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Smith v. Wetzel

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 11, 2015

ALLEN SMITH, Petitioner
v.
JOHN WETZEL, Respondent

MEMORANDUM

Matthew W. Brann United States District Judge

Background

Allen Smith, an inmate presently confined at the Forest State Correctional Institution, Marienville, Pennsylvania, (SCI-Forest), filed this pro se habeas corpus petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Service of the Petition was previously ordered.

Smith entered a guilty plea to charges of possession of a controlled substance/contraband by an inmate (3 counts) and tampering with physical evidence on January 10, 2010 in the Court of Common Pleas of Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. As a result of his plea, he was sentenced to serve a three (3) to six (6) year term of incarceration. See Doc. 1, ¶ 3.

The Petitioner did not pursue a direct appeal. However, Smith did seek collateral relief via a pro se action filed pursuant to Pennsylvania’s Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA).[1] Smith’s PCRA action was denied by the Court of Common Pleas on April 25, 2012. See id. at ¶ 11. An appeal of that decision was denied by the Superior Court of Pennsylvania on September 23, 2013. See id. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Smith’s petition for allowance of appeal by decision dated February 19, 2014.

Ground One of Petitioner’s pending action claims entitlement to federal habeas corpus relief on the basis that his guilty plea was unlawfully induced and was not knowing, intelligent, and voluntary due to the absence of an adequate on the record colloquy. Smith explains that neither the oral nor written plea colloquies explained to him that: he was presumed innocent until proven guilty; the requirement of a unanimous jury verdict; and the possibility of consecutive sentencing. See id. at p. 11.

Ground Two asserts that trial counsel was ineffective for advising the Petitioner to plead guilty because his case would be heard by an all white jury and that nothing could be done to challenge the composition of the jury.[2] Smith is black. See id.

Ground Three contends that trial counsel’s performance was also deficient because his probation from an unrelated case could be revoked if he pled guilty. See id. at p. 12. The Petition adds that Grounds Two and Three were not exhausted in state court due to the ineffective assistance of PCRA counsel.

Respondent asserts that a viable claim of entitlement to federal habeas corpus relief has not been established, Grounds Two and Three were procedurally defaulted in state court, and those unexhausted arguments should not be reviewed.

Discussion

A § 2254 habeas corpus petition may be brought by a state prisoner who seeks to challenge either the fact or duration of his confinement in prison. See Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 486-87 (1973). Federal habeas corpus review is available only “where the deprivation of rights is such that it necessarily impacts the fact or length of detention.” Leamer v. Fauver, 288 F.3d 532, 540 (3d Cir. 2002). In Suggs v. Bureau of Prisons, Civil No. 08-3613, 2008 WL 2966740 *4 (D. N.J. July 31, 2008), the district court reiterated that in cases where “a judgment in Petitioner’s favor would not affect the fact or duration of Petitioner’s incarceration, habeas relief is unavailable.” “The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 modified a federal habeas court’s role in reviewing state prisoner applications in order to prevent federal habeas ‘retrials’ and to ensure that state-court convictions are given effect to the extent possible under law.” Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693 (2002).

Specifically, when a federal-law issue has been adjudicated on the merits by a state court, the federal court reverses only when the decision was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the United States Supreme Court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1).[3] See generally, Knowles v. Mirzayance, 536 U.S. 111, 114 (2009); Gattis v. Snyder, 278 F.3d 222, 234 (3d Cir. 2002); Moore v. Morton, 255 F.3d 95, 104-05 (3d Cir. 2001). The Supreme Court has held that the “contrary to” and “unreasonable application” clauses of § 2254(d)(1) have independent meaning. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 404-405 (2000). As explained in Bell, 535 U.S. at 694:

A federal habeas court may issue the writ under the ‘contrary to’ clause if the state court applies a rule different from the governing law set forth in our cases, or if it decides a case differently than we have done on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. . . . The court may grant relief under the ‘unreasonable application’ clause if the state court correctly identifies the governing legal principle from our decisions but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular case. . . . The focus of the latter inquiry is on whether the state court’s application of clearly established federal law is objectively unreasonable . . . .

Furthermore, resolution of factual issues by the state courts are presumed to be correct unless the petitioner shows by clear and convincing evidence that they are not. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e) (1).

In summary, the appropriate inquiry for federal district courts in reviewing the merits of § 2254 petitions is whether the state court decisions applied a rule different from the governing law set forth in United States Supreme Court cases, decided the case before them differently than the Supreme Court has done on a set of materially indistinguishable facts, or unreasonably applied Supreme Court governing principles to the facts of the particular case. See Keller v. Larkins, 251 F.3d 408, 417-18 (3d Cir. 2001) (a district court entertaining a § 2254 action must first address whether the state court decision was contrary to Supreme Court precedent); Martini v. Hendricks, 188 F.Supp.2d 505, 510 (D. N.J. 2002) (a ยง 2254 applicant must show that the state court decision was based on an unreasonable determination of facts in light of ...


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