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Currin v. Cameron

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

April 3, 2017

JOHN PAUL CURRIN, Petitioner,
v.
KENNETH R. CAMERON; KATHLEEN KANE The Attorney General of the State of Pennsylvania, Respondents.

          OPINION

          Maureen P. Kelly Chief United States Magistrate Judge

         John 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.

         Petitioner, 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.

         I. FACTUAL HISTORY

         The 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 the robbery.
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.

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         A. State Court

         The Pennsylvania Superior Court recounted the procedural history in the state courts as follows in its Opinion dated June 18, 2014:

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 incarceration.
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.

         B. Federal Court

         On the 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.

         Petitioner 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.

         Respondents, 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.

         III. AEDPA

         The 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. 2000).

         Where 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).

         In 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.

         The 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).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. Ground One - Ineffective ...


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