Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Fletcher v. Wolfe

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 8, 2018

KEVIN DWAYNE FLETCHER, Inmate Identification No. 341-134, Petitioner,
v.
JOHN WOLFE, JR., [1] Warden of Jessup Correctional Institution, and THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF MARYLAND, Respondents.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THEODORE D. CHUANG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Petitioner 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.

         BACKGROUND[2]

         On July 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.

         On 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”).

         Approximately 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.

         On 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.

         DISCUSSION

         Fletcher 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 confession.

         I. Legal Standard

         A 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. Id.

         II. Guilty Plea

         Fletcher 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.

         Respondents 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 guilty plea.

         Respondents 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.

         In the 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).

         In denying the state post-conviction petition, the circuit court determined:

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.

         Where, 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 facts.

         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, ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.