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Hopkins v. Gilmore

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

October 27, 2017

ROBERT GILMORE, Superintendent of SCI-Greene, THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA, and STEPHEN A. ZAPPALLA, District Attorney of Allegheny County, PA, Respondents.

          Kelly D. Tomasic Rusheen R. Pettit Office of the District Attorney of Allegheny County.



         Petitioner, William Alvin Hopkins, is a state prisoner incarcerated at State Correctional Institution Greene in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. He seeks a writ of habeas corpus, pro se, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons set forth below, the petition will be denying.

         I. Procedural History

         On April 11, 2011, Petitioner, William Alvin Hopkins (“Petitioner” or “Hopkins”), entered a general guilty plea in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County to the following: four counts of Burglary, consolidating three cases with a total of five victims; three counts of Theft by Unlawful Taking, two counts of Receiving Stolen Property, one count of Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, and one count of Access Device Fraud. On June 22, 2011, following a sentencing hearing, the trial court imposed an aggregate sentence of twelve to twenty-four years' incarceration, plus restitution.[2]

         Hopkins, through counsel, filed a direct appeal from his judgment of sentence. On September 21, 2012, the Superior Court affirmed the judgment of sentence. Hopkins did not file a Petition for Allowance of Appeal (“PAA”) with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

         Unsuccessful on direct appeal, Hopkins filed a timely pro se petition under the Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”). The PCRA court appointed new counsel, who filed an amended petition on November 30, 2012. The PCRA court held a hearing, at which trial counsel and Petition testified. The PCRA court, finding trial counsel's testimony credible, denied relief by order entered February 21, 2013. Hopkins appealed to the Superior Court. By Order entered February 10, 2014, the Superior Court, adopting the PCRA court's reasoning as its own, found that Hopkins was not entitled to relief. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denied allowance of appeal on July 2, 2014.

         Having been denied relief in state court, Hopkins filed pro se the instant habeas petition, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, in which he raises the following claim:

Trial Counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, Petitioner was convicted on a the basis of a guilty plea that was the product of ineffective assistance of counsel.

Habeas Pet. at 6 (ECF No. 1). Respondents filed a timely Answer (ECF No. 8) and the relevant state court records, to which Petitioner filed a timely Reply Memorandum. (ECF No. 10). The Court has reviewed the filings by the parties, as well as the state court record, including the transcripts from Hopkins' guilty plea proceeding, sentencing proceeding, and PCRA hearing. The matter is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

         II. Standard of Review

         A. 28 U.S.C. § 2254

         This case is governed by the federal habeas statute applicable to state prisoners. 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub.L.No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214, enacted on April 24, 1996 (“AEDPA”), “which imposes significant procedural and substantive limitations on the scope” of the Court's review.[3]Wilkerson v. Superintendent Fayette SCI, 871 F.3d 221, 227 (3d Cir. 2017). Under AEDPA, a petitioner must “ ‘ha[ve] exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State, ' 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A), before seeking federal habeas relief, and a claim will be deemed unexhausted if the petitioner ‘has the right to file under the law of the State to raise, by any available procedure, the question presented, ' but has failed to do so, id. § 2254(c).” Id. at *3.

         Respondents do not dispute that the issue raised in this habeas petition is exhausted. Hopkins raised the claim that his guilty plea was the product of ineffective assistance of counsel during his PCRA proceedings, and the claim was denied on its merits both before the PCRA court the Superior Court. “Where a state court has rejected a petitioner's claim on the merits, AEDPA limits the scope of [the court's] substantive review to whether the state court's decision ‘was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable ...

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