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Coleman v. Glunt

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 1, 2018

KWILSON COLEMAN, Petitioner,
v.
STEVEN GLUNT, et al., Respondents.

          Caputo Judge

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Statement of Facts and of the Case

         This case arises out of a November 27, 2008 slaying in the City of York, Pennsylvania. On October 7, 2009, the petitioner, Kwilson Coleman, was convicted of first degree murder in connection with this killing, and received a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. Coleman was 17 years old at the time of the killing.

         On June 21, 2013, Coleman, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus with this court, arguing that he was entitled to re-sentencing in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), which held that life sentences without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders violated the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Counsel from the Federal Public Defender's Office was then appointed to represent Coleman on this petition, and upon a review of the trial record, a second counseled petition was filed which presented both the juvenile life imprisonment sentencing issue initially raised by Coleman in his pro se petition, but also sought further relief in the form of an order granting habeas corpus relief and directing a re-trial based upon alleged vagaries in eyewitness identification at Coleman's trial, questions regarding the disclosure of a photo array at trial, concerns regarding whether the principal eyewitness had been able to identify Coleman during a photographic lineup, and issues relating to the performance of trial counsel.

         The court has worked with counsel to address these additional merits issues, directing briefing on these additional issues and scheduling a hearing on this matter for February 2, 2018 in order to fully develop the factual record on these claims. The parties have also been working industriously and cooperatively to address the additional issues raised by Coleman's amended petition, issues that go to the scope of the habeas relief Coleman is entitled to receive in this case.

         As a result of these efforts, in a commendable display of candor, the Commonwealth has today notified the court that it agrees that it is in the interests of justice to grant Coleman's petition for writ of habeas corpus and remand this matter to the Court of Common Pleas, not only for re-sentencing, but also for retrial on the merits. In light of this acknowledgment and concession by the Commonwealth, for the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that the writ of habeas corpus be granted since all parties agree that Coleman is entitled to relief in the form of an order conditionally granting the petitioner's petition for writ of habeas corpus, vacating Coleman's conviction and sentence and directing the Commonwealth to either retry Coleman within 120 days or release him.[1]

         II. Discussion

         All parties agree that Coleman is entitled to habeas corpus relief. At the outset, it is clear that the writ should issue to permit re-sentencing since the imposition of a sentence of mandatory life imprisonment without possibility of parole upon a juvenile offender violates the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S.460 (2012). Furthermore, the United States Supreme Court has held that Miller's prohibition on mandatory life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders announced a new substantive rule that, under the Constitution, is retroactive in cases such as the petitioner's. Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718, 193 L.Ed.2d 599 (2016). Given the teachings of Miller and Montgomery, lower federal courts which have examined petitions for writs of habeas corpus presented by juvenile offenders serving mandatory life sentences have acknowledged that these petitioners are: “entitled to be resentenced in conformity with Miller and that the state courts, in the first instance, are entitled to determine the appropriate sentence.” Williams v. Wetzel et al., No. 3:13-CV-1705 (M.D. Pa. May 25, 2016); Jones v. Wetzel et al., 14-CV-1385 (M.D. Pa. May 23, 2016); Palmer v. Cain, No. CV-03-2983, 2016 WL 2637654, at *3 (E.D. La. Apr. 5, 2016), report and recommendation adopted sub nom. Palmer v. Cain, No. CV-03-2983, 2016 WL 2594753 (E.D. La. May 5, 2016); Martinez v. Hubbard, No. CV-11-5640-JAK (PLA), 2016 WL 429628, at *1 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 3, 2016). Moreover, with respect to the merits issues of eyewitness identification, photo array procedures, and conduct of trial counsel raised by Coleman in his amended petition, after a thorough investigation of these new matters, the Commonwealth reports that the interests of justice are best served by a remand of this case for a new trial. In light of this concession by the Commonwealth it is recommended that this petition be granted and an order entered directing the Commonwealth to either retry Coleman within 120 days, or release the petitioner.

         III. Recommendation

         Accordingly, for the foregoing reasons, upon consideration of this Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, and the Commonwealth's notification that it agrees that it is in the interests of justice to grant Coleman's petition for writ of habeas corpus and remand this matter to the Court of Common Pleas, not only for re-sentencing, but for re-trial on the merits, IT IS RECOMMENDED that the Petition be CONDITIONALLY GRANTED, that Coleman's conviction and sentence be vacated, and that the Commonwealth be directed to either retry Coleman within 120 days, or release the petitioner.

         The parties are further placed on notice that pursuant to Local Rule 72.3:

Any party may object to a magistrate judge's proposed findings, recommendations or report addressing a motion or matter described in 28 U.S.C. ยง 636 (b)(1)(B) or making a recommendation for the disposition of a prisoner case or a habeas corpus petition within fourteen (14) days after being served with a copy thereof. Such party shall file with the clerk of court, and serve on the magistrate judge and all parties, written objections which shall specifically identify the portions of the proposed findings, recommendations or report to which objection is made and the basis for such objections. The briefing requirements set forth in Local Rule 72.2 shall apply. A judge shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made and may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge. The judge, however, need conduct a new hearing only in his or her discretion or where required by law, and ...

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