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Hensley v. Cappoza

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

October 24, 2019

JOSEPH HENSLEY, Petitioner,
v.
MARK CAPPOZA, et al., Respondents.

          MEMORANDUM

          SUSAN PARADISE BAXTER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is the Petition For a Writ of Habeas Corpus [ECF No. 8] filed by state prisoner Joseph Hensley ("Petitioner") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.[1] He challenges the judgment of sentence imposed upon him in October 2016 by the Court of Common Pleas of Warren County (the "trial court") at criminal docket number CP-62-CR-528-2015. For the reasons that follow, the Court will dismiss Petitioner's claims with prejudice and deny a certificate of appealability.

         I. Relevant Background[2]

         In November 2015, the Youngsville Borough Police Department in Warren County, Pennsylvania, investigated a report of rape made by a 15-year-old female who is identified in the record by her initials, "K.K." She reported that on August 8, 2015, Petitioner forced her to have sexual intercourse with him in his apartment. Officer Benjamin Leach interviewed Petitioner about K.K.'s allegations and Petitioner gave a statement in which he admitted that he had sexual intercourse with K.K. on the date in question.

         The Commonwealth subsequently charged Petitioner with the following offenses: Count 1-Rape Forcible Compulsion; Count 2-Statutory Sexual Assault, Complainant Between 4-8 Years of Age; Count 3-Sexual Assault; Count 4-Aggravated Indecent Assault, Complainant Less Than 16 Years of Age; Count 5-Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse ("IDSI") Forcible Compulsion; Count 6-IDSI Person Less than 16 Years of Age; Count 7-Indecent Assault Forcible Compulsion; and, Count 8-Corruption of Minors.

         The trial court appointed John R. Parroccini, Esq., the Chief Public Defender of Warren County, to represent Petitioner. In January 2016, Petitioner filed a notice of alibi defense in which he maintained that he was in the presence of Lynn Ahlgren at the time K.K. stated the rape had occurred. He also filed a motion to suppress the statement he gave to Officer Leach.

         Attorney Parroccini subsequently notified the trial court of a conflict. In April 2016, the trial court appointed Elizabeth A. Ziegler, Esq., an experienced criminal defense attorney (PCRA Hr'g Tr., 6/21/18, at 5), to represent Petitioner. Following a hearing held on May 17, 2016, the trial court denied Petitioner's motion to suppress.

         Petitioner's trial was scheduled to be held in July 2016. Prior to it, he entered an agreement with the Commonwealth in which he would plead guilty to Count 4-Aggravated Indecent Assault, Complainant Less Than 16 Years of Age, and in exchange the Commonwealth would file a nolle prosequi on the remaining counts. At the plea hearing, which was held on June 6, 2016, Petitioner stated that he understood what he was doing, that he was entering his plea on his own free will, and that no one forced or coerced him to enter his plea or promised him that he would receive a certain sentence. (Plea Hr'g Tr., 6/6/16, at 5-6). In response to a question from the trial court, Attorney Ziegler stated that she advised Petitioner of the effects of entering his plea and of the permissible range of sentences that the trial court could impose. (Id. at 7). Petitioner told the trial court that he was satisfied with Attorney Ziegler's advice and that he believed that she had provided him with effective representation. (Id.) Petitioner then pleaded guilty to Count 4:

The Court: [At Count 4], you are accused that you did engage in penetration, however slight, of the genitals or anus of another person with a part of your body for any purpose other than good-faith medical hygienic or law enforcement procedures, and that you were over the age of 18 and the victim was under the age of 16.
To wit, that you being 20 years of age, did engage in penetration, however slight, of the genitals of the victim, KK, 15 years of age. Do you admit to that conduct, sir?
[Petitioner]: Yes, your Honor.
The Court: How do you plead to count four?
[Petitioner]: Guilty.

(Id. at 9).

         The trial court sentenced Petitioner at a hearing held on October 7, 2016. At this hearing, Petitioner stated that he had spoken to Attorney Ziegler about his potential sentence. (Sent. Hr'g Tr., 10/7/16, at 9-12). When the trial court asked him if there was anything else he would like to say about the circumstances of the offense, Petitioner replied that "[i]t wasn't what it sounded like[, ]" and suggested that the victim was not credible. (Id. at 15-16). The prosecutor immediately interjected and reminded Petitioner that he admitted under oath that he committed the offense for which he was being sentenced. (Id. at 16). At the conclusion of the hearing, the court sentenced Petitioner to a term of 36 to 108 months' imprisonment, a sentencing which is at the high end of the standard range.

         On October 11, 2016, Petitioner, through Attorney Ziegler, filed a post-sentence motion asking the trial court to reconsider its sentence. Petitioner told Attorney Ziegler that he wanted to file a direct appeal if that motion was unsuccessful, but by letter dated October 28, 2016, [3] she explained to him that I he had no grounds to challenge either his guilty plea or sentence in a direct appeal because he voluntarily entered his plea, the trial court had jurisdiction, and his sentence was not illegal. (PCRA Hr'g Tr., 6/21/18, at 10-13). Attorney Ziegler further explained to Petitioner that if he wanted to challenge his guilty plea on the grounds that she had provided him with ineffective assistance of counsel in advising him to enter it, he had to raise ...


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