United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
J. PAPPERT, J.
Harris filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Upon consideration of the record,
Magistrate Judge Elizabeth T. Hey's Report and
Recommendation (“R & R”), and Harris's
objections thereto, the Court adopts the R & R and denies
November 16, 2012, Harris was charged with criminal homicide
in relation to the November 14, 2012 shooting death of Dennis
McFadden, Jr. in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. (Crim. Compl., ECF
No. 5-1, Ex. A.) He was denied bail on November 19, 2012 and
has remained in the Lancaster County Prison since that time.
Docket, Harris v. Commonwealth, No.
CP-36-CR-0000178-2013; see also (“Docket
Sheet, ” Nov. 19, 2012 entry, ECF No. 5-1, Ex. D). The
criminal information was filed on January 29, 2013 and Andrew
Spade, Esq. entered his appearance to represent Harris on
March 12, 2013. (Crim. Information, ECF No. 5-1, Ex. B.)
Spade then filed several motions for continuance, including
one asserting that Harris may be incompetent to stand trial
and requesting a medical evaluation. (Id.) Harris
was evaluated by Dr. Gotleib. (Pet.'s Objections, at 2-4,
ECF No. 9.) On January 13, 2014, Judge Madenspacher held a
competency hearing, found Harris incompetent and ordered him
committed for 90 days in a state hospital for mental health
treatment. See (Docket Sheet, Mar. 19, 2013, Oct.
25, 2013, Mar. 9, 2016 entries). Harris contends he remained
in the hospital for eight months. (Pet.'s Objections, at
4.) He claims he returned from the hospital and was found
competent in October 2015. (Id.) At some point
during this hiatus, Harris's case was reassigned to Judge
Miller. (Docket Sheet, Jan. 13, 2014, Dec. 18, 2015 entries).
On December 18, 2015, Judge Miller ordered Harris's trial
to begin the week of April 4, 2016.
contends that though he was found competent in October 2015,
his attorney continued to try to have him declared
incompetent (against his will). (Pet.'s Objections, at
4-5.) Harris claims Spade arranged for him to be re-evaluated
by Dr. Gotleib. (Id. at 5.) On February 11, 2016,
Harris began filing a series of pro se motions
asserting violation of his speedy trial rights under
Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 600 and seeking
suppression of evidence. (Docket Sheet, Feb. 11, 2016, Feb.
16, 2016, Feb. 29, 2016 entries). When Harris met with Dr.
Gotleib, Harris told him that he was competent and believed
that Spade, rather than he, was the problem. (Pet.'s
Objections, at 5.) Harris contends he was then found
competent and given a new defense attorney. (Id.)
3, 2016, Spade was replaced by Patricia Spotts, Esq. (Docket
Sheet, June 3, 2016 entry). However, on September 2, 2016,
Harris again filed a pro se motion alleging
violation of his speedy trial rights under Rule 600. (Docket
Sheet, Sept. 2, 2016 entry). Judge Miller held a scheduling
conference on November 10, 2016 and set trial for March 16,
2017. (Nov. 17 Order, ECF No. 5-1, Ex. F.) In the order,
Judge Miller permitted the defense to file a Rule 600 motion
no later than December 5, 2016. (Id.) Spotts filed a
motion to dismiss on December 5, 2016. (Docket Sheet, Dec. 5,
2016 entry.) Although a recent review of the state court
docket reveals that the trial has not yet taken place, Judge
Miller issued an order on May 26, 2017 setting a trial date,
though the date itself is not discernible from the docket.
See Docket, Harris v. Commonwealth, No.
15, 2016, Harris filed this petition for habeas corpus
alleging that he was not brought to trial within 365 days as
required by Rule 600 and that his prior attorney requested
continuances and waived the requirements of Rule 600 without
his permission. (Pet., ECF No. 1.) He also contends his prior
attorney's actions- requesting continuances and failing
to present a Rule 600 motion-and the resulting delays in
going to trial violate his due process rights under the Fifth
and Fourteenth Amendments and his right to a speedy trial
under the Sixth Amendment. (Id. at 7.) On December
7, 2016, the District Attorney filed an answer, arguing that
Harris's Rule 600 claim is not cognizable in habeas
corpus and, in any event, is unexhausted. (Gov.'s Answer,
ECF No. 5.)
R & R, Judge Hey first noted that to the extent
Harris's speedy trial claims are premised on alleged
violations of state procedural rights accorded under Rule 600
of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure, the claim is
not cognizable under habeas corpus. (R & R, at 4, ECF No.
8) (citing Walker v. Kerestes, No. 13-15, 2013 WL
6667776, at *9 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 18, 2013) (Rule 600 claim not
cognizable); Junious v. City of Philadelphia, No.
13-1201, 2013 WL 2156029, at *1 (E.D. Pa. May 20, 2013);
Wells v. Petsock, 941 F.2d 253, 254 (3d Cir. 1991)
(“Pennsylvania's 180-day rule does not define the
contours of the federal constitutional right to a speedy
Hey then construed Harris's petition broadly to allege
violations of his constitutional rights to due process and a
speedy trial stemming from the same delays which he alleges
violate Rule 600 and the ineffectiveness of counsel for
seeking continuances and failing to present a Rule 600
motion. (R & R, at 4.) Even construing Harris's
petition as premised on constitutional violations, however,
Judge Hey found that the claims are unexhausted because
Harris has not presented the constitutional claims to the
Pennsylvania Superior Court. (Id. at 4-6.) She
further found that though an exception to the exhaustion
requirement exists where “inordinate delay by the state
in processing claims for relief . . . render[s] the state
remedy effectively unavailable, ” the delay experienced
by Harris is not sufficient to warrant applying the
exception. (Id. at 6-8) (quoting Wojtczak v.
Fulcomer, 800 F.2d 353, 354 (3d Cir. 1986)).
Court reviews de novo those portions of an R & R
to which a petitioner objects. See 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1); see also Cont'l Cas. Co. v. Dominick
D'Andrea, Inc., 150 F.3d 245, 250 (3d Cir. 1998).
The Court “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or
in part, the findings or recommendations made by the
magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). Here,
however, Harris's objections do not respond to the R
& R or address the requirement that Harris exhaust his
claims in state court. They instead reiterate Harris's
disagreements with his prior attorney's actions and his
dissatisfaction with the resulting delays. (Pet.'s
Objections, at 1-10.) Though the Court “is not required
to review general objections, ” Drew v.
Wetzel, No. 15-2725, 2017 WL 1326141, at *2 (E.D. Pa.
Apr. 11, 2017), it nevertheless reviews the R & R de
novo and finds that Judge Hey's recommendation is
initial matter, to the extent Harris's petition is
premised solely on violations of procedural rights accorded
him under Rule 600 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal
Procedure, the claim is not cognizable under habeas corpus.
See Walker, No. 13-15, 2013 WL 6667776, at
*9-11. The Court, however, agrees with Judge Hey
that this does not conclude the matter because, construing
his petition ...