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Currica v. Miller

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 13, 2019

CALVIN F. CURRICA, #354-168, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN RICHARD MILLER, et al., Respondents.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Date Paula Xinis United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court is Calvin F. Currica's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. ECF No. 1. Currica, proceeding pro se, challenges the validity of his conviction and the sentence imposed after pleading guilty to second degree murder and carjacking in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland. As directed by this Court, Respondents have supplemented their Answer and filed exhibits not initially submitted. ECF No. 15. Currica has also replied. ECF No. 18. The Court finds a hearing unnecessary. See Loc. R. 105.6; see also Rule 8(a), Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts; 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 following reasons, the Court dismisses Currica's petition and declines to issue a certificate of appealability.

         I. Background

         On March 14, 2008, Currica was indicted in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County in No. 109922 for murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon. On March 20, 2008, Currica was separately indicted in No. 109946 for multiple counts of carjacking, kidnapping, robbery, and first degree assault, as well as conspiracy to commit and attempt to commit those crimes. ECF No. 12-1 at 2. On August 11, 2008, Currica, who was then represented by counsel, entered a guilty plea in both cases pursuant to a written plea agreement. Id. at 11; ECF No. 15-1 at 2. Currica pleaded guilty to one count of second degree murder in No. 109922, amended down from a first degree murder charge, and two counts of carjacking in No. 109946. ECF No. 12-1 at 11; ECF No. 15-1 at 2. Counsel for Currica and the State sent a joint plea memorandum to the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, which included a line stating: “Guidelines: Thirty to Fifty-One Years.” ECF No. 15-2 at 1.

         At the plea hearing, the court acknowledged that the pertinent guidelines, as noted in the memorandum, were “30 to 51 years.” ECF No. 12-2 at 3 (Plea Hearing Transcript). The court expressly advised Currica, however, that “[w]hen you are charged with second degree murder, which is what the charge will be changed to, you are liable for a maximum penalty of 30 years in jail or less depending on what I determine, and you can be placed on probation for any suspended sentence I might impose.” Id. at 10. As to the carjacking charges, the court similarly explained to Currica that “each of these charges carries the possibility of being put in jail for up to 30 years. Once again, I can impose whatever sentence, including jail time and a period of suspended jail time, if I wish to do so.” Id. at 11. Currica confirmed that he understood the court's advisement. Id. at 10-11. Currica also confirmed that was entering his guilty plea “freely and voluntarily.” Id. at 12.

         On November 18, 2008, Currica appeared for sentencing. See ECF No. 12-3 (Sentencing Hearing Transcript). Currica's attorney urged the court to impose a sentence within the guidelines, which “were calculated together with the State.” Id. at 12. The Assistant State's Attorney, however, recommended a sentence above the guidelines. ECF No. 12-3 at 38-40. Ultimately, the court sentenced Currica to 30 years' confinement for the second degree murder count, followed by 30 years for one carjacking offense (Count 1), and 25 years for second carjacking (Count 9), all to run consecutively for a total of 85 years' imprisonment.[1] Id. at 56. As grounds, the court noted Currica's use of gratuitous violence and that he committed the crimes in quick succession over a short period of time. Id. at 55-56.

         After sentencing, Currica mounted a series of challenges to his prison term. On November 21, 2008, Currica filed an Application for Sentence Review by a three-judge panel, which was denied on September 2, 2009, and a Motion for Reconsideration of Sentence which was denied on May 7, 2013. ECF No. 12-1 at 13-15. On June 19, 2012, Currica filed a Motion to Correct an Illegal Sentence, which was denied on July 16, 2012. ECF No. 12-1 at 14.

         On June 2, 2014, Currica filed a pro se Petition for Post-Conviction Relief, which he amended on September 22, 2014, to assert the following claims:

(1) the State and Circuit Court breached the plea agreement by recommending, and imposing, a sentence higher than the 51 years noted in the guidelines range; and
(2) trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to file an Application for Leave to Appeal his Convictions.

ECF No. 12-4 at 1-3; ECF No. 12-5. After a hearing on the petition, the Circuit Court granted in part and denied in part Currica's claims. ECF No. 12-7 at 43-45. The court rejected Currica's contention that a breach of the agreement occurred, but granted his ineffective assistance of counsel claim on the grounds that his defense counsel failed to appeal his original conviction and sentence, as Currica had demanded. Id. As relief, Currica was given thirty days to file a belated Application for Leave to Appeal. Id. at 45.

         Consistent with the Circuit Court's order, Currica filed an Application for Leave to Appeal, which the Maryland Court of Special Appeals summarily denied on August 12, 2015. ECF No. 15-4 at 2. Currica also filed an Application for Leave to Appeal the Denial of Post-Conviction Relief as to his breach of plea agreement claim, which the Court of Special Appeals also summarily denied on August 12, 2015. ECF No. 15-3 at 2. Currica's final effort to obtain relief in state court, a petition for writ of certiorari, was also summarily denied by the Court of Appeals of Maryland on October 28, 2015. ECF No. 12-1 at 19.

         On September 26, 2016, Currica filed his habeas petition before this Court, challenging the validity of his guilty plea and imposition of the prison term which, in his view, exceeded the terms of his plea agreement. ECF No. 1 at 8-14. Respondents urge this Court to deny the Petition, arguing the state court properly determined that the plea agreement was not breached and that Currica's plea was otherwise constitutionally sound. ECF Nos. 15, 17.

         II. Standard of Review

         This Court may grant a petition for a writ of habeas corpus only to address violations of the Constitution or laws of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). In this regard,

a federal court reviewing a habeas petition that has already been adjudicated on the merits in state court [must] give considerable deference to the state court decision. A federal court may not grant habeas relief unless the state court arrived at a “decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, ” or “a decision that was based on ...

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