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Williams v. Wenerowicz

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 17, 2015

LARRY WILLIAMS, Petitioner,
v.
MICHAEL WENEROWICZ, et al, Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

JOSEPH F. SAPORITO, Jr., Magistrate Judge.

I. Background.

On August 13, 2013, Petitioner Larry Williams, an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford ("SCI-Graterford), in Graterford, Pennsylvania, filed, pro se, this action stating that it was brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. 1). Also, on August 13, 2013, Petitioner filed a Motion to proceed In Forma Pauperis. (Doc. 2). On September 5, 2013, Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Blewitt, now retired, filed a Report and Recommendation recommending that Petitioner's Habeas Petition be dismissed without prejudice. (Doc. 4). On October 8, 2013, the Court adopted Judge Blewitt's Report and Recommendation. (Doc. 5). On December 12, 2013, Petitioner filed an Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus.[1] (Doc. 6). After extensions of time were granted, on July 28, 2014, Respondents filed a Response to the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus. (Doc. 20). On November 3, 2014, Petitioner filed a Traverse. (Doc. 28).

In his habeas petition, Petitioner indicates that after he pled not guilty, he was convicted by a jury of simple assault and aggravated assault on April 19, 2005, in the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County. (Doc. 6, p. 1). Petitioner states that on February 19, 2005, he received a prison sentence of a minimum of 27 months to 60 months. ( Id. ).

Petitioner further indicates that he appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court for ineffective assistance of counsel: 1) failing to file a direct appeal; and 2) failing to adequately investigate Petitioner's mental health impairment impacting his competence for trial and sentencing. The conviction was affirmed on August 15, 2005. ( Id., p. 2). Petitioner further states that he did not appeal to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. ( Id. ).

On January 24, 2006, Petitioner filed a Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA") Petition on the same ineffective assistance of counsel claims as he filed in the Superior Court. ( Id., p. 3). On November 27, 2007, the trial court dismissed the petition. ( Id. ). Petitioner does not include the entire procedural history of his case in his Petition, thus we have referred to the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania for the Petitioner's Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County Criminal Docket, Docket Number CP-40-CR-0002033-2004 (the "CCP Docket"), for further procedural history and confirmation of the correct dates. On December 24, 2007, Petitioner appealed the dismissal of his PCRA to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. (CCP Docket, p. 10). The grounds for his ineffective assistance of counsel claims were: 1) failing to adequately investigate Petitioner's psychiatric history; 2) failing to present mitigating evidence at sentencing relating to his psychiatric history; 3) failing to file a motion regarding Petitioner's competence and seeking dismissal because of Petitioner's psychiatric condition; and 4) failing to object to the issue of self defense/justification.

Petitioner again appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court on October 2, 2008. ( Id., p. 11). On April 21, 2010, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the Judgment of Sentence. ( Id., p. 12). On April 22, 2010, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denied the Petition for Allowance of Appeal. ( Id. ). On August 25, 2010, Petitioner filed a second PCRA Petition. ( Id. ). On December 7, 2010, Petitioner next appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. ( Id., p. 13). On December 22, 2010, the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County denied the second PCRA Petition. ( Id. ). On October 21, 2011, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the denial of the second PCRA Petition. ( Id., p. 14). On December 21, 2012, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denied the Petition for Leave to File PAA Nunc Pro Tunc. ( Id. ).[2]

II. Claims of Habeas Petition.

In his October 3, 2012 Habeas Petition, Petitioner raises the following grounds:

GROUND ONE: APPELLANT [PETITIONER] WAS DENIED FFECTIVE[SIC] ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL IN THAT PRIOR COUNSEL FAILED TO ADEQUATELY INVESTIGATE APPELLANT'S MENTAL HEALTH IMPAIRMENT, AS WELL AS THE NUMEROUS PSYCHIATRIC DRUGS HE WAS ON, AND THEIR IMPACT ON HIS COMPETENCE TO PROCEED AND THEIR MITIGATING ROLE REGARDING SENTENCING, AND IN FAILING TO OBJECT TO THE TRIAL COURT'S ERRONEOUS INSTRUCTION TO THE JURY REGARDING SELF DEFENSE.

GROUND TWO: THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN ITS INSTRUCTION TO THE JURY CONCERNING SELF DEFENSE, IN THAT THE COURT MISSTATED THE LAW, AND MISDIRECTED THE JURY IN SUGGESTING THAT THE LAWFUL ACTIONS OF THE ALLEGED VICTIMS DIMINISHED OR NEGATED THE [SELF-DEFENSE] CLAIM.

GROUND THREE: THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN FAILING TO FIND APPELLANT INCOMPETENT TO STAND TRIAL AND IN FURTHER FAILING TO ALLOW DEVELOPMENT OF A RECORD AT THE [PCRA] STAGE CONCERNING APPELLANT'S MENTAL STATUS.

GROUND FOUR: THE PENNSYLVANIA SUPREME COURT ERRED IN DENYING REVIEW OF SUPERIOR COURT'S ERROR IN AFFIRMING THE TRIAL COUNSEL'S FINDING THAT PRIOR COUNSEL WAS NOT UNCONSTITUTIONALLY INEFFECTIVE IN FAILING TO ADEQUATELY INVESTIGATE PETITIONER'S MENTAL CONDITION AND THE IMPACT THIS (AND THE OTHER NUMEROUS PSYCHIATRIC DRUGS PETITIONER WAS TAKING AT THE TIME OF THE INCIDENT IN QUESTION) HAD ON HIS COMPETENCE TO PROCEED TO TRIAL SINCE THE FAILURE OF PRIOR COUNSEL WAS NOT REASONABLE UNDER THE FACTS AND CIRCUMSTANCES OF THIS CASE, WHERE COUNSEL HAD FILED A MOTION TO DISMISS BASED ON PETITIONER'S "SEVERE MENTAL DISABILITY' WHICH PREVENTED HIM FROM BEING "HELD CRIMINALLY RESPONSIBLE" BUT THEN FAILED TO SEEK EXPERT PSYCHIATRIC OR PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSISTANCE TO PURSUE THIS CLAIM BECAUSE COUNSEL DID NOT BELIEVE PETITIONER'S MENTAL HEALTH WAS AN "ISSUE" IN THIS CASE.

(Doc. 6, pp. 13-18).

III. Standard of Review.

Review of the Petitioner's claim is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), which provides that a district court is authorized to "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. 28 U.S.C. §2254. A petition for writ of habeas corpus is the exclusive federal remedy for a state prisoner challenging the very fact or duration' of his confinement and seeking immediate release or a speedier release from that imprisonment.'" Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 498-500 (1973).

In evaluating the merits of a state prisoner's habeas petition that has been presented to a state court and adjudicated on the merits, the district court must generally defer to the decisions of the state courts. The AEDPA imposes a highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings and demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt. Felkner v. Jackson, 562 U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 1305 (March 21, 2011) (citation omitted).

A district court may not grant a writ of habeas corpus "with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in a state court proceeding 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 United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1); see Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000) (discussing standard); Harrington v. Gillis, 456 F.3d 118, 124 (3d Cir. 2006) (same); Rainey v. Varner, 603 F.3d 189 (3d Cir. 2010). A decision by a state court is "contrary to... clearly established federal law" "if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by th[e Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than th[e Supreme] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts." Williams, 529 U.S. at 413; Harrington, 456 F.3d at 124; see Matteo v. Superintendent, SCI Albion, 171 F.3d 877, 887-88 (3d Cir. 1999) ( en banc) . A decision by a state court unreasonably applies federal law if "the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from th[e Supreme] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case." Williams, 529 U.S. at 413; Harrington, 456 F.3d at 124.

The application of §2254(d) entails two steps. First, the court must determine whether "Supreme Court precedent requires an outcome contrary to that reached by the relevant state court." Matteo, 171 F.3d at 888 (quoting O'Brien v. Dubois, 145 F.3d 16, 24-25 (1st Cir. 1998), overruled in part on other grounds by McCambridge v. Hall, 303 F.3d 24 (1st Cir. 2002)). Then, if the court determines that the state court's decision was not "contrary to" federal law, "either because the state court decision complies with the Supreme Court rule governing the claim, or because no such rule has been established, " the court must determine whether the state court's application of federal law was an "unreasonable application" of the Supreme Court rule. Id . at 889. Unreasonableness is an objective determination; a state court decision is unreasonable if, ...


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