Smith v. Commonwealth, Civil Action 21-276

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. Western District of Pennsylvania
Decision Date14 December 2021
Docket NumberRe ECF 16,Civil Action 21-276



Civil Action No. 21-276

Re ECF No. 16

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

December 14, 2021

Hon. Arthur J. Schwab, United States District Judge




It is respectfully recommended that the Respondent District Attorney of Washington County's Motion to Dismiss Habeas Corpus Petition (“Motion to Dismiss”), ECF No. 16, be granted, and the pending Petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody (the “Petition”) be dismissed. It is further recommended that a certificate of appealability be denied.


Eric Wayne Smith (“Petitioner”) is a state prisoner proceeding pro se in this matter. In the Petition, he seeks federal habeas relief from his 2013 conviction in the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County, Pennsylvania, for false imprisonment, terroristic threats, corruption of minors, and indecent assault, at Case No. CP-63-000054-2013. ECF No. 2 at 1; ECF No. 17-5 at 8.


A. Relevant Procedural History

Petitioner was convicted of the above-noted crimes following a bench trial on August 23, 2013. ECF No. 17-5 at 8 and 11. He was sentenced to an aggregate term of six to twelve years on December 6, 2013. Id. at 8 and 12.

Petitioner timely filed a direct appeal with the Pennsylvania Superior Court, which was denied in an unpublished opinion on November 17, 2014. ECF No. 17-6 at 1. Petitioner filed a petition for allocatur with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on February 26, 2015, which appears to have been treated as timely filed, and was denied on June 16, 2015. ECF No. 17-8 at 1; See also Docket Sheet for Case No. 77 WAL 2015 (available at h=4QP9C5z4UeFhZ%2FRRlzb9xg%3D%3D (last visited Dec. 14, 2021)).[1]

The record does not indicate that Petitioner filed a petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States. As such, his conviction became final on September 14, 2015, 90 days after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied allocatur. See U.S. Sup. Ct. R. 13; see also Jenkins v. Sup't of Laurel Highlands, 705 F.3d 80, 84 (3d Cir. 2013) (“On direct review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Jenkins's petition for allowance of appeal on September 28, 2007. . . . Because Jenkins had ninety days to petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, his conviction became final on December 27, 2007.”).

Petitioner filed a pro se petition under the Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”), 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 9541, et seq., on or about November 6, 2015. ECF No. 17-9


at 4; see also Docket Sheet for Case No. CP-63-CR-54-2013 (available at (last visited Dec. 14, 2021)). The PCRA trial court appointed counsel, who was replaced twice before an amended PCRA Petition was filed on September 15, 2016. ECF No. 17-9 at 4. After an evidentiary hearing, post conviction relief was denied in a order issued on June 1, 2017.[2] Docket Sheet for Case No. CP-63-CR-54-2013; see also ECF No. 17-13 at 3.

The order denying PCRA relief was not served on Petitioner and, as a result, a second PCRA motion was filed with the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County on July 19, 2017. This resulted in the reinstatement of Petitioner's appellate rights. Docket Sheet for Case No. CP-63-CR-54-2013. A notice of appeal with respect to the trial court's denial of the first PCRA proceedings was filed on August 10, 2017, which the Pennsylvania Superior Court treated as timely-filed.[3] Id., ; see also ECF No. 17-13 at 3-4, n.2. Petitioner's appeal to the Superior Court in his first PCRA proceedings was denied on March 19, 2018. ECF No. 17-13 at 1.


Petitioner's timely filed petition for allocatur was denied by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on September 4, 2018. ECF No. 17-12 at 1; see also Com, v. Smith, 193 A.3d 344, 648 Pa. 333 (Pa. 2018) (table).[4]

On December 30, 2018, Petitioner filed a “Motion to Correct Illegal Sentence” in the Court of Common Pleas. Docket Sheet for Case No. CP-63-CR-54-2013; see also Com, v. Smith, 240 A.3d 900 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2020) (table).[5] This was treated as an untimely second PCRA petition, and denied by the trial court on October 21, 2019.[6] Docket Sheet for Case No. CP-63-CR-54-2013; see also Smith, 240 A.3d at 900. Petitioner timely appealed, and the Superior Court affirmed that dismissal on September 1, 2020. In its opinion, the Superior Court held that the second PCRA petition was untimely, and that as a result, it lacked jurisdiction to address its merits. IT There is no indication on the record that Petitioner appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

This Court received the instant Petition on February 26, 2021; however, the signature block on the Petition indicates that it was signed on February 9, 2021. ECF No. 2 at 15. For the purposes of this Order, the undersigned presumes that the Petition was placed on the prison mail system on


the same day that it was signed. As such, the Petition has an apparent effective filing date of February 9, 2021.

On June 29, 2021, the District Attorney of Washington County (“Respondent”) filed the instant Motion to Dismiss and brief in support thereof.[7] ECF Nos. 16 and 17. Petitioner filed his response in opposition on July 8, 2021. ECF No. 19. The pending Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 16, is ripe for adjudication.

B. The AEDPA Statute of Limitations

The first consideration in reviewing a federal habeas corpus petition is whether the petition was timely filed within the applicable statute of limitations. In 1996, Congress enacted the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”), Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214, which established, generally, a strict one-year statute of limitations for the filing habeas petitions pursuant to Section 2254. The applicable portion of the statute is as follows:

(d)(1) A 1-year period of limitation shall apply to an application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court. The limitation period shall run from the latest of-
(A) the date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review;
(B) the date on which the impediment to filing an application created by State action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed, if the applicant was prevented from filing by such State action;
(C) 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 and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review; or
(D) the date on which the factual predicate of the claim or claims presented could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence.
(2) The time during which a properly filed application for State postconviction 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.

28 U.S.C. § 2244(d).

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has held that the statute of limitations set out in Section 2244(d) must be applied on a claim-by-claim basis. Fielder v. Varner, 379 F.3d 113, 122 (3d Cir. 2004), cert, denied sub nom. Fielder v. Lavan, 543 U.S. 1067 (2005). Thus, in analyzing whether a petition for writ habeas corpus has been timely filed under the one-year limitations period, a federal court must undertake a three-part inquiry. First, the court must determine the “trigger” date for the individual claims raised in the petition. Typically, this is the date that the petitioner's direct review concluded and the judgment became “final” for purposes of triggering the one-year period under § 2244(d)(1)(A). Second, the court must determine whether any “properly filed” applications for post-conviction or collateral relief were pending during the limitations period that would toll the statute pursuant to § 2244(d)(2). Third, the court must determine whether any of the other statutory exceptions or equitable tolling should be applied on the facts presented.

1. All asserted grounds for relief have trigger dates of September 14, 2015.

Petitioner raises two claims for relief in the Petition. The first is “Illegal sentence[.]” The second is “Ineffective assistance of counsel[.]” ECF No. 2 at 5 and 7. Petitioner provides little additional elaboration on these claims in the Petition. Further, Petitioner's response to the Motion to Dismiss largely is without coherent argument. ECF No. 19. As best this Court can tell, it appears that Petitioner is attempting to assert each and every claim that he raised in each of his PCRA


proceedings. See, e.g., ECF No. 2 at 6 (discussing Petitioner's “illegal sentence” habeas claim in the context of his “motion to correct illegal sentence” that initiated his second PCRA proceeding).

Respondent in the Motion to Dismiss failed to address whether any of Petitioner's claims might have different trigger dates under Section 2244. Instead, it appears that Respondent made a default presumption that all of Petitioner's claims arose together. A review of the Petition reveals that this is the case.

While the Petition is unclear, it appears that Petitioner's asserted grounds of “illegal sentence” and “ineffective assistance of counsel” relate to the grounds raised in his PCRA petitions.

In the first PCRA petition, Petitioner...

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