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Copper v. Superintendent of SCI-Greene

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 5, 2019




         AND NOW, this 5th day of August, 2019, upon consideration of the Honorable Timothy R. Rice's Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 13), Petitioner's objections filed thereto (ECF No. 19), and Respondents' response (ECF No. 23), I find as follows:

         A. Factual and Procedural Background

         1. In June 2009, Petitioner, Tyreese Copper, was tried for the shooting death of Reginald James in Philadelphia County. Commonwealth v. Copper, Crim. No. CP-51-CR-0007129-2009 (Phila. C.C.P. 2009). The evidence established that, on February 18, 2009, James and Davina Sparks were together in a car when an individual approached and tried to open the passenger door. When James got out of the car, another man emerged and shot James several times. James was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

         2. Petitioner's father, Anderson, told the police that he saw Petitioner shoot James. Another witness told the police that, a few days prior to the murder, James broke into Petitioner's home and stole a safe filled with money. Sparks also identified Petitioner as the shooter during a photo array one day after the murder.

         3. Prior to trial, the state court held a hearing on Petitioner's Motion to Suppress, which concerned Sparks's identification of Petitioner during the photo array. While Sparks initially identified Reginald Span as one of the shooters, she ultimately identified Petitioner as the shooter. Sparks later claimed that the detectives told her before showing her the photo array that “Spahn was the wrong guy, ” and that the “right guy” was in the photo array. The court heard and credited the testimony from the detectives that such statement never occurred.

         4. Petitioner was convicted of first-degree murder, acquitted of carrying a firearm without a license and possession of an instrument of crime, and sentenced to life in prison. The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the conviction and sentence. Petitioner did not seek review from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. On March 19, 2015, Petitioner filed a petition for relief under the Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”). In May 2017, the PCRA court dismissed the petition, and the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed.

         5. Petitioner timely filed a habeas corpus petition, alleging that trial counsel was ineffective for the following reasons: (a) failing to object to the medical examiner's testimony; (b) failing to object to the clearing of the courtroom, (c) failing to raise a due process objection to Spark's photo array identification, (d) failing to hire an eyewitness identification expert, (e) failing to challenge Anderson's police statement, (f) failing to object to the Government's closing argument, (g) failing to hire a ballistics expert, (h) failing to more specifically object to the jury instruction, and (i) failing to investigate Spark's religious beliefs. Petitioner also argues that the evidence was insufficient to support his first-degree murder conviction. Finally, Petitioner raises a due process claim, alleging that the trial court refused to grant a mistrial and gave an improper jury instruction. (Pet., ECF No. 1.)

         6. This matter was referred to the Honorable Timothy R. Rice for a report and recommendation (“R&R”). (Order, Oct. 30, 2018, ECF No. 3.) After extensive briefing, oral argument, and evidentiary hearings, Judge Rice issued his R&R on April 3, 2019. (R&R, Apr. 3, 2019, ECF No. 13.) Petitioner filed objections on May 20, 2019, to which the Government responded on June 4, 2019.[1] (ECF Nos. 19, 23.)

         B. Legal Standard

         7. A district court conducts a de novo review where an objection to the report and recommendation is made. Where no objection is filed, the review is “clear error.” See Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 6 (3d Cir. 1984).

         C. Discussion

         8. Petitioner filed twelve objections. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has held that providing complete de novo review where only a general objection is offered “would undermine the efficiency the magistrate system was meant to contribute to the judicial process.” Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 6 (3d Cir. 1984). Thus, if objections to a report “merely rehash an argument presented to and considered by a magistrate judge, ” de novo review is not required. Gray v. Delbiaso, No. 14-4902, 2017 WL 2834361, at *4 (E.D. Pa. June 30, 2017); see also King v. Bickell, No. 13-2118, 2017 WL 1178068, at *5 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 30, 2017) (holding that argument that “is merely a rehashing of the arguments” already made to the Magistrate Judge are not entitled to de novo review); Davis v. Wetzel, No. 14-4160, 2017 WL 264061, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 20, 2017) (same)). As nine of Petitioner's Objections are a precise “rehashing of the arguments” presented to and considered by the Magistrate Judge, I decline to give them de novo review.

         9. However, the following two objections cite to additional law, and I ...

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