United States District Court, D. Maryland
KEVIN DWAYNE FLETCHER, Inmate Identification No. 341-134, Petitioner,
JOHN WOLFE, JR.,  Warden of Jessup Correctional Institution, and THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF MARYLAND, Respondents.
THEODORE D. CHUANG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Kevin Dwayne Fletcher, who is currently confined at the
Jessup Correctional Institution in Jessup, Maryland, has
filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons set forth below, the
Petition is DENIED.
12, 2004, Fletcher was charged in Maryland state court with
first-degree murder and related charges arising from a June
1, 2004 murder in Baltimore, Maryland. On June 23, 2004,
Fletcher confessed to the murder in a statement to police
officers. He stated that he and a co-defendant “were so
close, we were point blank firing upon” the victim.
Pet. Ex. 30 at 19, ECF No. 1-31. When asked whether anyone
had threatened him or promised him anything to make a
statement, Fletcher responded, “A reduction in
time.” Pet. Ex. 32 at 2, ECF No. 1-33. He acknowledged
that he had been treated “pretty good” by the
police officers. Pet. Ex. 32 at 2. Fletcher now asserts that
the confession was coerced by promises of leniency and by a
physical assault against him by the officers.
January 13, 2005, Fletcher signed a plea agreement in which
he agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder and the use
of a handgun during the commission of a crime of violence.
The plea agreement provided that, in exchange for
Fletcher's testimony against his co-defendant, the State
would recommend a sentence of life imprisonment with all but
25 years suspended for the murder, and 20 years of
imprisonment for the handgun charge, both sentences to run
concurrently. Fletcher pleaded guilty to both crimes on
February 11, 2005 in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City,
Maryland (“the circuit court”).
one week after Fletcher's guilty plea, the State
disclosed additional materials to Fletcher's counsel. On
February 16, 2005, the State turned over a plea agreement of
Kerwayne Stanton, a witness to the murder. On or about
February 18, 2005, the State disclosed a brief written
statement signed by Stanton relating to a “photographic
line-up/digital photo” session, and the transcript of a
recorded statement to detectives of the Baltimore City Police
Department, both of which occurred on June 3, 2004
(collectively, “the Stanton Statement”). Pet. Ex.
35, ECF No. 1-36. In the written statement, Stanton stated
that Fletcher was with his co-defendant the night of the
murder, but [Fletcher] was “not the gunman because my
angle of view was block[ed] of[f] by the car, but after all
of that when the sound of guns was stop[ped], ”
Fletcher and his co-defendant “ran up Filbert
[Street].” Id. at 1. In the recorded
statement, Stanton stated that he saw Fletcher and his
co-defendant exit a bar with the victim. Shortly thereafter,
Stanton heard multiple rounds of gunshots that he described
as being too fast to be from a single weapon. From his
vantage point, Stanton saw only one individual,
Fletcher's co-defendant, firing at the victim, but his
view of Fletcher was blocked by a car, and it was possible
that Fletcher also had a gun.
October 5, 2006, over 18 months after he pleaded guilty,
Fletcher filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea. At a
November 1, 2006 hearing on the motion, Fletcher's
counsel stated that Fletcher “wants to withdraw his
plea” because “he believes that he can win at
trial and that he can get his confession suppressed” on
the grounds that he was misled by the police into believing
he would get a reduced sentence if he cooperated. Pet. Ex. 40
at 6, 9, ECF No. 1-41. The circuit court denied the motion on
the grounds that the plea had been entered knowingly,
intelligently, and voluntarily. Fletcher then declined to
testify against his co-defendant to the satisfaction of the
State, in violation of the plea agreement. As a result, on
January 29, 2007, Fletcher was sentenced to life imprisonment
for the charge of first-degree murder, and 20 years for the
handgun crime, with the sentences to run consecutively.
raises two grounds for relief in this Court. First, he
asserts that his 2005 guilty plea was not knowing and
voluntary because the elements of each crime were not
adequately explained to him at the time of the plea. Second,
he claims that he received ineffective assistance of counsel
by his trial counsel based on the failure (1) to
“investigate the relevant facts available and . . . the
facts of any defense, ” Pet. at 20, ECF No. 1; (2) to
argue a violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83
(1963), as grounds to withdraw Fletcher's guilty plea
when the Stanton Statement was disclosed a week after
Fletcher's plea; and (3) to provide an adequate
explanation of the available grounds to challenge his
petition for a 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) (2012). The federal
habeas statute sets forth a highly deferential
standard for evaluating state court rulings, under which
state court decisions are to “be given the benefit of
the doubt.” Bell v. Cone, 543 U.S. 447, 455
(2005); Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 333 n.7
(1997). A federal court may not grant a writ of habeas
corpus unless the state court'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] 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, 599 U.S 766, 773
(2010). The state court's application of federal law must
be “objectively unreasonable.” Id.
Furthermore, 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). The fact that
“reasonable minds reviewing the record might disagree
about the finding in question” is not enough to deem a
state court's factual determination unreasonable.
claims that his guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary
because the elements of the crimes of conviction were not
explained to him on the record, and he never discussed the
crimes with his attorney. Fletcher does not state that he
would have refused to plead guilty had he been aware of any
particular element of either crime, only that the record does
not positively show that he understood the specific elements
of each crime. According to Fletcher, his convictions must be
vacated “as they are the product of an invalid guilty
plea.” Pet. at 18.
first argue that Fletcher's claim regarding his guilty
plea is based on Maryland law and is therefore not a
cognizable claim in a habeas petition. “Such
an inquiry . . . is no part of a federal court's
habeas review of a state conviction, ” because
“federal habeas corpus relief does not lie for
errors of state law.” Estelle v. McGuire, 502
U.S. 62, 67 (1991) (quoting Lewis v. Jeffers, 497
U.S. 764, 780 (1990)). “[I]t is not the province of a
federal habeas court to reexamine state-court
determinations on state-law questions.” Id. at
67-68. Indeed, Fletcher primarily relies on State v.
Daughtry, 18 A.3d 60 (Md. 2011), as the basis for his
claim. However, Fletcher also cites cases from the United
States Supreme Court, such as Boykin v. Alabama, 395
U.S. 238 (1969), and Bradshaw v. Stumpf, 545 U.S.
175 (2005), which suggests that his claim is not entirely
based on state law grounds. In denying Fletcher's
Petition for Post-Conviction Relief on this issue, the state
post-conviction court did not specify that its decision was
based solely on state law. The Court therefore concludes
that, reading the Petition liberally, Fletcher sought to
raise a federal claim in challenging the validity of his
next assert that Fletcher's claim fails on the merits.
“A guilty plea operates as a waiver of important rights
and is valid only if done voluntarily, knowingly, and
intelligently, with sufficient awareness of the relevant
circumstances and likely consequences.”
Bradshaw, 545 U.S. at 183 (quoting Brady v.
United States, 397 U.S. 742, 748 (1970)). A plea is
invalid if a defendant pleads guilty without being informed
of the elements of the crime at some point.
Bradshaw, 545 U.S. at 183 (citing Henderson v.
Morgan, 426 U.S. 637, 646 (1976)). However, a judge is
not required directly to “explain the elements of each
charge to the defendant on the record, ” so long as
“the record accurately reflects that the nature of the
charge and the elements of the crime were explained to the
defendant by his own, competent counsel.”
Bradshaw, 545 U.S. at 183.
absence of a specific statement on the record to that effect,
courts have applied a presumption that defense attorneys
usually explain the nature of a charge to their clients.
See Henderson v. Morgan, 426 U.S. 637, 647 (1976)
(“[I]t may be appropriate to presume that in most cases
defense counsel routinely explain the nature of the offense
in sufficient detail to give the accused notice what he is
being asked to admit.”); Harrison v. Warden,
890 F.2d 676, 678 (4th Cir. 1989) (applying the
Henderson presumption where the defendant stated
that he had “entirely” discussed the matter with
his counsel, and defense counsel stated at the
post-conviction hearing that he had discussed the nature of
the charged offense with the defendant). But see Hicks v.
Franklin, 546 F.3d 1279, 1284 (10th Cir. 2008) (refusing
to apply the Henderson presumption without a factual
basis in the record to support it).
denying the state post-conviction petition, the circuit court
At the Hearing, the State's cross examination of
Petitioner established that the charges were read to him at
his arraignment. Moreover, Petitioner admitted, under oath,
that his attorney discussed the charges with him and met with
him on a number of occasions to discuss his case. Therefore,
this allegation is without merit because, by his own words,
Petitioner refutes the allegation. Furthermore, the record
states that Petitioner was qualified by the Court and freely
and voluntarily entered the guilty plea.
Pet. Ex. 41 at 6, ECF No. 1-42.
as here, the state post-conviction court decided the issue of
Fletcher's guilty plea on the merits, this Court may not
grant the Petition on this basis unless it finds that the
state court decision “was contrary to, or involved an
unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal
law” or “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)(1). Upon review of the record, this
Court concludes that the state post-conviction court did not
render its decision based on an unreasonable application of
the Supreme Court's guidance in Henderson and
Bradshaw or an unreasonable determination of the
record of the state post-conviction hearing shows that
Fletcher had been notified of the charges against him and had
discussed that charge with his trial counsel. During his
testimony at that hearing, Fletcher testified as follows:
Q “The jurors of the State of Maryland for the body of
the City of Baltimore do on their own to present that the
aforesaid Defendant, Mr. Kevin Fletcher, late of said City,
heretofore on or about the date of offense set for above,
June 1st, 2004, at the location set forth above, 1600 block
of Hazel Street in the City of Baltimore, State of Maryland,
did feloniously, willfully, and with deliberately
premeditated malice killed and murdered Lydell Harris against
the peace, government, and dignity of this State.” Does
that sound familiar to you, Mr. Fletcher?
A Yes, ma'am.
Q It does, because they read that to you at your arraignment,