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Walton v. Superintendent of D.O.C.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

January 12, 2015

DANIEL L. WALTON, Petitioner
v.
SUPERINTENDENT OF D.O.C., et al. Respondents.

MEMORANDUM

WILLIAM W. CALDWELL, District Judge.

I. Introduction

The pro se petitioner, Daniel L. Walton, an inmate at the state correctional institution in Coal Township, Pennsylvania, has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The petition challenges Walton's convictions in the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, involving the delivery of a controlled substance, cocaine. Petitioner was sentenced to an aggregate term of imprisonment of six to twelve years.

The petition raises the following claims for relief: (1) the verdict was against the weight of the evidence when the only evidence against Petitioner was from a confidential informant; (2) the trial court imposed an unreasonable and manifestly excessive sentence when it imposed consecutive sentences "and considered factors either already considered in the sentencing scheme or which did not justify a consecutive sentence, and the elements thereof, " (Doc. 1, ECF p. 5); (3) Petitioner is actually innocent as evidenced by the affidavit of Arthur Loveland, submitted in state postconviction proceedings, which affirmed that Loveland was the actual perpetrator of the offenses; (4) postconviction counsel was ineffective in failing to raise the issues Petitioner presented in his pro se appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court from the trial court's denial of his postconviction petition; (5) the trial court erred in allowing postconviction counsel to withdraw and in not holding a hearing on Petitioner's claim that he was actually innocent; and (6) "numerous sub-issues" presented in Petitioner's filings in state court attached to the 2254 petition. ( Id., ECF p. 6).

II. Background

In CP-35-CR-3298-2007 (Pa. Ct. Com. Pl. Lackawanna Cnty.), Petitioner was charged with the following offenses, occurring on March 1, 2007: one count of delivery of a controlled substance (cocaine) in violation of 35 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 780-113(a)(30), one count of possession of a controlled substance (cocaine) with intent to deliver in violation of 35 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 780-113(a)(30), one count of criminal conspiracy in violation of 18 Pa. Con. Stat. Ann. § 903(a)(1), and one count of possession of a controlled substance in violation of 35 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 780-113(a)(16). In CP-35-CR-3301-2007 (Pa. Ct. Com. Pl. Lackawanna Cnty.), he was charged with the same crimes but for offenses occurring on March 2, 2007.

The cases were consolidated for trial, and a jury found Petitioner guilty on all charges. (Doc. 15-4, ECF p. 3, Pennsylvania Superior Court opinion on direct appeal). In January 2009, Petitioner was sentenced in No. 3298 to three to six years on count 1 (delivery of a controlled substance) with the sentence on the remaining counts merging into the sentence on count 1. In No. 3301, he was also sentenced to three to six years on count 1 with the sentence on the remaining counts merging into the sentence on count 1. The sentences were ordered to run consecutively to the sentences in the other case for an aggregate sentence of six to twelve years. (Doc. 15-1, ECF p. 14, Petitioner's brief on direct appeal; Doc. 15-4, ECF p. 3, Pennsylvania Superior Court opinion on direct appeal).

Petitioner took a direct appeal. He raised two issues. First, the verdict was against the weight of the evidence because the only evidence implicating him in the crimes was the testimony of a confidential informant. Second, the sentence imposed was unreasonable and manifestly excessive for two reasons: (1) consecutive sentences were imposed; and (2) the trial court, in imposing the consecutive sentences, considered factors already taken into account in the sentencing scheme or which did not justify a consecutive sentence. (Doc. 15-4, ECF pp. 3-4).[1]

The Pennsylvania Superior Court rejected both claims. It ruled that the weight-of-the-evidence claim had been waived because "it is axiomatic that such a claim must be presented to the trial court before sentencing or in a post-conviction motion to preserve it for appeal, " citing in part Commonwealth v. Barnhart, 933 A.2d 1061, 1066 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2007). ( Id., ECF p. 4). It ruled that the sentencing claim lacked merit for the following reasons. First, a trial court may impose consecutive sentences as part of the discretion conferred upon it in imposing sentence, citing Commonwealth v. Johnson, 961 A.2d 877, 880 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2008). Second, the trial court had before it the presentence report so it could be assumed that the court considered the appropriate factors. ( Id., ECF p. 7). Third, while the same factors already considered cannot be used to enhance a sentence, citing Commonwealth v. Goggins, 748 A.2d 721, 729 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2000)(en banc), Petitioner did not contend that his sentence exceeded the sentencing guidelines, so his argument that the court used improper factors to impose consecutive sentences was simply a repeat of his invalid argument that the court could not impose consecutive sentences. ( Id., ECF pp. 7-8).

In November 2010, Petitioner filed a pro se petition under the Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA). 42 Pa. Con. Stat. Ann. § 9541-9546. (Doc. 1, ECF p. 25). He raised a single ground for relief: newly discovered evidence from Arthur Loveland establishing that he was innocent of all offenses. Loveland, then an inmate at the state correctional institution in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, affirmed in an affidavit dated April 28, 2010, in pertinent part as follows:

The criminal charges that Mr. Daniel Walton is convicted of for selling crack cocaine to [the confidential informant] on March 1, 2007 and March 2, 2007... he is NOT GUILTY OF. I know, because it was I, Mr. Arthur Loveland, whom (sic) sold the crack cocaine to [the confidential informant] on March 1, 2007 and March 2, 2007. Mr. Daniel Walton is a (sic) INNOCENT PERSON.

(Doc. 1, ECF p. 28).

Counsel was appointed to represent Petitioner on his PCRA petition. Under Commonwealth v. Turner, 518 Pa. 491, 544 A.2d 927 (1988), and Commonwealth v. Finley, 379 Pa. Super. Ct. 390, 550 A.2d 213 (1988), counsel filed a motion to withdraw as Petitioner's attorney. The trial court granted the motion to withdraw and also denied the PCRA petition.

Petitioner appealed, raising two issues. First, his PCRA counsel abandoned him by not pursuing meritorious issues. Second, the trial court erred by allowing counsel to withdraw and by not holding a hearing on the merits of Petitioner's claim. (Doc. 15-6, ...


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