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Slaughter v. Link

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 30, 2018

RONDELL SLAUGHTER, Petitioner,
v.
CYNTHIA LINK, et al., Respondents.

          OPINION

          Slomsky, J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Before the Court is the pro se Petition of Rondell Slaughter (“Petitioner”), a state prisoner, for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. No. 1.) On August 14, 2017, United States Magistrate Judge Jacob P. Hart issued a Report and Recommendation (“Report”), recommending that the Petition be denied and that a certificate of appealability not be issued. (Doc. No. 22.) On August 29, 2017, Petitioner filed Objections to the Report. (Doc. No. 24.) The Court has reviewed all pertinent documents, and for reasons that follow, will approve and adopt the Report (Doc. No. 22), and will deny the Petition (Doc. No. 1).[1]

         II. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are taken from the Report[2]:

On April 16, 2003, a jury sitting in the Court of Common Pleas for Philadelphia County convicted [Petitioner] of one count of arson, one count of criminal conspiracy and five counts of aggravated assault. Commonwealth v. Slaughter, No. 367 EDA 2013, 2016 WL 298642, at *1 (Pa. Super. Ct. Jan. 25, 2016). The conviction arose out of an incident on February 26, 2001, in which [Petitioner] and another man firebombed the house of a rival drug dealer, injuring six people . . . . Id. Wanda Brown, one of the victims, appeared at trial and testified that she saw [Petitioner] throw an incendiary device. (Doc. No. 11 at 26.) . . . .
After a week-long trial, the jury began deliberations on April 10, 2003. The next day, the jury [notified the court] that it had reached an agreement regarding some of the charges, but was at an impasse on others. Slaughter, 2016 WL 298642, at *3. [Petitioner]'s counsel moved for a mistrial, but the court denied that motion and instructed the jury to continue its deliberations. Id. [Shortly thereafter], the court recessed for the weekend. Id.
On Monday, April 14, 2003, [the jury reconvened its deliberations with one juror] absent. Id. [Petitioner]'s counsel again moved for a mistrial. Id. Again, the judge denied that motion, and decided to substitute an alternate juror over [Petitioner]'s counsel's objection. Id. On April 15, 2003, the jury [notified the court] that it was deadlocked on certain charges. Id. at *4. [Petitioner]'s counsel once again moved for a mistrial. Id. [The judge denied the motion and] instructed the jury to continue its deliberations. Id. [On April 16, 2003], the jury reached [the aforementioned verdict]. Id. Subsequently, [Petitioner] was sentenced to an aggregate term of 35-70 years' incarceration. Id. at *1.
[Petitioner] filed a direct appeal in which he argued that (1) the trial court erred in failing to grant a mistrial after the jury indicated that it was deadlocked; (2) the evidence was insufficient to support the convictions; and (3) the trial judge erred in the discretionary aspects of her sentence, in that she did not recite the sentencing guidelines on the record, did not state her reasons for the sentence, and imposed an unduly harsh sentence which failed to reflect the particular circumstances of the case or [Petitioner]'s character, history, and condition. Brief of Appellant at 3, 5, 6, Commonwealth v. Slaughter, 903 A.2d 52 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2006).
[Petitioner]'s conviction was affirmed by the Pennsylvania Superior Court on May 19, 2006. Commonwealth v. Slaughter, 903 A.2d 52 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2006) (mem.) Appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was denied on November 9, 2006. Commonwealth v. Slaughter, 911 A.2d 935 (Pa. 2006) (mem.).
On October 24, 2007, [Petitioner] filed a pro se petition for collateral relief under Pennsylvania's Post-Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”), 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 9541 et seq. After counsel was appointed, and filed an amended petition, a hearing was held on April 8, 2010. At that hearing, counsel pursued only an ineffectiveness claim based on trial counsel's failure to present character evidence, and a claim related to [Petitioner]'s inability to obtain a complete trial transcript. Transcript of April 8, 2010. At the end of the hearing, the PCRA judge denied the petition. Id. at 34. For, the next few years, some confusion ensued due to the fact that [Petitioner] filed a second PCRA petition, and then appealed the denial of his first PCRA petition while the second was pending. Id.
Ultimately, in 2013, [Petitioner] was permitted to file a counseled PCRA appeal. Commonwealth v. Slaughter, No. 367 EDA 2013, 2014 WL 10588398 (Pa. Super. Ct. Sept. 12, 2014). In it, he argued that (1) trial and appellate counsel were ineffective in failing to request that the jury's partial verdict be recorded before the trial court seated the alternate juror; (2) trial counsel was ineffective in failing to introduce character evidence; (3) PCRA counsel was ineffective for failing to raise trial and appellate counsels' ineffective failure to argue that [Petitioner]'s conviction was against the weight of the evidence (although counsel labeled this as a claim of insufficient evidence, her argument pertained only to its weight); (4) trial, appellate, and PCRA counsel were ineffective for failing to challenge the discretionary aspects of Petitioner's sentence; and (5) PCRA counsel was ineffective for failing to “make proper objections” regarding hearsay testimony from Detective Brooks and Lieutenant Hartnett. Brief of Appellant at 12-27, Slaughter, 2014 WL 10588398.
On September 12, 2014, the Superior Court ruled that [Petitioner] was entitled to a new trial. Slaughter, 2014 WL 10588398, at *6. The Superior Court found that [Petitioner]'s trial counsel had been ineffective in failing to object to the judge's impaneling of an alternate juror after jury deliberations had begun, which was precluded by Pennsylvania law at the time of [Petitioner]'s trial. Id. at *5. The Superior Court did not address any other issues raised. Id.
However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted the Commonwealth's appeal of this decision. Commonwealth v. Slaughter, 120 A.3d 992 (Pa. 2015) (mem.). It ruled that the Superior Court improperly evaluated [Petitioner]'s ineffectiveness of counsel claim under the harmless error standard which would have applied if the trial court's action was raised on direct appeal. Id. That standard presumed prejudice, and put the burden on the Commonwealth to rebut the assumption. Id. Instead, the correct standard was that set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984) and Commonwealth v. Pierce, 527 A.2d 973 (Pa. 1987) for claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Id. That standard required a petitioner to prove actual prejudice. Id.
Consequently, the Supreme Court remanded the matter for reconsideration by the Superior Court, applying the Strickland standard. Id. In a January 25, 2016, ruling, the Superior Court concluded that [Petitioner] had not shown actual prejudice, and was not entitled to relief. [On July 28, 2015], the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied review . . . . Slaughter, 120 A.3d 992.

(Doc. No. 22 at 1-4.)

         On August 2, 2016, Petitioner initiated the present action by filing a pro se Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. No. 1.) On August 25, 2016, the Court referred the case to United States Magistrate Judge Jacob P. Hart for a Report and Recommendation. (Doc. No. 2.) On July 7, 2017, Respondents filed a Response in Opposition to the Petition. (Doc. No. 18.) On August 9, 2017, Petitioner filed his Reply. (Doc. No. 21.)

         On August 14, 2017, Magistrate Judge Hart issued his Report, recommending that Petitioner's claims for relief be denied and that a certificate of appealability not be issued. (Doc. No. 22.) On August 29, 2017, Petitioner filed Objections to the Report. (Doc. No. 24.) Petitioner's Objections are now before the Court for review. For reasons that follow, the Court will approve and adopt the Report (Doc. No. 22) and will deny the Petition (Doc. No. 1).

         III. ...


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