United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
Maureen P. Kelly Chief United States Magistrate Judge
Paul Currin (“Petitioner”) was convicted of,
inter alia, aggravated assault, robbery and other
charges related to a December 16, 2008, bank robbery and
subsequent attempt to flee from police. As a consequence,
Petitioner was sentenced to 20 to 40 years incarceration.
proceeding pro se, raises two Grounds for Relief in the
instant Petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of
Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody (the
“Petition”). Because neither of the Grounds
merits the grant of federal habeas relief, the Petition will
be denied. Because jurists of reason would not find denial of
the Petition debatable, a Certificate of Appealability will
also be denied.
Court of Common Pleas of Fayette County summarized the
factual background of this case as follows in its Opinion
filed March 2, 2012:
On December 16, 2008, defendant was living with his
girlfriend, Ashley Lynn Johnston, in Youngwood, Westmoreland
County, Pennsylvania. Defendant told Johnston that he was
going to rob the Parkvale Bank located at Uniontown,
Pennsylvania, and that they would use two vehicles to commit
Defendant drove his pickup truck from Youngwood to South
Union Township, Fayette County, followed by Johnston who was
operating her silver Chevrolet Malibu automobile. Defendant
parked his truck in the Home Depot parking lot and had
Johnston drive him a short distance down Matthew Drive to the
Parkvale Bank. Defendant entered Parkvale Bank and approached
the bank teller, Betty Jo Helmick. Defendant told Helmick,
"no dye packs, give me your money, no dye packs."
Helmick observed that the defendant had his right hand in his
jacket pocket like he had a gun. She picked up a row of
currency from her cash drawer and placed it in a stack on the
counter. Defendant grabbed the money with his left hand,
exited the bank through the side door and entered
Johnston's vehicle. Johnston returned to the Home Depot
parking lot where she dropped defendant off at his truck.
The state police responded to the robbery. At the time of the
alarm a patrol vehicle was in the immediate vicinity and
stopped Johnston's vehicle near the Uniontown Mall
approximately a quarter mile from the Parkvale Bank. Johnston
confessed her involvement to the police and identified
defendant as her accomplice. She told the police that
defendant was operating a bluish Chevrolet truck and that he
usually travelled home by way of State Route 119. Other
officers spotted the truck described by Johnston and gave
pursuit using visible and audible signals for defendant.
During the pursuit defendant entered onto Richmond Road which
dead-ends into a parking lot. As the state police attempted
to effectuate his arrest, defendant rammed the police
vehicles and tried to strike the police with his vehicle in
an attempt to escape. Defendant received a gunshot wound to
his hand after which he was apprehended.
ECF No. 10-16 at 3 - 5.
Pennsylvania Superior Court recounted the procedural history
in the state courts as follows in its Opinion dated June 18,
On June 3, 2009, after rejecting a plea offer of 15 to 30
years of incarceration, Currin entered an open guilty plea to
three counts each of aggravated assault and criminal
conspiracy, and one count each of robbery, theft by unlawful
taking, receiving stolen property, fleeing or attempting to
elude police officers, and criminal mischief. On July 31,
2009, the trial court sentenced him to 20 to 40 years of
While represented by counsel, Currin filed a premature pro se
PCRA petition on August 7, 2009. The trial court incorrectly
labeled the petition as untimely and dismissed it without
prejudice because of the court's lack of jurisdiction. On
August 10, 2009, Currin filed a pro se motion to modify his
sentence. He filed pro se notices of appeal on December 21,
2009 and December 29, 2009, docketed at Nos. 2186 WDA 2009
and 19 WDA 2010, respectively. This Court ultimately quashed
both appeals as premature because of the pending
post-sentence motion. In response to newly-appointed
counsel's August 26, 2011 motion to compel judgment, the
trial court directed the clerk of courts to enter an order
indicating that Currin's pro se post-sentence motion was
denied by operation of law. Currin filed a counseled appeal,
docketed at No. 1478 WDA 2011, and on August 14, 2012, a
panel of this Court affirmed the judgment of sentence.
On July 12, 2013, Currin filed a pro se PCRA petition. The
court appointed James V. Natale, Esquire to represent Currin.
Attorney Natale filed a "Motion to Withdraw with
Supporting Brief" pursuant to Commonwealth v.
Turner, 544 A .2d 927 (Pa. 1988) and Commonwealth v.
Finley, 550 A.2d 213 (Pa. Super. 1988) (en
banc), in which he asserted that Currin's PCRA
claims were time-barred and otherwise lacked merit. On
September 6, 2013, the PCRA court granted Attorney
Natale's motion to withdraw. On September 5, 2013, the
PCRA court issued a Pa.R.Crim.P. 907 notice in which it
advised Currin of its intention to dismiss his PCRA petition
as untimely. On September 11, 2013, Currin filed a pro se
motion in opposition to counsel's motion to withdraw and
a petition for writ of habeas corpus, which the court treated
as a response to the Rule 907 Notice rather than another PCRA
petition. On September 30, 2013, the PCRA court dismissed
Currin's PCRA petition without an evidentiary hearing.
ECF No. 1-1 at 2 - 3 (footnotes omitted). The Superior Court
affirmed the denial of PCRA relief. On October 6, 2014,
Petitioner filed a Petition for leave to file a Petition for
Allowance of Appeal Nunc Pro Tunc (“Petition for Leave
to File”) in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which
denied the Petition for Leave to File on November 6, 2014.
ECF No. 10-3 at 2.
very day that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied the
Petition for Leave to File, i.e., November 6, 2014,
Petitioner filed the instant pro se Petition in this Court,
raising the following two Grounds for Relief:
GROUND ONE: INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL ECF No. 1 at 5.
GROUND TWO: INEFFECTIVE ASSITENCE [sic] OF COUNSEL
Id. at 7.
also filed a Petition to Stay and Petition to Abey
(“Petition to Stay”). ECF No. 2. Petitioner
sought to have this present habeas Petition stayed pending
the decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. However,
given that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied his Petition
for Leave to File the very same day that the Petition to Stay
was filed, the Petition to Stay was rendered moot.
through the District Attorney of Fayette County, filed an
Answer denying that Petitioner was entitled to any federal
habeas relief. ECF No. 10. All parties have consented to have
the United States Magistrate Judge exercise plenary
jurisdiction. ECF Nos. 5 and 9.
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub.
L. No. 104-132, tit. I, '101 (1996) (the
“AEDPA”) which amended the standards for
reviewing state court judgments in federal habeas petitions
filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 was enacted on April 24,
1996. Because Petitioner's habeas Petition was filed
after its effective date, the AEDPA is applicable to this
case. Werts v. Vaughn, 228 F.3d 178, 195 (3d Cir.
the state courts have reviewed a federal issue presented to
them and disposed of the issue on the merits, and that issue
is also raised in a federal habeas petition, the AEDPA
provides the applicable deferential standards by which the
federal habeas court is to review the state courts'
disposition of that issue. See 28 U.S.C. §
2254(d) and (e).
Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000), the United
States Supreme Court expounded upon the standard found in 28
U.S.C. § 2254(d). In Williams, the Supreme
Court explained that Congress intended that habeas relief for
errors of law may only be granted in two situations: 1) where
the state court decision was “contrary to . . . clearly
established Federal law as determined by the Supreme Court of
the United States” or 2) where that state court
decision “involved an unreasonable application of
… clearly established Federal law as determined by the
Supreme Court of the United States.” Id. at
404-05 (emphasis deleted). A state court decision can be
contrary to clearly established federal law in one of two
ways. First, the state courts could apply a wrong rule of law
that is different from the rule of law required by the United
States Supreme Court. Secondly, the state courts can apply
the correct rule of law but reach an outcome that is
different from a case decided by the United States Supreme
Court where the facts are indistinguishable between the state
court case and the United States Supreme Court case.
AEDPA also provides another ground for claiming relief,
namely, where the state court's adjudication of the claim
“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)(2).
Ground One - Ineffective ...