United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
Bissoon United States District Judge.
Smyrnes (the "Petitioner") has filed a pro
se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2254. In 2013, he was tried in the Court of
Common Pleas of Westmoreland County on charges related to the
kidnapping and murder of Jennifer Lee Daugherty. A jury
convicted him of first-degree murder, conspiracy, kidnapping
and related crimes. Following a separate penalty hearing, the
jury returned a sentence of death on his first-degree murder
Petitioner pursued a direct appeal with the Supreme Court of
Pennsylvania. On February 22, 2017, that Court issued a
decision affirming his judgment of sentence. Commonwealth
v. Smyrnes, 154 A.3d 741 (Pa. 2017).
April 12, 2017, the Petitioner filed in the Court of Common
Pleas a motion for collateral relief pursuant to
Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act
("PCRA"), in which he claims that his trial counsel
provided him with ineffective assistance in violation of his
Sixth Amendment rights. He claims also that there is
newly-discovered exculpatory evidence. (Petition, ¶
11(a)). On May 4, 2017, the Court of Common Pleas appointed
Thomas N. Farrell, Esq., to represent the Petitioner and
issued a scheduling order setting forth the due date for a
counseled amended PCRA petition. (5/4/17 docket entries on
Criminal Docket Sheet in Commonwealth v. Smyrnes,
CP-65-CR-848-2010 (C.P. Westmoreland Co.).
around June 2, 2017, this Court received for filing the
Petitioner's pro se petition for habeas relief,
which is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 2254. As relief, he
seeks an order from this Court that he be released, retried
or, at a minimum, that his sentence of death be vacated.
federal habeas petitioner must complete the exhaustion of his
available state court remedies before a federal district
court may determine the merits of his habeas claims. This
exhaustion requirement is codified at 28 U.S.C. §
2254(b)(1)(A), and provides:
An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a
person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court
shall not be granted unless it appears that -
(A) the applicant has exhausted the remedies available in the
courts of the State[.]
requirement is "grounded in principles of comity; in a
federal system, the States should have the first opportunity
to address and correct alleged violations of state
prisoner's federal rights." Coleman v.
Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 731 (1991).
general rule is that a district court must dismiss a federal
habeas petition if the petitioner is exhausting his available
state remedies. See, e.g., Rhines v.
Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 273-79 (2005) (discussing the
general rule as set forth in Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S.
509 (1982) and the limited exception to it, which does not
apply here). Therefore, because the Petitioner currently is
litigating challenges to his convictions and capital sentence
in his PCRA proceeding, this Court must dismiss his federal
habeas petition. The dismissal is without prejudice to the
Petitioner commencing another federal habeas case if, after
the completion of his state court remedies, he does not
receive the relief he seeks in state court.
reasons stated above, the petition for a writ of habeas
corpus is summarily DISMISSED. The Clerk of Court is to mark
this case CLOSED.