United States District Court, D. Maryland
April 8, 2014
KEITH EDMONDS #289-715 Petitioner
BOBBY SHEARIN, et al. Respondents
JAMES K. BREDAR, District Judge.
On May 28, 2013,  the Clerk received petitioner Keith Edmonds' 28 U.S.C. § 2254 habeas corpus petition attacking his 1999 Maryland judgment of conviction for felony murder and related offenses.ECF No. 1, as supplemented at ECF No. 9. Respondents filed an answer that solely addresses the timeliness of the petition. ECF No. 7. Petitioner was advised of his opportunity to file a reply (ECF No. 8), and has done so. ECF No. 9. The court finds no need for an evidentiary hearing, see Rule 8(a), Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts; see also 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2), and for reasons set forth herein shall dismiss the petition as time-barred and decline to issue a certificate of appealability.
On September 1, 1999, a jury sitting in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City convicted petitioner of felony murder, second-degree murder, and related offenses. ECF No. 7-1 and 7-2. On December 9, 1999, the court imposed a sentence of life plus a consecutive forty-year period of incarceration. Id. On direct appealpetitioner challenged the admission of his co-defendant's testimony, the trial court's questioning of a witness at a pretrial hearing, and the legality of his conviction and sentence for second-degree murder. Petitioner's conviction for second-degree murder was vacated on direct appeal by the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, but otherwise affirmed in an unreported opinion filed on May 2, 2001. ECF No. 7-3. His request for further review in the Court of Appeals of Maryland was denied on September 14, 2001. ECF No. 7-4. Petitioner did not seek further review in the Supreme Court of the United States. His judgment became final for direct appeal purposes on December 13, 2001.
On November 8, 2001, petitioner initiated post-conviction relief in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. ECF No. 7-1 and 7-2. Petitioner claimed he was denied a speedy trial, trial counsel was ineffective, his sentence was illegal, and the commitment record was defective. ECF No. 7-6. The Circuit Court on November 7, 2002, denied post-conviction relief. Id. Petitioner's application for leave to appeal the denial of post-conviction relief was summarily denied by the Court of Special Appeals in an unreported opinion filed on July 9, 2003. The mandate issued on August 8, 2003. ECF No. 7-5 and 7-7.
Nearly two years later, on August 2, 2005, petitioner moved to reopen post-conviction proceedings. ECF No. 7-8. No new claims were raised. Id. On February 13, 2006, the court denied the motion. Petitioner did not seek review of this ruling. ECF No. 7-1 and 7-8. Petitioner states he filed a writ of habeas corpus in the Circuit Court on July 16, 2012, alleging that trial counsel failed to file a plea on his behalf based on mental incompetence. Petitioner provides no information as to the outcome of that proceeding. ECF No. 9, p. 14; ECF No. 1, p. 5.
The instant petition alleges: ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to fully investigate police files and exculpatory statements made by the victim and failing to notify petitioner before waiving his right to a speedy trial; prosecutorial misconduct in using perjured testimony, failing to produce a handwritten note to the jury, suppressing the testimony and identity of a witness, and entering into a plea agreement with a co-defendant who then testified against petitioner; and a violation of due process where a competency evaluation ordered by the trial court was never completed. ECF No. 1, pp. 6-8. Petitioner also invokes Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), alleging "the prosecutor withheld information that was produced years after trial, and would amount to newly discovered evidence." id., p. 7. As noted by respondents (ECF No. 7, p. 5, n. 2), most of these claims have not been fully and properly presented in the appropriate state courts.
Standard of Review
A one-year statute of limitations applies to habeas petitions pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d). The one-year period begins to run on the date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or (if no appeal is taken) upon the expiration of the time for seeking such review. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A).
Here, the period would have begun to run on December 13, 2001, by which time petitioner already had initiated state post-conviction review. Thus, the limitations period was tolled through August 8, 2003, when the mandate issued by the lower appellate court denying leave to appeal the denial of post-conviction relief issued. Under these facts, the one-year limitations period expired on August 8, 2004.
Petitioner does not argue that he failed to meet the statutory period for seeking federal habeas corpus relief. Instead, he contends that his subsequent attempts to reopen post-conviction proceedings and to pursue state habeas corpus relief were improperly ignored by the state court. To the extent that he relies on a recent Supreme Court opinion, McQuiggin v. Perkins, ___ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 1924, 1933 (2013), as a basis for equitable tolling (ECF No. 9, pp. 10-11), his argument fails.
Pursuant to McQuiggin, actual innocence, if proved, will serve as a gateway through which a defendant may pass when such claim otherwise would be barred under the one-year statute of limitations. In other words, a federal habeas court faced with an actual-innocence gateway claim should count unjustifiable delay on a habeas petitioner's part not as an absolute barrier to relief, but as a factor in determining whether actual innocence has been reliably shown, id., 133 S.Ct. at 1030. To take advantage of this gateway, however, a petitioner invoking the miscarriage of justice exception "must show that it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted him in the light of the new evidence." Id., 133 S.Ct. at 1925 (citing Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 327 (1995)).
Having invoked McQuiggin, petitioner states that three years after his conviction petitioner became aware that the victim, Rudolph Lyons, testified in another trial that Anthony Archer was the shooter. ECF No. 9, p. 11. Affording petitioner generous leeway, the court presumes this information resulted in petitioner's August 2, 2005, request that the Circuit Court reopen state post-conviction proceedings. Petitioner has not established a strong argument of "actual innocence." Furthermore, the request to reopen was denied on February 13, 2006, yet the instant petition was filed more than six years later.
Equitable tolling of the limitations period is permitted in limited circumstances. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2); Harris v. Hutchinson, 209 F.3d 325, 330 (4th Cir. 2000) (one-year limitations period subject to equitable tolling); see also Wall v. Kholi, 131 S.Ct. 1278, 1283 (2011). In order to be entitled to equitable tolling, petitioner must establish that some wrongful conduct by respondents contributed to the delay in filing and completing state post-conviction review, or that circumstances beyond his control caused the delay. See Rouse v. Lee, 339 F.3d 238, 246 (4th Cir. 2003); Harris v. Hutchinson, 209 F.3d at 328. "[A]ny resort to equity must be reserved for those rare instances where... it would be unconscionable to enforce the limitation period against the party and gross injustice would result." Id.
The record suggests that petitioner repeatedly returned to the state circuit court, raising new grounds for relief each time, in what apparently had become a futile effort to reopen post-conviction proceedings. While this borders on obsession, such persistence does not denote due diligence. Nothing in the record suggests that misconduct by the respondents or some extraordinary circumstance prevented petitioner from promptly filing a federal habeas corpus petition. To the extent delay in filing a federal petition might be attributed to his lack of understanding of the law, unfamiliarity with the law may not be used to justify equitable tolling. See United States v. Sosa, 364 F.3d 507, 512 (4th Cir. 2004).
Petitioner has failed to satisfy his burden to demonstrate that equitable tolling is warranted, and his claims for habeas corpus relief are time-barred. For the reasons stated herein, the court will deny and dismiss the petition. A certificate of appealability will not issue because petitioner has not made a "substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right."
A separate order follows.