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Clayborne v. Warden

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 29, 2017

WILLIAM CHARLES CLAYBORNE, [1] #368-289, Petitioner,
WARDEN, et al., Respondents.


          Paul W. Grimm, United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court is Petitioner William Charles Clayborne's 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition. Pet., ECF No. 1. His remaining claim[2] is that his waiver of a unanimous verdict was not knowing and voluntary. Respondents filed a Supplemental Response as to that claim. Supp. Resp., ECF No. 16. I have reviewed the filings, and no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the Petition shall be denied, and the case dismissed.


         As noted more fully in my March 22, 2017 Memorandum Opinion, ECF No. 14, a Circuit Court for Baltimore City jury convicted Clayborne of first-degree murder. Claybourne v. State, 61 A.3d 841, 844 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2013). During deliberations, the jury could not reach a unanimous decision. Id. at 848. Clayborne waived his right to a unanimous verdict, and he and the State agreed to accept a majority verdict. Id. at 849-51. The jury found Clayborne guilty of first-degree murder by an eleven-to-one vote and of unlawfully carrying a dangerous weapon by a unanimous vote. Id. at 851. Clayborne was sentenced to life imprisonment with all but 25 years suspended. Id.

         On direct appeal, Clayborne raised three claims:

1. Was his waiver of his right to a unanimous verdict knowing and voluntary?
2. Did the trial court abuse its discretion when it permitted testimony that one of the State's key witnesses had expressed concerns about her safety?
3. Under the “facts of the case” doctrine, was the evidence insufficient to sustain Clayborne's conviction for openly carrying a dangerous weapon?

Id. at 845. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed the conviction. Id. at 867. Clayborne filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari raising the same questions, and the Maryland Court of Appeals denied further review. Claybourne v. State, 68 A.3d 286 (Md. 2013).

         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 (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)) (state prisoner must show state court ruling on claim presented in federal court 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) if 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, 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).

         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).


         In Apodaca v. Oregon, 406 U.S. 404, 406, 410-12 (1972), the Supreme Court held that a state law providing that a criminal defendant could be convicted by a non-unanimous verdict did not violate the Sixth Amendment, applicable to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment. Consequently, neither the Sixth nor the Fourteenth Amendments is abridged when a defendant consents and waves the right to a unanimous verdict. See Maryland v. McKay, 375 A.2d 228, 232 (Md. 1977).[3]

         The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland fully considered the merits of Clayborne's claim that he did not knowingly and voluntarily waive his right to an unanimous jury verdict, and rejected it, stating, in part:

In the instant case, appellant, against the advice of counsel, express[ed] his wish to waive his right to a unanimous verdict and accept the majority verdict. As a consequence, appellant's counsel and the trial court engaged in an extensive waiver inquiry with appellant. The waiver inquiry included questions relating to appellant's capacity to make a voluntary decision and ruled out the possibility of drugs, alcohol, and mental illness or impairment. To ensure appellant's understanding of his selection, his counsel not only advised appellant ...

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