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Delvalle v. Tritt

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 1, 2017

CORNELL DELVALLE, Petitioner
v.
BRENDA TRITT, Respondent

          MEMORANDUM

          RICHARD P. CONABOY United States District Judge.

         Background

         Cornell Delvalle, an inmate presently confined at the State Correctional Institution, Frackville, Pennsylvania (SCI-Frackville), initiated this pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Service of the Petition Was previously ordered.

         Petitioner was charged with multiple counts of delivery of crack cocaine and related charges following a lengthy investigation. The Commonwealth subsequently withdrew and nolle prossed three (3) of the charges after a January 27, 2011 mistrial in the Northumberland County, Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas. The Commonwealth next filed a motion in limine to preclude Delvalle from introducing evidence pertaining to those withdrawn charges during the upcoming retrial. Petitioner opposed the motion on the grounds that introduction of evidence regarding the withdrawn charges was relevant as it would support the defense's argument that a confidential informant was procuring narcotics from other sources and framing Delvalle. The confidential informant, Petitioner's landlord, was purportedly trying to gain favorable treatment with respect to his own criminal prosecution on drug charges. The opposed motion was granted. Petitioner did not pursue an interlocutory appeal.

         During the ensuing jury retrial, the Commonwealth called the confidential informant/landlord as a witness. Defense counsel did cross-examine the confidential informant. Delvalle was convicted of delivery of crack cocaine (5 counts); criminal use of a communication facility (4 counts); and criminal conspiracy to deliver crack cocaine (2 counts) on January 20, 2012.

         Petitioner was sentenced to a seventeen and one half (17 1/2) to forty-one (41) year term of imprisonment on March 26, 2012. His conviction was affirmed on July 22, 2014 following a direct appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. Delvalle asserts that his direct appeal asserted that he was denied due process and the right to confront his accuser because he was precluded from introducing evidence that the confidential informant provided false information with respect to the withdrawn charges. See Doc. 1, ¶ 9. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied a further request for relief by decision dated December 23, 2014. Petitioner acknowledges that he has never filed a petition pursuant to Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA).[1]

         Ground One of Delvalle's pending action claims entitlement to federal habeas corpus relief on the grounds that his due process rights were violated because the trial court, by granting the motion in limine, precluded him from introducing evidence that the confidential informant provided false information against him with respect to two of the charges previously withdrawn by the Commonwealth. Ground Two similarly asserts that the trial court's challenged decision also violated Petitioner's rights under the Confrontation Clause. According to the Petitioner, his pending claims were raised on direct appeal. See id., p. 9.

         Respondent contends that Petitioner's claims are unexhausted and also subject to dismissal because the trial court's ruling on the admissibility of evidence was neither an abuse of discretion nor a viable basis for federal habeas corpus relief.

         Discussion

         Exhaustion

         Respondent initially seeks dismissal on the basis that Petitioner failed to exhaust his state remedies because he did not file an interlocutory appeal after the lower court made a pre-trial ruling on the motion in limine precluding introduction of evidence pertaining to the withdrawn charges. It is also asserted that a finding of non-exhaustion is appropriate because Delvalle did not pursue PCRA relief.

         Title 28 United States Code Section 2254(b)(1) provides that an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted unless the applicant has exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State; or there is an absence of available state corrective process; or there are existing circumstances which render the state process ineffective. The exhaustion requirement is not a mere formality. It serves the interests of comity between the federal and state systems, by allowing the state an initial opportunity to determine and correct any violations of a prisoner's federal rights. Crews v. Horn, 360 F.3d 146, 151 (3d Cir. 2004).

         The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has stated that "[U]nder 28 U.S.C. § 2254(c), such a petitioner 'shall not be deemed to have exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State ... if he has the right under the law of the State to raise, by any available procedure, the question presented." Wenger v. Frank, 266 F.3d 218, 223-24 (3d Cir. 2001).

         "A state prisoner is generally barred from obtaining federal habeas relief unless the prisoner has properly presented his or her claims through one 'complete round of the State's established appellate review process.'" Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 92 (2006) (internal citations omitted); O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 844-45 (1999)(while exhaustion does not require state prisoners to invoke extraordinary remedies, the state courts must be afforded one full opportunity to resolve any constitutional issues via completion of the State's established appellate review process). The United States Supreme Court in 0'Sullivan explained, that state prisoners must "file petitions for discretionary review when that review is part of the ordinary appellate review procedure in the State." Id. at 847. The United States Supreme Court added that, in determining whether a state prisoner has preserved an issue for presentation in a federal habeas ...


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