United States District Court, D. Maryland
THEODORE D. CHUANG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
"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
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 ...