Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Woodward v. Debalso

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

November 1, 2019

JERRY WOODWARD, Petitioner,
v.
THERESA DEBALSO and the PHILADELPHIA COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY, Respondents.

          OPINION REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION, ECF NO. 16-ADOPTED

          JOSEPH F. LEESON, JR. United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         In this habeas action, pro se petitioner Jerry Woodward challenges the constitutionality of a sentence arising from his 1984 conviction for first degree murder. In that year, following a bench trial in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas for Philadelphia County, Woodward was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole after being convicted of first-degree murder in connection with the stabbing death of another individual. He was twenty years old at the time of the offense. Woodward's judgment of sentence was affirmed by the Pennsylvania Superior Court, and on March 6, 1986, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied allowance of an appeal.

         On February 23, 2017, Woodward filed the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Woodward contends that under the Supreme Court's decisions in two cases-(1) Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), in which the Court held that a juvenile's mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments, and (2) Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016), in which the Court held that the right recognized in Miller operates retroactively-his 1984 sentence of life without the possibility of parole violates his Eighth Amendment and equal protection rights. After briefing, United States Magistrate Judge Marilyn Heffley issued a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) recommending that Woodward's habeas petition be dismissed as untimely. Woodward has filed objections to the R&R. After review, and for the reasons that follow, this Court adopts the R&R and dismisses Woodward's petition.

         II. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

         A. Woodward's offense, conviction, and subsequent challenges

         On April 17, 1984, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania charged Woodward with first-degree murder, among several other crimes, arising out of the stabbing death of a nineteen-year-old individual in a bar fight. See Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Criminal Docket (“Criminal Docket”), Com. v. Woodward, CP-51-CR-0420522-1984, ECF No. 14-1 at 1.[1]Woodward was twenty years old at the time. Following a bench trial in the Court of Common Pleas for Philadelphia County, on November 20, 1984, Woodward was convicted of first-degree murder, aggravated assault, simple assault, criminal conspiracy, and possessing instruments of a crime. Id. at 2. Judge Juanita K. Stout sentenced Woodward to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Id. Woodward appealed his conviction and sentence to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, which, on August 23, 1985, affirmed the judgment of sentence. See Hab. Pet. ¶ 9, ECF No. 3. On March 6, 1986, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied allowance of an appeal. Id.; see Com. v. Woodward, 503 A.2d 53 (Pa. 1985).

         In 1986, Woodward filed a petition under Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Hearing Act (“PCHA”), which was denied by the Court of Common Pleas on September 21, 1989.[2] See Hab. Pet. ¶ 11. On April 11, 1990, the Superior Court affirmed the denial of Woodward's PCHA petition. See Com. v. Woodward, 577 A.2d 655 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1990). Woodward did not seek discretionary review of the denial of his PCHA petition with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

         Not until 2012 did the next relevant event in this matter transpire. On August 13 of that year, Woodward filed a pro se PCRA petition for relief on the basis that his life sentence without the possibly of parole was rendered unlawful as a violation of his Eighth Amendment rights by the Supreme Court's then-recently issued decision in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012). See Criminal Docket at 3; Hab. Pet. ¶ 11. On March 15, 2017, the Court of Common Pleas provided Woodward with notice, pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 907, of its intention to dismiss his PCRA petition, without a hearing, as untimely under 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9545(b). See Criminal Docket at 4. In its Rule 907 notice, the court observed that the petition did not invoke an exception to the timeliness provision of the PCRA, and that Woodward was not entitled to relief under Miller v. Alabama because he was not under eighteen years of age at the time of his offense. Id. Woodward responded to the PCRA notice by claiming that he was entitled to habeas corpus relief; however, on May 1, 2017, the Court of Common Pleas dismissed his PCRA petition as untimely. See Id. at 5. Woodward filed a timely appeal to the Superior Court, which, in a decision dated August 27, 2018, affirmed the dismissal of his PCRA petition. See Com. v. Woodward, No. 1655 EDA 2017, 2018 WL 4061574 (Pa. Super. Ct. Aug. 27, 2018). The Superior Court found that Woodward failed to satisfy any of the statutory exceptions to the PCRA's time bar, and that the Miller decision was inapplicable to Woodward because he was twenty years old-and therefore not a juvenile-when he committed the 1984 murder. See id. at 2.

         While his 2012 PCRA petition was pending in the Court of Common Pleas, Woodward filed the instant § 2254 habeas petition on February 27, 2017. See Hab Pet.; see also Abeyance Mot., ECF No. 1. By Order dated June 8, 2017, the Undersigned referred Woodward's petition to Magistrate Judge Marilyn Heffley for a Report and Recommendation for determination as to whether the petition should be granted. See Order dated June 8, 2017, ECF No. 8. Judge Heffley granted the Commonwealth respondents several extensions of time to submit opposition to Woodward's petition, which they filed on November 2, 2017. See Resps.' Opp'n., ECF No. 14. Woodward filed a reply on November 20, 2017. See Reply Mem., ECF No. 15. On December 14, 2017, Judge Heffley issued her R&R, recommending that Woodward's § 2254 petition be dismissed as time-barred. See R&R, ECF No. 16. Woodward thereafter filed timely objections to the R&R. See Objs., ECF No. 17.

         B. Woodward's § 2254 petition [3] and the Commonwealth's opposition

         Woodward's arguments for habeas relief are based on the (uncontested) fact that he was twenty years old at the time he committed the offense for which he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The Supreme Court held in Miller v. Alabama that based on developmental differences between adolescent and adult minds and the resulting implications for culpability, “the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders.” 567 U.S. at 479. Woodward asserts that “his biological process was not complete until 4/10/88, when he turned 25 years old according to brain science and social science revealed in Miller, ” and, therefore, his life sentence without the possibility of parole violates his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Hab. Pet. ¶ 12. Because, according to Woodward, the substantive rule announced in Miller was made retroactive in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016), this Court acting on his § 2254 petition is obliged to vacate his life sentence without the possibility of parole. Abeyance Mot. at 10. In addition to making an Eighth Amendment argument, Woodward contends that “failure to accord [non-juveniles] the same rights and considerations created under Miller, that are being accorded to [juveniles], represents the impermissible disparate treatment of (non-juveniles), ” which Woodward claims violates those individuals'- and Woodward's-constitutional equal protection rights. See Id. at 18-27.

         The Commonwealth respondents argue that Woodward's petition is untimely and not subject to either statutory or equitable tolling, and therefore warrants dismissal. Respondents observe that under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d), a habeas corpus petition must be filed within one year of the date the challenged judgment became final. Resps.' Opp'n. at 3. However, because Woodward's conviction and sentence became final prior to April 24, 1996, the date the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”) was signed into law and § 2244(d) became effective, they acknowledge he was entitled to a one-year grace period beginning April 24, 1996. Id. at 4. Even with the benefit of this grace period, respondents contend, Woodward did not file his petition until February of 2017-19 years and 10 months late. Id. Moreover, they assert that Woodward is not entitled to statutory tolling or equitable tolling. Id. at 4-5. Nor, they contend, is he entitled to the benefit of an alternative start date based on a new substantive constitutional right emanating from Miller, a case respondents state is inapplicable for the simple reason that Woodward was twenty years old, and not a juvenile, at the time of his 1984 offense. Id. at 5-6. In the absence of any tolling or an alternative start date, respondents assert that Woodward's untimely petition must be dismissed.

         In a short reply in further support of his petition, Woodward argues that his petition should not be considered time-barred because the ruling of Montgomery, preceded by Miller, constitutes a new “fact” previously unknown to him which negates his liability for first-degree murder. Specifically, he contends the one-year limitations period “began to run after the predicates [sic] fact discovery on January 25, 2016.” Reply Mem. at 1. According to Woodward, he “did not have ‘actual knowledge' of the Brain Science until . . . [Miller], which was applied retroactively by Montgomery.” Id. at 2. This “brain science” allegedly precludes Woodward's ability to have “specific intent” for first degree murder, notwithstanding that he was over eighteen years old, because it shows that his brain did not reach maturity until he was twenty-five years old. Id. at 3.

         C. The Report and Recommendation

         In her R&R, Judge Heffley at the outset makes several determinations pertinent to the instant petition: (1) Woodward's conviction and sentence became final in 1986, ninety days[4]after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied review; and (2) barring an alternative start date or tolling, Woodward had until April 24, 1997, to file a federal habeas petition, that date marking one year from the date on which 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d) and it's one-year limitations period became effective. See R&R at 2-4.

         Judge Heffley then discusses whether Woodward is entitled to either statutory or equitable tolling of § 2244(d)'s one-year limitations period. The R&R observes that under the AEDPA's statutory tolling provision, “[t]he time during which a properly filed application for State post-conviction or other collateral review with respect to the pertinent judgment or claim is pending shall not be counted toward any period of limitation under this subsection.” R&R at 5 (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2)). However, Judge Heffley ultimately determines that “[n]one of Woodward's post-conviction petitions tolled the AEDPA statute of limitations.” R&R at 5. With respect to Woodward's PCHA petition, the R&R concludes that because the petition was filed in 1986 and ultimately denied in 1990, well before the § 2244(d)'s one-year limitations period had even begun to run (in 1996 upon passage of the AEDPA), that petition did not toll the limitations period. Id. (citing Johnson v. Ryan, No. CV 89-2999, 2015 WL 5896242, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 30, 2015) (“Consequently, petitioner's first and second PCHA petitions do not toll the AEDPA statute of limitations because they were filed and concluded before the AEDPA statute of limitations began to run.”), report and recommendation adopted, No. CV 89-2999, 2015 WL 5884865 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 7, 2015)). Similarly, because Woodward's PCRA petition was filed in 2012, well after the one-year limitations period had closed on April 24, 1997, and because a petition “does not toll an already expired statute of limitations, ” Judge Heffley concludes that the PCRA petition did nothing to toll the limitations period. R&R at 5-6 (quoting Morris v. Mazurkiewcz, No. CIV.A. 10-7174, 2011 WL 2708498, at *3 (E.D. Pa. June 8, 2011), report and recommendation adopted, No. CIV.A. 10-7174, 2011 WL 2709181 (E.D. Pa. July 11, 2011)). Additionally, the R&R notes that the PCRA petition was dismissed as time-barred by the Court of Common Pleas, [5] and because a time-barred petition is not “properly filed, ” that petition cannot toll the limitations period. R&R at 6 (citing Fahey v. Horn, 240 F.3d 239, 243-44 (3d Cir. 2001)).

         Judge Heffley's R&R then examines whether equitable tolling is warranted. Explaining that in the Third Circuit, there are three circumstances permitting equitable tolling-(1) where a defendant actively misleads the plaintiff; (2) if the plaintiff has in some extraordinary way been prevented from asserting his rights; or (3) if the plaintiff has timely asserted his rights, but has mistakenly done so in the wrong forum-Judge Heffley finds that Woodward does not claim or set forth any circumstances warranting equitable tolling of his habeas petition. See R&R at 6-7 (citing Jones v. Morton, 195 F.3d 153, 159 (3d Cir. 1999)).

         Having concluded tolling of the limitations period is unwarranted, Judge Heffley moves to addressing Woodward's argument that he is entitled to receive the benefit of an alternative start date with respect to § 2244(d)'s one-year limitations period, specifically, a date following the Supreme Court's decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016). While § 2244(d)(1)(C) provides that a petitioner may file a habeas petitioner within one year of “the date on which the constitutional right asserted was initially recognized by the Supreme Court, if the right has been newly recognized by the Supreme Court made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review, ” Judge Heffley concludes that “the Supreme Court's decisions in Miller and Montgomery provide no basis for using an alternative start date” under § 2244(d)(1)(C). R&R at 7. This is because the Supreme Court “expressly limited its holding in Miller to juveniles ‘under the age of 18 at the times of their crimes, '” and it is “undisputed that Woodward was 20 years old at the time he committed the underlying offenses.” Id. at 8 (quoting Miller, 567 U.S. at 465). Judge Heffley moreover concludes that Woodward is not entitled to an alternative start date pursuant to § 2244(d)(1)(D), which recognizes the limitations period as commencing upon “[t]he date on which the factual predicate of the claim or claims presented could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence.” R&R at 8. The R&R finds that even assuming scientific studies and social science evidence as discussed in Miller could constitute a “factual predicate, ” Miller was decided in 2012, meaning the one-year limitations period was well expired by the time Woodward's habeas petition was filed in 2017. Id. at 8-9.

         Finally, Judge Heffley addresses Woodward's claim of actual innocence based on his contention that his underdeveloped brain prevented him from forming the specific intent required for first-degree murder. The R&R concludes that, even if there is an actual innocence exception to § 2244(d)'s one-year limitations period, “actual innocence requires factual innocence, not mere legal insufficiency.” R&R at 9 (citing Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 623 (1998) and Sweger v. Chesney, 294 F.3d 506, 523 (3d Cir. 2002)). Legal insufficiency, as opposed to factual innocence, is precisely what Woodward contends: he does not claim he is innocent of the underlying act of causing another individual's death. See R&R at 9-10.

         For the reasons identified above, Judge Heffley recommends that Woodward's § 2254 petition be denied and dismissed in its entirety.

         D. ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.