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Rico v. Leftridge-Byrd

August 14, 2003

JOSEPH RICO, APPELLANT
v.
MARY LEFTRIDGE-BYRD; THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY OF THE COUNTY OF PHILADELPHIA; THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA D.C. Civil No. 00-cv-04841 District Judge: The Honorable William H. Yohn, Jr.

Before: BECKER,*fn1 Barry and BRIGHT,*fn2 Circuit Judges

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barry, Circuit Judge

PRECEDENTIAL

Submitted Under Third Circuit LAR 34.1(a) April 7, 2003

OPINION OF THE COURT

The issue before us is whether the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision upholding Joseph Rico's conviction and sentence against a Batson challenge based on the prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges to strike Italian-American prospective jurors was contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.*fn3

I.

On February 21, 1992, Joseph Rico was convicted by a jury in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County of first-degree murder and criminal conspiracy, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Rico filed post-sentence motions, one of which invoked Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), alleging that the prosecutor exercised seven of his twenty peremptory challenges against Italian-American prospective jurors in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Rico, we note, is not Italian-American but, for reasons of which we are not aware, changed his surname from Gavel to Rico. The trial court denied relief, as it had during jury selection, finding that no discrimination had occurred. Commonwealth v. Rico, Cr. No. 3022-3027, slip op. (Pa. Comm. Pleas Ct. Jul. 29, 1994).

Rico appealed to the Superior Court, again complaining that the prosecutor used his peremptory challenges to strike jurors of Italian descent in violation of Batson. The Superior Court agreed as to all but two of the struck jurors, reversed Rico's convictions, and granted him a new trial. Commonwealth v. Rico, 662 A.2d 1076 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1995). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed, concluding in an opinion dated April 27, 1998 that the Superior Court erred in rejecting the trial court's factual finding of no purposeful discrimination. The Court remanded for consideration of Rico's prosecutorial misconduct claim which the Superior Court had not found it necessary to decide given its resolution of the Batson issue. Commonwealth v. Rico, 711 A.2d 990 (Pa. 1998). On remand, the Superior Court affirmed the judgment and sentence, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Rico's petition for discretionary review on October 14, 1999.

Rico filed this petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), arguing Batson and prosecutorial misconduct. The Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation, recommending that the petition be dismissed. Rico v. Leftridge-Byrd, Civ. No. 00-4841, slip op. (E.D. Pa. Apr. 27, 2001). On November 8, 2001, the District Court adopted the Report and Recommendation, denied Rico's petition, and denied a certificate of appealability. Rico v. Leftridge-Byrd, Civ. No. 00-4841, 2001 WL 1428351 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 8, 2001). We certified only Rico's Batson claim for appeal. We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1291 and 2253(c)(1), and will affirm.

II.

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (codified at, inter alia, 28 U.S.C. § 2254), circumscribes a federal habeas court's review of a state court decision. Lockyer v. Andrade, 123 S.Ct. 1166 (2003). Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), a federal court must not grant an application for a writ of habeas corpus with respect to a state court proceeding unless the state decision was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States" or "resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding."

In order to satisfy § 2254(d)(1), the petitioner must show either that the lower court's decision was "contrary to" Supreme Court precedent or that it was an "unreasonable application of " that precedent. With reference to the "contrary to" prong, a petitioner must show not "merely that his or her interpretation of Supreme Court precedent is more plausible than the state court's [but] that Supreme Court precedent requires the contrary outcome." Matteo v. Superintendent, SCI Albion, 171 F.3d 877, 888 (3d Cir. 1999) ( en banc ) (emphasis in original). Satisfaction of the "unreasonable application" prong requires a petitioner to show that "the state court's application of Supreme Court precedent was objectively unreasonable." Id. at 889-90. When a federal habeas court is called upon to determine whether a petitioner has made this showing, "mere disagreement with the state court's conclusions is not enough to warrant habeas relief." Id. at 890.*fn4 A state court decision fails the "unreasonable application" prong only "if the court identifies the correct governing rule from the Supreme Court's cases but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular case or if the state court either unreasonably extends a legal principle from the Supreme Court's precedent to a new context where it should not apply or unreasonably refuses to extend the principle to a new context where it should apply." Gattis v. Snyder, 278 F.3d 222, 234 (3d Cir. 2002)(citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 407 (2000)).

A state court decision based on a factual determination, such as that required under § 2254(d)(2), will not be overturned on factual grounds unless it was objectively unreasonable in light of the evidence presented in the state proceeding. Miller-El v. Cockrell, 123 S.Ct. 1029, 1040-41, 154 L. Ed. 931 (2003). We must presume that the state court's determination of factual issues was correct, and the petitioner bears the burden of rebutting this presumption by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254(e)(1); Campbell v. Vaughn, 209 F.3d 280, 285 (3d Cir. 2000). A state court's finding of the absence of discriminatory intent ...


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