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Dent v. Miller

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 28, 2019

ROBERT DENT, Petitioner,



         Petitioner Robert Dent, an inmate at the Roxbury Correctional Institution in Hagerstown, Maryland, has filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. S 2254 in which he collaterally attacks his 2008 conviction for second-degree sexual offense (anal intercourse) in the Circuit Court for Prince Georgess County, Maryland. Respondents have filed an Answer, and . Dent has filed a Reply. Having considered the submitted materials, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. See Rule 8(a), Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts; D. Md. Local R. 105.6; Fisher v. Lee, 215 F.3d 438, 455 (4th Cir. 2000). For the reasons set forth below, the Petition is DENIED.


         I. Factual Background

         On April 8, 2008, Dent was convicted after a jury trial in the Circuit Court for Prince Georgess County of committing a second-degree sexual offense (anal intercourse) against Amoy Grant. The jury acquitted Dent of second-degree rape and a separate second-degree sexual offense (fellatio). On August 1, 2008, Dent was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonmen.. The following evidence was presented at trial.

         On October 2, 2007, Dent invited Grant for dinner at his apartment in Beltsville, Maryland. After dinner, Grant asked her to watch television with him in the bedroom. Grant testified that Dent forced her to perform fellatio and engage in vaginal and anal intercourse. Grant testified she screamed at Dent to stop and screamed in pain. According to Dent, the sex was consensua.. He testified that they engaged in vaginal intercourse and he "slipped out of her vagina and went right into her anal." 4/7/08 Trial Tr. at 165, ECF No. 12-2.

         Grant left Dent's residence and walked to her apartment in the same complex, from which she called 911 to report that she had been raped. Grant was taken by police officers to the Prince Georgess County Police Department ("PGCPD",, Criminal Investigation Division, where she gave a statement. The police then drove Grant to the Sexual Assault Center at Prince Georgess County Hospital, where at 7:30 a.m. on October 3, 2007, Nurse Sue Beckman performed a sexual forensic examination on Grant.

         Having been qualified as an expert witness, Beckman testified that prior to examining Grant, she had performed between 240 and 250 exams of this nature, but Grant's was "the worst exam I've ever done." Id. at 103. Grant had multiple injuries including swelling and bruising of the hymen, multiple tears in the vaginal area, seven to ten anal tears, and anal bleeding and swelling. Beckman testified that the injuries were consistent with Grant's description of what had occurred to her. Beckman also testified that the injuries sustained would not be found after consensual vaginal intercourse, because "There was a lot of tears and swelling. I can't imagine anybody being able to sustain that much pain from a consensual encounter." Id. at 108. After the examination, Detective Darren Bennett of the PGCPD Sexual Assault Unit, drove Grant back to her apartment. After Grant identified Dent's unit within the complex, Detective Bennett obtained records regarding Dent and had Grant identify him through a photo array. Forensic tests did not reveal the presence of any of Dent's DNA on Grant. Meanwhile, on October 2, 2007 at 11:50 p.m. and October 3, 2007 at 7:38 a.m., Dent sent text messages to Grant stating that he was sorry.

         On October 4, 2007, pursuant to a warrant, the police searched Dent's home while he was at work and left a contact card with a telephone number for the PGCPD. Using that phone number, Dent called the same day and asked for the opportunity to come to the police station to give his side of the story. When Dent arrived, Detective Bennett read him his rights under Miranda v Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), and had him sign an Advice of Rights and Waiver Form in which he waived his Miranda rights. During the interview, which was video and audio recorded, Dent demonstrated to Detective Bennett the positions and sex acts that he had engaged in with Grant in an effort to convince him that the encounter was consensual and that the anal sex was accidenta.. Although an arrest warrant for Dent had already been issued, it had not yet been served. After the interview concluded, Detective Bennett executed the warrant and arrested Dent.

         II. Procedural History

         Dent appealed his conviction to the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland. He presented one question for review: Did the court err by denying his motion to suppress his statements to police? In an unreported opinion filed on November 10, 2010, the Court of Special Appeals affirmed Dent's judgment of conviction. Dent did not file a petition for a writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals of Maryland.

         On April 26, 2011, Dent filed a Petition for Pott Conviction Relief in the Circuit Court for Prince Georgess County ("the post-conviction court"). After filing a pro se supplement to the petition, and withdrawing two claims after the hearing on the petition, Dent's claims presented to the post-conviction court were that trial counsel provided constitutionally ineffective assistance by failing to: (1) object to the lack of unanimity of the jury verdict; (2) object to the Beckman's testimony, which bolstered the credibility of the victim; (3) object to the admission of Beckman's report; (4) assert in the motion for judgment of acquittal that there was no evidence of actual force; (5) object to the procedure employed for addressing two jury notes; (6) undertake a reasonable investigation of the case; (7) call Dent to testify at the suppression hearing or advise him of his right to do so; (8) obtain an expert to rebut Beckman's testimony and report; and (9) object to prosecutorial misconduct arising from the prosecutor's alleged misstatement of the evidence during closing argument, which arguably shifted the burden of proof from the State to the defendant. Dent also asserted ineffective assistance of counsel based on trial and appellate counselss failure to object to or appeal the State's request for a continuance of trial. Finally, Dent claimed that trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by virtue of the cumulative effect of these errors.

         In a written opinion, the post-conviction court denied the state petition on October 31, 2013. In so ruling, the post-conviction court analyzed each of Dent's ineffective assistance of counsel claims and concluded that it was "abundanlly clear" trial counselss purported deficient representation had "nothing to do with [Dent's] convictions." Post-Conviction Op. at 11, ECF No. 12-8. The post-conviction court found that Dent failed to prove any of his allegations of deficient performance or that there was any prejudice resulting from such performance. "Rather, it is patently obvious," the post-conviction court stated, that Dent was convicted based on "his sexual interaction with the victim in his apartment" and "his own legal or tactical missteps two days after the incident, namely, going by himself to the police station and voluntarily and willfully performing a clumsy, highly incriminaiing re-enactment of his sexual gyrations" to convince police that the anal intercourse complained of by Grant was an 'accidental' slip." ld. at 11-12. The post-conviction court characterized Dent's story as "incredible" to the detectives and to the jury, stated that "no amount of skillful lawyering" could have reversed Dent's self-inflicted legal damage, and noted that acquittal of Dent on two counts was "a testament to his lawyer's skill in handling this case." ld. at 12. The post-conviction court thus concluded that Dent's "misguided attempt" to blame his attorney for the verdict was a "further manifestation of his self-serving almost delusional denial of responsibility for his own actions." Id.

         Dent filed an Application for Leave to Appeal, raising the same claims presented to and decided by the Circuit Court on post-conviction review. On December 2, 2015, the Court of Special Appeals summarily denied the Application for Leave to Appeal.


         In his Petition to this Court, Dent asserts the same claims of ineffective assistance of counsel that he raised in his Application for Leave to Appeal the Denial of Post-Conviction Relief. The Court will address each argument in turn.

         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. S 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). 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. S 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, 559 U.S 766, 773 (2010). The state court's application of federal law must be "objectively unreasonable." Id. Likewise, a state court's factual determination as relevant to S 2254(d)(2) "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.

         Further, "a determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct[, ]" and the petitioner bears "the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence." 28 U.S.C. S 2254(e)(1); Nicolas v. Attorney Gen. of Mi., 820 F.3d 124, 129 (4th Cir. 2016). "Where the state court conducted an evidentiary hearing and explained its reasoning with some care, it should be particularly difficult to establish clear and convincing evidence of error on the state court's part." Sharpe v. Bell, 593 F.3d 372, 378 (4th Cir. 2010). This is especially true where the state court has "resolved issues like witness credibility, which are 'factual determination'' for purposes of Section 2254(e)(1)." Id.

         When a federal habeas court is undertaking an evaluation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. S 2254(d) but the highest state court to consider the matter summarily denied a request for further review without analysis, the federal court must "look through" the summary decision to the last reasoned state court decision. Brumfield.. Cain, __U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 2269, 2276 (2015). Here, where the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland summarily denied Dent's Application for Leave to Appeal, the last ...

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