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Tarpley v. Shearin

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 9, 2014

STEVEN E. TARPLEY, #307233, Petitioner,
WARDEN BOBBY P. SHEARIN, et al., Respondents.


GEORGE L. RUSSELL, III, District Judge.

Respondents' Answer as supplemented seeks dismissal of the above-captioned Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus without a hearing. ECF Nos. 7 & 13. Petitioner's claim is now ripe for review. The Court deems a hearing in this matter unnecessary. See Rule 8(a), Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts and Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2011); see also Fisher v. Lee , 215 F.3d 438, 455 (4th Cir. 2000) (petitioner not entitled to a hearing under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2)).


Petitioner Steven Tarpley ("Tarpley") was tried by a jury sitting in the Circuit Court for Harford County, Maryland on charges of possession of a destructive device, possession of controlled dangerous substances (cocaine and heroin), and possession of drug paraphernalia. The charges against Tarpley arose from events occurring on November 15, 2000. At approximately 1:20 a.m. State Police responded to a possible domestic disturbance call at 3448 Jarrettsville Pike in Monkton, Maryland. When officers arrived, the door to the apartment was slightly ajar and they could hear a woman screaming "get off of me, stop hurting me." When the officers looked through the open door they saw Tarpley, sitting in a chair, restraining Andrea Yarosh. Tarpley released her when the officers entered the apartment.

Tarpley and Yarosh were separately interviewed, but after approximately 20 minutes of attempting to understand the nature of the disagreement one of the officers noticed two possible explosive devices in plain view, sitting on a table. The officers evacuated everyone from the building and arrested Tarpley, who later consented to a search of his apartment. The search uncovered vials containing a white powdery substance, gelcaps containing a white powder residue, rolling papers, and spoons with a powdery residue. When the authorities analyzed the vials they were found to contain mostly cocaine and trace amounts of heroin. Additionally, the residue on the spoons tested positive for heroin. ECF No. 7-4 at 2-3.

During trial, Deputy Fire Marshall Christopher Mark Van Baalen ("Van Baalen") provided expert testimony regarding the explosive devices. Specifically, Van Baalen identified the items on the table in Tarpley's apartment as CO2 cartridges equipped with thin wires coming out of the tops. One of the cartridges had nails attached to it. The authorities used a robot to move the cartridges from Tarpley's apartment to a field across the street where a blasting cap with primer on it was placed near the cartridges in order to open them up to determine what was inside. Rather than simply separating, the devices detonated and Van Baalen collected the debris from the field with metal detectors. The debris collected included pieces of metal, nails, and a wire. ECF No. 7-2 at 6-7; ECF No. 7-4 at 3.

Van Baalen then interviewed Tarpley at the State Police Barracks after he was advised of his rights. Tarpley explained he had made the CO2 devices four years prior to his arrest, kept them in a drawer, and removed the devices the night before because he was planning to destroy them on his way to work in the morning. Van Baalen testified that Tarpley described the devices as containing 260 to 300 grains of black powder with an Estes rocket motor igniter. Van Baalen testified that the igniter would heat up through an electrical charge and would "initiate the powder, " causing gasses to form. He further explained that as the gasses form and the powder continues to burn in a closed space, the item separates and an explosion occurs. ECF No. 7-4 at 3-4.

A chemist from the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Lisa Lang, testified regarding her examination of the items Van Baalen collected after the devices exploded. Lang verified that the residue inside of the cartridge was consistent with black powder residue and that the wires were consistent with an Estes Solar Model Rocket Igniter. ECF No. 7-4 at 7-8. On February 11, 2002, the jury found Tarpley guilty on all charges. He was sentenced to serve a term of 20 years incarceration on April 12, 2002.

Threshold Considerations

Exhaustion of State Remedies

Under Rose v. Lundy , 455 U.S. 509 (1982), before a petitioner may seek habeas relief in federal court, he must have exhausted each claim presented to the federal court by pursuing remedies available in state court. This exhaustion requirement is satisfied by seeking review of the claim in the highest state court with jurisdiction to consider the claim. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b), (c). In Maryland, this may be accomplished by proceeding with certain claims on direct appeal (and thereafter seeking certiorari to the Court of Appeals), and with other claims by way of a post-conviction petition, followed by seeking leave to appeal in the Court of Special Appeals. Petitioner waived all unexhausted claims raised in the Petition (see ECF No. 11); thus, the remaining possession of a destructive device claim may be reviewed on the merits.

Standard of Review

An application for writ of habeas corpus may be granted only for violations of the Constitution or laws of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). The federal habeas statute at 28 U.S.C. § 2254 sets forth a "highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings." Lindh v. Murphy , 521 U.S. 320, 333 n.7 (1997); see also Bell v. Cone , 543 U.S. 447 (2005). This standard is "highly deferential" and "difficult to meet." Cullen v. Pinholster , 131 S.Ct. 1388, 1398 (2011); Harrington v. Richter , 131 S.Ct. 770, 786 (2011).

A federal court may not grant a writ of habeas corpus unless the state's adjudication on the merits: 1) "resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States"; or 2) "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." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). A state adjudication is contrary to clearly established federal law under § 2254(d)(1) where the state court 1) "arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law, " or 2) "confronts facts that ...

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