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Freeland v. Glunt

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 30, 2018

STEVEN GLUNT. et al., Respondents


          Robert D. Mariani United States District Judge

         Petitioner Keyon Freeland ("Freeland"), an inmate currently confined at the Rockview State Correctional Institution in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, filed the instant pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. 1). The matter is proceeding via an amended petition. (Doc. 8). Freeland challenges his conviction and sentence from the York County Court of Common Pleas. [Id.). For the reasons discussed below, the Court will deny the amended habeas petition.

         I. Factual Background

         The factual background of this case has been aptly summarized by the Pennsylvania Superior Court as follows:

On January 8, 2011, Kyree Maxfield and Ja'Quinn Barnes were walking around the City of York after leaving a party. They went to a friend's house on Smyser Street, but left to go home after a fight broke out in front of the Smyser Street residence. As Maxfield and Barnes left the house, a car pulled alongside them, and a man, later identified as Freeland, got out of the vehicle. Freeland told them to give him everything they had. He pulled out two guns, then ordered Maxfield and Barnes to undress and dress again. He then shot at the pair, missing Barnes, but inflicting two gunshot wounds to Maxfield's left leg and one to his hand. At the time of the shooting, Maxfield and Barnes were about eight feet away from Freeland. The area was dimly lit and the shooter was not wearing a mask.
By the time police arrived minutes after the shooting, Freeland had left the area. Maxfield was then transported to the York Hospital. Dr. Keith Clancy treated Maxfield for the severe injury to his femoral artery, which caused him to lose his pulse in his leg and fifteen units of blood. Dr. Clancy testified that were it not for emergency surgery, Maxfield would have died.
On January 12, 2011 at around 3:45 p.m., Officer Ryan Anderson attempted to pull-over a gray sedan on Philadelphia Avenue by activating his lights and sirens. The vehicle pulled away and Officer Anderson pursued it. The chase continued until the sedan collided with a telephone pole, and the passenger and driver fled on foot in opposite directions. Officer Anderson chased the driver on foot, during which time the driver threw two objects from his person. These objects, retrieved after the driver and passenger were in custody, were guns, Officer Anderson identified the driver as Freeland, and one of the guns that Freeland threw during the chase was later determined to be one of the guns that shot Maxfield.

(Doc. 16-1, pp. 315-317, Commonwealth v. Freeland, No. 553 MDA 2012, unpublished memorandum (Pa. Super, filed August 23, 2012) (footnotes omitted)).

         II. State Court Proceedings

         On January 19, 2011, Freeland was charged with two counts of criminal attempt homicide, two counts of aggravated assault, and one count of persons not to possess a firearm. See electronic docket sheet for Commonwealth v. Freeland, No. CP-67-CR-0001946-2011 (York Cnty. Ct. Com. PL), found at Although represented by counsel, Freeland filed his own omnibus pre-trial motions, including a motion for substitution of counsel. (Doc. 16-1, pp. 7-10, Motion for Substitution of Counsel). On September 26, 2011, Judge Richard K. Renn of the York County Court of Common Pleas scheduled a hearing on Freeland's motion for substitution of counsel for immediately prior to the commencement of trial. (Doc. 16-1, p. 11, Order Scheduling Hearing). Although scheduled, the hearing on Freeland's motion did not occur.

         A jury trial was held from December 6, 2011 through December 8, 2011, in the Court of Common Pleas of York County. (See Commonwealth v. Freeland, No. CP-67-CR-0001946-2011; see also Doc. 16-1, pp. 12-292, NT. Jury Trial, 12/6/11 -12/8/11). On December 8, 2011, the jury convicted Freeland of attempted homicide of Maxfield, aggravated assault (causing serious bodily injury) of Maxfield, and illegal possession of a firearm. (Doc. 16-1, pp. 315-24, Commonwealth v. Freeland, No. 553 MDA 2012). The jury acquitted Freeland of the attempted homicide of Barnes, and aggravated assault (serious bodily injury) of Barnes. (See id.). On February 17, 2012, the court sentenced Freeland to an aggregate term of fourteen to twenty-eight years' incarceration in a state correctional institution. (Doc. 16-1, pp. 285-90, NT. Sentencing, 2/17/12). Freeland filed a post-sentence motion, which the trial court denied. [See Doc. 16-1, p. 317, Commonwealth v. Freeland, No. 553 MDA 2012).

         Freeland pursued direct appeal proceedings challenging the sufficiency of the evidence for attempted homicide, the publication to the jury of the red-tinged color photo from the photo array lineup that he claimed depicted injuries to his face, and the trial court's admission of the police video of the car chase and flight on foot. See Commonwealth v. Freeland, 106 A.3d 768, 773 (Pa. Super. 2014). On August 23, 2012, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the judgment of sentence, rejecting all three claims. (See Doc. 16-1, pp. 315-24, Commonwealth v. Freeland, No. 553 MDA 2012). Freeland did not file a petition for allowance of appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. [See Doc. 8, p. 2).

         On March 4, 2013, Freeland filed a pro se petition for post-conviction collateral relief pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 PA. CONS. STAT. §§ 9541-46. (Doc. 16-1, pp. 325-332, PCRA Petition). The PCRA court appointed counsel, who filed an amended petition on April 24, 2013. See Commonwealth v. Freeland, 106 A.3d at 773. That counsel, and other counsel, were subsequently permitted to withdraw. See Id. The PCRA eventually appointed Attorney Scott A. McCabe, who filed an amended petition on August 16, 2013. (Doc. 16-1, pp. 344-47, Amended PCRA Petition). On September 25, 2013, a hearing was held and the PCRA court denied relief from the bench. (Doc. 16-1, pp. 349-446, NT. PCRA Hearing, 9/25/13). The PCRA court subsequently issued a written order denying relief, which also explained the reasons for its denial. See Commonwealth v. Freeland, 106A.3dat773.

         On October 3, 2013, counsel filed a timely notice of appeal. (Doc. 16-1, p. 448, Notice of Appeal). On March 13, 2014, the Superior Court remanded the appeal back to the PCRA court for a determination of whether counsel had abandoned Freeland by failing to file a brief. (Doc. 16-1, p. 477, Order, per curiam, 3/13/14). On remand, the PCRA court held a hearing and found that counsel had drafted a Turner/Finley[1]letter, but inadvertently failed to file and serve it in a timely fashion. (Doc. 16-1, pp. 479-85, NT. Hearing, 3/27/14; see also pp. 482-84, Order, 3/27/14). The PCRA court concluded that counsel had not abandoned Freeland. [See id.). The PCRA court issued an order directing counsel to file and serve his Turner/Finley letter and application to withdraw with the Superior Court. (See id.). The PCRA court also recommended that the Superior Court permit counsel to file his Turner/Finley letter. (See id.).

         On April 4, 2014, Attorney McCabe filed a petition to withdraw with the Superior Court, attaching his Turner/Finley "no merit" letter, with notice to Freeland that he had the right to proceed pro se or retain private counsel. See Commonwealth v. Freeland, 106 A.3d at 774. On April 29, 2014, Freeland filed an application for relief. See id. On May 2, 2014, he filed a pro se response to the Turner/Finley letter. See Id. Freeland also requested an extension to file a "cross-appeal" in support of his opposition to counsel's petition to withdraw. See Id. After being granted two extensions of time, Freeland filed a pro se brief in response to counsel's petition to withdraw. (Doc. 16-1, pp. 486-559, Pro Se Brief). On December 11, 2014, the Superior Court affirmed the decision of the PCRA court. (Doc. 16-1, pp. 596-624, Commonwealth v. Freeland, No. 1790 MDA 2013 (Pa. Super, filed December 11, 2014)). Specifically, the Superior Court granted counsel's petition to withdraw, finding that PCRA counsel fulfilled the mandates of Turner/Finley, the issues in the PCRA petition had no merit, and that Freeland's pro se response to counsel's Turner/ Finley letter did not entitle him to relief. See Id.

         III. Standards of Review

         The statutory authority of federal courts to issue habeas corpus relief for persons in state custody is provided by 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"). A habeas corpus petition pursuant to § 2254 is the proper mechanism for a prisoner to challenge the "fact or duration" of his confinement. Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 498-99, 93 S.Ct. 1827, 36 L.Ed.2d 439 (1973). "[I]t is not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determinations on state-law questions." Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68, 112 S.Ct. 475, 116 L.Ed.2d 385 (1991). Rather, federal habeas review is restricted to claims based "on the ground that [petitioner] is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); Estelle, 502 U.S. at 68.

         A. Exhaustion

         Habeas corpus relief cannot be granted unless all available state remedies have been exhausted, or there is an absence of available state corrective process, or circumstances exist that render such process ineffective to protect the rights of the applicant. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1). The exhaustion requirement is grounded on principles of comity in order to ensure that state courts have the initial opportunity to review federal constitutional challenges to state convictions. See Weils v. Vaughn, 228 F.3d 178, 192 (3d Cir. 2000).

         A state prisoner exhausts state remedies by giving the "state courts one full opportunity to resolve any constitutional issues by invoking one complete round of the State's established appellate review process." O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845, 119 S.Ct. 1728, 144 L.Ed.2d 1 (1999). Respect for the state court system requires that the petitioner demonstrate that the claims in question have been "fairly presented to the state courts." Castille v. Peoples, 489 U.S. 346, 351, 109 S.Ct. 1056, 103 L.Ed.2d 380 (1989). To "fairly present" a claim, a petitioner must present its "factual and legal substance to the state courts in a manner that puts them on notice that a federal claim is being asserted." McCandless v. Vaughn, 172 F.3d 255, 261 (3d Cir. 1999); see also Nara v. Frank, 488 F.3d 187, 197-98 (3d Cir. 2007) (recognizing that a claim is fairly presented when a petitioner presents the same factual and legal basis for the claim to the state courts). While the petitioner need not cite "book and verse" of the federal Constitution, Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 278, 92 S.Ct. 509, 30 L.Ed.2d 438 (1971), he must "give the State 'the opportunity to pass upon and correct' alleged violations of its prisoners' federal rights" before presenting those claims here, Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364, 365, 115 S.Ct. 887, 130 L.Ed.2d 865 (1995) (quoting Picard, 404 U.S. at 275, 92 S.Ct. 509).

         In this case, Respondents contend that Freeland failed to properly exhaust his claims that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request an instruction on prior bad acts, failing to object to statements made by Detective Clarkson, and failing to object to his alleged illegal sentence. (Doc. 16).

         B. Merits Standard

         Once a court has determined that the exhaustion requirement is met and, therefore, that review on the merits of the issues presented in a habeas petition is warranted, the scope of that review is set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Section 2254(d) provides, in pertinent part, that an application for a writ of habeas corpus premised on a claim previously adjudicated on the merits in state court shall not be granted unless:

(1) [the decision] 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) [the decision] 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(d). To establish that the decision was contrary to federal law "it is not sufficient for the petitioner to show merely that his interpretation of Supreme Court precedent is more plausible than the state court's; rather, the petitioner must demonstrate that Supreme Court precedent requires the contrary outcome." Matteo v. Superintendent, 171 F.3d 877, 888 (3d Cir. 1999). Similarly, a federal court will only find a state court decision to be an unreasonable application of federal law if the decision, "evaluated objectively and on the merits, resulted in an outcome that cannot reasonably be justified under existing Supreme Court precedent." Id.

         Further, under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1), a federal court is required to presume that a state court's findings of fact are correct. A petitioner may only rebut this presumption with clear and convincing evidence of the state court's error. Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 341 (2003) (stating that the clear and convincing standard in § 2254(e)(1) applies to factual issues, whereas the unreasonable application standard of § 2254(d)(2) applies to factual decisions); Matteo, 171 F.3d at 888; Thomas v. Varner, 428 F.3d 492, 497-98 (3d Cir. 2005). This presumption of correctness applies to both explicit and implicit findings of fact. Campbell v. Vaughn, 209 F.3d 280, 286 (3d Cir. 2000). Consequently, a habeas petitioner "must clear a high hurdle before a federal court will set aside any of the state court's factual findings." Mastracchio v. Vose, 274 F.3d 590, 597-98 (1st Cir. 2001).

         Like the "unreasonable application" prong of paragraph (1), a factual determination should be adjudged "unreasonable" under paragraph (2) only if the court finds that a rational jurist could not reach the same finding on the basis of the evidence in the record. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2); Porter v. Horn, 276 F.Supp.2d 278, 296 (E.D. Pa. 2003); see also Torres v. Prunty, 223 F.3d 1103, 1107-08 (9th Cir. 2000); cf. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 316 (1979). "This provision essentially requires the district court to step into the shoes of an appellate tribunal, examining the record below to ascertain whether sufficient evidence existed to support the findings of fact material to the conviction." Breighner v. Chesney, 301 F.Supp.2d 354, 364 (M.D. Pa. 2004) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2) and (f)[2]). Mere disagreement with an inferential leap or credibility judgment of the state court is insufficient to permit relief. Porter, 276 F.Supp.2d at 296; see also Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 408-09 (2000); Hurtado v. Tucker, 245 F.3d 7, 16 (1st Cir. 2001). Only when the finding lacks evidentiary support in the state court record or is plainly controverted by evidence therein should the federal habeas court overturn a state court's factual determination. Porter, 276 F.Supp.2d at 296; see also Williams, 529 U.S. at 408-09.

         IV. Discussion

         A. Fourteenth Amendment Claim

         Freeland argues that the trial court violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights by failing to conduct a hearing on his motion for substitute counsel. Freeland presented this claim on post-conviction appeal, and the state courts denied it as waived and meritless. Accordingly, Freeland will only be entitled to relief if the state court decisions were either contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law.

         The PCRA court addressed this claim as follows:

Attorney Gross testified that he was aware the Motion [for Substitute Counsel] was filed prior to trial; however, he had continued to meet with Defendant in preparation for trial even after the Motion was filed. (NT. 9/ 25/13 pp. 49-51). When the court asked immediately prior to trial if there were any other issues outstanding, neither Defendant nor his counsel mentioned the Motion for new counsel. At that point, we considered the issue waived by Defendant. If the issue was not waived, we find the issue is without merit.
Defendant testified at the PCRA hearing as to the reasons he wanted new counsel and we would not have granted Defendant's request for any of the reasons stated. (NT. 9/ 25/13 pp. 14-16).

(Doc. 16-1, pp. 462-63, PCRA Court's 1925(a) Statement).

         The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the PCRA court's judgment denying postconviction relief, addressed this claim as follows:

Appellant claims denial of due process in the failure of the trial court to appoint new counsel prior to trial. (See Appellant's Brief, at 34-36). This claim against the trial court does not present a cognizable issue under the PCRA. See 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 9543; see also Commonwealth v. Smith, 69 A.3d 259, 266 (Pa. Super. 2013), appeal denied, 83 A.3d 168 (Pa. 2013) (noting that "'the right to appointed counsel does not include the right to counsel of the defendant's choice.' Rather, the decision to appoint different counsel to a requesting defendant lies within the discretion of the trial court.") (citations omitted).
Moreover, it would not merit relief. The PCRA court confirmed that it would not have granted the request for new counsel based on any of the reasons Appellant gave at the PCRA hearing. (See PCRA Court Opinion, 12/10/13, at 6). Therefore, even if re-framed as a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to object, the issue would fail because Appellant's underlying claim lacks arguable merit. Furthermore, because the PCRA court confirmed that it would not have appointed new counsel for any of the reasons advanced by Appellant, Appellant cannot prove prejudice. Notably, the PCRA court also resolved all issues of credibility in favor of trial counsel, and against Appellant. (See id. at 5 n. 1).

Commonwealth v. Freeland, 106 A.3d at 780 (emphasis in original).

         The Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments guarantee that a person brought to trial in any state or federal court must be afforded the right to the assistance of counsel before he can be validly convicted and punished by imprisonment. See Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45, 53 S.Ct. 55, 77 L.Ed. 158 (1932); Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 58 S.Ct. 1019, 82 L.Ed. 1461 (1938); Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, 83 S.Ct. 792, 9 L.Ed.2d 799 (1963). "[T]he essential aim of the [Sixth] Amendment is to guarantee an effective advocate for each criminal defendant rather than to ensure that a defendant will inexorably be represented by the lawyer he prefers." Wheat v. United States, 486 U.S. 153, 159, 108 S.Ct. 1692, 100 L.Ed.2d 140 (1988). Consequently, the Sixth Amendment right to counsel does not guarantee a meaningful relationship between a defendant and counsel. Morris v. Slappy, 461 U.S. 1, 13-14, 103 S.Ct. 1610, 75 L.Ed.2d 610 (1983). Additionally, although a defendant's right to counsel includes the right to counsel of one's choice, the "right to counsel of choice does not extend to defendants who require counsel to be appointed for them." United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez, 548 U.S. 140, 151, 126 S.Ct. 2557, 165 L.Ed.2d 409 (2006). Thus, an indigent defendant requesting new counsel must show good cause to warrant such substitution. Determining if good cause exists for substitution of counsel is a factual inquiry, and the defendant must be given an opportunity to provide the court with the reason for his dissatisfaction. United States v. Welty, 674 F.2d 185, 190 (3d Cir. 1982).

         Good cause for substitution of counsel is defined as a "conflict of interest, a complete breakdown of communication, or an irreconcilable conflict with the attorney." United States v. Goldberg, 67 F.3d 1092, 1098 (3d Cir. 1995). A disagreement between the defendant and defense counsel over legal strategy does not constitute good cause requiring substitution of counsel, nor does a defendant's unilateral decision not to cooperate with court appointed counsel. Id. at 1098-99; United States v. Gibbs, 190 F.3d 188, 207 n. 10 (3d Cir. 1999). A defendant's mere dissatisfaction with counsel also does not warrant substitution of counsel. See United States v. Moses, 58 Fed.Appx. 549, 555 (3d Cir. 2003). If the trial court determines that good cause for substitution of counsel does not exist, then the court must "inform the defendant that he can either proceed with current counsel or represent himself." Goldberg, 67 F.3d at 1098.

         The following state standard pertaining to substitution of counsel is clearly in line with prevailing federal law. Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 122(C) provides "[a] motion for change of counsel by a defendant for whom counsel has been appointed shall not be granted except for substantial reasons." Pa. R.Crim.P. 122(C). To satisfy this standard, a defendant must demonstrate he has an irreconcilable difference with counsel that precludes counsel from representing him. Commonwealth v. Spotz, 562 Pa. 498, 756 A.2d 1139, 1150 (2000) (citing Commonwealth v. Tyler, 468 Pa. 193, 360 A.2d 617, 619 (1976)). The decision whether to appoint new counsel lies within the trial court's sound discretion. Id. (citing Commonwealth v. Segers, 460 Pa. 149, 331 A.2d 462, 465 (1975)).

         At the PCRA hearing, Freeland testified that he sought substitute counsel based on trial counsel's failure to file a suppression motion, failure to appeal an adverse Rule 600 decision prior to trial, and failure to discuss evidentiary issues with him sooner than he did. (Doc. 16-1, pp. 360-64, NT. PCRA Hearing, 9/25/13). The state courts found that all of these reasons lacked merit, and that Freeland failed to establish good cause for substitution of counsel. Also at the PCRA hearing, trial counsel testified that he was aware of Freeland's pro se motion for substitute counsel, however, Freeland never told him that he wanted him removed from the case, and he did not remember the motion until his closing argument. (Doc. 16-1, pp. 398-400, NT. PCRA Hearing, 9/25/13). Further, Freeland testified that nothing prevented him from reminding the Court that he had filed a motion for new counsel. (Doc. 16-1, pp. ...

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