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Sidbury v. Bishop

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 10, 2017

HERBERT L. SIDBURY, #347175, Petitioner,
v.
FRANK B. BISHOP, and THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF MARYLAND, Respondents.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          James K. Bredar United States District Judge

         Petitioner Herbert L. Sidbury (“Sidbury”) seeks habeas corpus relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, attacking the constitutionality of his 2007 convictions in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County. (ECF No. 1.) Respondents were directed to file an answer to the Petition and have done so. (ECF No. 7.) Sidbury filed a reply. (ECF No. 9.) This matter has been fully briefed. Upon review, the Court finds no need for an evidentiary hearing. See Rule 8(a), Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts and Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014); see also Fisher v. Lee, 215 F.3d 438, 455 (4th Cir. 2000) (Petitioner not entitled to hearing under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2)). For reasons that follow, Sidbury's Petition for writ of habeas corpus IS DENIED AND DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         Background and Procedural History

         On February 8, 2007, Sidbury was indicted by a Grand Jury in Prince George's County and charged with murder (Count 1), use of a handgun in commission of a felony (Count 2), and possession of a regulated firearm after conviction of a crime of violence (Count 3). (Resp. Ex. 1 at 3.)[1] After a jury trial, Sidbury was convicted on July 25, 2007, of first degree murder and use of a handgun in commission of a felony. (Id. at 6; ECF No. 1 at 2; ECF No. 1-1 at 1.) He was acquitted by the court on the third count, possession of a regulated firearm after conviction of a crime of violence. (Resp. Ex. 1 at 6.) On October 19, 2007, Sidbury was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the first ten years on Count 1 and a concurrent term of twenty years imprisonment without the possibility of parole for five years on Count 2.[2] (Id. at 7; ECF No. 1 at 1; ECF No. 1-1 at 1-2.) Sidbury filed a Notice of Appeal on October 22, 2007, and, in an unreported opinion filed on May 26, 2009, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland affirmed Sidbury's judgments of conviction. (Resp. Ex. 1 at 7; Resp. Ex. 8; ECF No. 1 at 2-3.) Sidbury then filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the Court of Appeals of Maryland, which affirmed the Court of Special Appeals's decision in a reported opinion issued on May 12, 2010. (ECF No. 1 at 3; Resp. Ex. 11.) Sidbury did not seek further review by the United States Supreme Court. (ECF No. 1 at 3.)

         On July 14, 2010, Sidbury filed a pro se petition for post-conviction review in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, followed by an amended petition and a counseled supplemental petition. (Resp. Ex. 1 at 9-10; ECF No. 1 at 3.) A hearing on the petition was held on August 14, 2012. (Resp. Ex. 1 at 11; ECF No. 1-1 at 2.) On November 5, 2012, the circuit court granted Sidbury's post-conviction application to the extent that he was allowed to file a belated motion for modification of sentence and denied the petition in all other respects.[3] (Resp. Ex. 1 at 11; ECF No. 1 at 4; ECF No. 1-1 at 3, 5.) Sidbury filed an application for leave to appeal the adverse decision to the Court of Special Appeals (Resp. Ex. 12), which denied the application on November 14, 2013 (Resp. Ex. 1 at 11; Resp. Ex. 13). The intermediate appellate court's Mandate issued on December 16, 2013. (Resp. Ex. 1 at 11.)

         Sidbury filed his federal Petition on June 6, 2014, [4] alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. (ECF No. 1.) On September 5, 2014, Respondents filed their Answer. (ECF No. 7.) Sidbury's Reply was received by the Court on October 6, 2014.[5] (ECF No. 9.)

         Standard of Review

         Section 2254 states that a district court “shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a).

         I. Threshold Considerations

         A. Exhaustion

         The exhaustion doctrine, codified at 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1), [6] “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) (internal 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 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.”).

         B. Procedural Default

         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,

In this regard, we note that nothing in our decision today requires the exhaustion of any specific state 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. Pruettt, 134 F.3d 615, 619 (1998) (quoting Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 375 n.1 (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.'”).[7]

         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 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). 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).

         C. Strickland

         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). Representation is deficient if it falls below an objective standard of reasonableness, considering all the circumstances. Id. at 688.

         To satisfy the first part of this standard, it must be demonstrated that counsel's performance was not “within the range of competence normally demanded of attorneys in criminal cases.” Id. at 687. The standard for assessing such competence is “highly deferential” and has a “strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within a wide range of reasonable professional assistance.” Id. at 669. A federal court's consideration of ineffective assistance of counsel claims arising from state criminal proceedings is limited on habeas review due to the deference accorded trial attorneys and state appellate courts reviewing their performance. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). A petitioner must overcome the “'strong presumption' that counsel's strategy and tactics fall 'within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.'” Burch v. Corcoran, 273 F.3d 577, 588 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689). “There is a strong presumption that counsel's attention to certain issues to the exclusion of others reflects trial tactics rather than sheer neglect.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 109 (2011) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Sharpe v. Bell, 593 F.3d 372, 383 (4th Cir. 2010) (“Counsel is not required to engage in the filing of futile motions.”). “The standards created by Strickland and § 2254(d) are both 'highly deferential, ' and when the two apply in tandem, review is 'doubly' so.” Harrington, 562 U.S. at 105 (citations omitted). “When § 2254(d) applies, the question is not whether counsel's actions were reasonable. The question is whether there is any reasonable argument that counsel satisfied Strickland's deferential standard.” Id.

         The second prong requires the court to consider whether counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial whose result is reliable and that there was a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690-94. “The benchmark of an ineffective assistance claim must be whether counsel's conduct so undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process that the trial cannot be relied upon as having produced a just result.” Id. at 686. It is not enough “to show that the errors had some conceivable effect on the outcome of the proceeding.” Id. at 693. Rather, counsel's errors must be “so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.” Id. at 687. A determination need not be made concerning the attorney's performance if it is clear that no prejudice would have resulted had the attorney been deficient. See Id. at 697.

         The principles governing ineffectiveness claims apply in federal collateral proceedings as they do on direct appeal or in a motion for new trial. Id. at 697. Indeed, the presumption that a criminal judgment is final is at its strongest in collateral attacks on that judgment. Id.

         II. Analysis Framework

         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 “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, ” 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)). In other words, “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).

         Under section 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 court may not conclude that the state court decision was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts. Id.

         Further, “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, 593 F.3d at 378. This is especially true where ...


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