White v. PA State Attorney General et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION (Order to follow as separate docket entry). Signed by Honorable Matthew W. Brann on 6/21/17. (lg)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
STEVEN R. GLUNT,
JUNE 21, 2017
This pro se habeas corpus petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 was filed by
Myles White, an inmate presently confined at the Rockview State Correctional
Institution, Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, (SCI-Rockview). Service of the petition was
Petitioner and Ralph Maldonado were charged on March 26, 2009 with
criminal homicide, conspiracy, and robbery in relation to the robbery and murder
of Blake Natal. Trial was originally scheduled for September 9, 2009 in the Court
of Common Pleas of Monroe County, Pennsylvania. However, Petitioner’s
attorney filed a motion to sever his trial from that of co-defendant Maldonado on
August 25, 2009. The motion was then withdrawn on October 13, 2009. On
January 8, 2010, Petitioner’s counsel filed a motion for continuance of trial which
was granted on January 12, 2010 and trial was rescheduled for March 2010. As a
result of a motion filed by Petitioner’s co-defendant, the scheduling of trial was
further delayed from the March 2010 trial term until June 3, 2010.
On June 1, 2010, White entered a guilty plea to a charge of third degree
murder. He was sentenced to a fifteen (15) to thirty (30) year term of
imprisonment that day. Petitioner filed a direct appeal contending that his guilty
plea was not voluntary and trial counsel was ineffective for failing to explain the
element of intent and for failing to oppose the Commonwealth’s use of
inflammatory statements. See Doc. 8-12, p. 4. He also challenged the
discretionary aspects of his sentence. The Superior Court of Pennsylvania denied
relief on June 19, 2012.
Petitioner subsequently sought relief via an action pursuant to
Pennsylvania’s Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA).1 White was appointed
counsel and subsequently filed an amended petition. The amended petition
asserted that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to file a motion under
See 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 9541 et seq. The PCRA “permits motions for postconviction collateral relief for allegations of error, including ineffective assistance
of counsel, unlawfully induced guilty pleas, improper obstruction of rights to
appeal by Commonwealth officials, and violation of constitutional provisions."
Hankins v. Fulcomer, 941 F.2d 246, 251 (3d Cir. 1991).
Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 600 and that the guilty plea was not
voluntary because Petitioner expressed doubt as to whether he acted with the intent
necessary for a third degree murder charge. A PCRA hearing was conducted by
the trial court on July 29, 2013. The PCRA petition was denied by the trial court
on October 15, 2013. The Superior Court subsequently affirmed that decision on
August 29, 2014. A petition for allowance of appeal was denied by the Supreme
Court of Pennsylvania on April 24, 2015.
Ground One of Petitioner’s pending action claims entitlement to federal
habeas corpus relief on the basis that his state court proceedings violated his
constitutional due process, equal protection, and fundamental fairness rights
because the state courts improperly calculated his speedy trial deadline under
Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 600.2 See Doc. 1, ¶ 12. Ground Two
asserts that White’s trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by neglecting to
inform him that he had a viable argument that the Commonwealth had violated his
right to a speedy trial under Rule 600.
Respondent seeks dismissal of the petition on the basis that Ground One has
not been exhausted and both of White’s arguments are meritless. See Doc. 8,
Petitioner contends that the delay caused by his co-defendant’s filing of a pretrial motion should not have been excluded from the calculation of his Rule 600
Respondent initially asserts Petitioner’s Ground One claims are either
unexhausted or procedurally defaulted and as such should not be entertained by
this Court. The Respondent notes that the petition acknowledges that Ground One
was not previously raised via either direct appeal or in White’s PCRA action. See
Doc. 8, p. 2.
Title 28 United States Code Section 2254(b)(1) provides that an application
for a writ of habeas corpus filed on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the
judgment of a state court shall not be granted unless the applicant has exhausted
the remedies available in the courts of the State; or there is an absence of available
state corrective process; or there are existing circumstances which render the state
process ineffective. The exhaustion requirement is not a mere formality. It serves
the interests of comity between the federal and state systems, by allowing the state
an initial opportunity to determine and correct any violations of a prisoner’s federal
rights. Crews v. Horn, 360 F.3d 146, 151 (3d Cir. 2004).
The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has stated that
“[U]nder 28 U.S.C. § 2254(c), such a petitioner ‘shall not be deemed to have
exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State ... if he has the right
under the law of the State to raise, by any available procedure, the question
presented.’ ” Wenger v. Frank, 266 F.3d 218, 223-24 (3d Cir. 2001).
“A state prisoner is generally barred from obtaining federal habeas relief
unless the prisoner has properly presented his or her claims through one ‘complete
round of the State’s established appellate review process.’ ” Woodford v. Ngo, 548
U.S. 81, 92 (2006) (internal citations omitted); O’Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S.
838, 844-45 (1999)(while exhaustion does not require state prisoners to invoke
extraordinary remedies, the state courts must be afforded one full opportunity to
resolve any constitutional issues via completion of the State's established appellate
review process). The United States Supreme Court in O’Sullivan explained, that
state prisoners must “file petitions for discretionary review when that review is part
of the ordinary appellate review procedure in the State.” Id. at 847. The United
States Supreme Court added that, in determining whether a state prisoner has
preserved an issue for presentation in a federal habeas petition, it must be
determined not only whether a prisoner has exhausted his state remedies, but also
whether he has properly exhausted those remedies, i.e., whether he has fairly
presented his claims to the state courts. See id. at 848.
Fair presentation requires that the “substantial equivalent” of both the legal
theory and the facts supporting the federal claim are submitted to the state courts,
and the same method of legal analysis applied in the federal courts must be
available to the state courts. Evans v. Court of Common Pleas, 959 F. 2d 1227,
1230 (3d Cir. 1992); Lambert v. Blackwell, 134 F.3d 506, 513 (3d Cir. 1997).
Moreover, to satisfy exhaustion, the state court must be put on notice that a federal
claim is being asserted. Keller v. Larkins, 251 F.3d 408, 413 (3d Cir. 2001). The
exhaustion requirement is satisfied if the petitioner’s claims are presented through
a collateral proceeding, such as a petition under the PCRA, and it is not necessary
to present federal claims to state courts both on direct appeal and in a PCRA
proceeding. Evans, 959 F.2d at 1230.
When a claim has not been fairly presented to the state courts but further
state-court review is clearly foreclosed under state law, exhaustion is excused on
the ground of futility. See Lines v. Larkins, 208 F.3d 153, 160 (3d Cir. 2000);
Toulson v. Beyer, 987 F.2d 984, 987-88 (3d Cir. 1993). Such a claim is
procedurally defaulted, not unexhausted. A federal habeas court cannot review a
procedurally defaulted claim, “if the decision of [the state] court rests on a state
law ground that is independent of the federal question and adequate to support the
judgment.” Beard v. Kindle, 558 U.S. 53, 55 (2009). Procedural default can only
be excused if a petitioner can show “cause” and “prejudice” or that a “fundamental
miscarriage of justice” would result. Edwards v. Carpenter, 529 U.S. 446, 451
Petitioner acknowledges that “Ground One was not raised in the State
because the violation was a result of the state court proceedings.” Doc. 1, ¶ 12.
Based upon Petitioner’s own admission, it appears that Ground One is
unexhausted. It is equally apparent that given the passage of time and the fact that
Petitioner has already pursued both a direct appeal and a PCRA action, that any
unexhausted argument by White has been procedurally defaulted in state court.
Based on White’s admission, he has presented this Court with a mixed
petition, specifically, one containing both exhausted and procedurally defaulted
claims. The United States Supreme Court has recognized that if a habeas corpus
petition containing both exhausted and unexhausted claims is presented, then the
entire petition must be dismissed. Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 522 (1982).
However, “a petition containing unexhausted but procedurally barred claims in
addition to exhausted claims is not a mixed petition requiring dismissal under
Rose.” Toulson v. Beyer, 987 F.2d 984, 987 (3d Cir. 1993); see also Castille v.
Peoples, 489 U.S. 346, 351 (1989).
Despite Petitioner’s admission, the substance of the Ground One argument
was addressed on the merits during Petitioner’s PCRA proceedings. As noted by
the Superior Court, White presented the argument that non-excludable time was
improperly attributed to Petitioner for purposes of a Rule 600 calculation. See
Doc. 8-7, p. 6. Consequently, since the substantial equivalent of the claims
pending before this Court was raised during White’s PCRA action, the request for
dismissal on the basis of non-exhaustion will be denied. Nonetheless, for the
reasons outlined below, the petition is subject to dismissal because Grounds One
and Two are meritless.
Standard of Review
“The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 modified a
federal habeas court’s role in reviewing state prisoner applications in order to
prevent federal habeas ‘retrials’ and to ensure that state-court convictions are given
effect to the extent possible under law.” Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693 (2002).
Specifically, when a federal-law issue has been adjudicated on the merits by
a state court, the federal court reverses only when the decision was contrary to, or
involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as
determined by the United States Supreme Court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1).3 See
Specifically, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) provides:
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 of the claim –
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an
unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as
generally, Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, 114, ( 2009); Gattis v. Snyder,
278 F.3d 222, 234 (3d Cir. 2002); Moore v. Morton, 255 F.3d 95, 104-05 (3d Cir.
2001). The Supreme Court has held that the “contrary to” and “unreasonable
application” clauses of § 2254(d)(1) have independent meaning. Williams v.
Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 404-405 (2000). As explained in Bell, 535 U.S. at 694:
A federal habeas court may issue the writ under the
‘contrary to’ clause if the state court applies a rule
different from the governing law set forth in our cases, or
if it decides a case differently than we have done on a set
of materially indistinguishable facts. . . . The court may
grant relief under the ‘unreasonable application’ clause if
the state court correctly identifies the governing legal
principle from our decisions but unreasonably applies it
to the facts of the particular case. . . . The focus of the
latter inquiry is on whether the state court’s application
of clearly established federal law is objectively
unreasonable . . . .
Furthermore, resolution of factual issues by the state courts are presumed to be
correct unless the petitioner shows by clear and convincing evidence that they are
not. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e) (1).
In summary, the appropriate inquiry for federal district courts in reviewing
the merits of Section 2254 petitions is whether the state court decisions applied a
rule different from the governing law set forth in United States Supreme Court
determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; . . . .
cases; decided the case before them differently than the Supreme Court has done
on a set of materially indistinguishable facts; or unreasonably applied Supreme
Court governing principles to the facts of the particular case. See Keller v. Larkins,
251 F.3d 408, 417-18 (3d Cir. 2001) (a district court entertaining a
§ 2254 action must first address whether the state court decision was contrary to
Supreme Court precedent); Martini v. Hendricks, 188 F. Supp.2d 505, 510 (D. N.J.
2002) (a § 2254 applicant must show that the state court decision was based on an
unreasonable determination of facts in light of evidence presented in the state court
proceeding). Furthermore, findings of fact by the state courts are presumed to be
correct unless the petitioner shows by clear and convincing evidence that they are
In Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688 (1984),the United States
Supreme Court held that to prove a constitutional violation for ineffective
assistance of counsel, a habeas petitioner must meet a two-pronged test. The
petitioner must show “that counsel’s performance was deficient” and that “the
deficient performance prejudiced the defense." Id. at 687; accord Deputy v.
Taylor, 19 F.3d 1485, 1493 (3d Cir. 1994). In Deputy, the Third Circuit also noted
that it was not bound by any state court determinations as to a counsel's
performance. Id. at 1494.
To demonstrate deficient performance, a petitioner must show that “counsel’s
performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” Strickland, 466
U.S. at 688; Jermyn v. Horn, 266 F.3d 257, 282 (3d Cir.2001). A reviewing court
must “indulge a strong presumption that counsel’s conduct falls within the wide
range of reasonable professional assistance.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689; Jermyn,
266 F.3d at 282; Berryman v. Morton, 100 F.3d 1089, 1094 (3d Cir. 1996). If,
under the circumstances, counsel’s actions might be considered sound trial
strategy, the presumption is not rebutted, Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689, because
“substantial deference is to be accorded counsel’s tactical decisions.” United
States v. Wiener, 127 F. Supp. 2d 645, 648 (M.D. Pa. 2001). A decision supported
by “reasonable professional judgment does not constitute ineffective assistance of
counsel. See Burger v. Kemp, 483 U.S. 776, 794 (1987). It follows that counsel
cannot be deemed ineffective for pursuing a meritless claim. Hartey v. Vaughn,
186 F.3d 367, 372 (3d Cir. 1999).
A petitioner satisfies the second prong and shows prejudice when “there is a
reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the
proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability
sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694;
Frey v. Fulcomer, 974 F.2d 348, 358 (3d Cir. 1992) “Without proof of both
deficient performance and prejudice to the defense . . . it could not be said that the
sentence or conviction resulted from a breakdown in the adversary process that
rendered the result of the proceeding unreliable, and the sentence or conviction
should stand.” Bell, 535 U.S. at 695 (internal quotations and citation omitted).4
At the time of Petitioner’s state court proceedings, Strickland’s familiar
two-pronged test was the “clearly established federal law” applicable to ineffective
assistance of counsel claims. In addressing White’s present ineffective assistance
claims, the state courts applied essentially the same two-prong test for ineffective
assistance articulated in Strickland.
Specifically, under Pennsylvania state jurisprudence, a three-prong test is
applied to ineffective assistance of counsel claims, but is, in substance, identical to
the Strickland test. See, e.g., Commonwealth v. Pierce, 786 A.2d 203, 213 (Pa.
2001). The Third Circuit has held that Pennsylvania’s test for assessing ineffective
assistance of counsel claims is not contrary to Strickland. Jacobs v. Horn, 395
F.3d 92, 107 n.9 (3d Cir. 2005). Thus, it cannot be said that the state courts
applied rules contrary to prevailing principles established by the United States
Supreme Court for the adjudication of ineffective assistance claims.
Accordingly, under § 2254(d)(1), the relevant inquiry in addressing the
A court may choose to address the prejudice prong first and reject an ineffective
assistance claim solely on the basis that the defendant was not prejudiced. See
Rolan v. Vaughn, 445 F.3d 671, 678 (3d Cir. 2006).
pending ineffectiveness claims is whether the Pennsylvania state courts’ decisions
involved an unreasonable application of Strickland or were based on an
unreasonable determination of the facts. Jacobs, 395 F.3d at 107 n.9; Werts, 228
F.3d at 204.
The Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial protects an individual from the
deprivation of personal liberty from the time he is arrested or criminally charged
through to sentencing. See Hakeem v. Beyer, 990 F.2d 750, 762 (3d Cir. 1993);
Burkett v. Cunningham, 826 F.2d 1208, 1220 (3d Cir. 1987). The Sixth
Amendment right to a speedy trial is made applicable to the states through the Due
Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Burkett, 826 F.2d at 1219.
purpose is to “minimize the possibility of lengthy incarceration prior to trial, to
reduce the . . . impairment of liberty imposed on an accused while released on bail,
and to shorten the disruption of life caused by arrest and the presence of
unresolved criminal charges.” United States v. MacDonald, 456 U.S. 1, 8 (1982).
The Sixth Amendment safeguards a defendant’s right to be tried without undue
delay. As previously noted, Rule 600 provides for the dismissal of charges if a
Pennsylvania state criminal defendant is not brought to trial within 365 days of the
filing of the complaint. Unlike Rule 600, the speedy trial provision of the Sixth
Amendment is not quantified into a specific number of days.
The undisputed record supports the Superior Court’s determination that
there were delays which were not attributable to conduct of the Commonwealth but
rather due to pre-trial motions by Petitioner and his co-defendant. In this vein it is
noted that Pennsylvania state courts have recognized that delays attributed to a codefendant should not be weighed against the prosecution. See Commonwealth v.
Kimbrough, 872 A.2d 1244, 1260 (Pa. Super. 2005)(delays caused by codefendant’s filing of pre-trial motions are attributable to other co-defendants for
purposes of Rule 600); Commonwealth v. Clark, No. 913-2014, 2015 WL
7259527 *8 (Pa. Super. May 29, 2015)(delay caused by co-defendant is not
attributable to Commonwealth). As such, the period of time stemming from codefendant’s pursuit of a pre-trial motion was properly excluded form the
computation of the running of White’s Rule 600 period. Based upon a review of
the record, the Pennsylvania state courts conducted an accurate Rule 600
As previously noted, the speedy trial provision is not quantified into a
specific number of days. Furthermore, the delay at issue was of relatively short
duration and Petitioner has not demonstrated that he suffered any resulting
prejudice. Based upon those considerations, there is no basis for a finding that the
state court’s determination of the speedy trial issue was contrary to, or an
unreasonable application of, precedent established by the United States Supreme
Pursuant to the above discussion, this Court agrees that trial counsel’s
performance cannot be deemed deficient for failing to pursue, or advise Petitioner
as the availability of a Rule 600 defense since such a strategy lacked merit. The
petition for writ of habeas corpus will be denied.
An appropriate Order follows.
BY THE COURT:
s/ Matthew W. Brann
Matthew W. Brann
United States District Judge
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