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Williamson v. District Attorney of Philadelphia County

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

November 2, 2017





         Bobby Williamson filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his conviction for a murder committed in 1987 and requesting an evidentiary hearing. ECF No. 1. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth T. Hey issued a Report and Recommendation (R&R) recommending that the habeas corpus petition be dismissed as untimely and the request for an evidentiary hearing be denied. ECF No. 16. Williamson timely filed objections to the R&R, ECF No. 20, and later filed supplemental documents in support of his objections, ECF No. 21. After de novo review and for the reasons set forth below, the R&R is adopted, the habeas petition is dismissed as untimely, and the request for an evidentiary hearing is denied.


         The Court adopts the factual and procedural history as summarized by Magistrate Judge Hey in the R&R. In his Objections, Williamson takes issue with Magistrate Judge Hey's factual findings because she did not have access to the state court record at the time and based her findings on the parties' submissions and the state court dockets. Pet'r's Objs. 2. The Court later received the state court record, ECF Nos. 24-25, and, after independent review, concludes that Magistrate Judge Hey accurately summarized the facts and procedural history of this case.


         When objections to a report and recommendation have been filed under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C), the district court must make a de novo review of those portions of the report to which specific objections are made. Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1106 n.3 (3d Cir. 1989); Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 6-7 (3d Cir. 1984) (“providing a complete de novo determination where only a general objection to the report is offered would undermine the efficiency the magistrate system was meant to contribute to the judicial process”). “District Courts, however, are not required to make any separate findings or conclusions when reviewing a Magistrate Judge's recommendation de novo under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b).” Hill v. Barnacle, 655 F. App'x. 142, 147 (3d Cir. 2016). The district court “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings and recommendations” contained in the report. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C) (2009).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         This Court has considered Williamson's Objections to the R&R and conducted a de novo review of his habeas corpus petition. After a tortuous path through the state courts involving five petitions under Pennsylvania's Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 9541-9551, Williamson filed his habeas petition on October 15, 2014, over seventeen years past the expiration of the statute of limitations on April 23, 1997. Statutory tolling of the statute of limitations does not apply because Williamson's PCRA petitions were untimely, and thus cannot toll the limitations period. Equitable tolling does not stay the statute of limitations because Williamson did not diligently pursue his claims. Nor can Williamson avoid the statute through a gateway claim of actual innocence, because the 2012 affidavit of an alleged alibi witness he presents in support is not newly discovered evidence, and a reasonable jury could still have found him guilty, even in light of the affidavit. Therefore, the Court adopts Magistrate Judge Hey's conclusions in the R&R and dismisses Williamson's petition as untimely.

         A. Statute of Limitations

         Magistrate Judge Hey correctly found that Williamson's conviction became final on February 11, 1995, as the Pennsylvania Superior Court recognized in its opinion reinstating Williamson's first PCRA petition. ECF No. 7-5, at 2. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) imposes a one-year limitations period on habeas claims from the date that a conviction becomes final, but because Williamson's conviction became final before AEDPA's effective date on April 24, 1996, he had a one year “grace period” that extended his deadline to April 23, 1997. See Burns v. Morton, 134 F.3d 109, 111 (3d Cir. 1998). Therefore, in the absence of tolling of the statute of limitations, Williamson's October 15, 2014 petition is over seventeen years late.

         B. Statutory Tolling

         Statutory tolling does not apply because the Pennsylvania courts determined that all of Williamson's PCRA petitions were untimely. Under the AEDPA, a “properly filed” PCRA petition tolls the one-year statute of limitations during the period while it is pending before the state court. An untimely PCRA petition is not “properly filed” under the AEDPA, and does not toll the limitations period. Pace v. DiGuglielmo, 544 U.S. 408, 417 (2005). Williamson filed five PCRA petitions, all of which were dismissed as untimely by the Pennsylvania courts. Magistrate Judge Hey correctly found that statutory tolling therefore does not apply.

         Many of Williamson's objections argue that his PCRA petitions should be considered timely, or their untimeliness should be excused. For example, he complains that he did not receive a copy of the January 12, 1995 order dismissing his direct appeal, so he couldn't comply with the Pennsylvania appellate rules, and was abandoned by his direct appeal counsel, which led to a delay in seeking PCRA relief. Pet'r's Objs. 8. He contends that the prison mailroom failed to submit his Notice of Appeal of his fourth PCRA petition, and that the PCRA court's delay of two years in ...

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