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Graham v. Oberlander

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 9, 2020

SHAROD GRAHAM, Petitioner,
v.
DEREK OBERLANDER- SUPERINTENDENT[1], THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY OF THE COUNTY OF PHILADELPHIA, and THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA, Respondents.

          ORDER

          EDWARD G. SMITH, J.

         AND NOW, this 9th day of January, 2020, after considering the petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 filed by the pro se petitioner, Sharod Graham (“Graham”) (Doc. No. 2), the response to the petition filed by the respondents (Doc. No. 10), Graham's response to the respondents' response (Doc. No. 11), United States Magistrate Judge Elizabeth T. Hey's report and recommendation (Doc. No. 12), and Graham's motion to vacate the report and recommendation (Doc. No. 14), it is hereby ORDERED as follows:

         1. The clerk of court is DIRECTED to REMOVE this action from civil suspense and RETURN it to the court's active docket; 2. The motion to vacate the report and recommendation (Doc. No. 14) is DENIED.[2]

         3. The Honorable Elizabeth T. Hey's report and recommendation (Doc. No. 12) is APPROVED and ADOPTED;[3]

         4. The petition for a writ of habeas corpus (Doc. No. 2) is DENIED;

         5. The petitioner has not made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right and is therefore not entitled to a certificate of appealability, 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2); and

         6. The clerk of court shall mark this case as CLOSED.

---------

Notes:

[1] At the time Graham filed his habeas petition, Michael Overmyer was the superintendent of the facility where Graham was serving his sentence, the Forest State Correctional Institution in Marienville, Pennsylvania, and Graham properly named Mr. Overmyer as the respondent in this action. Since that time, Derek Oberlander has replaced Mr. Overmyer as superintendent. Pursuant to Rule 2(a) of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases (requiring state officer with current custody of petitioner to be named as respondent) and Rule 25(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court has substituted Mr. Oberlander as a respondent in this action.

[2] In the motion to vacate the report and recommendation, Graham attempts to amend his petition to include a new claim that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to sustain a first-degree murder conviction (and instead only constituted involuntary or voluntary manslaughter). Def.'s Mot. to Vacate the R. & R. at 1, Doc. No. 14. Before a federal court can turn to the merits of any habeas claim, a petitioner must comply with the exhaustion requirement of section 2254(b), by giving “the state courts one full opportunity to resolve any constitutional issues by invoking one complete round of the State's established appellate review process.” O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845 (1999). In the instant case, Graham, through counsel, has previously raised this issue on direct appeal claiming that the evidence was insufficient to support the first-degree murder conviction. Br. for Appellant, Commonwealth v. Graham, No. 1658 EDA 2012, 2012 WL 8947645 (Pa. Super. Feb. 22, 2013). The Pennsylvania Superior Court rejected Graham's argument. Commonwealth v. Graham, No. 1658 EDA 2012, 2013 WL 1125068, at *3 (Pa. Super. Oct. 21, 2013). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court then denied Graham's petition for allowance of appeal. Order, Commonwealth v. Graham, No. 598 EAL 2013, (Pa. June 2, 2014). Therefore, Graham's claim is procedurally exhausted.

Nonetheless, this claim lacks merit. When it comes to the constitutional sufficiency of the evidence to support the conviction,

[T]he critical inquiry on review of the sufficiency of the evidence to support a criminal conviction . . . does not require a court to ask itself whether it believes that the evidence at the trial established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. . . . Instead, the relevant question is whether, after reviewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318-19 (1979) (citations omitted). In rejecting Graham's sufficiency argument, the Superior Court held that “a review of the evidence shows that this claim is utterly lacking in merit. Mr. Beard identified [Graham] as the individual present behind the deli who savagely beat Ms. M[redacted] with his fists and fled the scene on the night of March 24, 2010.” Graham, 2013 WL 11254068, at *8. Additionally, the Superior Court noted that “the search of [Graham]'s residence following the death of Ms. M [redacted][] resulted in the seizure of the shirt worn ...


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