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Carter v. Wolfe

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 29, 2016

REGINALD CARTER, #370098 Petitioner,
v.
JOHN WOLFE, WARDEN Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE L. RUSSELL, III UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On January 28, 2016, Petitioner Reginald Carter filed the instant original and amended 28 U.S.C. § 2254 habeas corpus petition attacking his 2011 convictions and sentences on robbery offenses entered in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, Maryland. (ECF Nos. 1, 3). Respondents filed an Answer.[1] (ECF No. 7). Petitioner has not filed a Reply. The Petition is ripe for disposition, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2016). For the reasons outlined below, the Court will deny and dismiss the Petition with prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. State Court Proceedings

         Petitioner Carter was charged with several offenses, including armed robbery of a Susquehanna Bank in Randallstown, Maryland. (ECF Nos. 7-1, 7-8).[2] Counsel filed a motion to suppress evidence seized from an automobile Carter was a passenger in at the time of his arrest. Following a pre-trial hearing on May 3, 2011, the court denied the suppression motion. (ECF No. 7-8). In May of 2011, Carter was tried before a jury in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, Maryland with Judge Judith Ensor, presiding. The key element of the case was the identification of the robber. After listening to two days of testimony, the jury convicted Carter of two counts of robbery. (ECF Nos. 7-3, 7-4). On July 13, 2011, the court sentenced Carter to a twenty-five year term, without the possibility of parole, on one count of robbery and a fifteen year sentence on the remaining robbery count, or a cumulative forty-year term. (ECF No. 7-5 at 45).

         The witnesses at trial, including several employees from the Susquehanna Bank in Randallstown and a security executive, furnished testimony regarding the physical description and attire of the robber, the events that occurred during the commission of the crime on June 7, 2010, the distribution of money and dye packs, the activation of those dye packs outside the bank, and how those dye packs are utilized and activated. (ECF No. 7-2). In addition, video clips taken from the robbery inside the bank entered into evidence and there was testimony from the Maryland State Troopers and Baltimore County Police Department detective who arrested Carter on June 16, 2010, served as the case manager in the criminal matter, and who was investigating the June 7, 2010 bank robbery at the Susquehanna bank in Randallstown. Also, a forensic chemist with the Federal Bureau of Investigation testified about the examination and tests for bank security device chemicals (1MAAQ and CS tear gas) on Carter's green cargo pants (seam and waistband) worn when Carter was arrested. (ECF No. 7-3). At the conclusion of the State's case, the defense made a motion for acquittal, which Judge Ensor denied. The defense did not put any witnesses on the stand, rested, and renewed its motion for acquittal, which the court again denied. (ECF No. 7-4)

         In a counseled direct appeal, Carter raised one claim, arguing that Judge Ensor erroneously denied his motion to suppress evidence from the car in which Carter was a passenger. (ECF No. 7-6). After briefing by the parties, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland denied Carter's appeal in an unreported opinion of August 8, 2012. (ECF No. 7-8). Carter filed a petition for writ of certiorari and supplement, which was denied by the Court of Appeals of Maryland on November 19, 2012. (ECF No. 7-9).

         Carter instituted state post-conviction proceedings on October 9, 2013, raising claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel for the failure to: (A) move to suppress statements Carter made to State Troopers while police were looking for his green cargo pants, (B) object to inadmissible hearsay testimony, (C) object or request a mistrial when the prosecutor commented on Carter's post-arrest, post-Miranda silence when in an interview room at a Maryland State Police Barrack, (D) object to testimony offered as “lay opinion” and to take exception to the State's evasion of the notice and disclosure of expert testimony requirements, (E) object to improper testimony given by the prosecutor regarding the activation of red dye packs, (F) tender a jury instruction regarding the statement given by Carter, and (G) admit a police report into evidence. Carter further claimed that: (H) the cumulative effect of counsel's errors rendered Carter's trial unreliable and (I) counsel was ineffective because he failed to object to the State's violation of Maryland Rule 4-263. (ECF No. 7-10).

         A hearing was held on Carter's post-conviction petition on October 8, 2014. Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Gallogly Cox denied post-conviction relief on November 24, 2014. (ECF No. 7-11). Carter filed an application for leave to appeal the decision of the post-conviction court, restating the issues ruled upon in the post-conviction proceedings. (ECF No. 7-12). The Court of Special Appeals summarily denied the application on January 6, 2016. (ECF No. 7-13).

         B. § 2254 Habeas Corpus Petition

         In the instant Petition, Carter asserts that he is being detained illegally in state custody. In short, Carter has reasserted the Sixth Amendment claims he raised in his post-conviction petition, arguing that trial counsel Dills was ineffective for the failure to: (1) move to suppress statements he made to state troopers while they were looking for his green cargo pants, (2) object to inadmissible testimony, (3) object or request a mistrial when the prosecutor commented on Carter's post-arrest, post-Miranda silence, (4) object to testimony offered as “lay opinion” and to take exception to the State's evasion of the notice and disclosure of expert testimony requirements, (5) object to improper testimony by the prosecutor, (6) request instruction regarding Carter's statements, (7) admit a police report into evidence, and (8) that the cumulative effect of counsel's errors rendered Carter's trial unreliable. (ECF Nos. 1, 3).

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. 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). The standard is “difficult to meet, ” and requires courts to give state-court decisions the benefit of the doubt. Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181-82 (2011) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see also White v Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014) (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011)) (holding that the petitioner must show the state court ruling was “so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fair minded disagreement”).

         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 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, 131 S.Ct. at 786 (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).

         Further, 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, ” a federal habeas court may not conclude that the state court decision was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts. Id. “[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, ” and the petitioner bears “the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). “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 state courts have “resolved issues like witness credibility, which are ‘factual determinations' for purposes of Section 2254(e)(1).” Id. at 379.

         When a petitioner alleges a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, he must show both that counsel's performance was deficient and that the deficient performance prejudiced his defense. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). When assessing counsel's performance under the first prong, “a court must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance; that is, the defendant must overcome the presumption that, under the circumstances, the challenged action ‘might be considered sound trial strategy.'” Id. at 689. The second prong requires the Court to consider whether “there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.” Id. at 694.

         As the Supreme Court held in Strickland, "a state court conclusion that counsel rendered effective assistance of counsel is not a finding of fact binding on the federal court to the extent stated by [former] 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)[now § 2254(e)(1)]." Id. at 698. Rather, "although state court findings of fact made in the course of deciding an ineffectiveness claim are subject to the deference requirement of § 2254[(e)(1)], . . . both the performance and prejudice components of the ineffectiveness inquiry are mixed questions of law and fact." Id. Federal habeas relief may not be granted on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel where the state court denied the claim based on a reasonable application of the Strickland standard to the facts presented in the state court proceeding.

         B. Analysis

         1. ...


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