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Baldwin v. Commonwealth

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

November 1, 2019

LESTER BALDWIN, Petitioner,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, et al., Respondents.

          MEMORANDUM

          Hon. John E. Jones III J.

         On September 18, 2019, Petitioner Lester Baldwin (“Petitioner”), an inmate presently confined at the Lackawanna County Prison, Scranton, Pennsylvania, initiated the instant petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. 1).

         Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts states that “[i]f it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court, the judge must dismiss the petition and direct the clerk to notify the petitioner.” A petition may be dismissed without review of an answer when the petition is frivolous, or obviously lacking in merit, or where . . . the necessary facts can be determined from the petition itself. . . ” Allen v. Perini, 424 F.2d 134, 141 (6th Cir. 1970). Preliminary review reveals that the petition is subject to summary dismissal.

         I. BACKGROUND

         According to Petitioner, on July 10, 2019, he was convicted in the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County, of criminal conspiracy to commit robbery. (Doc. 1, p. 1). He has not yet been sentenced. (Id.) He indicates that on September 5, 2019, he filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County. He seeks “[d]ismissal of charge, seizure of judgement, right to face accuser.” (Id. at 14).

         An electronic search via the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania Web Portal, https://ujsportal.pacourts.us/DocketSheets/CP.aspx, of Petitioner's criminal docket, CP-35-CR-2296-2018, confirms that Petitioner has not yet been sentenced and that he is actively pursuing habeas relief in the state court.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, a person in state custody may file an application for a writ of habeas corpus challenging the fact or length of his or her confinement. See Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 494 (1973); Tedford v. Hepting, 990 F.2d 745, 748 (3d Cir. 1993). However, this section specifically provides that the person must be in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). It is apparent from the instant petition that although Petitioner has been convicted, the case against him has not been fully adjudicated in that he has not yet been sentenced. Moreover, he is actively pursuing habeas relief in the state court.

         Generally, federal courts must adjudicate all cases and controversies that are properly before them. New Orleans Pub. Serv., Inc. v. Council of City of New Orleans, 491 U.S. 350, 358 (1989). Abstention, however, “is the judicially created doctrine under which a federal court will decline to exercise its jurisdiction so that a state court or state agency will have the opportunity to decide the matters at issue.” Heritage Farms, Inc. v. Solebury Twp., 671 F.2d 743, 746 (3d Cir. 1982). In Younger v. Harris, the United States Supreme Court “established a principle of abstention when federal adjudication would disrupt an ongoing state criminal proceeding.” Yang v. Tsui, 416 F.3d 199, 202 (3d Cir. 2005) (discussing Younger, 401 U.S. 37 (1971)). The Younger Court based its decision on the principles of comity and “the longstanding public policy against federal court interference with state court proceedings.” Younger, 401 U.S. at 43. Younger abstention applies when the following three requirements are met: “(1) there are ongoing state proceedings that are judicial in nature; (2) the state proceedings implicate important state interests; and (3) the state proceedings afford an adequate opportunity to raise the federal claims.” Lazaridis v. Wehmer, 591 F.3d 666, 670 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Addiction Specialists, Inc. v. Twp. of Hampton, 411 F.3d 399, 408 (3d Cir. 2005)).

         Notably, even when all requirements are met, abstention is not appropriate when the following extraordinary circumstances exist: “(1) the state proceedings are being undertaken in bad faith or for purposes of harassment or (2) some other extraordinary circumstances exist, such as proceedings pursuant to a flagrantly unconstitutional statute. . . .” Schall v. Jovce, 885 F.2d 101, 106 (3d Cir. 1989). These exceptions are to be narrowly construed. Loftus v. Twp. of Lawrence Park, 764 F.Supp. 354, 357 (W.D. Pa. 1991).

         It is evident from the electronic docket and the petition that there are ongoing criminal proceedings which implicate important state interests in that Petitioner is awaiting sentencing and is pursing a state petition for writ of habeas corpus. Because there is presently relief available at the state court level, there is an absence of extraordinary circumstances that would warrant the intervention of a federal court on this issue. Thus, out of deference to the state judicial process, it is appropriate to abstain from entertaining the petition. Indeed, “[i]n no area of the law is the need for a federal court to stay its hand pending completion of state proceedings more evident than in the case of pending criminal proceedings.” Evans v. Court of Common Pleas, 959 F.2d 1227, 1234 (3d Cir. 1992).

         III. CONCLUSION

         For the reasons set forth above, the petition for writ of habeas corpus will be dismissed without prejudice.

         IV. CERTIFICATE ...


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