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Rudolph v. Giroux

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 16, 2018



          Joseph F. Leeson, Jr. United States District Judge


         Petitioner Christopher Rudolph filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his conviction in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas of Attempted Rape, Attempted Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse (“IDSI”), and Burglary. Magistrate Judge Richard A. Lloret issued a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) recommending that the habeas corpus claims be denied. Petitioner has filed objections to the R&R. After de novo review, this Court adopts the R&R in part and denies habeas relief.


         A. R&R with objections

         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. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1106 n.3 (3d Cir. 1989). “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 “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).

         B. Habeas corpus petitions under 28 U.S.C. § 2254

         Pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”), “state prisoners must give the state courts one full opportunity to resolve any constitutional issues by invoking one complete round of the State's established appellate review process” before seeking federal habeas review. O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845 (1999). An unexhausted or procedurally defaulted claim cannot provide the basis for federal habeas relief unless the petitioner “can demonstrate cause for the default and actual prejudice as a result of the alleged violation of federal law, or demonstrate that failure to consider the claims will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice.” See Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 732-33, 750 (1991) (explaining that a “habeas petitioner who has defaulted his federal claims in state court meets the technical requirements for exhaustion [because] there are no state remedies any longer ‘available' to him”). The Supreme Court has held that the ineffectiveness of counsel on collateral review may constitute “cause” to excuse a petitioner's default. See Trevino v. Thaler, 133 S.Ct. 1911 (2013); Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012).

         The AEDPA “imposes a highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings and demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.” Felkner v. Jackson, 562 U.S. 594, 598 (2011) (internal quotations omitted); See also 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d);[1] Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, 123 (2009) (holding that there is a “doubly deferential judicial review that applies to a Strickland claim evaluated under the § 2254(d)(1) standard” because the question before a federal court is not whether the state court's determination was correct, but whether the determination was unreasonable); Hunterson v. Disabato, 308 F.3d 236, 245 (3d Cir. 2002) (“[I]f permissible inferences could be drawn either way, the state court decision must stand, as its determination of the facts would not be unreasonable.”). Additionally, “a federal habeas court must afford a state court's factual findings a presumption of correctness and that [] presumption applies to the factual determinations of state trial and appellate courts.” Fahy v. Horn, 516 F.3d 169, 181 (3d Cir. 2008). The habeas petitioner has the “burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

         C. Claims of ineffective assistance of counsel

         To establish trial counsel's ineffectiveness, [2] a petitioner must show: (1) counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness; and (2) the performance was prejudicial to the defense. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). There is a strong presumption that counsel is effective and the courts, guarding against the temptation to engage in hindsight, must be “highly deferential” to counsel's reasonable strategic decisions. Id. at 689 (explaining that courts should not second-guess counsel's assistance and engage in “hindsight to reconstruct the circumstances of counsel's challenged conduct”). The mere existence of alternative, even more preferable or more effective, strategies does not satisfy the first element of the Strickland test. See Marshall v. Hendricks, 307 F.3d 36, 86 (3d Cir. 2002). To establish prejudice under the second element, the petitioner must show that there is “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Roe v. Flores-Ortega, 528 U.S. 470, 482 (2000) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694). The court must consider the totality of the evidence and the burden is on the petitioner to prove ineffectiveness. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687, 695.

         III. ANALYSIS

         This Court has conducted de novo review and overrules Rudolph's objections for the reasons discussed herein and for those set forth in R&R. Magistrate Judge Lloret reviewed the claims Rudolph raised in his habeas corpus petition, [3] and determined that except for the challenge to the trial judge's two orders issued in 2012, Rudolph procedurally defaulted his claims. Notwithstanding the procedural bar to review, the Magistrate Judge addressed the merits of Rudolph's claims and concluded that they were meritless. This Court has conducted de novo review of all of Rudolph's claims, but writes separately to address only a few of his objections. See Hill, 655 F. App'x. at 147.

         A. Rudolph's constitutional claims regarding the Pennsylvania Burglary statute and Pennsylvania Constitution, as well as his ...

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