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Charles v. Harry

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 30, 2015

LARRY CHARLES, Petitioner,
v.
LAUREL HARRY, et al., Respondents. No. 14-189

ORDER

PAUL S. DIAMOND, District Judge.

Petitioner Larry Charles has filed pro se objections to Magistrate Judge Heffley's Report and Recommendation regarding his Petition for habeas relief. (Doc. Nos. 19, 21); 28 U.S.C. § 2254. I will overrule the objections, adopt Judge Heffley's recommendations, and deny the Petition.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

I must review de novo those portions of the Report to which timely, specific objections have been filed. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). I may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part" the Judge Heffley's findings or recommendations. Id .; Brophy v. Halter, 153 F.Supp.2d 667, 669 (E.D. Pa. 2001). As to those portions to which no objections have been made, I must "satisfy [myself] that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b) Advisory Committee Notes; see Henderson v. Carlson, 812 F.2d 874, 878 (3d Cir. 1987) (explaining the district court's responsibility "to afford some level of review" when no objections have been made).

I may grant habeas relief only if the state courts' adjudication of Petitioner's 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" or "resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). To warrant habeas relief, the state courts' decision must be "objectively unreasonable;" I may not grant relief "merely because [I] conclude that the state court applied federal law erroneously or incorrectly." Jacobs v. Horn, 395 F.3d 92, 100 (3d Cir. 2005); see also Cavazos v. Smith, 132 S.Ct. 2, 4 (2011) ("[A] federal court may not overturn a state court decision... simply because the federal court disagrees with the state court.").

II. BACKGROUND

The Commonwealth charged that over the course of more than five years, Petitioner, a former criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia, sexually abused six girls aged five to sixteen. Commonwealth v. Charles, No. 893 EDA 2008, slip op. at 2 (Pa. Super. Ct. May 3, 2010). The abuse stopped on January 15, 2007, "when he was caught, naked, with a 14-year-old victim in the lawyer's lounge of the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia." Id . On September 10, 2007, Petitioner pled nolo contendere to sixteen counts, including rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, unlawful contact/communication with a minor, aggravated indecent assault, and indecent assault. (Pet., Doc. No. 1 at 1); Charles, No. 893 EDA 2008 at 2. The Sexual Offenders Assessment Board evaluated Petitioner and determined that he was a sexually violent predator. Charles, No. 893 EDA 2008 at 2.

On December 20, 2007, the trial court sentenced Petitioner-who was 52 years old-to consecutive sentences for the most serious charge related to each victim: 6-12 years for rape of victim L.W.; 5-10 years for unlawful contact or communication with a minor, a second victim L.W.; 1-2 years for unlawful contact or communication with a minor, victim D.J.; 5-10 years for rape of victim J.T.; 1-2 years for unlawful contact or communication with a minor, victim K.W.; and 6-12 years for rape of victim C.W. Charles, No. 893 EDA 2008 at 2; Charles, No. 953 EDA 2012, slip op. at 3 n.4, 5. The trial court also imposed a consecutive sentence of one to two years for indecent assault of the youngest victim, C.W., who was five to six years old when Petitioner raped and assaulted her. Charles, No. 953 EDA 2012, slip op. at 3 n.4. Petitioner received a concurrent sentence for the remainder of the charges. Id . His aggregate sentence was thus 25 to 50 years imprisonment. Charles, No. 893 EDA 2008 at 2. Defense counsel did not object to the aggregate sentence or any of the individual sentences. Id . Petitioner subsequently moved for reconsideration, asking the trial court to impose concurrent, rather than consecutive, sentences for all the charges. Charles, No. 953 EDA 2012 at 3. On February 21, 2008, the trial court denied the motion. Id.

On direct appeal, Petitioner argued that his aggreggate sentence was "arbitrary, excessive, unreasonable, shocking to the conscience, and disproportionate to the crime, and amounted to an abuse of discretion." Charles, 893 EDA 2008 at 2. On May 3, 2010, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that Petitioner had waived these contentions because he did not raise them at sentencing or in his motion for reconsideration. Id. at 4-5. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied allocatur. Charles, 953 EDA 2012 at 3.

On January 13, 2011, Petitioner filed a pro se petition for relief under the Post-Conviction Relief Act. Id . The Court appointed counsel, who filed an amended PCRA petition on December 5, 2011, raising one claim: that trial counsel had ineffectively failed to challenge the discretionary aspects of the sentence. Id. at 3-4; Commonwealth v. Charles, CP-51-CR-005639-2007, slip op. at 1. On March 20, 2012, the PCRA Court denied relief, ruling that although trial counsel's performance was deficient, Petitioner had not demonstrated prejudice. Charles, 953 EDA 2012 at 4, 6. On August 17, 2012, the Superior Court affirmed. Id . The Supreme Court again denied allocatur. (Rep., Doc. No. 19 at 3.)

On December 23, 2013, Petitioner filed the instant pro se Petition, alleging that: 1) trial counsel was ineffective in failing to preserve the sentencing challenge for appeal; 2) the PCRA Court and the Superior Court erroneously failed to grant Petitioner a nunc pro tunc appeal; and 3) Petitioner's sentence amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, violating his due process and equal protection rights, as it is effectively a life sentence. (Pet., Doc. No. 1 at 7.) I referred the Petition to Judge Heffley on April 30, 2014. (Doc. No. 8.) Respondents filed a Response on October 2, 2014. (Doc. No. 17.)

Judge Heffley filed her Report and Recommendation on February 27, 2015, concluding that all Petitioner's claims were meritless. (Doc. No. 19.) Petitioner filed objections on March 16, 2015. (Doc. No. 21.)

III. OBJECTIONS

Although couched differently, Petitioner's habeas claims-and the instant objections-all iterate and belatedly reiterate Petitioner's belief that his sentence was too long. Because, like Judge Heffley, I conclude that the state courts' decisions were not ...


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