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Haynes v. District Attorney of County of _____

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

February 21, 2017

DAWUD HAYNES, Petitioner,


          EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, J.

         Dawud Haynes (“Petitioner”) is a Pennsylvania state prisoner. Petitioner filed a pro se application seeking relief through a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (“Habeas Petition”). Magistrate Judge Marilyn Heffley (“Judge Heffley”) recommended that the Court dismiss the Habeas Petition. For the reasons that follow, the Court will overrule Petitioner's objections and approve and adopt Judge Heffley's Report and Recommendation (“R&R”).


         In September 2005, Petitioner shot and killed Kevin Robbins, who refused to give Petitioner the bag of cigarettes and incense he was selling on a Philadelphia block. R&R at 2, ECF No. 17. On March 23, 2007, following a bench trial in the Court of Common Pleas, Petitioner was convicted of second-degree murder, robbery, and possession of an instrument of crime. Id. at 1. The trial court later imposed a life sentence for second-degree murder and a consecutive sentence of 16 to 48 months of imprisonment for possession of an instrument of crime. Id. at 1-2.

         On direct appeal, Petitioner argued that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction. Id. at 2. The Superior Court disagreed and denied his appeal. Commonwealth v. Haynes, No. 1300 EDA 2007, slip op. at 7 (Pa. Super. Ct. June 5, 2008), ECF No. 16-1. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court also denied Petitioner's request for allowance of appeal. R&R at 2. Petitioner then filed a petition for post-conviction relief pursuant to Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”); his petition was denied on August 28, 2012. Id. at 2-3. The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed that denial on March 17, 2014, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Petitioner's request for allowance of appeal on October 1, 2014. Id. at 3.

         Petitioner filed the instant Habeas Petition on December 8, 2014. ECF No. 1. Respondents filed a Response on October 15, 2015, ECF No. 16, and Judge Heffley filed the R&R on March 11, 2016, ECF No. 17. Petitioner filed timely objections, ECF No. 18, which are now ripe for disposition.


         The Court may refer an application for a writ of habeas corpus to a United States magistrate judge for a report and recommendation. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). A prisoner may object to the magistrate judge's report and recommendation within fourteen days after being served with a copy thereof. See § 636(b)(1); E.D. Pa. R. Civ. P. 72.1(IV)(b). The Court must then “make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” § 636(b)(1). The Court does not review general objections. See Brown v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 193, 195 (3d Cir. 2011) (“We have provided that § 636(b)(1) requires district courts to review such objections de novo unless the objection is ‘not timely or not specific.'” (quoting Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 6-7 (3d Cir. 1984))). The Court “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         On habeas review, the Court must determine whether the state court's adjudication of the claims raised was (1) contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, or (2) based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).


         The Habeas Petition contains four claims: (1) the evidence was insufficient to support Petitioner's conviction; (2) counsel was ineffective in failing to move to suppress certain evidence obtained in a search of Petitioner's mother's house; (3) counsel was ineffective in failing to investigate and present an alibi witness; and (4) counsel was ineffective in failing to offer an expert in firearms and ammunition. See ECF No. 1. Judge Heffley concluded that each of these claims is meritless. Petitioner objects as to each claim.

         A. Sufficiency of the Evidence

          On direct review of the sufficiency of the evidence to support a conviction, “the relevant question is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979); see also Id. at 324. This standard “must be applied with explicit reference to the substantive elements of the criminal offense as defined by state law.” Id. at 324 n.16.

         Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), this Court does not itself apply the Jackson standard. Rather, the question for this Court is whether the state court reasonably applied the Jackson standard. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); Eley v. Erickson, 712 F.3d 837, 853 (3d Cir. 2013) (“[I]n addition to the first layer of deference we owe to the jury under Jackson, we owe a second layer of deference to the Superior Court under AEDPA.”). As a result, a federal court may “overturn a state court decision rejecting a sufficiency of the evidence challenge” only if “the state court decision was ‘objectively unreasonable.'” Cavazos v. Smith, 132 S.Ct. 2, 4 (2011) (per curiam) (quoting Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 733 (2010)).

         Here, Petitioner specifically argues that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction for second-degree murder. The question, then, is whether the state court's decision to uphold Petitioner's conviction for second-degree murder was objectively unreasonable.

         In Pennsylvania, “[a] criminal homicide constitutes murder of the second degree when it is committed while defendant was engaged as a principal or an accomplice in the perpetration of a felony.” 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2502(b). “Perpetration of a felony” is defined, in relevant part, as “engaging in . . . or attempting to commit robbery.” Id. § 2502(d).

         On direct review of Petitioner's conviction, the Pennsylvania Superior Court concluded “that there was sufficient evidence to support the trial court's finding that the killing was perpetrated in furtherance of a robbery.” Haynes, No. 1300 EDA 2007, slip op. at 5. The Superior Court summarized the evidence as follows:

At trial, three eyewitnesses testified that they saw Robbins being shot with a shotgun on the night of the murder. All three witnesses testified that they knew Haynes personally. Michael Woodson (“Woodson”) identified Haynes as the shooter. Although not physically able to see the gun used, Woodson noted that the sound of the blast was much louder than a handgun. Shawn Newsome (“Newsome”) also positively identified Haynes as the shooter. Newsome stated that just prior to the murder, he was with Haynes when Haynes retrieved a shotgun from a vacant lot near the site of the murder and saw Haynes conceal that weapon in a leg of his pants. Newsome also stated that he witnessed Haynes wield the shotgun at Robbins and state, “Give it up.” Newsome testified that Robbins was carrying a black shoulder bag at the time. Newsome heard Robbins state that he would not give up while he grabbed the shotgun and was ultimately shot.
A third eyewitness, Reginald Ming (“Ming”) witnessed the shooting from a second-story window close to the murder scene. Ming testified that he was not able to identify the shooter, but saw Robbins “arguing and tussling over a [shoulder] bag.” Ming further stated that he witnessed the shooter draw a shotgun and that he “heard the gun go off, but they were still tussling over the bag.” The physical evidence presented at trial corroborated the aforementioned testimony. A medical examiner testified that Robbins died of a single gunshot wound to his chest and that the wound was consistent with the shotgun slug which was recovered during the autopsy. In addition, Detective Gary White (“Detective White”) testified that, pursuant to the ...

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