United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
E.K. PRATTER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Steven Brooks seeks habeas corpus relief in challenging his
state court convictions for robbery, criminal conspiracy,
simple assault, and burglary. Mr. Brooks is serving a 15 to
30-year sentence. After the Report and Recommendation of
Magistrate Judge David R. Strawbridge (the
“R&R”) recommended denying Mr. Brooks'
Petition, Mr. Brooks filed objections. As set forth below,
Mr. Brooks' objections are overruled and the R&R is
adopted in full.
Petition is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death
Penalty Act of 1996.
AEDPA, a federal court may not grant a petition for habeas
corpus unless the applicant has exhausted all available state
court remedies. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1). The exhaustion
requirement ensures that state courts are provided with the
first opportunity to review federal constitutional challenges
to state court convictions, thus preserving the role of state
courts in protecting federally guaranteed rights. Rose v.
Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 515-19 (1982). To satisfy the
exhaustion requirement, a petitioner must demonstrate that he
has “fairly presented” all claims in the federal
petition to the state courts, including the highest court in
which the petitioner was entitled to review.
O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 848
(1999). The fair presentation requirement is met when a
petitioner “present[s] a federal claim's 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) (citations omitted).
unexhausted habeas claim becomes procedurally defaulted when
the petitioner has no further state remedies. See Wenger
v. Frank, 266 F.3d 218, 223 (3d Cir. 2001), cert.
denied, 535 U.S. 957 (2002). Petitioners may pursue
procedurally defaulted habeas claims in federal court in
limited circumstances, however. See, e.g.,
Edwards v. Carpenter, 529 U.S. 446, 451 (2000)
(courts may review an unexhausted habeas claim where there is
“sufficient probability” that failure “will
result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice.”). The
Supreme Court identified one such exception in Martinez
v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012). Martinez states
that a habeas petitioner's failure to exhaust a claim
during state court collateral review is excused if (1)
counsel's failure, during state court collateral review,
satisfies the test for ineffective assistance of counsel
identified in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668
(1984), and (2) that failure was “substantial, ”
i.e., has “some merit.” Martinez, 566
U.S. at 14.
petitioner challenging his state court conviction brings a
properly exhausted habeas claim (or a claim within an
exception to the procedural default rule), § 2254(d)
permits the federal court to grant a petition only if (1) the
state court's adjudication of the claim “resulted
in a decision that 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 adjudication “resulted in a decision
that 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)(1)-(2); see
Parker v. Matthews, 567 U.S. 37, 40-49 (2012)
(overturning a Sixth Circuit decision granting habeas relief
because the state court's decision denying relief was not
objectively unreasonable); Garrus v. Sec'y
Pennsylvania Dept. of Corr., 694 F.3d 394, 400 (3d Cir.
2012). “Under the ‘contrary to' clause, a
federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court
arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the
Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court
decides a case differently than [the Supreme] Court has on a
set of materially indistinguishable facts.”
Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000).
court decision involves an unreasonable application of
Supreme Court precedent “if the state court identifies
the correct governing legal rule from the Court's cases
but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular
state prisoner's case.” Williams, 529 U.S.
at 407-08. For “a reviewing federal court to find a
state court's application of Supreme Court precedent
‘unreasonable,' the state court decision must be
more than incorrect or erroneous; it must have been
objectively unreasonable.” Marshall v. Cathel,
428 F.3d 452, 462 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting Wiggins v.
Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520 (2003)).
Books' Petition raises various claims for ineffective
assistance of counsel, all of which the R&R recommends
denying. Mr. Brooks objects to the R&R on four grounds:
(1) the R&R failed to grant Mr. Brooks an evidentiary
hearing regarding his trial counsel's failure to object
to evidence allegedly destroyed by the Commonwealth, (2) the
R&R failed to account for unusual circumstances
surrounding fingerprint evidence against Mr. Brooks, to which
his trial counsel did not object, (3) the R&R failed to
consider the potential exculpatory value of evidence
allegedly destroyed by the Commonwealth and to which trial
counsel did not object, and (4) the R&R failed to sua
sponte determine that Mr. Brooks' ineffective
assistance of counsel claims were not procedurally defaulted.
Court addresses each of Mr. Brooks' objections to the
R&R in turn (grouping together objections one and three),
but must first place the objections in context, as they
interact with the necessary ineffective assistance of counsel
analysis. Mr. Brooks alleges in his Petition that
trial counsel was ineffective for failing to raise several
evidentiary objections; however, Mr. Brooks did not raise his
ineffective assistance of counsel claims in his timely PCRA
petition. Therefore, before the Court can address trial
counsel's effectiveness or ineffectiveness, the Court
must first determine whether Mr. Brooks' PCRA
counsel was ineffective by failing to raise the
claims regarding trial
counsel's ineffectiveness. See
Martinez, 566 U.S. at 14. The Court's ineffective
assistance of counsel inquiries proceed in two steps. At step
one, the Court assesses the actions of PCRA Counsel,
determining whether PCRA
counsel's alleged ineffectiveness is
actionable. If the Court were to determine that PCRA counsel
was ineffective, the inquiry would move to step two. At step
two, the Court would asess the effectiveness of
trial counsel. For each of Mr.
Brooks' objections, the Court need not proceed past step
Objections 1 and 3: Ineffective Assistance of Trial Counsel
in Failing to ...