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Norris v. Brooks

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

July 27, 2015

ERIC D. NORRIS, Appellant
v.
MARILYN BROOKS; THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY OF THE COUNTY OF PHILADELPHIA; THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA

Argued June 2, 2015

On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. (D.C. No. 2-06-cv-05509). District Judge: Honorable Stewart Dalzell.

Arianna J. Freeman (Argued), Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, Attorney for Petitioner-Appellant.

Susan E. Affronti (Argued), Molly S. Lorber, Philadelphia County Office of District Attorney, Philadelphia, PA, Attorneys for Respondents-Appellees.

Before: RENDELL, HARDIMAN and VANASKIE, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 402

HARDIMAN, Circuit Judge.

Eric Norris, a state prisoner in Pennsylvania, petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in 2007. The District Court denied the petition, holding tat his claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel was procedurally defaulted during collateral relief proceedings in state court. In 2012, Norris filed a motion for relief from judgment invoking Martinez v. Ryan, 132 S.Ct. 1309, 182 L.Ed.2d 272 (2012), which held that attorney error in collateral proceedings may sometimes excuse the procedural default of a habeas petitioner's ineffective assistance claim. The District Court denied his motion, and Norris appeals.

I

Norris was arrested by Philadelphia police in June 1999 for committing an aggravated assault about a year earlier. His trial began in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County in August 2001 and ended in a conviction. At the conclusion of the trial, Norris complained that his counsel had been ineffective, and the court appointed new counsel to argue post-verdict motions. That attorney lodged several claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel on Norris's behalf, all of which the trial court rejected in December 2001. Norris was ultimately sentenced to 25-50 years' imprisonment pursuant to Pennsylvania's " three strikes" law.

In June 2003, Norris filed a pro se petition for collateral relief in the Court of Common Pleas pursuant to Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9501 et seq., asserting that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to seek dismissal of the charges on speedy trial grounds. The court then appointed new counsel, J. Matthew Wolfe, who filed an amended PCRA petition on behalf of Norris. The amended petition made claims of newly discovered evidence and ineffective assistance of counsel, including a reassertion of the claim that trial counsel had been ineffective for not seeking dismissal of the charges on speedy trial grounds. The petition asserted that more than three years elapsed between the issuance of the criminal complaint and the beginning of Norris's trial and argued that this delay violated a state procedural rule and the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Court of Common Pleas disagreed and dismissed the petition, ruling in pertinent part that the speedy trial issue could not support an ineffective assistance claim because it lacked merit.

Page 403

In November 2005, Wolfe filed an appeal in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania and abandoned the speedy trial argument despite Norris's insistence that it be included. In two pro se filings, Norris presented the speedy trial argument himself and accused Wolfe of providing ineffective assistance. The Superior Court then directed Wolfe to file a petition for remand analyzing Norris's contentions in order to help the court determine whether to remand the case for appointment of new counsel. See Commonwealth v. Battle, 2005 PA Super 244, 879 A.2d 266, 268-69 (Pa. S.Ct. 2005) (describing the Superior Court's procedure for handling pro se filings by counseled litigants), abrogated by Commonwealth v. Jette, 611 Pa. 166, 23 A.3d 1032 (Pa. 2011). The court eventually denied the petition for remand and affirmed the dismissal of the PCRA petition, holding that the speedy trial issue was waived because it was not included in Norris's counseled brief and that Wolfe had not provided ineffective assistance by declining to make that argument. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denied review. Commonwealth v. Norris, 589 Pa. 738, 909 A.2d 1289 (2006).

Norris filed a habeas petition in the District Court in 2007. The sole basis for his petition was the claim that his trial and direct appeal counsel were ineffective in failing to raise the speedy trial issue. The Commonwealth responded that this claim was procedurally defaulted on PCRA appeal and was meritless in any event. In June 2007, the District Court adopted ...


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