United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
J. HAZEL United States District Judge
23, 2014,  Petitioner Robert Matthews filed the
instant Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus attacking his 2010
conviction for first degree murder. ECF No. 1. Respondents
filed an Answer to the Petition, arguing that the Petition
should be dismissed or denied without a hearing because it
contained unexhausted and/or procedurally defaulted claims.
ECF No. 6. Matthews filed a Reply to Respondent's Answer.
ECF No. 13. After reviewing these papers, 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).
For the reasons set forth herein, the Court shall deny and
dismiss the Petition with prejudice.
September 10, 2010, Matthews entered an
Alford plea to first degree murder in the
Circuit Court for Baltimore County. ECF No. 12-2 at 3, 10;
ECF No. 12-4 at 1. He subsequently filed a Motion to Withdraw
the Guilty Plea and a Motion for a New Trial. ECF No. 6-2 at
10: ECF No. 12-4 at 2. At a November 1, 2010 disposition
hearing, both Motions were denied, and Matthews was sentenced
to life in prison, all but 60 years suspended. ECF No. 12-4
at 2. Matthews, through counsel, filed an Application for
Leave to Appeal to the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland,
raising the following grounds:
(1) The trial court committed error by failing to grant the
Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea which was filed by the
(2) The trial court also committed error by failing to grant
the Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea because the Defendant did
not fully understand the consequences of entering into an
A (ford plea that day; and
(3) The trial court committed error by failing to consider
the mitigation evidence presented by the Defendant.
ECF No. 6-3, at 2. The court summarily denied the Application
on July 19, 2011. ECF No. 6-4 at 1 -2. The mandate was issued
on August 18, 2011. Id. at 3.
filed a counseled Petition for Post-Conviction Relief in the
Circuit Court for Baltimore County on March 19, 2013. ECF No.
6-5. Matthews raised the following grounds:
1. Where the record is silent on the elements or the specific
nature of the crime to which the Defendant is pleading guilty
resulting from serious attorney error by deficient
advisement, it is no longer permitted to presume that defense
counsel has privately advi[s]ed the defendant sufficiently to
elicit his knowing and voluntary acquiescence to the plea.
2. Trial Counsel obviated the voluntariness of the guilty
plea through out of court representations to the Defendant
that were both: (1) absent substance as to the elements and
nature of the crime; (2) negligently optimistic about
possible sentences the defendant would receive.
ECF No. 6-5 at 1; ECF No. 12-4 at 1. The post-conviction
court denied the Petition on January 14, 2014. ECF No. 12-4.
On February 28, 2014, Matthews filed an untimely pro
se Application for Leave to Appeal the decision,
which the Court of Special Appeals dismissed on
jurisdictional grounds on July 22, 2014. ECF No. 6-7; ECF No.
6-8. The court's mandate issued on August 22, 2014. ECF
instant Petition was filed on July 23, 2014. Matthews
claims that his guilty plea was deficient because:
(1) He was not informed of the nature and elements of
(2) The plea was not supported by the facts;
(3) His trial counsel misled him regarding the terms of the
plea agreement; and
(4) When he entered the plea he was suffering from mental
ECF No. 1 at 12-13; ECF No. 6 at 8. Respondents filed an
answer in which they argued that two of Matthews' claims
were unexhausted and two had been procedurally defaulted. ECF
No. 6 at 14, 18. Matthews subsequently filed a "Motion
to Withdraw Unexhausted Claims in Petition for Writ of Habeas
Corpus and Submit a [sic] Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas
Corpus Relief." ECF No. 7. On December 23, 2014, the
Court granted Matthews' Motion to Withdraw his
unexhausted claims and denied, without prejudice, his Motion
to File an Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus Relief.
ECF No. 8 at 1. The Court also gave Matthews additional time
to respond to Respondents' argument that the two
remaining claims had been procedurally defaulted.
Id. at 2. Matthews filed a Reply on March 22, 2015.
ECF No. 13.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
application for writ of habeas corpus may be granted only for
violations of the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the
United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a) (2012). Section
2254(d) provides that:
An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a
person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court
shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was
adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless
the adjudication of the claim-
(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;
(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). The statute sets forth a "highly
deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings,
" Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 333 n.7
(1997), and is "difficult to meet, " Cullen v.
Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011). The United States
Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently observed
that "[i]f this standard is difficult to meet, that is
because it was meant to be." Nicolas v. Attorney
Gen. of the State of Maryland, 820 F.3d 124, 131 (4th
Cir. 2016)(quoting Richter, 562 U.S. at 102).
adjudication is contrary to clearly established federal law
under § 2254(d)(1) where the state court "arrives
at a conclusion opposite to that reached by the [Supreme]
Court on a question of law" or "confronts facts
that are materially indistinguishable from a relevant Supreme
Court precedent and arrives at a result opposite to [the
Supreme] Court." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S.
362, 405 (2000). Under the "unreasonable application
analysis" under 2254(d)(1), a "state court's
determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal
habeas relief so long as 'fairminded jurists could
disagree' on the correctness of the state court's
decision." Harrington, 562 U.S. at 101 (quoting
Yarborough v Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)).
Thus, "an unreasonable application of federal law is
different from an incorrect application of federal law."
Id. at 785 (internal quotation marks omitted).
§ 2254 (d)(2), "a state-court factual determination
is not unreasonable merely because the federal habeas court
would have reached a different conclusion in the first
instance." Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301
(2010). "[E]ven if reasonable minds reviewing the record
might disagree about the finding in question, on habeas
review that does not suffice to supersede the trial
court's...determination." Id. (internal
citation omitted). "[A] federal habeas court may not
issue the writ simply because [it] concludes in its
independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision
applied established federal law erroneously or
incorrectly." Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766,
habeas statute provides that "a determination of a
factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be
correct." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). "The
applicant shall have the burden of rebutting the presumption
of correctness by clear and convincing evidence."
Id. "Where the state court conducted an
evidentiary hearing and explained its reasoning with some
care, it should be particularly difficult to establish clear
and convincing evidence of error on the state court's
part." Sharpe v. Bell, 593 F.3d 372, 378 (4th
Cir. 2010). This is especially true where the state court has
"resolved issues like witness credibility, which are
'factual determinations' for purposes of Section
2254(e)(1)." Id. Matthews' claims will be
examined under this framework.
remaining two claims are that: (1) he was not informed of the
nature and elements of first-degree murder; and (2) his plea
counsel misled him with respect to the terms of the plea
agreement. ECF No. 8 at 1-2. The Court must first determine
whether these claims, despite being exhausted, have been
Procedural Default of Claims
argue that Matthews has procedurally defaulted his remaining
exhausted claims, noting that the circuit court denied the
claims on the merits and that, "[d]espite opportunity to
do so, Matthews failed to file a timely Application for Leave
to Appeal this adverse decision, and the time for doing so
has long ago expired." ECF No. 6 at 18 (internal
citation omitted). The Court of Special Appeals dismissed
Matthews' untimely Application. ECF No. 6-8. Therefore,
Respondents contend, the claims have been procedurally
defaulted for federal habeas purposes. ECF No. 6 at 18.
response, Matthews first asserts that the claims are not
procedurally defaulted because he did not "deliberately
bypass state procedural rules . .., " ECF No. 13 ¶
3, or "intentionally relinquish or abandon a known right
or privilege of his claims, " id ¶ 7.
Matthews, relying on § 2254(b)(1)(B)(ii), contends that
a habeas petitioner does not have to exhaust state court
remedies where circumstances exist that render such process
ineffective to protect the rights of the applicant.
Id. ¶ 10 (citing 28 U.S.C. §
2254(b)(1)(B)(ii)). He argues that interference of state
officials "denie[d] him a meaningful opportunity of full
and fair litigation review . . . ." Id. ¶
exhaustion doctrine, codified at 28 U.S.C. 2254(b)(1),
"is principally designed to protect the state
courts' role in the enforcement of federal law and
prevent disruption of state judicial proceedings. Under our
federal system, the federal and state courts [are] equally
bound to guard and protect rights secured by the
Constitution." Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 518
(1982)(alteration in original)(intemal citations and
quotation marks omitted). Moreover, "it would be
unseemly in our dual system of government for a federal
district court to upset a state court conviction without
[giving] an opportunity to the state courts to correct a
constitutional violation ..." Id. Thus, the
Rose Court cautioned litigants, "before you
bring any claims to federal court, be sure that you first
have taken each one to state court." Id. at
520; see also O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S.
838, 839 (1999)("Federal habeas relief is available to
state prisoners only after they have exhausted their claims
in state court.").
O 'Sullivan, the Supreme Court stated: "To
... 'protect the integrity' of the federal exhaustion
rule, we ask not only whether a prisoner has exhausted his
state remedies, but also whether he has properly
exhausted those remedies, i.e., whether he has
fairly presented his claims to the state courts." 526
U.S. at 848 (internal citation omitted); see also
Id. at 844 ("Section 2254(c) requires only that
state prisoners give the state courts a fair
opportunity to act on their claims."). The inquiry,
then, is "[w]hether a prisoner who fails to present his
claims in a petition for discretionary review to a state
court of last resort has properly presented his
claims to the state courts .. . Because we answer this
question 'no, ' we conclude that [petitioner] has
procedurally defaulted his claims." Id. at 848.
Stated differently, "state prisoners must give the state
courts one full opportunity to resolve any constitutional
issues by invoking one complete round of the State's
established appellate review process." Id. at
845. The O 'Sullivan Court noted, however, that:
In this regard, we note that nothing in our decision today
requires the exhaustion of any specific remedy when a State
has provided that that remedy is unavailable. Section
2254(c), in fact, directs federal courts to consider whether
a habeas petitioner has "the right under the law of
the State to raise, by any available procedure, the
question presented." (Emphasis added.) The exhaustion
doctrine, in other words, turns on an inquiry into what
procedures are "available" under state law. In sum,
there is nothing in the exhaustion doctrine requiring federal
courts to ignore a state law or rule providing that a given
procedure is not available.
Id. at 847-48; see also Breard v. Pruett,
134 F.3d 615, 619 (1998)(quoting Coleman v.
Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 375 n.l (1991))("A
procedural default also occurs when a habeas petitioner fails
to exhaust available State remedies and "the court to
which the petitioner would be required to present his claims
in order to meet the exhaustion requirement would now find
the claims procedurally barred.'").
argue that "the only exhausted claims raised in
Matthews' petition are procedurally defaulted for federal
habeas corpus purposes . . . ." ECF No. 6 at 18. When a
claim is procedurally defaulted, a federal court may not
address the merits of a state prisoner's habeas claim
unless the petitioner can show: (1) both cause for the
default and prejudice that would result from failing to
consider the claim on the merits; or (2) that failure to
consider the claim on the merits would result in a
fundamental miscarriage of justice, i.e., the conviction of
one who is actually innocent. See Murray v. Carrier,
477 U.S 478, 495-96 (1986). "Cause" consists of
"some objective factor external to the defense [that]
impeded counsel's efforts to raise the claim in State
court at the appropriate time." Breard, 134
F.3d 615, 620 (4th Cir. 1998) (internal citation omitted). In
order to demonstrate prejudice, a habeas petitioner must show
"not merely that the errors at his trial created a
possibility of prejudice, but that they worked to
his actual and substantial disadvantage, infecting
his entire trial with error of constitutional
dimensions." United States v. Frady, 456 U.S.
152, 170 (1982); see also Carrier, 477 U.S. at 494
(quoting Frady). Even when a petitioner fails to
show cause and prejudice for a procedural default, a court
must still consider whether it should reach the merits of a
petitioner's claims in order to prevent a fundamental
miscarriage of justice. See Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S.
298, 314-15 (1995).
noted above, the Court of Special Appeals dismissed
Matthews' appeal of the denial of his Petition for
Post-Conviction Relief on jurisdictional grounds,
i.e., because the appeal was untimely. ECF No. 6-8,
at 1-2. Such dismissal clearly rests on an adequate and
independent state ground. See Breard, 134 F.3d at
619 ("If a state court clearly and expressly bases its
dismissal of a habeas petitioner's claim on a state
procedural rule, and that procedural rule provides an
independent and adequate ground for the dismissal, the habeas
petitioner has procedurally defaulted his federal habeas
claim."). Therefore, the Court concludes that Matthews
has procedurally defaulted his remaining two claims.
Matthews argues that he has shown both cause for and
prejudice resulting from the procedural default of his
claims. Regarding cause, he states that he did not receive a
copy of the post-conviction court's January 14, 2014,
Statement and Order until February 6, 2014, ECF No. 1, at 11,
or even know that an order had been issued, ECF No. 13 ¶
13. Matthews contends that the certified case history he
requested from the circuit court "is void of any such
statement and order .. ., " thereby showing cause.
Id. ¶ 7. Further, he contends that "the
Clerk's Case History ... is confusing, out of order in
sequence of events and dates of the calendar that no lay
person such as Petitioner or Professional Law Person[n]el
cannot reasonably rely on for accuracy verbatim a statement
and order filed by the Court denying Petitioner
post-conviction relief." Id. ¶ 8; see
also ECF No. 13-2. As prejudice, Matthews points to
his inability to file an Application for Leave to Appeal the
denial within the required thirty days, resulting in the
dismissal of his eventual Application. ECF No. 13 ¶ 13.
Matthews further claims that he is prejudiced "because
he can only file one petition for [post-conviction] relief
under Md. Code. Section 7-103(a) of the Criminal Procedure
Article . . . ." Id. ¶ 16.
there were circumstances "external to the defense"
that delayed Matthews' ability to file his Application
for Leave to Appeal in the Court of Special Appeals, those
circumstances did not impede his ability to file "at the
appropriate time, " Breard, 134 F.3d at 620.,
First, the post-conviction hearing concluded on December 20,
2013. ECF No. 12-3, at 1. The judge stated that he would
"prepare and file a Statement and Order with respect to
[his] decision in this case as soon as possible."
Id. at 112. There is no evidence in the record that
Matthews made any inquiries of his post-conviction attorney
as to whether a decision had been issued until his mother
"found out and informed [him]." ECF No. 1-1 at 11.
He does not say when this occurred.
and more importantly, by his own admission, Matthews received
a copy of the Circuit Court's January 14, 2014, Statement
and Order from counsel on February 6, 2014. ECF No. 1, at
11. The time for filing an Application for Leave to Appeal
expired on February 13, 2014. Md. Rule 8-204(b)(2).
Rather than trying to file a timely appeal,  Matthews
instead began filing motions for revisory power under
Maryland Rule 2-535, initially asking the Circuit Court to
send him a copy of the Statement and Order. ECF No. 13 ¶
11; ECF No. 13-3 at 1. In his final correspondence, a letter
to the Circuit Court received on April 10, 2014, Matthews
requested that the thirty day period in which to file an
application for leave to file an appeal of the
post-conviction court's decision begin to run on March
28, 2014, the date he received a copy of the Statement and
Order from the Circuit Court. ECF No. 13-3, at 1. That
request, which the Court treated as a motion, ECF No. 6-1 at
12, was denied on June 12, 2014, id; ECF No. 13-1 at
1. Matthews' pro se
Application for Leave to Appeal was filed in the Circuit
Court on April 23, 2014, received by the Court of Special
Appeals on May 5, 2014, and dismissed on July 22, 2014. ECF
No. 6-7, at 1; ECF No. 6-8.
Plaintiffs procedural default was not due to external
circumstances, but, rather, though his own decisions.
Further, as Plaintiff has not proven cause for his procedural
default, the Court will not address his prejudice arguments
as a showing of both cause and prejudice is required to
excuse a procedural default. See Breard, 134 F.3d at
620 (declining to address prejudice because petitioner had
not shown cause for his procedural default).
although Matthews has not argued the fundamental miscarriage
of justice exception, the Court, nevertheless, must consider
whether failing to consider Matthews' claims would result
in a fundamental miscarriage of justice or, in other words,
the conviction of one who is actually innocent of the crime
charged. Schlup, 513 U.S. at 314-15, 321. In this
context, a petitioner's claim of actual innocence
isi4not itself a constitutional claim, but instead
a gateway through which a habeas petitioner must pass to have
his otherwise barred constitutional claim considered on the
merits." Id. at 315. "To be credible, such
a claim requires petitioner to support his allegations of
constitutional error with new reliable evidence-whether it be
exculpatory scientific evidence, trustworthy eyewitness
accounts, or critical physical evidence that was not
presented at trial." Id. at 324. To meet this
gateway standard, '"a petitioner must show that it
is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have
found petitioner guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."
Id. at 327.
has provided no new evidence or any basis for the Court to
conclude that he is actually innocent of the murder to which
he pled guilty, save an occasional unsupported statement that
he did not commit the crime, ECF No. 1 at 13; ECF No. 1 -1,
at 2, 5, and a narrative of his version of events surrounding
the murder, ECF No. 1-1 at 3-4. That account differs markedly
from the statement of facts presented by the Assistant
State's Attorney at the plea hearing, ECF No. 6-2, at
12-17, which Matthews, through counsel, agreed the State
would be able to prove if he were to go to trial,
id., at 17-18 C'[W]e agree those are the facts
the State would elicit were this case to go to trial. No
additions, corrections, or modifications to
that.").Based on that statement of facts, the
Circuit Court found Matthews guilty of first degree
premeditated murder. Id. It cannot be said that
"no reasonable juror would have found [Matthews] guilty
beyond a reasonable doubt." Schlup, 513 U.S. at
327. Therefore. Matthews has not met the Schlup
standard, even assuming that his claims are meritorious, in
order to pass through the "actual innocence"
gateway. Id.; see also Breard, 134 F.3d at 620
(finding no miscarriage of justice had occurred because
"[i]n no set of circumstances has [the petitioner] made
a showing that he is actually innocent of the offense he
has not demonstrated cause for the procedural default of his
two remaining claims, or that "no reasonable juror would
have found [him] guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."
Schlup. 513 U.S. at 327. Therefore, the Court finds
that the claims have been procedurally defaulted for federal
Merits of Claims
Matthews had not procedurally defaulted his claims, they
would fail on the merits, as the Circuit Court found. ECF No.
6 at 18. As noted above, Matthews first alleges that he did
not understand what he was pleading to, and, second, that his
attorney misled him as to the terms of the plea agreement.
ECF No. 1 at 12-13.
Circuit Court, in a Statement and Order filed on January 14,
2014, found with respect to Matthews' first claim that:
Md. Rule 4-242(c) requires that a defendant's guilty plea
be knowing and voluntary. For a [plea] to be knowing and
voluntary, the defendant must make the plea with a full
'"understanding of the nature of the charge."
Md. Rule 4-242(c)(1). The lawfulness of a defendant's
guilty plea is determined, whether, considering of the
totality of the circumstances, a judge "could fairly
determine that the defendant understood the nature of the
charge to which he pleaded guilty." State v.
Priei, 289 Md. 267, 291 (1981). Furthermore, as
explained in State v. Daughtry, 419 Md. 35. 71
(2011) Maryland Rule 4-242(c) does not require counsel for
the defendant or the court to recite on the record the
elements of the offense; the determination is made by
examining whether the totality of the circumstances
demonstrate the defendant has entered a plea knowingly,
voluntarily and intelligently.
Petitioner claims that between January, 2008 through
September, 2010, Mr. Henslee and the Petitioner met
approximately ten (10) times. Petitioner claims that the
conversations were largely centered around Petitioner's
memory of the events that occurred the night of the murder.
Petitioner testified he understood he was being charged with
murder, however, he claims Mr. Henslee neglected to explain
to him the degree, nature, and elements of the offense; in
other words, what the State would have to show to prove him
Incorporated into this allegation is Defense Counsel's
assertion that Petitioner suffers from "diminished
capacity" of some sort. Several mental
illnesses were mentioned during the hearing including bipolar
disorder, schizophrenia, as well as a stated prolonged drug
use over the course of Petitioner's life. The Court notes
that Henslee had the Petitioner undergo both evaluations for
Competency and Not Criminally Responsible. The results of
both evaluations were that the Petitioner was both competent
and criminally responsible. Notably, at the hearing on the
post-conviction, the Petitioner was lucid, able to confer
with counsel, willing to participate in his own defense, and
at one point read into the record a letter Henslee had
Henslee testified at trial that he did believe his client had
difficulty understanding certain issues at times, however, he
testified that he was able to overcome these issues by taking
the extra time to break down the concepts and was ultimately
confident the Petitioner understood everything. Henslee
testified that he was in contact with the Petitioner's
mother. Sherry Matthews, and brought Ms. Matthews to the
Baltimore County Detention center to help assist the
Defendant in making the decision to plead guilty and ensure
that the Defendant understood exactly what he was doing by
entering a plea of guilty.
Regarding the specific explanation of the elements of the
offense, Henslee testified that he recalled specifically
explaining the term "premeditation" to both
Petitioner and his family as he was concerned it would be an
important element in the State's case. Aside from
Henslee's testimony, the Court finds most credible the
colloquy between Henslee and Petitioner at the time of the
plea hearing where Petitioner indicated to the Court that he
understood what it meant to plead guilty and that he had been
informed of all of the elements of the charges against him.
Judge Cahill even went a step further in questioning ...