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Williams v. Warden and Attorney General of Maryland

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 10, 2018

TURBO WILLIAMS, #422276, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN and ATTORNEY GENERAL OF MARYLAND, Respondents.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THEODORE D. CHUANG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Petitioner Turbo Williams, an inmate at North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Maryland, has filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus challenging his 2013 conviction in the Circuit Court for Harford County, Maryland for possession of a controlled dangerous substance ("CDS") with intent to distribute and related offenses. After Williams supplemented the Petition at the direction of the Court, Respondents filed a Limited Answer seeking dismissal of the Petition as containing exhausted and unexhausted claims. Pursuant to a court order, Respondents then filed an Answer addressing the merits of Williams's claims, and Williams filed a Reply. Having considered the Petition and briefs, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary to resolve the issues. See Rule 8(a) of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts; D. Md. Local R 105.6; see also Fisher v. Lee, 215 F.3d 438, 455 (4th Cir. 2000) (finding that the petitioner was not entitled to a hearing under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2)). For the reasons set forth below, the Petition will be DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         On February 24, 2012, at 11:10 a.m., Officer Adam Laprade of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police observed a speeding vehicle on Interstate 95 in Harford County, Maryland. Laprade activated his police cruiser's lights and siren and radioed for back-up assistance. While Laprade was following the vehicle, he saw the driver, later identified as Turbo Williams, throw white, rock-like material and clear plastic bags from the car window. Three bags containing the white, rock-like substance, which Laprade believed to be crack cocaine, hit his windshield.

         After Laprade stopped the vehicle, police searched the car and found two clear plastic bags with white residue, small amounts of suspected crack cocaine throughout the vehicle, and trace amounts of suspected marijuana. Two plastic bags with white residue were found stuck in Laprade's windshield wipers. One of the plastic bags recovered from the windshield was a sandwich-sized bag containing multiple smaller plastic bags with a white powdery substance in them. Officers searched the area and found five more plastics bags that appeared to have been thrown from the car as well as rock-like substances which were later analyzed and confirmed to be crack cocaine. Officers searched Williams and recovered a plastic bag containing a small rock of crack cocaine from under the waistband of his underwear. Overall, the amount of crack cocaine recovered totaled 8.3 grams.

         At a jury trial in the Circuit Court for Harford County, a video of the traffic stop, recorded by a camera attached to Laprade's police cruiser, was played for the jury and entered into evidence. On the first day of trial testimony, defense counsel informed the Court that he and the prosecutor had just learned that the crack cocaine evidence had been destroyed. Because Williams had initially entered a guilty plea to the charges, the evidence had been destroyed pursuant to police department policy. Later, Williams successfully moved to withdraw his plea, and the case proceeded to trial. Defense counsel informed the court that, if the drugs had been available, he would have shown them to the jury to demonstrate that the amount recovered was insufficient to support a finding of intent to distribute. Defense counsel acknowledged that he did not have grounds for a mistrial, but stated to the court that the unavailability of the evidence would hinder the defense. The trial judge told defense counsel that he would be "very liberal" in allowing him to present a visual aid to the jury. Trial Tr. (Nov. 19, 2013) at 56, Answer Ex. 6, ECF No. 16-2. The judge suggested using baking soda to demonstrate the quantity of recovered CDS. The parties then agreed to use powdered coffee creamer for that purpose.

         The parties stipulated in a statement read to the jury that the CDS evidence had been tested and found to be crack cocaine, and that it was then destroyed pursuant to police department policy. Defense counsel was then permitted to show 8.5 ounces of coffee creamer to the jury as a demonstrative aid to simulate the amount of drugs seized.

         The plastic bags that were recovered at the scene were introduced as evidence at trial. Corporal Will Reiber of the Aberdeen, Maryland Police Department was qualified as an expert in CDS terminology and packaging. Reiber testified that the size and type of packaging recovered was "indicative to me of packaging for large amounts of drugs, cocaine[.]" Trial Tr. (Nov. 20, 2013) at 25, Answer Ex. 7, ECF No. 16-3. Reiber opined that based on that packaging, as well as the likely quantity of drugs that it would have contained, "it is clear to me that this case is a case that would meet the threshold of possession with intent to distribute." Id. at 32.

         The jury found Williams guilty of possession of a CDS with the intent to distribute, possession of drug paraphernalia, and fleeing from and eluding the police. On January 29, 2014, the Circuit Court sentenced Williams as a subsequent offender to 40 years of imprisonment, with all but 19 years suspended, and a consecutive one-year term of imprisonment on the fleeing and eluding conviction.

         Through counsel, Williams raised three questions on direct appeal: (1) whether the trial court erred in allowing the State to strike certain jurors; (2) whether Williams was denied the right to confront the evidence; and (3) whether the evidence was legally insufficient to sustain the conviction for possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute. On August 24, 2015, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland affirmed the judgment of conviction. Williams filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, which the Court of Appeals of Maryland summarily denied on November 23, 2015. Williams v. State, 126 A.3d 5 (Md. 2015) (Table).

         Williams's judgment became final for purposes of direct appeal on February 21, 2016. See Sup. Ct. R. 13.1 (setting the deadline for a petition for a writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court at 90 days from the date of the judgment from which appeal is sought). Williams has not initiated state post-conviction proceedings. See Williams v. State, No. 12-K-12-000443 (Cir. Ct. Harford Cty. 2012), available at http://casesearch.courts.state.md.us/casesearch.

         DISCUSSION

         In his Petition, Williams presents four claims for federal habeas relief. First, he claims that he was denied the right to confront the evidence against him at trial when the actual crack cocaine was destroyed and not introduced at trial. Second, he asserts that the trial court erred in allowing the State to strike certain jurors based on their age. Third, he contends that the verdict was legally insufficient to sustain the conviction for possession with intent to distribute CDS. Fourth, he claims that his conviction was based on the State's use of perjured testimony ("the perjury claim") based on the showing to the jury of "fake CDS" in the form of the 8.5 grams of powdered coffee creamer, instead of the 8.3 grams of CDS actually recovered. Pet. at 9, ECF No. 3.

         I. Exhaustion of State Remedies

         As a threshold matter, Respondents assert that because Williams never raised the perjury claim before a state court, it is unexhausted, such that Williams must withdraw that claim or the Petition must be dismissed without prejudice in its entirety for lack of exhaustion of state remedies. "An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted unless it appears that . . . the applicant has exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1) (2012); O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 839 (1999) ("Federal habeas relief is available to state prisoners only after they have exhausted their claims in state court."). This rule is appropriate because "it would be unseemly in our dual system of government for a federal district court to upset a state court conviction without an opportunity to the state courts to correct a constitutional violation." Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 518 (1982) (quoting Darr v. Burford, 339 U.S. 200, 204 (1950)). Thus, a federal habeas petition may not proceed unless all claims have been previously asserted before a state court. See Rose, 455 U.S. at 520 ("[B]efore you bring any claims to federal court, be sure that you first have taken each one to state court."). Specifically, exhaustion requires that "state prisoners must give the state courts one full opportunity to resolve any constitutional issues by invoking one complete round of the State's established appellate review process." O'Sullivan, 526 U.S. at 845. Notably, the exhaustion requirement is not a jurisdictional prerequisite to federal habeas relief but rather a matter of comity established by statute. See Granberry v. Greer, 481 U.S. 129, 133-35 (1987). Accordingly, a court may deny an application for a writ of habeas corpus on the merits, even if the petitioner has failed to exhaust state remedies. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(2).

         Here, although Respondents are correct that Williams never presented his specific perjury claim to the state court on direct appeal or otherwise, they acknowledge that it largely restates Williams's claim that he was denied the right to confront evidence in that they both essentially challenge the failure to introduce the actual CDS and the introduction of the coffee creamer as a demonstrative aid. Under these circumstances, the Court will construe the perjury claim as a part of the previously exhausted Confrontation Clause claim and will thus review the merits of the Petition.

         II. 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). 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 United States Supreme Court; 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 ...


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