, required extended hospitalization.
On June 5, 2008, at the conclusion of a four day jury trial in the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas, Valentin-Morales was found guilty of two counts each of attempted criminal homicide, first degree aggravated assault, second degree aggravated assault, and second degree reckless endangerment of another person. On July 15, 2010, the trial court sentenced Valentin-Morales to 20-40 years imprisonment and 28½-20 years imprisonment for the respective attempted homicide convictions. The court imposed the sentences consecutively, for an aggregate of 28 ½-60 years incarceration.
On direct appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, Valentin-Morales raised three claims: (1) the evidence was insufficient to show that he had the requisite mens rea for attempted homicide; (2) the attempted homicide conviction was against the weight of the evidence; and (3) the sentence was an abuse of the trial court's discretion. On June 23, 2010, the Superior Court affirmed the trial court's judgment of sentence. See Com. v. Morales, 4 A.3d 697 (Pa.Super. Ct. 2010). On October 15, 2010, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Valentin-Morales's Petition for Allowance of Appeal. See Com. v. Valentin-Morales, 8 A.3d 899 (Pa. 2010).
On April 20, 2011, Valentin-Morales filed a pro se petition for relief under the Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa. C.S.A. §§ 9541 et seq. Counsel was thereafter appointed to represent Valentin-Morales, and substantive review was based on Valentin-Morales's amended PCRA petition, which was counseled. The amended PCRA petition raised four claims: (1) ineffective assistance of his trial counsel for failure to request a self-defense instruction; (2) ineffectiveness of trial counsel for failure to investigate and call an alleged eyewitness, Emma Rosado; (3) ineffective assistance of appellate counsel for failing to argue that trial counsel was ineffective on direct appeal; and (4) newly discovered evidence demonstrative of innocence, specifically Gabriel Morales's recantation of his trial testimony for the Commonwealth. The amended PCRA petition included an affidavit from Rosado swearing that she saw Valentin-Morales shoot the victims in apparent self-defense, and an affidavit from Morales swearing that he gave false testimony. Valentin-Morales, Rosado, and Morales testified at a PCRA hearing on October 4, 2011. Defense attorney John Walfish and Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Burd also testified. On November 15, 2011, the PCRA court denied Valentin-Morales's petition.
After the denial of his PCRA petition, Valentin-Morales filed a timely appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, raising two issues for review: (1) ineffective assistance of trial counsel for failing to investigate and call Rosado; and (2) actual innocence based on Morales's recantation of his trial testimony. The Superior Court denied PCRA relief on August 8, 2012, and, on January 16, 2013, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declined Valentin-Morales's Petition for Allowance of Appeal. See Com. v. Morales, 60 A.3d 562 (Pa.Super. Ct. 2012) appeal denied, 619 Pa. 678 (2013).
On June 10, 2013, Valentin-Morales filed the instant habeas petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, raising three claims: (1) ineffective assistance of trial counsel for failing to investigate and call Rosado; (2) violation of due process based on the PCRA court's refusal to order a new trial based on Morales's recantation; and (3) ineffective assistance of trial counsel for failing to inform Valentin-Morales of a plea offer.
On February 27, 2014, the magistrate judge issued a report and recommendation recommending that the district court deny Valentin-Morales's petition as to each of his three claims. Valentin-Morales thereafter filed objections to each portion of the magistrate judge's report and recommendation.
II. Standard of Review
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 2841 et seq., governs the court's review of this habeas petition. Under AEDPA, a "district court shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." Id. § 2254(a). Habeas relief is unwarranted "with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim... resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court of the ...