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McNeal v. Warden

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 19, 2019

MICHAEL MCNEAL, Petitioner
v.
WARDEN and THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF MARYLAND, Respondents

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JAMES K. BREDAR, CHIEF JUDGE

         Michael McNeal, a self-represented Maryland prisoner, seeks habeas corpus relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (2012), challenging his sentence for attempted first-degree murder and related offenses. ECF Nos. 1, 2. Respondents have filed a Response, ECF No. 10, and the § 2254 Petition is ripe for review. After reviewing the Petition and Response, the Court finds no need for an evidentiary hearing. See Rule 8(a), Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts; Local Rule 105.6; see also Fisher v. Lee, 215 F.3d 438, 455 (4th Cir. 2000) (petitioner not entitled to a hearing under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2)). For the reasons set forth below, the Petition shall be denied and a certificate of appealability shall not issue.

         BACKGROUND

         In 2004, Petitioner was convicted by a jury of attempted first-degree murder and related offenses. ECF No. 10-7 at 2. At Petitioner's original sentencing hearing, the State asserted that Petitioner had three prior convictions for crimes of violence and was therefore subject to a statutory minimum of 25 years' imprisonment without the possibility of parole (hereinafter, "active minimum requirement"). Id. at 2-3; see Md. Code. Ann., Crim. Law § 14-101 (2002). Petitioner was sentenced to 40 years' imprisonment, the first 25 years of which were to be served without the possibility of parole, for the attempted first-degree murder conviction; he received merged or concurrent sentences for his related convictions. Id. at 3-4.

         In 2012, Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief ("PCR") arguing that he was not subject to the active minimum requirement because the prior convictions triggering the active minimum requirement were not committed by Petitioner but were instead committed by someone else with the same name or someone intentionally using Petitioner's name as his own. Id. at 4. Ultimately, at a hearing on the petition, the State "conceded that 'at least one' of the predicate convictions was not McNeal's but was that of another person using McNeal's name and State Identification Number." Id.; see ECF No. 10-2 at 4. Pursuant to a mutually agreed upon plan, Petitioner voluntarily withdrew his PCR petition with prejudice and the hearing judge granted an oral motion to correct an illegal sentence and ordered that Petitioner receive another resentencing hearing. ECF No. 10-2 at 19-20. However, before implementing this plan, the hearing judge cautioned Petitioner that it did not necessarily follow that Petitioner would receive the same or a lesser sentence upon resentencing, only that the court would be precluded from considering the wrongly attributed predicate offence that helped to trigger the active minimum requirement. Id. at 13-15, 18-19.

         Petitioner's resentencing hearing was held on March 21, 2013. The State recounted that the attempted murder occurred as the victim, Petitioner's ex-girlfriend, was driving close to her home. Petitioner rear-ended the victim's car before "fir[ing] a shot through [the victim's] rear window." ECF No. 10-3 at 11. This shot did not strike the victim.

However, [the Petitioner] then pulled alongside [the victim's car] - she was directly in front of her home at that point and was attempting to leave her vehicle and run in the house where her mother was waiting [with] her younger brother. And Mr. McNeal pulled alongside, preventing her escape from the driver's side and then fired an additional five rounds into that car striking her all five times.

Id. at 11-12. The victim also testified at the hearing as to her lasting physical and mental health problems caused by the shooting, as well as her fears that Petitioner might harm her and her children when released. Id. at 8-9. Accordingly, the State sought a sentence of 40 years' imprisonment, with the first 15 years to be served without the possibility of parole. ECF No. 10- 3 at 15.

         Petitioner's counsel argued that the guidelines range for the attempted first-degree murder conviction was 18 to 25 years' imprisonment. Id. at 17. Counsel contended that a guidelines sentence would be appropriate and argued that a sentence less than the 40 years sought by the state was appropriate because "the only thing that's changed [from Petitioner's original sentencing] is his previous record is lower, [so] it just makes sense that the sentence itself should also be lower." Mat 18, 28.

         Petitioner gave an allocution, focusing solely on the fact that he was not the perpetrator of at least one of the crimes that had been used as a predicate to trigger the active minimum requirement at his original hearing. Id. at 23-26. He asserted that the State had committed a Brady[1] violation by "withholding" from Petitioner's original sentencing hearing the arrest records corresponding with the predicate offenses. Id. at 26. The court reminded Petitioner that it had already ruled in Petitioner's favor on the issue of whether the predicate offenses were rightly attributable to Petitioner. Id. at 27. Petitioner nonetheless continued with his line of reasoning, stating:

My question is under - is that I'm not indeed the defendant. So under Power versus Cannon, they say if you can prove that you're not indeed the defendant under these two cases, you're supposed to be discharged from custody.
So what I'm saying is if the state's attorney perjured herself, that's on her. I don't have nothing to do with that. But what I'm saying today here: I am the victim today. Because I'm serving ten years, eight months and 16 days on a sentence that is not me.

Id. at 27-28. The court asked the parties to return in a month and a half, explaining that "given the very grievous nature of the underlying crimes, but also the obvious considerations for justice with respect to Mr. McNeal's position, I want to consider in further detail the matters that have been brought before the Court this morning." Id. at 29.

         On May 8, 2013, the court sentenced Petitioner to 40 years' imprisonment, dating from Petitioner's original arrest date of August 5, 2002. ECF No. 10-4. However, unlike Petitioner's initial sentence, this sentence did not include a requirement that any portion of Petitioner's sentence be served without ...


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