United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
RONALD L. SMITH, Petitioner,
DAVID DIGUGLIELMO, THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY OF THE COUNTY OF PHILADELPHIA, and THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA, Respondents.
a habeas corpus case brought by a state prisoner, Ronald L.
Smith ("petitioner"), under 28 U.S.C. § 2254.
Petitioner‘s initial pro se Petition for Writ
of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, filed on June
3, 2006 ("2006 Petition"), was denied by this Court
by Order dated November 13, 2006. Thereafter, certain of
petitioner‘s state appellate rights were reinstated by
the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. Petitioner then exhausted
his state court remedies and filed a Motion to Vacate
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) in this
Court, which this Court granted, reinstating
petitioner‘s 2006 Petition. Petitioner later filed an
Amended/Supplemental Habeas Corpus Petition
("Supplemental Petition") with additional grounds
for relief. Because the grounds for relief in
petitioner‘s 2006 Petition and Supplemental Petition
are either procedurally defaulted or lack merit, both
Petitions are denied and dismissed.
Robbery and Murder of Roy Arms
September 2, 1992, petitioner arranged to have two friends,
Steven Williamston and Tyron Hill, meet him at the apartment
of his girlfriend, Secquoyah West, in preparation for a
robbery of a variety store located in the basement of
West‘s apartment building. Suppl. Resp. to Pet. for
Writ of Habeas Corpus, Doc. No. 45 at 2. At
petitioner‘s instruction, Williamston and Hill
retrieved a shotgun from petitioner‘s home and brought
it to West‘s apartment. Id. at 3.
assembling the shotgun and wiping it clean of fingerprints,
petitioner sent Williamston and Hill to the basement of the
building to rob the variety store, and they did so.
Id. After emptying the store‘s cash register,
Hill waited in the basement, just outside the store entrance.
Id. at 4. When Roy Arms, the storeowner, peered
through the store doorway, Hill shot him with the shotgun,
fatally wounding him in the face and neck. Id. Once
Hill and Williamston returned to West‘s apartment,
petitioner took the shotgun, wiped it down, disassembled it,
and hid it inside West‘s sofa and loveseat.
days after the murder, on September 5, 1992, police received
a call from the apartment manager of West‘s apartment
building. Opinion of the Court of Common Pleas (June 1996),
Doc. No. 45-1 at 57. West had told the apartment manager that
she feared to return to her apartment, as she believed
petitioner would be there, armed with the shotgun.
Id. Police entered West‘s apartment
accompanied by the apartment manager to check "only for
the presence of people." Id. at 58. Police did
not seize any evidence, but then contacted West, who gave
police a formal statement regarding the robbery and murder.
was subsequently arrested on September 8, 1992. Id.
at 61. Following his arrest, Smith received oral and written
Miranda warnings. Id. After police
confronted petitioner with information about his involvement
in the robbery and murder, he waived his right to remain
silent, admitted his participation in the robbery and murder,
and signed a form consenting to a search of West‘s
apartment. Id. at 59. When police arrived at the
apartment, West also consented to the search, and police
retrieved the shotgun petitioner had stored in West‘s
sofa and loveseat. Id. at 59-60.
trial, West and Williamston testified that petitioner used
marijuana and cocaine prior to the robbery and murder, that
he spoke of robbing the variety store prior to the incident,
and that he had previously been seen
with the shotgun used in the robbery and murder. Doc. No.
45-1 at 64-65. Defense counsel moved to suppress
petitioner‘s statement to police, the physical evidence
obtained from West‘s apartment, and the testimony of
West and Williamston. Id. at 49. The trial court
denied defendant‘s motions, concluding that petitioner
had knowingly and voluntarily waived his constitutional
rights and that physical evidence had been properly obtained
through a search of West‘s apartment with her consent.
Id. at 60. In ruling on post-trial motions, the
trial court likewise concluded that it properly gave
instructions limiting consideration of West and
Williamston‘s testimony to the issue of the state of
mind of the witnesses and their motivation. Id. at
64, 67. The trial court also concluded that
petitioner‘s trial counsel could not have been
ineffective for failing to object to admission of the
testimony that petitioner had previously possessed the
shotgun because there was no error in admitting the
testimony. Id. at 67. Petitioner was convicted of
murder in the first degree, robbery, possessing an instrument
of crime, and criminal conspiracy. Doc. No. 45 at 8.
Appeal and State Collateral Proceedings
by new counsel, petitioner appealed his conviction to the
Superior Court of Pennsylvania, which issued a decision on
November 27, 1996. Opinion of the Superior Court of
Pennsylvania (Nov. 27, 1996), Doc. No. 45-1 at 44. On appeal,
petitioner raised four issues: (1) admission of Smith‘s
statement to the police; (2) ineffective assistance of trial
counsel for failing to object to references by the
prosecution to the credibility of the Commonwealth‘s
chief witness, petitioner‘s post-arrest silence, and
petitioner‘s prior convictions; (3) ineffective
assistance of trial counsel for failing to object to
testimony that petitioner had previously possessed the
shotgun; and (4) admission of West and Williamston‘s
testimony regarding defendant‘s "prior bad acts,
" including his use of marijuana and cocaine.
Id. at 45; Opinion of the Court of Common Pleas
(June 1996), Doc. No. 45-1 at 64. The Superior Court
summarily affirmed the trial court on the first, third, and
fourth issues. Id. at 45-46. The Superior Court
concluded petitioner had waived the second issue because
petitioner had failed to include it in his Statement of
Matters Complained of on Appeal under Pennsylvania Rule of
Appellate Procedure 1925(b). Opinion of the Superior Court,
Doc. No. 45-1 at 46 (citing Commonwealth v. Forest,
629 A.2d 1032 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1993). The Pennsylvania Supreme
Court denied petitioner‘s petition for allowance of
appeal on April 29, 1997. Commonwealth v. Smith, 695
A.2d 785 (Pa. 1997).
First PCRA Petition and Appeal
filed his first petition under the Pennsylvania
Post-Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa. Con.
Stat. § 9541, on December 9, 1997, after which counsel
was appointed to represent him. Opinion of the Court of
Common Pleas (Dec. 13, 2000), Doc. No. 45-2 at 3. Counsel
filed an amended petition, which raised four issues, only the
first of which is relevant to the present Petitions: that
trial counsel was ineffective for failing to argue that the
search of West‘s apartment was unlawful because it had
been induced by threats and that appellate counsel was
ineffective for not raising the issue on appeal. Id.
at 4. The PCRA court denied this claim for relief on June 6,
2000, on the ground that Pennsylvania law prohibited
petitioner from obtaining post-conviction relief by restating
previously litigated claims as claims for ineffective
assistance of counsel. Doc. No. 45 at 9; Doc. No. 45-2 at 5.
The PCRA court denied the remainder of petitioner‘s
claims-none of which are relevant to the Petitions pending in
this Court-as well. Doc. No. 45-2 at 5-6.
appealed the PCRA court‘s decision, which the Superior
Court dismissed on February 20, 2001, after
petitioner‘s counsel failed to file a brief. Opinion of
the Court of Common Pleas (May 31, 2002), Doc. No. 45-3 at 2.
The record before this Court does not disclose whether
petitioner filed a petition for allowance of appeal in the
Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Second and Third PCRA Petitions
April 3, 2001, petitioner filed a second PCRA petition
represented by the same counsel, seeking "to reinstate
[petitioner‘s] appellant rights." The Superior
Court eventually denied the petition as "manifestly
untimely, " reasoning that "the fact that
Appellant‘s first PCRA appeal was dismissed due to
counsel‘s failure to file a brief does not excuse the
jurisdictional restraints of the PCRA." Opinion of the
Superior Court of Pennsylvania (Aug. 5, 2005), Doc. No. 45-4
at 5. Petitioner filed a pro se petition for
allowance of appeal from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court,
which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied on May 23, 2006.
Commonwealth v. Smith, 899 A.2d 1123 (Pa. 2006).
years later, following the Pennsylvania Supreme Court
decision in Commonwealth v. Bennett, 930 A.2d 1264,
1274 (Pa. 2007), petitioner filed a third PCRA petition on
September 30, 2007, again seeking reinstatement of his
appellate rights. Doc. No. 45 at 11. After an initial denial
by the Court of Common Pleas, petitioner appealed pro
se and the Superior Court reversed, reinstating
petitioner‘s appellate rights. Commonwealth v.
Smith, 35 A.3d 766 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2011).
Court of Common Pleas issued an Opinion nunc pro
tunc on petitioner‘s amended, counseled petition,
originally denied on June 6, 2000. Doc. No. 45-7. In his
final appeal to the Superior Court, petitioner proceeded
pro se. Opinion of the Superior Court of
Pennsylvania (June 8, 2016), Doc. No. 45-9 at 1. Petitioner
raised five grounds on appeal: (1) "that [direct
appellate] counsel was ineffective for failure to
assert" the trial court erred in its finding of facts in
admitting evidence obtained after "homicide detectives
illegally and forcibly entered property without consent of
any resident that leased the unit"; (2) "trial
counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the trial
court‘s charges to the jury on accomplice liability and
first[-]degree murder"; (3) trial counsel was
ineffective "for failing to object to the trial
court‘s charges to the jury on criminal
conspiracy"; (4) "the trial court erred in denying
[Smith‘s] 1997 PCRA Petition without holding an
evidentiary hearing"; and, (5) PCRA counsel was
ineffective. Doc. No. 45-9 at 1 (alterations in original).
Superior Court rejected each of petitioner‘s claims in
an opinion dated June 8, 2016. Doc. No. 45-9. In rejecting
petitioner‘s first ground for relief, the Superior
Court adopted the reasoning of the Court of Common Pleas in
full. Doc. No. 45-9 at 4. The Court of Common Pleas rejected
petitioner‘s first ground for relief, in part, as
waived. Doc. No. 45-7 at 8. According to the Court of Common
Pleas, petitioner waived this ground for relief by failing to
"layer" his claim for ineffective assistance of
appellate counsel with a showing that trial counsel was
ineffective for failing to object to the trial court‘s
purported error-a required element to establish ineffective
assistance of appellate counsel in a PCRA proceeding.
Id. at 8 n.4 (citing Commonwealth v.
McGill, 832 A.2d 1014, 1022 (Pa. 2003)).
Superior Court also rejected petitioner‘s second and
third grounds for relief as waived because counsel failed to
include the claims in petitioner‘s amended petition and
under Pennsylvania law, any claims not included in a
counseled, amended petition are deemed waived. Id.
at 5. The Superior Court rejected petitioner‘s fourth
ground for relief, because none of his claims presented a
genuine issue concerning a material fact to warrant an
evidentiary hearing. Finally, the Superior Court rejected
petitioner‘s claim that his PCRA counsel was
ineffective in pursuit of his first PCRA petition. Petitioner
raised that issue for the first time on appeal, and under
Pennsylvania law, "a PCRA petitioner cannot assert
claims of PCRA counsel ineffectiveness for the first time on
appeal." Id. at 8 (citing Commonwealth v.
Henkel, 90 A.3d 16, 21-30 (Pa. Super. 2014)). Petitioner
did not file a petition for allowance of appeal in the
Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Doc. No. 45 at 12.
Federal Habeas Corpus Proceedings
First Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under §
30, 2006, following denial of his second PCRA petition,
petitioner filed his first Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus
under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in this Court, pro se.
In his Petition, petitioner raised five grounds for relief:
1. Petitioner‘s due process and equal protection rights
were violated when the Commonwealth improperly interfered
with his PCRA process by denying him assistance of counsel
and denying his right to appeal;
2. The trial court erred when it denied petitioner‘s
pretrial motion to suppress a statement obtained pursuant to
an unconstitutional seizure;
3. Appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge
the trial court‘s findings of fact in admitting