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Clark v. Beard

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 11, 2015

RONALD CLARK, Petitioner,
v.
JEFFREY A. BEARD, SECRETARY FOR PA DOC, et al., Respondents.

MEMORANDUM

DAVID R. STRAWBRIDGE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

While this habeas case was pending before the Court for Report and Recommendation, Petitioner, through his counsel, moved for permission to conduct discovery. (Doc. 41.) He contended that “[d]iscovery [was] necessary in order to enable [him] to prove his allegations of constitutional error, and aid the Court in its review.” (Mot. for Disc. at 1.) Respondents filed a Response to the Motion for Discovery (Doc. 45), opposing the requests but offering to facilitate, at Petitioner’s expense, a second FBI analysis of the videotape taken from the surveillance system in the store where the homicide occurred.

As we prepared our Report and Recommendation, we determined that the requested discovery was not warranted. We issued an Order denying the motion on May 29, 2015. (Doc. 47.) Also on that date we filed our Report and Recommendation explaining why we believed that the habeas petition should be denied. (Doc. 48.) We submit this memorandum in support of the order denying Petitioner’s discovery motion.

I. LEGAL STANDARDS

Rule 26(b)(1) provides generally that in civil actions, and “[u]nless otherwise limited by court order”:

Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense -- including the existence, description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any documents or other tangible things and the identity and location of persons who know of any discoverable matter. For good cause, the court may order discovery of any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action. Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. All discovery is subject to the limitations imposed by Rule 26(b)(2)(C).

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1).[1] Rule 6 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases, however, provides that leave of court is required before discovery may be conducted in habeas actions brought by state prisoners challenging their state convictions, providing in pertinent part: “A judge may, for good cause, authorize a party to conduct discovery under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and may limit the extent of discovery.” 28 U.S.C. foll. § 2254, Rule 6(a). Thus, unlike other federal civil actions, discovery is available in habeas proceedings not as a matter of course but only if the habeas petitioner shows “good cause” to warrant the court’s authorization of the discovery.

The United States Supreme Court explained in Bracy v. Gramley, 520 U.S. 899 (1997), that “good cause” has been established when the petitioner has put “specific allegations before the court” giving “reason to believe that the petitioner may, if the facts are fully developed, be able to demonstrate that he is … entitled to relief.” Bracy, 520 U.S. at 908-09. The Court also “emphasize[d]” in Bracy, however, that general allegations will not justify discovery in this context. It was not enough in Bracy, for example, for the petitioner to show that he had been tried before a judge who was later convicted of taking bribes but that he rather pointed to other evidence that his case was one in which the judge was inclined to be dishonest in violation of the petitioner’s Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Rights. See Id. (noting that the petitioner “support[ed] his discovery request by pointing not only to [the judge’s] conviction for bribe taking in other cases, but also to additional evidence, discussed above, that lends support to his claim that [the judge] was actually biased in petitioner’s own case”) (emphasis in original).[2]The Court in Bracy also noted, however, that “Rule 6(a) makes it clear that the scope and extent of such discovery is a matter confided to the discretion of the District Court.” Id. at 909.

II. PETITIONER’S DISCOVERY REQUESTS

We review Petitioner’s requests in the order in which he presented them in his motion.

1. Information on how Clark became a suspect

Clark seeks information from the Commonwealth as to how he became a suspect in the case, which he contends he “is entitled to know, ” as the only evidence against him came from the testimony of three eyewitnesses to whom he was a stranger and who identified him initially in a photographic array. (Mot. at 4-5.) He suggests that further investigation is warranted because their identifications were, in his view, of “questionable reliability.” (Id. at 5.) He contends that information as to how he became associated with the homicide investigation impacts upon Claim I of his petition, which related to trial counsel’s alleged failure “to reasonably investigate, develop and present evidence to impeach the credibility of the three Commonwealth witnesses who purported to identify Mr. Clark.” (Pet’r Mem. [Doc. 20] at 11 (Claim I heading).) He asserts that “[t]rial counsel knew from the first trial that some unknown individuals allegedly provided his client’s name to police, yet he completely failed to follow up on this information.” (Mot. at 6.) He contends that this information could have been used to undercut the three “suspect eyewitness identifications in this case and challenge the police investigation into the matter, particularly where no other evidence connected Mr. Clark to the crime.” (Id.) Petitioner also contends that this information has “implications” under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), in that it can be presumed that the source who initially implicated Clark was not himself or herself credible. Respondents assume that what Petitioner seeks is the police department’s investigative file and note that there is good reason for protecting that material from discovery. (Resp. to Mot. at 9.)[3]

We do not believe the circumstances of this case justify discovery of the police investigative file. Clark has not shown that his claim concerning the performance of counsel in impeachment of the eyewitnesses would have been enhanced by knowledge about how Clark’s photo came to be included in the array from which all three ...


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