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Johnson v. Commonwealth

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

September 19, 2017

CHARLES JOHNSON, Petitioner,
v.
THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA and THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA, Respondents.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Lisa Pupo Lenihan, Magistrate Judge.

         Petitioner Charles Johnson (“Petitioner”) has filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (“Petition”), seeking relief from his February 16, 2006 judgement of sentence of one hundred twenty (120) months to two hundred forty (240) months imprisonment for Aggravated Assault and Possession of Weapons or Implements for Escape. For the following reasons, the Petition will be denied.

         A. Facts of the Crime

         As stated by the Court of Common Pleas of Fayette County, Pennsylvania, the facts of the crime are as follows:

On December 22, 2004, the defendant, Charles Johnson, was a prison inmate at the State Correctional Institution - Fayette located in Luzerne Township, Fayette County, Pennsylvania. Around 7:00 P.M. in the evening, the defendant was in the Day Room, an activity room in the institution, with approximately fifty-three other inmates including the victim, Michael Smith. The inmates in the Day Room were involved in activities such as watching television and playing cards or checkers. Immediately prior to the incident, defendant was seated in the television area of the Day Room, and the victim was about 20 feet away in the back of the Day room seated at a table playing checkers. The inmates' activities were being supervised by Corrections Officer Robert Klink who was standing at a podium facing the tables.
Defendant rose from his seat and walked to the area where the individuals were playing checkers. Defendant had in his possession a “shank” comprised of a steel rod sharpened at one end with the other end wrapped with a cloth which was in turn wrapped around defendant's left hand. Defendant approached Michael Smith from behind and wielding the “shank” stabbed Michael Smith in the left side of the head. Corrections Officer Robert Klink yelled for the defendant to stop and began running toward the location of the assault. As he approached Officer Klink observed the defendant continue stabbing the victim on the side of his head. The defendant backed away and placed the shank in his waistband subsequently discarding it on the floor. Other officers were called and the defendant was secured. The victim, Michael Smith, suffered several puncture wounds to the side of his head and face and bled profusely from his wounds.

(Resp't Ex. 7, ECF No. 13-7, pp. 2-3) (citations to record omitted).

         B. Relevant Procedural Background

         Petitioner was charged with Criminal Attempt to Commit Criminal Homicide, Aggravated Assault, and Possession of Weapons or Implements of Escape. (Resp't Ex. 1, ECF No. 13-1, p.4.) On January 10, 2006, a jury acquitted Petitioner of the Attempt charge, but found him guilty of the remaining charges of Aggravated Assault and Possession of Weapons or Implements of Escape. (Resp't Ex. 1, ECF No. 13-1, p.6.) On February 16, 2006, Petitioner was sentenced to a term of incarceration no less than 120 months and no more than 240 months. (Resp't Ex. 1, ECF No. 13-1, pp.4, 6.) Petitioner filed a timely appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, (Resp't Ex. 10, ECF No. 13-10), which affirmed Petitioner's judgment of sentence in a Memorandum dated June 7, 2007. (Resp't Ex. 11, ECF No. 13-11.)

         On November 4, 2007, Petitioner filed a timely pro se petition pursuant to Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”). (Resp't Ex. 12, ECF No. 13-12.) On January 4, 2008, the PCRA court appointed Mark Matthew Mahalov, Esq., to represent Petitioner, and Attorney Mahalov subsequently filed an Amended PCRA petition, (Resp't Ex. 13; ECF No. 13-13), and Second Amended PCRA petition, (Resp't Ex. 14, ECF No. 13-14), on Petitioner's behalf, on February 13, 2008 and February 14, 2003, respectively. (Resp't Ex. 1, ECF No. 13-1, p.9.) A hearing was held on February 14, 2008, on the issues raised in the PCRA petition. (Resp't Ex. 6, ECF No. 13-6.)

         On August 18, 2009, Attorney Mahalov moved to withdraw as counsel, and the PCRA court granted that request and appointed Brent Peck, Esq, to represent Petitioner on August 21, 2009. (Resp't Ex. 1, ECF No. 13-1, p.9.) Subsequently, Attorney Peck moved to withdraw as counsel on June 4, 2012. (Resp't Ex. 1, ECF No. 13-1, p.10.) It appears that the PCRA court granted that request, appointing Jeremy James Davis, Esq. in his place. (Resp't Ex. 1, ECF No. 13-1, p.10.) The PCRA court ultimately denied Petitioner's PCRA petition on August 5, 2013. (Resp't Ex. 8, ECF No. 13-8.)

         Petitioner appealed the denial of his PCRA petition, represented by court-appointed counsel James V. Natale, Esq. (Resp't Ex. 1, ECF No. 13-1, p.11; Resp't Exs. 17-18, ECF Nos. 13-17, 13-18.) The Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the denial of PCRA relief in a Memorandum dated March 18, 2014. (Resp't Ex. 19, ECF No. 13-19.) Petitioner filed a Petition for Allowance of Appeal (and a subsequent Amendment thereto) with the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, (Resp't Exs. 20-21, ECF Nos. 13-20, 13-21), and that petition was denied by Order dated December 30, 2014, (Resp't Ex. 23, ECF No. 13-23).

         Petitioner filed the instant pro se Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus on February 6, 2015. (ECF No. 1-1.) Respondents' answered the petition on June 9, 2015. (ECF No. 13.)

         C. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), a federal habeas court may overturn a state court's resolution of the merits of a constitutional issue only if the state court decision was “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). The Supreme Court of the United States, in Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000), discussed the analysis required by § 2254(d)(1):

[Under the “contrary to” clause], a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by this Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than this Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Under the “unreasonable application” clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from this Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.

Id. at 1498. The Third Circuit Court, consistent with the Williams v. Taylor interpretation, set forth in Matteo v. Superintendent, SCI-Albion, 171 F.3d 877 (3d Cir. 1999), cert. denied528 U.S. 824 (1999), a two-tier ...


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