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Brown v. Bickell

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

November 12, 2014



JAN E. DuBOIS, District Judge.


Petitioner Keith Stanley Brown ("Brown") plead guilty to two counts of aggravated assault, intimidation of a witness, and terroristic threats on August 13, 2008 in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.[1] He is presently serving a sentence of 10 to 20 years imprisonment.

After exhausting his remedies in state court, Brown filed a counseled Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus ("Petition") in this Court on May 3, 2012. On June 20, 2014, United States Magistrate Judge Timothy R. Rice submitted to the Court a Report and Recommendation ("R & R"), recommending that all claims in the Petition be denied with prejudice without an evidentiary hearing. Brown subsequently filed seventeen Objections to the R & R, which are presently before the Court.

For the reasons that follow, the R & R is approved and adopted; Brown's Objections are overruled; and all of Brown's claims are denied and dismissed without an evidentiary hearing.


The facts of this case are described in detail in the R & R. The Court will not repeat them in this Memorandum except as is necessary to explain its rulings on Brown's Objections.


Where a court refers a habeas petition to a magistrate judge, "the court shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made... [and] the court 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)(c).

The Court's review of the R & R submitted June 20, 2014 is governed by the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), a petition for habeas corpus may be granted only if (1) the state court 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 United States" or if (2) the adjudication resulted in a decision that was "based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)-(2).

A state court decision is "contrary to" clearly established governing federal law "if the state court either applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases, ' or confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme] Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [the Court's] precedent.'" Penry v. Johnson, 532 U.S. 782, 792 (2001) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000). "A state court decision will be an unreasonable application of' [the Court's] clearly established precedent if it correctly identifies the governing legal rule but applies it unreasonably to the facts of a particular prisoner's case.'" Id . (quoting Taylor, 529 U.S. at 407-08).

Additionally, in reviewing the state court record, factual issues determined by a state court are presumed to be correct, and Brown bears the burden of rebutting this presumption by clear and convincing evidence. See Werts v. Vaughn, 228 F.3d 178, 196 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1)).


Brown raises four ineffective assistance of counsel claims in his Petition. He alleges that his trial counsel was ineffective for: 1) failing to investigate Brown's mental health and request a competency hearing; 2) coercing Brown into taking an unknowing and involuntary plea by threatening to withdraw; 3) failing to investigate and advise Brown as to the possibility of a defense based on his mental health prior to advising Brown to enter a plea; and 4) failing to investigate and present Brown's mental health issues during sentencing. Brown also raises a cumulative error claim, alleging that even if trial counsel's individual errors were not prejudicial, when viewed in their totality, the cumulative impact of the errors deprived him of his constitutional rights. The Magistrate Judge recommended denying Brown relief on all claims.

Brown timely filed seventeen Objections to the R & R. Many of the Objections are redundant and relate to several claims. In this Memorandum, the Court will address each of the Objections as they relate to Brown's specific claims.

A. Legal Standard

" Strickland v. Washington supplies the standard for addressing a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel." United States v. Smack, 347 F.3d 533, 537 (3d Cir. 2003). "The benchmark for judging any claim of ineffectiveness must be whether counsel's conduct so undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process that the trial court cannot be relied on as having produced a just result." Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686 (1984).

The Strickland standard requires a two-part inquiry. "First, the defendant must show that counsel's performance was deficient, " id. at 687, that is, "that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness." Id. at 688. The measure for counsel's performance under the first prong is "whether counsel's assistance was reasonable considering all the circumstances, " including "[p]revailing norms of practice." Id . "Second, the defendant must show that [counsel's] deficient performance prejudiced the defense." Id. at 687. The defendant must demonstrate that "there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Id. at 694. A "reasonable probability" is one that is "sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Id . Furthermore, "[t]he effect of counsel's inadequate performance must be evaluated in light of the totality of the evidence at trial: a verdict or conclusion only weakly supported by the record is more likely to have been affected by errors than one with overwhelming record support.'" United States v. Gray, 878 F.2d 702, 711 (3d Cir. 1989) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 696).

When viewed through the lens of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), the federal court's review of an ineffective assistance of counsel claim is "doubly deferential." Yarborough v. Gentry, 540 U.S. 1, 6 ...

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