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Spreng v. Thompson

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

February 8, 2017

PAUL SPRENG, Petitioner
SUPT. BRIAN THOMPSON, et al., Respondents


         STENGEL, J.

         Petitioner Paul Spreng brings this counseled petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, alleging that the Pennsylvania appellate courts denied him procedural and substantive due process and access to those courts. Upon referral, the Honorable Marilyn Heffley, United States Magistrate Judge, issued a Report and Recommendation, recommending that the petition be denied. Mr. Spreng filed Objections to the Report and Recommendation. For the following reasons, I will overrule the Objections, approve and adopt the Report and Recommendation, and deny the petition with prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND [1]

         In its decision affirming the conviction and judgment of sentence, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania provided the following facts as summarized by the trial court:

On April 13, 2004, at approximately 7:50 p.m., Officer Sarris and his partner, Officer Elliot, observed [Mr. Spreng] exit his residence and drive off in a Ford Escape vehicle. Wearing plain-clothes and driving an unmarked vehicle, the officers followed [Mr. Spreng] to a warehouse located at 2847 North C Street, in the City and County of Philadelphia. The warehouse “had a large steel roll-up gate” and a “walk-through door” located “just to the north of . . . gate.” Attached to the south wall of the warehouse - at 2945 North C Street - was a house.
When Kane pulled in front of the warehouse, its outer gate “opened up by itself” and he parked inside next to a White Plymouth Voyager. After the outer gate closed again, Officers Sarris and Elliot joined fellow officers in “setting up a perimeter” around the premises.
At approximately 9:00 p.m., the White Plymouth Voyager “backed out” of the warehouse and left in a southbound direction. Officers Sarris and Elliot followed, and pulled alongside the Voyager to obtain a closer look at the driver, who later was identified as [Mr. Spreng]. While Officers Sarris and Elliot subsequently returned to the warehouse, other officers followed [Mr. Spreng] to a residence located at 419 South 43rd Street, in the City and County of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
On May 4, 2004, several members of Officer Sarris' unit again conducted surveillance at 2847 North C Street. This time, they observed [Mr. Spreng] exit the warehouse in his Plymouth Voyager and followed him to a store named “Garden Indoors, ” which is located in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. One plain-clothes officer followed [Mr. Spreng} inside the store while others, including Officer Sarris, watched from their vehicles. Another officer videotaped [Mr. Spreng] and recorded him and store employees loading several large white boxes into the back of his Voyager, after which he returned to the warehouse on 2847 North C Street.
Early the next morning, while it was still dark, Officer Sarris collected some “trash” that “was left at the curbside in front of [413 South 43rd Street].” Having previously learned from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles that [Mr. Spreng] owned this property, the officer retrieved the following items from his curbside trash: (1) a letter from Plummer Realtors addressed to [Mr. Spreng] at 413 South 431 Street; (2) a letter from Plummer Realtors addressed to [Mr. Spreng] at 419 South 43rd Street; and (3) a letter addressed to Defendant Ruh at 413 South 43rd Street.

See Commonwealth v. Spreng, 2990 EDA 2009, *2-3 (Pa. Super. September 13, 2011).

         The Superior Court further noted that the investigation prompted the issuance of five search warrants for five properties which were executed on May 11, 2004. Id. at *4. From each of these properties, the police confiscated sizeable amounts of marijuana, various forms of drug paraphernalia, and other drug-related materials. Significantly, the police also found sophisticated growing equipment and substantial stockpiles of live marijuana plants. Id. Mr. Spreng and his two co-defendants were subsequently arrested and charged with numerous drug-related offenses. After unsuccessfully moving to suppress the physical evidence, [2] all three defendants proceeded to a joint trial which began on May 19, 2009.

         The trial court provided the following procedural background upon appeal in accordance with the requirements of Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure 1925:

On June 2, 2009, a jury found [Mr. Spreng] guilty on charges of possessing/manufacturing marijuana with the intent to manufacture and/or deliver, Criminal Conspiracy, and possessing drug paraphernalia. On August 21, 2009, this Court sentenced him to five to ten years' incarceration for possessing/manufacturing marijuana with the intent to deliver, and two and one-half to five years' incarceration on the charge of Criminal Conspiracy. These sentences are to run concurrently, and no further sentence was imposed on the charge of possessing drug paraphernalia.
[Mr. Spreng] filed post-sentence motions, which this Court denied on September 16, 2009. [Mr. Spreng] then filed a timely Notice of Appeal on October 9, 2009, following which this Court ordered him to file a Concise Statement of Matters Complained of on Appeal pursuant ...

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