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Gemeil v. Warden

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 13, 2019

JOSE ANTONIO GEMEIL, Petitioner
v.
WARDEN, and THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF MARYLAND Respondents

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PAUL W. GRIMM UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending is Jose Antonio Gemeil's Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his state convictions for armed robbery and theft. ECF No. 1.[1]Because I find that Gemeil's claims are not cognizable on federal habeas review, are unexhausted, and are procedurally defaulted, the Petition will be denied and dismissed. A certificate of appealability shall not issue.

         BACKGROUND

         On November 24, 2015, a jury sitting in the Circuit Court for Caroline County, Maryland, found Gemeil guilty of robbery with a dangerous weapon, theft, second degree assault, and attempting to flee or elude police in a vehicle. The Circuit Court sentenced him to twenty-five years of imprisonment. State v. Gemeil, No. 05-K-15-010807 (Cir. Ct. Caroline Cty); see also ECF No. 4-1 (docket sheet).

         Gemeil appealed, raising two claims of error: (1) the trial court failed to strike three potential jurors for cause; and (2) the trial court erred in admitting video evidence without proper authentication. ECF No. 4-2 at 2. By unreported opinion filed on November 8, 2017, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland affirmed the convictions. Id. Of particular import, Gemeil did not file a petition for a writ of certiorari to the Maryland Court of Appeals. ECF No. 1 at 2. Gemeil filed this § 2254 petition on November 9, 2017.[2] Id.

         PETITIONER'S CLAIMS

         Gemeil presents two claims for federal habeas corpus relief: (1) the trial court abused its discretion by refusing to strike jurors 25, 61, and 124; and (2) the trial court failed to authenticate the video surveillance. ECF No. 1 at 5.

         DISCUSSION

         Scope of § 2245 Review

         The federal habeas statute provides that a district court “shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). In order for a claim to be cognizable on § 2245 review, a petitioner must assert a violation of federal statutory law or of the United States Constitution. See Wilson v. Corcoran, 562 U.S. 1, 1 (2010); Larry v. Branker, 552 F.3d 356, 368 (4th Cir. 2009) (“[I]t is not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determinations on state-law questions. In conducting habeas review, a federal court is limited to deciding whether a conviction violated the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.”) (quoting Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991)). “The role of a federal habeas court is to guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not to apply de novo review of factual findings and to substitute its own opinions for the determinations made on the scene by the trial judge.” Davis v. Ayala, 135 S.Ct. 2187, 2202 (2015) (internal marks and citations omitted).

         The federal habeas statute provides a “highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings.” Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 333 n.7, (1997); see also Bell v. Cone, 543 U.S. 447, 455 (2005). The standard is “difficult to meet, ” and requires courts to give state-court decisions the benefit of the doubt. Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see also Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011) (“If this standard is difficult to meet, that is because it was meant to be.”). A federal court may not grant a writ of habeas corpus unless the state'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 Supreme Court of the United States, ” 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).

         Gemeil's claims in this Petition do not allege a violation of federal statutory or constitution law. The Petition presents essentially the same claims of error that Gemeil raised on direct appeal, and those claims were rejected based on Maryland law. See ECF No. 4-2 at 6, 11, 13, 18-22. It is not the role of this federal court to second guess those conclusions. See Rose v. Hodges, 423 U.S. 19, 21-22 (1975). Therefore, Gemeil's claims are not cognizable under § 2254(a).

         Exhaustion

         Gemeil's Petition also fails because he failed to exhaust state court remedies. The exhaustion doctrine, codified at 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1), “is principally designed to protect the state courts' role in the enforcement of federal law and prevent disruption of state judicial proceedings. Under our federal system, the federal and state courts [are] equally bound to guard and protect rights secured by the Constitution.” Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 518 (1982) (alteration in original) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).[3] Moreover, “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 . . . .” Id. Thus, the Rose Court cautioned litigants, “before you bring any claims to federal court, be sure that you first have taken ...


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