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Verge v. Miller

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 12, 2017

CRAIG LADARRELL VERGE, Petitioner,
v.
RICHARD E. MILLER and THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF MARYLAND, Respondents.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Paul W. Grimm United States District Judge

         Petitioner Craig Ladarrell Verge, an inmate housed at Western Correctional Institute (“WCI”), has filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus with the Court. Pet., ECF No. 1. Respondents have answered and argue that the Petition should be dismissed on the merits, Ans., ECF No. 9, in response to which Verge has filed a Reply, ECF No. 10. An evidentiary hearing is not necessary See Rule 8(a), Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts; Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md.); 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)). Verge also filed a Motion to Appoint Counsel. ECF No. 12. Under Rule 8(c) of the Federal Rules Governing § 2254 Habeas Corpus cases, “[i]f an evidentiary hearing is required the judge shall appoint counsel for a petitioner who qualifies for the appointment of counsel.” Having determined that an evidentiary hearing is not necessary, Verge's Motion to Appoint Counsel also is denied. The Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus shall be denied on the merits, and a certificate of appealability shall not issue.

         Background

         Verge “‘snatched the money' from the cash register of Dollar Tree, a commercial establishment” on September 29, 2009; he was arrested on February 19, 2010 and charged with robbery with a deadly weapon. Post-Conviction Mem. Op. 1-2 (Balt. Cty. Cir. Ct. Jan. 7, 2014), Ans. Ex. 3, ECF No. 9-3; Warrant Application Aff., ECF No. 1-10. Trial originally was set for July 30, 2010, postponed four times, and ultimately set for May 10, 2011. Pet. 11.

         On May 10, 2011, Verge's trial counsel[1] encouraged him to plead guilty because he was facing a possible sentence of life without the possibility of parole, and Verge entered a guilty plea pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970), to the charge of robbery with a deadly weapon in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Id. That day, the court held a guilty plea hearing and sentenced Verge to eighteen years' incarceration, but did not exclude the possibility of parole. Guilty Plea Hr'g Tr., Ans. Ex. 8, ECF No. 9-8; Post-Conviction Mem. Op. 1.

         In support of the guilty plea, the State provided the following narrative describing the evidence it would rely upon if Verge had opted to proceed to trial:

[O]n September 29, 2009 at approximately 8:12 p.m. at 6812 Reisterstown Road Dollar Tree Store in Baltimore City, Officer Cross, responded for an armed commercial robbery call. She met with the victim, Ms. Nicole Terry, who advised that a man came up behind her register and put a hard metal silver object to her back stating shut up. The suspect reached into the register which was open and took approximately $320.00 U.S. currency without permission.
The suspect dropped some of the money, then picked it up before leaving the store. Ms. Terry called 911 and reported the robbery. Detectives responded. Ms. Terry advised the suspect had also dropped a popcorn bag before committing the robbery. The popcorn bag was processed by Crime Lab. Latent prints were recovered from the bag. Store video surveillance showed the suspect entering the store wearing a Yankees cap and a dark, long-sleeved t-shirt.
Detective Savage posted wanted flyers in and around the location. Savage received information that Defendant Craig Verge . . . was the suspect who committed the robbery. Latent prints that were recovered off the popcorn bag matched Defendant's right thumb and left ring finger.
Detective Savage compared the images from the store surveillance to the Defendant's MVA photo and observed a likeness. Mr. Verge was arrested on February 19th, 2010. A search and seizure warrant was executed on . . . the home where Mr. Verge was living at the time.
Detectives recovered a Yankees cap, a marked Echo brand dark in color long-sleeved t-shirt which actually had a white rectangular design on the front which was the shirt worn by the suspect . . . as well as silk nylon caps, a loaded silver 38 caliber revolver, ammunition, among other property.
Later that day, Defendant Verge waived Miranda, gave a taped confession to the robbery, though he denied using a handgun or any weapon. As part of the confession, Defendant Verge signed a still surveillance photo writing, “that's me.”

Id. 64:13- 66:13. One month later, Verge requested a re-interrogation, waived his Miranda rights again, and recanted previous statements he made indicating that other people, including the victim, were involved in the robbery. Id. at 66:14-19.

         Claims

         Verge claims that he is entitled to federal habeas corpus relief because (1) the prosecution violated Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), by not timely disclosing exculpatory information; (2) trial counsel was ineffective for (A) failing to investigate the case adequately and (B) failing to advise him properly with regard to pleading guilty; (3) his state-law right to a speedy trial was violated; and (4) an agreement he had with a police officer was breached. Pet. 8-14. He had raised all of these issues in his petition for post-conviction relief and supplements thereto in state court. See Post-Conviction Mem. Op. 1; Supp. Pets. Post-Conviction Relief, Resp't's Opp'n Ex. 2, ECF No. 9-2. When the state court denied that petition as it pertained to these claims, Verge sought leave to appeal, raising all but the Brady issue. Appl. for Leave to Appeal Post-Conviction Mem. Op., Ans. Ex. 4, ECF No. 9-4. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals denied the application for leave to appeal by unreported opinion issued on August 12, 2015. Md. Ct. Spec. App. Op., Ans. Ex. 5, ECF No. 9-5.

         Standard of Review

         The federal habeas statute at 28 U.S.C. § 2254 sets forth a highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings. See 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 White v Woodall, __ U.S. __, __, 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) 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 that 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 ...


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