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Shegog v. Giroux

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

April 25, 2018

JOSEPH SHEGOG, Petitioner,
NANCY GIROUX, Superintendent, District Attorney of Beaver County, and THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA, Respondents.


          Cynthia Reed Eddy United States Magistrate Judge

         Before the Court is the counseled Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (“Petition”) filed on behalf of Petitioner, Joseph Shegog (“Petitioner” or “Shegog”). Shegog is currently incarcerated in the State Correctional Institution in Albion, Pennsylvania. For the reasons that follow, the Petition will be dismissed and a certificate of appealability will be denied.

         Relevant and Procedural Background

         Shegog is challenging the judgment of sentence imposed upon him by the Court of Common Pleas of Beaver County on December 15, 2005. The charges against Shegog stem from the December 24, 2000, homicide of Joseph Anderson. According to the Commonwealth's theory of the case and evidence adduced at trial, Shegog shot and killed Anderson. At trial, Shegog advanced an innocence defense. Following a jury trial presided over by the Honorable John D. McBride of the Court of Common Pleas of Beaver County, Shegog was convicted of Murder in the First Degree and Carrying a Firearm Without a License. On January 11, 2006, Shegog was sentenced to a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

         Shegog appealed his conviction and sentence to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. Shegog, through counsel, raised seven challenges, none of which are raised in the instant federal habeas case. Shegog's conviction and sentence were affirmed on September 11, 2007, and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denied review by order dated November 30, 2009.

         Unsuccessful on direct appeal, Shegog filed a pro se petition for collateral review under the Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”), 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9541 - 9546.

         Counsel was appointed and filed a Supplemental PCRA Petition raising nine (9) claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and three (3) constitutional claims. On April 8, 2013, the PCRA court denied each of Shegog's claims.[2] On appeal, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the PCRA order. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania again denied review.

         Having been denied relief in state court, on December 16, 2014, Shegog filed in this Court a pro se habeas petition and on January 26, 2015, requested an extension of time in which to file an Amended Petition. Shegog was granted an extension until March 2, 2015, to file his Amended Petition. On February 27, 2015, Shegog requested another extension to file his Amended Petition, which requested was granted and Shegog was given an extension until May 8, 2015, to file his Amended Complaint. On May 5, 2015, counsel entered his appearance for Shegog. Thereafter, counsel sought a number of extensions of time to file an Amended Petition and brief in support. On September 1, 2015, counsel filed an Amended Petition (ECF No. 13) and the following month, on October 16, 2015, filed a brief in support of the Amended Petition. (ECF No. 18). On October 25, 2015, filed amended the Petition to correct a “slight technical matter.” (ECF No. 21). The Amended Petition filed at ECF No. 21, remains the operative petition.

         Through his counseled Amended Petition, Shegog raises the following three ineffective assistance of counsel claims, which are similar to claims he raised on collateral review:

GROUND ONE: Petitioner's Sixth Amendment right to a public trial was violated due to ineffective assistance of counsel for not objecting to procedure where part of the jury selection was closed to the public as well as to Petitioner's family. The public's right to attend the jury selection process is a clearly established right under federal law.
GROUND TWO: Petitioner was denied effective assistance of counsel because trial counsel had a conflict of interest.
GROUND THREE: Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to conduct an adequate investigation and call an available exculpatory eyewitness, Rashawdi Pugh, at trial, who would have testified that he saw the decedent reaching for and drawing a gun when he was shot, supporting a claim of self-defense.

         Habeas Pet. (ECF No. 21). Respondents filed a timely Answer (ECF No. 24), to which Shegog filed a traverse reply brief (ECF No. 27). The matter is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

         B. Standard of Review

         Because it is not contested that each of Shegog's ineffective assistance of counsel claims were adjudicated on the merits by the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, review of his claims is subject to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, 110 Stat. 1214 (“AEDPA”). Under AEDPA, habeas relief is unavailable unless the state court's decision (1) “was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States” or (2) “was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254.

         A decision by a state court is “contrary to . . . clearly established law if it applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth” in United States Supreme Court precedent. Price v. Vincent, 538 U.S. 634, 640 (2003). (quotations and citations omitted). A state court need not have cited any particular Supreme Court decisions, and this standard affords considerable latitude to the state court, “so long as neither the reasoning nor the result of the state-court decision contradicts” federal law. Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002) (per curiam). In this regard, the state court's decision need not even be accompanied by an explanation, as long as there was a “reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 98 (2011).

         However, “when the state court pens a clear, reasoned opinion, federal habeas courts may not speculate as to theories that ‘could have supported' the state court's decision. Dennis v. Sec'y, Pa. Dep't of Corrs., 834 F.3d 263, 283 (3d Cir. 2016) (en banc). If the state court does provide reasoning, the state court decision is not entitled to deference if no “fairminded jurist []” could “disagree that those arguments or theories are not consistent with the holding in a prior decision of” the Supreme Court. Richter, 562 U.S. at 102. The state court may not add or remove a factor from a clearly established federal law test. Dennis, 834 F.3d at 307.

         Petitioner's claims will be reviewed with these standards in mind.

         C. Discussion [3]

         The federal claims here are each an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, which requires the petitioner to establish (i) constitutionally deficient representation, and (2) the deficiency prejudiced the defense. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). To establish deficient performance, a petitioner must demonstrate that counsel's representation “fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” Id. at 688. To satisfy the second prong of counsel ineffectiveness,

a defendant must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceedings would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.

Id. at 694. In addition, although a petitioner must satisfy both prongs to succeed on his ineffectiveness claim, the Supreme Court noted that “[i]f it is easier to dispose of an ineffectiveness claim on the ground of lack of sufficient prejudice, which we expect will often ...

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