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Lawrence v. Wetzel

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 2, 2019

BREON LAWRENCE, Petitioner,
v.
JOHN E. WETZEL, et al., Respondents.

          MEMORANDUM

          LYNNE A. SITARSKI UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Presently before the Court is a counseled Motion to Amend the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on behalf of Breon Lawrence (“Petitioner”), an individual currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institute at Green in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. For the following reasons, the Motion to Amend the Habeas Petition is GRANTED.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On August 6, 2015, following a jury trial, Petitioner was found guilty of first-degree murder, and related offenses, for the April 11, 2014 killing of Jahkil Swain. Commonwealth v. Lawrence, No. 1347 EDA 2018, 2019 WL 75824, at *1 (Pa. Super. Ct. Jan. 2019). On September II, 2015, Petitioner was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. (Id.). Petitioner filed a counseled notice of a direct appeal with the Pennsylvania Superior Court on October 8, 2015. (Crim. Docket at 14). The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed Petitioner's sentence on June 24, 2016. Commonwealth v. Lawrence, 3051 EDA 2015, 2016 WL 4719983, at *2-3 (Pa. Super. Ct. June 24, 2016).

         On April 26, 2017, Petitioner filed a pro se petition for relief under Pennsylvania's Post-Conviction Relief Act, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 9541, et seq. (“PCRA”). (Crim. Docket at 16; PCRA Pet.). PCRA counsel was appointed, and filed an amended PCRA petition. (Crim. Docket at 16). On April 17, 2018, the PCRA Court denied Petitioner's PCRA petition for relief. (Crim. Docket at 18). Petitioner filed a pro se Notice of Appeal on April 30, 2018, and subsequently filed a counseled brief with the Pennsylvania Superior Court on October 19, 2018. (Crim. Docket at 19-20). The Superior Court affirmed the PCRA Court's decision on January 2, 2019. Lawrence, 2019 WL 75824.

         On March 19, 2019, [1] Petitioner filed a pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus, raising two ineffective assistance of counsel claims: (1) “counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the Commonwealth's eliciting his religion from witness Dondre Ellis, ” and (2) “counsel was ineffective for failing to request a charge to the jury on voluntary manslaughter.” (Hab. Pet., ECF No. 1 at 7). Counsel for Petitioner entered his appearance on May 16, 2019, and filed the present motion to amend the petition for writ of habeas corpus on June 14, 2019. (Entry of Appearance, ECF No. 7; Am. Hab. Pet., ECF No. 9). On June 24, 2019, the Commonwealth filed its Response. (Resp. Mot. Am., ECF No. 10).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”) provides that “[a] 1-year period of limitation shall apply to an application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court.” 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1). The limitations period runs from the latest of:

(A) the date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review;
(B) the date on which the impediment to filing an application created by State action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed, if the applicant was prevented from filing by such State action;
(C) the date on which the constitutional right asserted was initially recognized by the Supreme Court, if the right has been newly recognized by the Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review; or
(D) the date on which the factual predicate of the claim or claims presented could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence.

Id.

         Section 2242 provides that habeas petitions “may be amended. . .as provided in the rules of procedure applicable to civil actions.” Mayle v. Felix, 545 U.S. 644, 654 (2005) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2242). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 governs and is “made applicable to habeas proceedings by § 2242, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 81(a)(2), and Habeas Corpus Rule 11.” Id. at 655. Amendments to add untimely claims are permitted when the new claims relate back to timely filed claims. Id.at 657, 664; see, e.g., Armstrong v. United States, 2018 WL 1641234, at *3 (M.D. Pa. Apr. 2, 2018) (allowing newly raised claims in an untimely filed amended habeas petition to proceed because they related back to timely filed claims in original habeas petition). ÔÇťAmendments made after the statute of limitations ...


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