United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
RICHARD P. CONABOY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Coffee, an inmate presently confined at the McKean Federal
Correctional Institution, Bradford, Pennsylvania
(FCI-McKean), initiated this pro se petition for
writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. This
matter was initiated while Coffee was incarcerated at the
State Correctional Institution, Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.
Service of the Petition was previously ordered.
was charged with a general count of murder with respect to
the shooting death of John Bruno. An initial trial on the
charge in the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas ended in a
mistrial on August 19, 2009. Prior to the beginning of his
retrial, Petitioner entered a guilty plea on May 17, 2011, to
a charge of third degree murder Following his plea Coffee was
sentenced to a five and one half (5 ½) to twenty (20)
year term of imprisonment. Following a direct appeal,
Petitioner's conviction was affirmed. See
Commonwealth v. Coffee, 613 Pa. 658 (2011) (Table).
Petitioner also unsuccessfully sought relief under
Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act
(PCRA). See Commonwealth v. Coffee, 50
A.3d 658 (Pa. Super 2012)(Table).
pending action challenges the legality of his guilty plea on
the grounds that he was provided with ineffective assistance
of counsel. Specifically, Petitioner asserts his plea was
based upon representations from his trial counsel that he
would only receive a three (3) to six (6) year term of
imprisonment. In support of his claim, Petitioner has
provided a notarized affidavit from his trial counsel. The
affidavit provides that prior to the beginning of opening
statements in Coffee retrial, the Petitioner expressed fears
to his trial counsel about proceeding to trial and indicated
a willingness to accept a three to six year sentence in
exchange for a guilty plea.
upon the sentiments expressed by his client, trial counsel
states that he engaged in a chambers discussion with the
prosecution attorney and trial judge regarding Coffee's
proposal. According to the affidavit, the prosecution
informed trial counsel that the Commonwealth would not agree
to a 3-6 year term.
counsel states that he then suggested the option that
Petitioner could enter an open plea. In response, the trial
court judge allegedly responded “that's no problem
I can do that.” Doc. 1-2, p. 12. After the meeting
concluded, the affidavit asserts that trial counsel spoke
with his client and expressed that it was his understanding
“based upon the Judge's comments and everything
that had transpired.... This [a 3-6 year sentence] is what
you will get.” Id., p. 7.
concludes that he is entitled to federal habeas corpus relief
because the misinformation provided to him by his trial
counsel undermines the voluntary nature of his guilty plea.
initially noted that the Respondent concedes that this matter
is timely filed and that Coffee has fully exhausted his state
court remedies with respect to his pending claim. However,
Respondent argues that Coffee's action should be
dismissed because he has failed to establish that his plea
counsel provided ineffective assistance. See Doc.
19, p. 16.
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
modified a federal habeas court's role in reviewing state
prisoner applications in order to prevent federal habeas
‘retrials' and to ensure that state-court
convictions are given effect to the extent possible under
law.” Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693 (2002).
when a federal-law issue has been adjudicated on the merits
by a state court, the federal court reverses only when the
decision was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable
application of, clearly established Federal law, as
determined by the United States Supreme Court. 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254(d)(1). See generally, Knowles v.
Mirzayance, U.S. 111, 114 (2009); Gattis v.
Snyder, 278 F.3d 222, 234 (3d Cir. 2002); Moore v.
Morton, 255 F.3d 95, 104-05 (3d Cir. 2001). The Supreme
Court of the United States has held that the “contrary
to” and “unreasonable application” clauses
of § 2254(d)(1) have independent meaning. Williams
v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 404-405 (2000). As explained in
Bell, 535 U.S. at 694:
A federal habeas court may issue the writ under the
‘contrary to' clause if the state court applies a
rule different from the governing law set forth in our cases,
or if it decides a case differently than we have done on a
set of materially indistinguishable facts. . . . The court
may grant relief under the ‘unreasonable
application' clause if the state court correctly
identifies the governing legal principle from our decisions
but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular
case. . . . The focus of the ...