United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
F. SAPORITO, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
August 16, 2017, the petitioner, appearing through counsel,
filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus submitted
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. 1.) At the time of
filing, the petitioner, Ann Louise Gruber, was under a
sentence of unsupervised probation imposed by the Court of
Common Pleas of Lebanon County, which expired the next day.
Statement of the Case
December 17, 2015, following a jury trial, Gruber was
convicted on misdemeanor charges of disrupting a lawful
meeting, defiant trespass, and disorderly conduct (two
counts). Commonwealth v. Gruber, Docket Nos.
CP-38-CR-0000887-2015, CP-38-CR-0002024-2015 (Lebanon Cty.
(Pa.) C.C.P.). On February 17, 2016, she was sentenced to
serve an aggregate term of eighteen months on unsupervised
probation. Id. Her conviction and sentence were
affirmed on direct appeal by the Superior Court of
Pennsylvania on January 13, 2017. Commonwealth v.
Gruber, 160 A.3d 255 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2017) (table
decision); see also Commonwealth v. Gruber, No. 475
MDA 2016, 2017 WL 129110 (Pa. Super. Ct. Jan. 13, 2017)
(unpublished opinion). She petitioned the Supreme Court of
Pennsylvania for allocatur, which was denied on July 27,
2017. Commonwealth v. Gruber, 169 A.3d 1072 (Pa.
2017) (per curiam table decision).
filed the instant federal petition for a writ of habeas
corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on August 16, 2017.
(Doc. 1.) The next day, August 17, 2017, her term of
probation expired. On October 5, 2017, the respondent filed
its answer to the petition, together with several exhibits
and a memorandum of law. (Doc. 10; Doc. 11.) On November 1,
2017, the petitioner filed her reply, together with several
exhibits. (Doc. 13.)
while this petition remained pending, the petitioner was
charged with several state felony and misdemeanor offenses.
See Commonwealth v. Gruber, Docket Nos.
CP-38-CR-0000506-2019 (Lebanon Cty. (Pa.)
C.C.P.).On April 23, 2019, she pleaded nolo
contendere (no contest) and was convicted on felony
charges of robbery, criminal trespass, and forgery, and
misdemeanor charges of simple assault, harassment, resisting
arrest, and theft. Id. On May 29, 2019, she was
sentenced to serve a jail term of nine months to two years
minus a day, followed by a consecutive term of two years of
probation. Id. Gruber has not appealed this most
recent conviction and sentence, and the time for doing so has
expired. See Pa. R. Crim. P. 720.
Habeas Claims Presented
petition has asserted that Gruber is entitled to relief under
28 U.S.C. § 2254 for the following reasons:
1. Gruber's convictions for disrupting a meeting and
disorderly conduct (both counts) were based on insufficient
evidence as a matter of law because the evidence failed to
establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that she possessed the
requisite intent or mens rea for each of these
offenses, particularly in light of the fact that she was
attempting to exercise her First Amendment right to free
speech at the time of the underlying conduct; and
2. An evidentiary ruling by the trial court that, if she
introduced certain evidence regarding a prior civil action
against municipal officials that she won, it would open the
door for the Commonwealth to introduce evidence regarding an
unrelated criminal case in which she lost, violated her
Fourteenth Amendment right to due process and Sixth Amendment
rights to a fair trial and to confront witnesses against her.
addressed both of these issues on direct appeal to the
Superior Court of Pennsylvania, albeit couched in state-law
terms. The Superior Court denied claim 1 on the merits, and
it denied claim 2 on the ground that it was waived by
Gruber's failure to raise a proper objection before the