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Clark v. Geraghty

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 25, 2018

HAMMEL J. CLARK, Petitioner,



         Petitioner Hammel J. Clark, a state inmate currently confined at the Western Correctional Institution (“WCI”) in Cumberland, Maryland, has filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241, challenging the computation of his sentence. For the reasons set forth below, the Petition will be DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE and DISMISSED as unexhausted.


         Clark alleges that the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (“DPSCS”) has improperly calculated his sentence. He asserts that DPSCS officials have added an additional 14 years to his 50-year sentence by erroneously applying a consecutive sentence imposed by the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, Maryland. In support of his claim, Clark attached to the Petition two different printouts from a DPSCS offender case management system that contain conflicting calculations of his term of confinement. The first printout, dated June 8, 2015, shows Clark as having a total term of confinement of 50 years, 8 months, and 17 days, with a then-current release date of August 22, 2031, and a maximum expiration date of January 10, 2042. In contrast, the second printout, dated July 28, 2015, shows a total term of confinement of 64 years, 4 months, and 13 days, with a then-current release date of January 9, 2043, and a maximum expiration date of September 6, 2055.

         Clark filed administrative complaints about the discrepancy in his sentence calculation. In response, Clark was informed that his sentence initially had been miscalculated by DPSCS personnel. The sentence imposed in No. 03K07004551, a 20-year term of confinement imposed on November 5, 2008 that was to be consecutive to his “present sentence, ” Sentence Calculation Worksheet at 2, ECF No. 8-6, was initially designated as consecutive to the sentence imposed in No. 103121039, a 20-year term of imprisonment imposed on October 17, 2003. In fact, it should have been designated as consecutive to the sentence imposed in No. 106362006, a 30-year term of imprisonment imposed on February 12, 2008, as it was supposed to run consecutive to the expiration of the last of all of the sentences that Clark was serving at the time of imposition. This correction of the error, coupled with Clark's earlier sentences imposed in 1990, 1992, and 2003, resulted in a total term of confinement of 64 years, 4 months, and 13 days.

         Nevertheless, Clark argues that the alleged miscalculation of his sentence violates his rights under the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. He asserts that it is unclear when his consecutive Baltimore County sentence should begin, that any ambiguities should be resolved in his favor, and that the failure to do so constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. He further contends that, because the alleged ambiguity was resolved in a manner that increased his sentence, he has been given additional punishment without due process of law.

         After filing his Reply, Clark was permitted to amend his Petition to include a claim that he has not received all of the diminution of confinement credits to which he is entitled. Clark attaches documentation showing that he has earned in excess of five diminution of confinement credits monthly. Clark has also filed two motions that remain pending before the Court. In the first, a “Motion to Have the Court to do More to Find Plus Locate Defendants Dr. Blaik and Dr. Graves [and] Motion for Appointment of Counsel” (“Motion for Counsel”), he asks the Court to assist him in locating defendants in a different case and to appoint counsel to represent him in this case and other cases. In the second, a “Motion for Relief to Petitioner Freedom or and Prison Term” (“Motion for Relief”), he restates the arguments in his Petition and asks for this Court to correct his sentence.


         I. Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus

         Respondents argue that the Petition should be dismissed on the grounds that (1) Clark has not alleged a violation of the United States Constitution or federal law; (2) Clark failed to exhaust his claims in Maryland courts; and (3) even if his claims were properly before this Court, his contention that his sentence has been improperly calculated is without merit.

         A. Cognizability

         To be entitled to federal habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, Clark must raise a federal constitutional claim regarding the calculation of his state prison sentence. See 28 U.S.C. § 2241(c)(3) (2012) (stating that § 2241 writ may issue when petitioner is “in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws . . . of the United States”). Disputes over the legality of a state sentence, which are calculated pursuant to state laws and procedures, present a federal question only if they involve a “fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice” or “exceptional circumstances where the need for the remedy afforded by the writ of habeas corpus is apparent.” Hailey v. Dorsey, 580 F.2d 112, 115 (4th Cir. 1978) (quoting Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 428 (1962)). Disputes over sentencing calculations rarely rise to this level as they usually involve disagreements over the interpretation of state statutes, and if a claim “rests solely upon an interpretation of [state] case law and statutes, it is simply not cognizable on federal habeas review.” Wright v. Angelone, 151 F.3d 151, 157 (4th Cir. 1998); see Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991) (“[W]e reemphasize that it is not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determinations on state-law questions.”); Smith v. Moore, 137 F.3d 808, 822 (4th Cir. 1998) (refusing to entertain a claim that a jury instruction misstated South Carolina law); see also McCray v. Rosenblatt, No. 94-6097, 1994 WL 320212, at *1 (4th Cir. July 6, 1994) (per curiam) (unpublished) (denying a challenge to Maryland's recalculation of credits toward a state prison sentence because it alleged only “a violation of state, not federal, law”).

         It is therefore highly unlikely that Clark's Petition presents a federal question. However, Clark has framed his argument in terms of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of due process of law. Accordingly, out of an abundance of caution, the Court will address the Petition.

         B. Exhaustion ...

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