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Bell v. Stouffer

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 30, 2017

MICHAEL J. STOUFFER, et al., Respondents.


          George L. Russell, III United States District Judge.

         In response to the above-entitled Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Respondents initially filed a Limited Response asserting that the Petition included unexhausted claims and if Petitioner did not waive those claims, it was subject to dismissal in its entirety. (ECF No. 6). Petitioner filed a Reply pursuant to this Court's Order, waiving the claims that were unexhausted. (ECF No. 9). Respondents filed a supplemental Response to the Petition (ECF No. 15), [1] and Petitioner filed a Reply (ECF No. 16). Upon review of the pleadings filed, the Court deems an evidentiary hearing unnecessary. See Rule 8(a), Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts and Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016); 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)). For the reasons set forth below, the Petition shall be denied and a Certificate of Appealability shall not issue.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts Established at Trial

         Petitioner Conley Bell was convicted of attempted carjacking, second degree assault, and reckless endangerment following a jury trial in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, Maryland. (ECF No 6-2 at 2). He was sentenced to serve 30 years, all but 20 years suspended, with five years of probation following his release from prison. (Id. at 2 n.1).

         At trial, the following facts were established. On February 12, 2011, at approximately 7:30 p.m., Joseph Uber drove his four-door Hyundai SUV to a Subway restaurant located on Southern Maryland Boulevard in Lothian, Maryland to pick up dinner for his family. (Id. at 2). On his way into the restaurant, Uber noticed a man and a woman, later identified as Bell and his girlfriend Charity Lowe, sitting on the curb not far from where his car was parked. (Id.). When Uber left the restaurant, he unlocked his car using the remote door unlock feature on his keychain. (Id.). As Uber opened the driver's side door, Bell approached him and began a conversation with Uber. (Id.).

         Once Bell began talking to Uber, he recognized him as a former neighbor. (Id.). Uber testified that Bell “lived across the street from him in the same trailer park for a few years until a [few] months before the encounter” at the Subway parking lot. (Id.); (see ECF 15-1 at 54). Uber further testified that during the period Bell was his neighbor, he had “interacted with him at least twenty times.” (ECF No 6-2 at 2). Uber stated that he had allowed Bell to use his house and cell phone, had taken both Bell and his girlfriend to the store on several occasions, and had loaned Bell his car twice. (Id.). Uber explained that during their conversations, Bell had told him about “some of the difficulties he was having.” (Id. at 3). Uber also testified that he recognized Bell's girlfriend with whom he had interacted approximately ten times. (Id.).

         Uber testified that as he was talking to Bell in the Subway parking lot, Bell moved closer to him and eventually backed him up against the passenger side door of Uber's car. (Id.). At that point, Bell put his arm around Uber's shoulder and while bunching up Uber's jacket collar, grabbed the lower part of his jacket with his left hand. (Id.). Bell told Uber, “we're homeless” and asked Uber if he was going to take them where they wanted to go. (Id.). When Uber refused, Bell pulled out a knife with a three-inch blade and pressed it to Uber's throat. (Id.). Bell then said, “You're going to fucking take us wherever we want to go.” (Id.). Uber feigned cooperation due to his limited ability to defend himself and told Bell he would drive him wherever he needed to go. (Id.).

         As Uber moved to sit in the driver's seat of his car, Bell yelled to his girlfriend to get in the car and she complied. (Id.). Bell then told Uber that he was going to drive. (Id.). Uber then crawled over the middle console, between the driver's seat and the front passenger's seat, and when he reached the passenger side, opened the door, exited the car, and slammed the door behind him. (Id.). Uber still had possession of the key and once out of the car, pushed the door lock and alarm button on the key, causing the alarm on the car to activate. (Id.). Uber then ran toward the road and a passerby stopped and called the police. (Id.).

         Two police officers responded to the call and described Uber as very upset. (Id. at 4). Uber told the officers that he had been assaulted by a former neighbor and gave them both Bell's name and a description of Bell. (Id.). Police located Bell and his girlfriend less than one-half hour later, walking down a rural road less than two miles from the Subway. (Id.). When Bell was arrested, the officer noticed that he appeared to be drunk because his eyes were “red and glassy, ” he had a strong odor of alcohol on his breath and on his body, and his speech was slurred. (Id.). No weapon was found on Bell when he was arrested. (Id.).

         B. State Appellate and Post-Conviction Review

         On direct appeal, Bell argued that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support the guilty verdict. The Court of Special Appeals summarized Bells claim as follows:

Specifically, he argues that he did not intend to harm Uber or steal his car. In support of his argument, [Bell] points to the fact that he and Uber had gotten along well in the past, that given the disparity in physical abilities [Bell] could have harmed Uber and taken his car but no injuries were observed, that he never “targeted” Uber's keys, that his inebriation contributed to the “misunderstanding, ” and that he and his girlfriend did not flee or hide but were found “merely walk[ing] up the road.”

(Id.). The court noted that defense counsel made a motion for judgment of acquittal at the close of the State's case. Defense counsel argued that the State failed to meet their burden to establish that Bell (1) used a dangerous and deadly weapon, (2) placed Uber in fear in an effort to obtain unauthorized possession or control of Uber's car, (3) committed an assault on Uber, (4) used a weapon that qualifies as a dangerous weapon, or (5) brandished the weapon in such a way it would lead anyone to believe there was an intent to cause injury. (Id. at 5).

         The Court of Special Appeals found that the argument raised by Bell was not preserved for review and even if it had been, it was without merit. (Id. at 5-6). The court noted that carjacking[2] is a general intent crime, and under Maryland law, it “can be committed in three different ways: a consummated battery, an attempted battery, or placing the victim in reasonable fear of an imminent battery.” (Id. at 7). The court then noted that:

The three crimes of which [Bell] was convicted were general intent crimes, and common to all three is their general intent - to place Uber in fear. Attempted carjacking also requires the additional general intent to attempt to ...

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