United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
OPINION REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION, ECF NO.
F. LEESON, JR. United States District Judge.
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.
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.
Woodward's offense, conviction, and subsequent
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.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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
Woodward's § 2254 petition  and the
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.
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.
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.
The Report and Recommendation
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 daysafter 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.
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,  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)).
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)).
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.
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.
reasons identified above, Judge Heffley recommends that
Woodward's § 2254 petition be denied and dismissed
in its entirety.