United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
NOW, this 30th day of May 2017, upon considering
Plaintiffs petition for writ of habeas corpus (ECF Doc. No.
1), and finding Plaintiff did not exhaust state remedies and
his arguments lack merit, it is ORDERED the Plaintiffs
petition (ECF Doc. No. 1) is DENIED. Because Plaintiff has
not demonstrated a substantial showing of the denial of a
constitutional right, a certificate of appealability is
DENIED. The Clerk of Court shall close this case.
October 2013, a Chester County, Pennsylvania jury found James
Potts guilty of multiple serious criminal offenses, including
first degree murder under 18 Pa.C.S.A. 2502(a). The following
month, the Honorable Jacqueline C. Cody sentenced Mr. Potts
to life in prison plus 27-54 years. Mr. Potts appealed from
the judgment of sentence arguing the trial court erred in
prohibiting certain defense questioning, and the Pennsylvania
Superior Court affirmed on March 3, 2015.
March 4, 2016, Mr. Potts timely filed a petition under the
Post-Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA") alleging
ineffective assistance of counsel. During these proceedings,
Mr. Potts requested transcripts and other court documents,
which the PCRA court denied. On July 22, 2016, the PCRA court
dismissed the petition without a hearing. Mr. Potts
appealed, arguing the PCRA court's denial of the
transcripts and documents violated his rights. On April 26,
2017, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed, finding no
Potts now petitions for a writ of habeas corpus under the
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
("AEDPA"), challenging the validity of his judgment
of sentence based on constitutional theories not raised
during his earlier proceedings. First, Mr. Potts argues Judge
Cody's sentence violated his substantive due process
rights because the judge sentenced him to life confinement
"without providing the statute which gave said Judge the
authority to impose" the sentence. Second, Mr. Potts
argues Judge Cody violated his procedural and substantive due
process rights by sentencing him in violation of 42 Pa.C.S.A
§ 9762 by failing to provide him a presentence
investigation report. He justifies his failure to raise these
issues during his direct appeal or PCRA proceedings because
he claims Judge Cody lacked jurisdiction and these issues are
not cognizable under the PCRA. We find Mr. Potts failed to
exhaust his state remedies and his arguments lack merit.
Potts failed to exhaust state remedies.
the AEDPA, we may entertain an application for writ of habeas
corpus of a state prisoner challenging a state court judgment
as unconstitutional. Where state procedural remedies are
effective, we may not grant a habeas petition unless the
petitioner "has exhausted the remedies available in the
courts of the State." To satisfy the exhaustion requirement,
a "federal habeas claim must have been 'fairly
presented' to the state courts, i.e., it must be the
substantial equivalent of that presented to the state
Potts acknowledges he did not raise his two arguments in
state court, either in his direct appeal or during his PCRA
proceedings, but instead excuses his failure to do so arguing
Judge Cody lacked jurisdiction and the issues he raises are
not cognizable under the PCRA. These arguments are meritless.
Mr. Potts does not explain why Judge Cody lacked jurisdiction
to sentence him for crimes in which a Chester County jury
found him guilty, and we can think of no reason why Judge
Cody would lack jurisdiction. Additionally, the issues Mr.
Potts raises are cognizable under the PCRA. Mr. Potts
challenges the legality of his sentence. The Pennsylvania
Superior Court instructs "[i]ssues relating to the
legality of sentence cannot be waived and are cognizable
under the PCRA."
this nonwaiver rule applies in state court and allows him to
challenge the legality of his sentence during certain state
court proceedings, it does not apply to Mr. Potts'
federal habeas claim under the AEDPA. The AEDPA requires
exhaustion of state remedies except in limited circumstances
where state remedies are ineffective. The rule of
Pennsylvania law providing illegal sentences are nonwaivable
does not override the AEDPA's exhaustion
requirements. Mr. Potts fails to demonstrate a basis
for us to excuse his failure to raise these arguments in
Potts' arguments lack merit.
reject Mr. Potts' arguments on the merits. Mr. Potts does
not explain his argument Judge Cody failed to
"provide" him the statute she sentenced him under.
To the extent Mr. Potts argues insufficient notice under the
procedural due process clause, this argument is meritless.
The jury convicted Mr. Potts of, among other things, first
degree murder under 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2502. Mr. Potts had
notice of this statute, as the Commonwealth arraigned him in
March 2012 and this statute remains on the public docket.
Additionally, the sentencing sheet Mr. Potts attached to his
habeas petition specifically states he received a life
sentence for first degree murder. In first degree murder
cases where the death penalty is not sought, the sentencing
judge is required under 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 1102(a)(1) to
sentence the convicted defendant to life imprisonment. Mr.
Potts had sufficient notice of the statutes he could be found
guilty of violating and sentenced under, and we find no
prejudicial error requiring resentencing in Judge Cody's
purported failure to provide Mr. Potts the statute requiring
her to sentence him to life in prison.
Mr. Potts' remaining argument, Mr. Potts had no right to
a presentencing investigation report under Pennsylvania law.
Pennsylvania law provides, "Before sentencing any
defendant to one year or longer, a presentence investigation
and report shall be made, unless the sentence is death or a
mandatory sentence to life imprisonment." Mr.
Potts' first degree murder conviction required a sentence
of death or life ...