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Zuschlag v. Coleman

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

December 5, 2014

WILLIAM S. ZUSCHLAG, Petitioner,
v.
BRIAN V. COLEMAN, et al., Respondents.

OPINION AND ORDER[1]

SUSAN PARADISE BAXTER, Magistrate Judge.

Before the Court is the petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by state prisoner William S. Zuschlag ("Petitioner"). Respondents have filed a motion to dismiss the petition. [ECF No. 10].[2] For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted, Petitioner's claims are dismissed with prejudice, and a certificate of appealability is denied.

I.

A. Background[3]

On September 10, 2009, Petitioner was charged with 23 crimes relating to his sexual assault of his minor daughter and two counts involving another child. On August 26, 2010, he appeared before the Court of Common Pleas of Crawford County and pleaded guilty to one count of Unlawful Contact with a Minor in violation of 18 Pa.C.S. § 6318(a)(1) and one count of Incest in violation of 18 Pa.C.S. § 4302. The Commonwealth nolle prossed the remaining 23 counts. At that time, Petitioner was represented by Gary M. Alizzeo, Esquire. Pursuant to the plea agreement entered into on that day, the Commonwealth recommended that Petitioner's sentences run concurrently as long as a state sentence was imposed. At the time of the plea, Petitioner "was not happy about the possibility of a state sentence. However, he did not want to go to trial and indicated that he understood what the plea agreement was, and that ultimately the Court would decide his sentence." (SCR at 14, Commonwealth v. Zuschlag, No. CR 618-2009, slip op. at 1, n.1 (CP Crawford Co. Apr. 2, 2012) (citing Plea Colloquy of Aug. 26, 2010, p. 5, line 23; p. 11, lines 8-12)).

On November 24, 2010, the court sentenced Petitioner to a term of 21 months to 8 years of imprisonment for Incest, and a concurrent term of one to five years of imprisonment for Unlawful Contact with a Minor. Edward J. Hatheway, Esquire, represented Petitioner at this point. Both of Petitioner's sentences fall within the standard range set forth by the sentencing guideline. (Id. at 7). In addition, "both sentences are consistent with the terms of the plea bargain entered into by both parties." (Id.)

Petitioner did not file a direct appeal. He filed a timely motion for collateral relief pursuant to Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa.C.S. § 9541 et seq. (SCR at 6, 12). The court appointed Noah A. Erde, Esquire, to represent him. After the PCRA court denied Petitioner's request for relief (see SCR at 14, Zuschlag, No. CR 618-2009, slip op. at 1-12), he filed an appeal with the Superior Court of Pennsylvania through his counsel, Erde. On December 18, 2012, the Superior Court issued a Memorandum in which it affirmed the denial of PCRA relief. (SCR at 29, Commonwealth v. Zuschlag, No. 795 WDA 2012, slip op. (Pa.Super. Dec. 18, 2012)). The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denied a petition for allowance of appeal on October 2, 2013. (SCR at 30).

Having had no success in state court, Petitioner next filed with this Court a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub.L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214, April 24, 1996 ("AEDPA"). Under this statute, habeas relief is only available on the grounds that Petitioner's judgment of sentence was obtained in violation of his federal constitutional rights. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Errors of state law are not cognizable. Id .; see, e.g., Priester v. Vaughn, 382 F.3d 394, 402 (3d Cir. 2004) ("Federal courts reviewing habeas claims cannot reexamine state court determinations on state-law questions.'") (quoting Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991)).

Petitioner raises the following two claims for relief:

Ground One: "Trial counsel failed to obtain a plea agreement with sentencing. [Trial counsel] ordered [Petitioner] to take the open plea and make [no] waves & just shut up and go along with what [counsel] said."
Ground Two: "14th Amendment of the United States Constitution under persons of the same class similarly situation. [Petitioner] is a Megan's Law Reg. An inmate at Crawford County Jail at the same time had the same charges and received a sentence of 11 ½ to 23 months as where [Petitioner] received 1 year 8 months to 8 years."

[ECF No. 3 at 5. See also id. at 7].

Respondents have filed a motion to dismiss in which they contend that Petitioner's claims are procedurally defaulted because he did not exhaust them in state court. ...


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