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Matthews v. Bishop

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

September 22, 2016

ROBERT MATTHEWS, Plaintiff,
v.
FRANK BISHOP, JR., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE J. HAZEL United States District Judge

         On July 23, 2014, [1] 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On September 10, 2010, Matthews entered an Alford[2] 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.[3] 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 Defendant;
(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.

         Matthews 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 No. 6-8.

         The instant Petition was filed on July 23, 2014.[4] Matthews claims that his guilty plea was deficient because:

(1) He was not informed of the nature and elements of first-degree murder;
(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 illness.

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.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         An 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; 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). 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).

         A state 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).

         Under § 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, 773(2010).

         The 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.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Matthews' 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 procedurally defaulted.

         A. Procedural Default of Claims

         Respondents 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.

         In 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. ¶ 3.

         The exhaustion doctrine, codified at 28 U.S.C. 2254(b)(1), [5] "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.").

         In 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.'").[6]

         Respondents 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).

         As 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.

         Alternatively, 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.[7] 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.

         Although 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.

         Second, 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.[8] ECF No. 1, at 11. The time for filing an Application for Leave to Appeal expired on February 13, 2014.[9] Md. Rule 8-204(b)(2). Rather than trying to file a timely appeal, [10] 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.[11] 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.

         In sum, 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).

         Additionally, 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.

         Matthews 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.").[12]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 committed").

         Matthews 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 habeas purposes.

         B. Merits of Claims

         Even if 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.[13]

         The 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 guilty.
Incorporated into this allegation is Defense Counsel's assertion that Petitioner suffers from "diminished capacity" of some sort.[14] 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 written him.
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 ...

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