STANCIL v. COMMONWEALTH et al
OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE JOSEPH F. LEESON, JR ON 1/17/23. 1/18/23 ENTERED AND COPIES MAILED (NOT MAILED TO PRO SE), AND E-MAILED.(er)
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
COMMONWEALTH OF PA;
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF
THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA; and
THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY OF
Report and Recommendation, ECF No. 10 – Adopted
Joseph F. Leeson, Jr.
United States District Judge
January 17, 2023
Petitioner William Stancil is serving an aggregate sentence of twenty-seven (27) to fifty-
five (55) years following his negotiated guilty plea before the Court of Common Pleas of
Philadelphia County in 2016 to charges of third degree murder, robbery, criminal conspiracy,
and possessing an instrument of crime. On December 13, 2021, he filed a petition for writ of
habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on four (4) grounds. Magistrate Judge Carol Sandra
Moore-Wells issued a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) on October 12, 2022,
recommending that the habeas corpus petition be dismissed as procedurally defaulted. Despite
being granted an extension of time to file objections to the R&R, Stancil has not filed objections.
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He has, however, submitted an untimely traverse.1 In an abundance of caution, this Court has
conducted de novo review of this matter, including Stancil’s untimely traverse. For the reasons
set forth below, the R&R is adopted.
STANDARDS OF REVIEW
Report and Recommendation – Review of Applicable Law
When objections to a report and recommendation have been filed under 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1)(C), the district court must make a de novo review of those portions of the report to
which specific objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099,
1106 n.3 (3d Cir. 1989). “District Courts, however, are not required to make any separate
findings or conclusions when reviewing a Magistrate Judge’s recommendation de novo under 28
U.S.C. § 636(b).” Hill v. Barnacle, 655 F. App’x. 142, 147 (3d Cir. 2016). In the absence of a
specific objection, the district court is not statutorily required to review the report, under de novo
or any other standard. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 152 (1985).
Nevertheless, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has held that it is better practice to afford some
level of review to dispositive legal issues raised by the report, Henderson v. Carlson, 812 F.2d
874, 878 (3d Cir. 1987), writ denied 484 U.S. 837 (1987); therefore, the court should review the
record for plain error or manifest injustice. Harper v. Sullivan, No. 89-4272, 1991 U.S. Dist.
LEXIS 2168, at *2 n.3 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 22, 1991); see also Oldrati v. Apfel, 33 F. Supp. 2d 397,
399 (E.D. Pa. 1998). The “court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings
and recommendations” contained in the report. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).
In an Order dated November 18, 2022, this Court explained that Stancil’s traverse was
due within “within (21) days from the date the Respondents’ answer is filed,” which was on July 6,
2022. See ECF Nos. 5, 12. This Court granted Stancil an extension of time to file objections to the
R&R, which is what he requested, and not to file a traverse. See ECF No. 12. Nevertheless, Stancil
filed a traverse.
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Habeas corpus petitions under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 – Review of Applicable Law
Pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”), “state
prisoners must give the state courts one full opportunity to resolve any constitutional issues by
invoking one complete round of the State’s established appellate review process” before seeking
federal habeas review. O’Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845 (1999). Where a petitioner
has failed to properly present his claims in the state court and no longer has an available state
remedy, he has procedurally defaulted those claims. See id. at 847-48. An unexhausted or
procedurally defaulted claim cannot provide the basis for federal habeas relief unless the
petitioner “can demonstrate cause for the default and actual prejudice as a result of the alleged
violation of federal law, or demonstrate that failure to consider the claims will result in a
fundamental miscarriage of justice.” See Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 732-33, 750
(1991) (explaining that a “habeas petitioner who has defaulted his federal claims in state court
meets the technical requirements for exhaustion [because] there are no state remedies any longer
‘available’ to him”). The Supreme Court has held that the ineffectiveness of counsel on
collateral review may constitute “cause” to excuse a petitioner’s default. See Martinez v. Ryan,
566 U.S. 1 (2012). The fundamental miscarriage of justice exception “applies to a severely
confined category: cases in which new evidence shows ‘it is more likely than not that no
reasonable juror would have convicted [the petitioner].’” McQuiggin v. Perkins, 569 U.S. 383,
395 (2013) (quoting Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 329 (1995)). “Put differently, the exception is
only available when a petition presents ‘evidence of innocence so strong that a court cannot have
confidence in the outcome of the trial unless the court is also satisfied that the trial was free of
nonharmless constitutional error.’” Coleman v. Greene, 845 F.3d 73, 76 (3d Cir. 2017) (quoting
McQuiggin, 133 S. Ct. at 1936; Schlup, 513 U.S. at 316).
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The AEDPA “imposes a highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings and
demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.” Felkner v. Jackson, 562
U.S. 594, 598 (2011) (internal quotations omitted); See also 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d);2 Knowles v.
Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, 123 (2009) (holding that there is a “doubly deferential judicial review
that applies to a Strickland claim evaluated under the § 2254(d)(1) standard” because the
question before a federal court is not whether the state court’s determination was correct, but
whether the determination was unreasonable); Hunterson v. Disabato, 308 F.3d 236, 245 (3d Cir.
2002) (“[I]f permissible inferences could be drawn either way, the state court decision must
stand, as its determination of the facts would not be unreasonable.”). Additionally, “a federal
habeas court must afford a state court’s factual findings a presumption of correctness and that 
presumption applies to the factual determinations of state trial and appellate courts.” Fahy v.
Horn, 516 F.3d 169, 181 (3d Cir. 2008). The habeas petitioner has the “burden of rebutting the
presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).
Claims of ineffective assistance of counsel – Review of Applicable Law
To establish counsel’s ineffectiveness, a petitioner must show: (1) counsel’s performance
fell below an objective standard of reasonableness; and (2) the performance was prejudicial to
the defense. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). There is a strong presumption that
counsel is effective and the courts, guarding against the temptation to engage in hindsight, must
be “highly deferential” to counsel’s reasonable strategic decisions. Marshall v. Hendricks, 307
“An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to
the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated
on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication . . . resulted in a decision that
was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law . . .;
or . . . resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts . . . .”
28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).
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F.3d 36, 85 (3d Cir. 2002). The mere existence of alternative, even more preferable or more
effective, strategies does not satisfy the first element of the Strickland test. Id. at 86. To
establish prejudice under the second element, the petitioner must show that there is “a reasonable
probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have
been different.” Roe v. Flores-Ortega, 528 U.S. 470, 482 (2000) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at
694). “Judicial scrutiny of counsel’s performance must be highly deferential.” Strickland, 466
U.S. at 689 (explaining that courts should not second-guess counsel’s assistance and engage in
“hindsight, to reconstruct the circumstances of counsel’s challenged conduct”). The court must
consider the totality of the evidence and the burden is on the petitioner. Id. at 687, 695.
When considering ineffective assistance of counsel claims under § 2254, the question
before a federal court is not whether the state court’s determination was correct, but whether the
determination was unreasonable. Knowles, 556 U.S. at 123. “And, because the Strickland
standard is a general standard, a state court has even more latitude to reasonably determine that a
defendant has not satisfied that standard.” Id. (describing “the doubly deferential judicial review
that applies to a Strickland claim evaluated under the § 2254(d)(1) standard”).
The R&R summarizes the factual and procedural history of this case. See R&R 1-5, ECF
No. 31. Stancil does not object to this summary and, after review, it is adopted and incorporated
herein. Of note, the R&R identifies the claims Stancil raised on direct appeal (after his direct
appeal rights were reinstated nunc pro tunc), in a Post-Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”) petition,
and in the instant habeas petition. The Magistrate Judge determined that each of the habeas
claims are procedurally defaulted because they were not raised on direct appeal or in the PCRA
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appeal. See R&R 5-6. Additionally, Stancil did not allege, nor did he show cause and prejudice
to excuse the default, nor provide any new, reliable evidence of actual innocence. See id.
In his traverse, Stancil attempts to include one new habeas claim: that trial counsel was
ineffective for failing to object to his guilty plea colloquy that failed to mention the presumption
of innocence. Stancil contends, in his traverse, that he “was never informed of the presumption
of innocence.” Traverse 6, ECF No. 13 (emphasis in original). This claim was presented to the
Pennsylvania Superior Court on direct appeal, but not raised in Stancil’s PCRA petition or on
This Court has conducted de novo review of Stancil’s habeas petition and traverse, and
adopts the R&R in its entirety and incorporates the same herein. This Opinion addresses only
the new3 claim Stancil attempts to assert for the first time in his late-filed traverse. This claim is
denied and dismissed for three reasons:
First, the claim is untimely. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Stancil’s petition
for allowance of appeal on May 7, 2018, and he had ninety (90) days to seek certiorari before the
United States Supreme Court, which he did not. Instead, Stancil filed a PCRA petition. The
PCRA petition was denied, a decision which the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed, and the
Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied allowance of appeal on March 30, 2021. When Stancil filed
his federal habeas petition on December 13, 2021, 258 days had elapsed off the one-year period
of limitations. Stancil was advised of the one-year period of limitations and of the prohibition on
The traverse alleges that Stancil “was never informed of the presumption of innocence,”
which is in conflict with the habeas petition allegations that “[t]he essential ingredients of the
concept of the presumption of innocence was explained but [Stancil] was ignorant to the law. . .
.” Cf. Traverse 6, with Habeas 6, ECF No. 1. Accordingly, the traverse cannot be construed as
merely elaborating on a timely presented claim; rather, this claim is new to this case.
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second or successive petitions on January 18, 2021, and further informed on March 7, 2022, that
he must present all issues and evidence to the Magistrate Judge. See ECF Nos. 3-4. Stancil had
until no later than March 30, 2022, to timely raise any additional habeas claims. But he waited
another eight (8) months, until November 28, 2022, to file a traverse. The new claim is therefore
untimely. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1). Furthermore, Stancil did not request, nor did he receive,
permission to file a late traverse or to present additional habeas claims after the one-year period
of limitations had expired.
Second, the new claim is procedurally defaulted because it was not presented in Stancil’s
PCRA petition or on appeal thereof. Stancil has not alleged, nor shown, cause and prejudice to
excuse the default.
Third, even if this claim was timely and not procedurally defaulted, it lacks merit. When
considering this issue on direct appeal, the Pennsylvania Superior Court found the claim to be
without merit. See Commonwealth v. Stancil, 181 A.3d 377 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2017). The court
explained that the first page of Stancil’s written plea colloquy, which Stancil signed after
reviewing it with counsel, stated “I am presumed innocent. That means that I start out innocent—
and stay innocent unless the District Attorney proves I committed the crime(s).” Id. The court
further found that during the oral colloquy, Stancil was informed: “if you choose to go by way of
jury trial, [the prosecutor] would call witnesses and bear the burden of proving you guilty beyond
a reasonable doubt” and that the jury verdict must be unanimous. Id. (quoting Notes of
Testimony at 13-14, January 5, 2016). The Pennsylvania Superior Court explained that
“[a]lthough the words ‘presumption of innocence’ were never uttered during [Stancil’s] plea
hearing, such an omission did not render his plea colloquy defective.” Id. (citing cases). The
court found that Stancil “knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently entered his guilty plea.” Id.
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The Pennsylvania Superior Court on PCRA appeal, when addressing a separate issue regarding
Stancil’s guilty plea, again found: “[i]n his oral plea colloquy and the written plea colloquy that
he signed, [Stancil] was advised both of his right to a jury trial and the presumption of innocence
and of what those rights encompassed, and he acknowledged his understanding of those rights
and that he was giving up those rights by pleading guilty.” Commonwealth v. Stancil, 240 A.3d
990 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2020). The state court’s findings are presumed to be correct and Stancil has
offered nothing to rebut that presumption. Applying the doubly deferential standard of review to
the Pennsylvania Superior Court’s determination that Stancil “knowingly, voluntarily, and
intelligently entered his guilty plea,” this Court finds that Stancil’s ineffectiveness argument in
this regard lacks merit and denies the claim.
After de novo review and for the reasons set forth herein, the R&R is adopted. All
habeas claims are procedurally defaulted and Stancil has failed to show cause and prejudice to
excuse such default. Additionally, the claim presented for the first time in Stancil’s traverse is
untimely and lacks merit. All habeas claims are denied and dismissed. A certificate of
appealability (“COA”) is denied because Stancil has not made a substantial showing of the denial
of a constitutional right, nor would jurists of reason find the Court’s assessment debatable or
A COA should only be issued “if the petitioner ‘has made a substantial showing of the
denial of a constitutional right.’” Tomlin v. Britton, 448 F. App’x 224, 227 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing
28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)). “Where a district court has rejected the constitutional claims on the
merits, . . . the petitioner must demonstrate that reasonable jurists would find the district court’s
assessment of the constitutional claims debatable or wrong.” Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473,
484 (2000). “When the district court denies a habeas petition on procedural grounds without
reaching the prisoner’s underlying constitutional claim, a COA should issue when the prisoner
shows, at least, that jurists of reason would find it debatable whether the petition states a valid
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A separate Order follows.
BY THE COURT:
/s/ Joseph F. Leeson, Jr.___________
JOSEPH F. LEESON, JR.
United States District Judge
claim of the denial of a constitutional right and that jurists of reason would find it debatable
whether the district court was correct in its procedural ruling.” Id.
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