667 F.3d 397 (3rd Cir. 2012), 10-4133, Han Tak Lee v. Glunt

Docket Nº10-4133.
Citation667 F.3d 397
Opinion JudgeSLOVITER, Circuit Judge.
Party NameHAN TAK LEE, Appellant v. Steve GLUNT, Superintendent, Sci Houtzdale; District Attorney of Monroe County; Attorney General of Pennsylvania.
AttorneyPeter Goldberger (Argued), Ardmore, PA, Attorney for Appellant. Jeremy M. Bolles (Argued), E. David Christine, Jr., Mark S. Matthews, Monroe County Office of District Attorney, Stroudsburg, PA, Attorneys for Appellees. Charlotte H. Whitmore, Pennsylvania Innocence Project, Philadelphia, PA, Attor...
Judge PanelBefore: SLOVITER, VANASKIE, Circuit Judges and STENGEL,[*] District Judge.
Case DateJanuary 27, 2012
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals, United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)

Page 397

667 F.3d 397 (3rd Cir. 2012)

HAN TAK LEE, Appellant

v.

Steve GLUNT, Superintendent, Sci Houtzdale; District Attorney of Monroe County; Attorney General of Pennsylvania.

No. 10-4133.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit.

January 27, 2012

Argued Dec. 12, 2011.

Page 398

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 399

Peter Goldberger (Argued), Ardmore, PA, Attorney for Appellant.

Jeremy M. Bolles (Argued), E. David Christine, Jr., Mark S. Matthews, Monroe County Office of District Attorney, Stroudsburg, PA, Attorneys for Appellees.

Page 400

Charlotte H. Whitmore, Pennsylvania Innocence Project, Philadelphia, PA, Attorney for Amicus Appellant.

Before: SLOVITER, VANASKIE, Circuit Judges and STENGEL,[*] District Judge.

OPINION

SLOVITER, Circuit Judge.

The brief on behalf of Petitioner-Appellant Han Tak Lee has listed the following statement of issues:

1. Is petitioner-appellant Han Tak Lee incarcerated for a crime of which newly discovered scientific evidence persuasively shows he is probably innocent, in violation of his due process rights?

a. Is an actual innocence claim based upon newly discovered evidence cognizable in a federal habeas corpus petition filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2254?

b. Does AEDPA's deferential standard of review apply to the Pennsylvania Superior court's decision in this case?

2. Is petitioner-appellant Lee entitled at least to discovery and an evidentiary hearing?

Appellant's Br. at 2.

Because we dispose of this matter on the final issue listed, we will not reach the other provocative issues in Nos. 1 and 1 a above.

Petitioner Han Tak Lee appeals from the District Court's Order, which denied his petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 without granting discovery or conducting an evidentiary hearing.1 Lee had been charged with first degree murder and arson after his twenty-year-old mentally ill daughter died in a cabin fire at a religious retreat in the Pocono Mountains. He was convicted on both counts in a jury trial and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Lee filed a petition for habeas corpus against the Superintendent of the state prison where he has been incarcerated, the District Attorney of Monroe County and the Attorney General of Pennsylvania (hereafter collectively referred to as " Commonwealth" ). Lee now argues that his habeas petition should be granted because he is actually innocent. Specifically, he argues that newly discovered evidence proves that the fire expert testimony that the Government relied upon to secure his convictions was fundamentally unreliable and that therefore his continued incarceration violates his due process rights. In a brief filed on behalf of the Commonwealth containing less than three pages of substance, the Commonwealth asserts that Lee " has merely offered different evidence that could solely be used for impeachment purposes," which " does not, on its own [,] establish a constitutional violation." Appellee's Br. at 6. The Commonwealth further argues that Lee's " claim of actual [innocence] without a clear separate constitutional violation is not cognizable under 28 U.S.C. § 2254." Id. at 7.

I.

Background

A. Convictions and Direct Appeals

Lee was convicted on September 17, 1990 after an eight-day jury trial during which Lee's attorney had argued that Lee's daughter was mentally ill and had set the fire as a suicidal act. Post-verdict

Page 401

motions were denied and Lee was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Lee appealed his convictions to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, which remanded to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing on Lee's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. During that hearing, the court received substantial evidence about developments in the field of fire science, including testimony from fire expert John J. Lentini.2 This evidence provided ample reason to question the reliability of the arson investigation.

Nevertheless, the trial court held that Lee had failed to establish that trial counsel was ineffective despite, inter alia, trial counsel's failure to discredit the Commonwealth's expert witnesses or to argue that the fire was accidental. Lee filed a direct appeal in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, arguing that trial counsel was ineffective. The Superior Court affirmed Lee's convictions and sentence, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied allowance of an appeal.

B. Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA)

In 1995, Lee filed a pro se petition for relief under the PCRA in the Court of Common Pleas of Monroe County, Pennsylvania. Inexplicably, the Commonwealth did not comply with the court's order to file a response, and the petition sat dormant until the attorney who is now representing Lee in this case requested leave to file an amended petition in 2001. Lee's attorney also requested an order granting access to evidence and scientific records that were in the possession of the state police. The District Attorney consented to this disclosure, but the PCRA judge refused to allow it, stating merely that it was " unduly burdensome on the State Police." App. at 103.

Lee's attorney filed an amended petition for relief under the PCRA in 2005, which argued that (1) Lee was entitled to a new trial because of exculpatory evidence (in the form of newly discovered scientific information about fires) that was unavailable at the time of trial, and (2) appellate counsel was ineffective in the direct appeal by failing to raise a claim of after-discovered exculpatory evidence in addition to the ineffective assistance claim he had raised. An affidavit from fire expert John J. Lentini explaining developments in fire science since the time of Lee's trial was attached to the amended petition.

The Court of Common Pleas held oral argument and ultimately denied the petition for PCRA relief. In affirming the denial of Lee's PCRA petition, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania concluded that the Lentini affidavit would be " used solely to impeach the Commonwealth's experts' credibility and to contradict their opinion that the fire was of incendiary origin." App. at 67. The court also " reject[ed] Lee's assertion that the Commonwealth's methodology [for arson investigation] was scientifically invalid" because Lentini's affidavit " merely challeng[ed] the varying degrees of significance that are attributed to the generally accepted components of arson investigation." App. at 72-73. Under Pennsylvania law, " [a] new trial may be granted on the theory of after discovered evidence only if the new evidence ... [, inter alia, ] will not be used solely for impeaching the credibility of a witness." App. at 66. This was the reason given by

Page 402

the Superior Court to deny relief on this claim. The Superior Court of Pennsylvania then denied Lee's application for reconsideration or re-argument en banc, and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denied Lee's application for allowance of appeal.

C. Federal Habeas

Lee filed a timely petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in the District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, arguing that (1) appellate counsel was ineffective, (2) Lee's due process rights were violated because his convictions were based on inaccurate and unreliable evidence, (3) Lee is incarcerated in violation of due process because newly developed scientific evidence shows that he is probably innocent of the crimes of which he was convicted and there is no other substantial evidence of guilt, and (4) trial counsel was ineffective. The District Court noted that " [t]he respondent concede[d] that Petitioner has exhausted his state court remedies," App. at 11, and the Commonwealth has conceded that Lee raised these federal issues in his state court proceedings. See Appellee's Br. 8 (" [A]ll of the appellant's claims have been heard by the state court system." ); see also Albrecht v. Horn, 485 F.3d 103, 124 (3d Cir.2007) ( " Ultimately, the state post-conviction claim was not very different from the federal habeas claim [because the] essential factual and legal substance of the innocence/unreliable fire science claim was presented at both the trial and state Supreme Court levels." ).

The District Court denied the petition for habeas relief, reasoning that " Lee's claim of newly discovered evidence is not cognizable under § 2254 because claims of actual innocence based on newly discovered evidence are never grounds for federal habeas relief absent an independent constitutional violation." App. at 15-16 (citations omitted). The District Court also concluded that no evidentiary hearing was warranted because " Lee's claims of newly discovered evidence were presented to the Pennsylvania Courts in his PCRA petition, and affirmed on appeal." Id. at 16. The District Court noted the Superior Court's conclusion that " the after-discovered evidence that would have been used solely for impeachment purposes [did] not warrant a new trial under Pennsylvania law." Id. at 17. The District Court also denied Lee's ineffective assistance claims.3

Lee appealed. The Pennsylvania Innocence Project— a non-profit legal clinic housed at Temple University School of Law and dedicated to providing pro bono legal and/or investigative services to prisoners for whom evidence discovered post-conviction can provide conclusive proof of innocence— filed an amicus brief in this court, arguing that " the federal Constitution provides an avenue through [which] the truly innocent may obtain their freedom, notwithstanding the lack of any underlying constitutional violations." Amicus Br. at 2.

II.

Standard of Review

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (" AEDPA" ) limits the power of a federal court to grant habeas relief to a person in custody pursuant to a state court judgment. Federal courts may only entertain habeas petitions alleging that the state prisoner is in...

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101 practice notes
  • Ross v. Commonwealth, 081420 PAWDC, C. A. 2:18-cv-146
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 3th Circuit
    • August 14, 2020
    ...a hearing rests in the discretion of the court. Palmer v. Hendricks, 592 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 2010). See also Lee v, Glunt, 667 F.3d 397, 406 (3d Cir. 2012). Petitioner's "bald assertions and conclusory allegations do not afford a sufficient ground for an evi......
  • Stephenson v. Gilmore, 022321 PAWDC, C. A. 2:18-cv-1329
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 3th Circuit
    • February 23, 2021
    ...a hearing rests in the discretion of the court. Palmer v. Hendricks, 592 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 2010). See also Lee v. Glunt, 667 F.3d 397, 406 (3d Cir. 2012). Petitioner's “bald assertions and conclusory allegations do not afford a sufficient ground for an evidenti......
  • Koehler v. Wetzel, 051415 PAMDC, 3:12-CV-00291
    • United States
    • United States District Court of Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • May 14, 2015
    ...and convincing evidence.'" McBride v. Superintendent, SCI Houtzdale, 687 F.3d 92, 101 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Han Tak Lee v. Glunt, 667 F.3d 397, 403 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing 28 U.S.C. § Turning to Section 2254(d)(2), the test for the "unreasonable determination of facts" claus......
  • 16 F.Supp.3d 420 (M.D.Pa. 2014), 4:02-CV-2124, Abdul-Salaam v. Beard
    • United States
    • United States District Court of Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • April 24, 2014
    ...and convincing evidence.'" McBride v. Superintendent, SCI Houtzdale, 687 F.3d 92, 101 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Han Tak Lee v. Glunt, 667 F.3d 397, 403 (3d Cir. 2012)) (citing 28 U.S.C. § Turning to Section 2254(d)(2), the test for the " unreasonable determination of facts" cla......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
99 cases
  • Ross v. Commonwealth, 081420 PAWDC, C. A. 2:18-cv-146
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 3th Circuit
    • August 14, 2020
    ...a hearing rests in the discretion of the court. Palmer v. Hendricks, 592 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 2010). See also Lee v, Glunt, 667 F.3d 397, 406 (3d Cir. 2012). Petitioner's "bald assertions and conclusory allegations do not afford a sufficient ground for an evi......
  • Stephenson v. Gilmore, 022321 PAWDC, C. A. 2:18-cv-1329
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 3th Circuit
    • February 23, 2021
    ...a hearing rests in the discretion of the court. Palmer v. Hendricks, 592 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 2010). See also Lee v. Glunt, 667 F.3d 397, 406 (3d Cir. 2012). Petitioner's “bald assertions and conclusory allegations do not afford a sufficient ground for an evidenti......
  • Koehler v. Wetzel, 051415 PAMDC, 3:12-CV-00291
    • United States
    • United States District Court of Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • May 14, 2015
    ...and convincing evidence.'" McBride v. Superintendent, SCI Houtzdale, 687 F.3d 92, 101 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Han Tak Lee v. Glunt, 667 F.3d 397, 403 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing 28 U.S.C. § Turning to Section 2254(d)(2), the test for the "unreasonable determination of facts" claus......
  • 16 F.Supp.3d 420 (M.D.Pa. 2014), 4:02-CV-2124, Abdul-Salaam v. Beard
    • United States
    • United States District Court of Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • April 24, 2014
    ...and convincing evidence.'" McBride v. Superintendent, SCI Houtzdale, 687 F.3d 92, 101 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Han Tak Lee v. Glunt, 667 F.3d 397, 403 (3d Cir. 2012)) (citing 28 U.S.C. § Turning to Section 2254(d)(2), the test for the " unreasonable determination of facts" cla......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • FORENSIC SCIENCE: DAUBERT'S FAILURE.
    • United States
    • Case Western Reserve Law Review Vol. 68 Nbr. 3, March 2018
    • March 22, 2018
    ...Although the district court denied Lee's petition, the Third Circuit reversed and remanded the case to the district court. Lee v. Glunt, 667 F.3d 397, 407-08 (3d Cir. 2012) ("If Lee's expert's independent analysis of the fire scene evidence--applying principles from new developments in......
  • Looking backwards at old cases: when science moves forward.
    • United States
    • Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Vol. 106 Nbr. 1, January - January 2016
    • January 1, 2016
    ...Pamela R. Metzger, Cheating the Constitution, 59 Vand. L. Rev. 475,491 (2006)). (42) Kulbicki, 577 U.S. at 4. (43) Id. (44) Lee v. Glunt, 667 F.3d 397, 403 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Keller v. Larkins, 251 F.3d 408,413 (3d Cir. 2001)). (45) Id. at 403 (quoting Bisaccia v. Attorney Gen., 623 F.......

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