United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
ROBERT J. STEVENS, Petitioner,
SUPERINTENDENT ECKARD, Respondent.
MATTHEW W. BRANN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
J. Stevens, an inmate presently confined at the State
Correctional Institution, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania,
(SCI-Huntingdon), filed this pro se habeas corpus
petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. SCI-Huntingdon
Superintendent J. A. Eckard has been deemed to be the sole
Respondent in this matter. Service of the petition was
was arrested and charged with multiple crimes stemming from
two purported incidents of physical and sexual abuse against
his girlfriend. During the first incident on September 10,
2009, Petitioner used his vehicle to strike the victim's
vehicle. Following his release on bail on January 14, 2010,
Stevens went to the victim's house in violation of the
conditions of his release and subjected her to physical and
sexual assault. Stevens then transported the victim against
her will to a neighboring state. The charges stemming from
the two incidents were subsequently consolidated for trial.
On November 2, 2010, Stevens was found guilty of aggravated
assault, kidnapping, rape, burglary, robbery, and related
offenses following a jury trial in the Court of Common Pleas
of Monroe County, Pennsylvania. The Petitioner was sentenced
to an aggregate forty-six (46) to ninety-two (92) year term
of imprisonment on June 15, 2011.
a direct appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania,
Petitioner's conviction and sentence were affirmed on
March 7, 2013. See Commonwealth v. Stevens, 69 A.3d
1284 (Pa. Super. 2013). Stevens' direct appeal contended
that the trial court erred by allowing State Trooper Slavin
to provide expert testimony about blood spatter patterns and
by refusing to allow the victim to be cross examined
regarding her history of consensual bondage with Stevens.
There is no indication that Petitioner requested further
review from the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
subsequently sought collateral relief pursuant to
Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA).
Following the appointment of counsel and submission of an
amended petition, Petitioner's PCRA action was denied by
the trial court on June 9, 2014. The Superior Court affirmed
the denial of PCRA relief. See Commonwealth v.
Stevens, 121 A.3d 1142 (Pa. Super. April 27, 2015).
PCRA appeal, Stevens raised claims that the trial
counsel's failure to file a pre-trial motion to sever and
a motion under the Rape Shield Law amounted ineffective
assistance of counsel. See id., p. 29. The Superior
Court found that the failure to file a motion to sever did
not prejudice Stevens since evidence relating from the first
incident was relevant and properly admitted to show motive
for the second incident. The Superior Court further
determined that the failure to file a Rape Shield related
motion for the purpose of allowing cross-examination of the
victim regarding prior consensual bondage with the Petitioner
was not prejudicial. The Superior Court concluded that since
it was the Commonwealth's theory of the case that the
sexual assault occurred after the victim lost
consciousness due to a physical assault by Stevens, any
evidence of prior consensual bondage was rendered irrelevant.
One of Stevens' pending petition claims entitlement to
federal habeas corpus relief on the basis that trial counsel
provided ineffective assistance by failing to question the
victim regarding alleged prior, consensual sexual bondage.
Petitioner maintains that this line of questioning would have
been admissible if his trial counsel had pursued a motion
under the Pennsylvania Rape Shield Law with respect to the
Commonwealth's claim that the victim had been beaten,
bound and raped. Petitioner adds that the trial court and
Superior Court papered over this claim by determining that
the evidence was not relevant because the Commonwealth
alleged that the victim had been bound and raped after being
further alleges that trial counsel was deficient for not
seeking production of a receipt from a New Jersey hotel
signed by the victim which was in possession of the
Commonwealth and would have undermined the kidnapping charge.
It is also asserted that PCRA counsel's performance was
deficient for not raising a claim that Petitioner was
convicted and sentenced under two different subsections of
the same statute.
Two contends that the Commonwealth's opening and closing
statements constituted prosecutorial misconduct because the
prosecutor misrepresented certain facts, including statements
regarding the conduct and character of the victim. It is also
alleged that the Commonwealth ignored and failed to produce
evidence (hotel receipt) which would undermine the kidnaping
charge; introduced inadmissible photographs and testimony of
prior bad acts; allowed false and leading testimony by the
victim; failed to preserve or withheld exculpatory physical
evidence; neglected to provide defense counsel with a summary
of an expert witness's findings; used hearsay testimony;
and falsely charged the Petitioner with kidnaping as well as
multiple counts of rape. Stevens adds that trial counsel
erred by not objecting to, or preserving for appeal, the
above listed acts of prosecutorial misconduct. Furthermore,
it is alleged that PCRA counsel was equally ineffective for
not raising the above claims.
Three contends that there was insufficient evidence presented
at trial to support Stevens' conviction. Petitioner adds
that the prosecution overcharged him with multiple crimes in
an effort to inflame the jury. Stevens also reiterates his
claims that the performances of both trial and PCRA counsel
were deficient. See Doc. 2, p. 12.
Four sets forth additional ineffective assistance claims that
trial counsel failed to investigate, properly prepare for
trial, and challenge the pre-sentence report. See
Id. at p. 14 -21. It is specifically alleged that
counsel failed to retain an investigator to photograph and
collect evidence from the crime scene. It is also alleged
that counsel failed to adequately cross examine Commonwealth
witnesses, including the victim and a state police trooper;
neglected to file pretrial motions to suppress evidence and
sever; object to the introduction of prior bad acts
testimony; retain a forensics expert; and depose all
Five maintains that state correctional officials refused to
grant Stevens access to seven (7) electronic discs containing
video and audio recordings relating to his criminal case. As
a result, Petitioner maintains that his ability to
collaterally attack his conviction was impeded.