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Minor v. Commonwealth

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

September 18, 2019

ROBERT MINOR, Petitioner,



         Petitioner Robert Minor, a prisoner at the State Correctional Institution - Retreat, in Hunlock Creek, Pennsylvania, has filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. I recommend his petition be dismissed with prejudice as untimely.[1]


         On September 15, 2011, a jury found Minor guilty of third-degree murder, conspiracy to engage in murder, and possession of an instrument of crime with intent to employ it criminally. Commonwealth v. Minor, CP-51-CR-0003269-2009, Crim. Dkt. at 4. On January 3, 2012, Minor was sentenced to 32.5-65 years in prison. Id. On July 29, 2013, the Superior Court affirmed, and on January 29, 2014, the Supreme Court denied review. Crim. Dkt. at 10.

         On December 17, 2014, Minor filed a petition for collateral relief under Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act, 42 Pa. C.S. § 9541 et seq. (“PCRA”), which the PCRA court denied on August 26, 2016. Crim. Dkt. at 10, 12. The Superior Court affirmed on April 20, 2018.[2]Crim. Dkt. at 13.

         On April 17, 2019, Minor filed his federal habeas petition, alleging (1) insufficient evidence supporting his conspiracy conviction because no other individuals were alleged to be involved in the conspiracy; (2) trial counsel was ineffective for inadequately cross-examining a medical examiner, whose testimony involved only reading another doctor's report; (3) insufficient evidence supporting his murder conviction because the weapon the Commonwealth presented at trial was not conclusively proven to be the murder weapon; and (4) his prison sentence exceeds the lawful maximum sentence. Pet. at 8, 10, 12-13.


         Habeas corpus petitions are subject to a one-year limitations period that generally starts to run once a petitioner's judgment of sentence becomes final. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A). Minor's sentence became final on April 29, 2014, 90 days after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied his petition for review. See Gonzalez v. Thaler, 565 U.S. 134, 150 (2012) (judgment becomes final at the expiration of time for seeking further appellate review, including certiorari to the Supreme Court); Crim. Dkt. at 10. Although Minor then had one year, or until April 29, 2015, to file his habeas petition, he filed approximately four years later in April 2019. Minor's petition is untimely unless he shows that an alternative start date, statutory tolling, or equitable tolling renders it timely. See Brown v. Cuyler, 669 F.2d 155, 158 (3d Cir. 1982) (petitioner must prove “all facts entitling him to” habeas relief).

         I. Alternative Start Date of Limitations Period

         Although the habeas limitations period usually begins on the date the judgment of sentence became final, a petitioner may argue that certain alternative start dates apply instead: the date a state-created impediment was removed, the date the Supreme Court recognized a new and retroactive constitutional right, or the date the factual predicate of the claim could have been discovered with due diligence. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(B)-(D). Minor does not argue that any of these other dates apply and I see no reason any of these alternative dates should apply. The federal limitations period therefore began accruing when Minor's judgment became final on April 29, 2014.

         II. Statutory tolling

         A properly filed PCRA petition tolls the federal limitations period. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2); Pace v. DiGuglielmo, 544 U.S. 408, 415-17 (2005). Minor filed his PCRA petition on December 17, 2014, 232 days after his judgment became final. His federal limitations period was statutorily tolled from that date until May 20, 2018, 30 days after the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court's denial of his PCRA petition. See Lawrence v. Florida, 549 U.S. 327, 332 (2007) (post conviction review ends when the state courts have finally resolved application for post conviction relief). Minor then had 33 days left, or until June 22, 2018, to file his petition. Because Minor filed his petition over ten months later, it is untimely despite the statutory tolling for his PCRA petition.[3]

         III. Equitable tolling

         The habeas limitations period can be tolled in rare circumstances when “principles of equity would make [its] rigid application unfair.” Jenkins v. Superintendent of Laurel Highlands, 705 F.3d 80, 89 (3d Cir. 2013). To benefit from such equitable tolling, Minor must show: “(1) that he has been pursuing his rights diligently, and (2) that some extraordinary circumstance stood in his way and prevented timely filing.” Holland v. Florida, 560 U.S. 631, 649 (2010) (citation omitted). Minor argues that his petition should still be considered despite its untimeliness because he did not know of its deadline. Pet. at 17. Minor's argument fails because a pro se petitioner's ...

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