United States District Court, D. Maryland
DARRELL MATTHEWS, #370-293Petitioner.
FRANK BISHOP, Jr., Warden, et al ., Respondents.
Xinis United States District Judge
Matthews brings this habeas corpus petition pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his 2011 murder conviction
primarily on the grounds that he received ineffective
assistance of counsel. ECF No. 1. The Petition is ready for
resolution and no hearing is necessary. 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).
For the following reasons, the Court denies the Petition and
declines to issue a certificate of appealability.
2011, Petitioner Matthews stood trial for first-degree
attempted murder, first-degree assault, and weapons offenses
in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. The evidence at
trial demonstrated that on August 15, 2009,
Matthews shot Augustus Williams, Jr. in the shoulder and
chest at close range. Williams identified his assailant as
Matthews to a bystander who rendered first aid. An
acquaintance of Matthews, Antoine Johnson, also identified
Matthews as the shooter. ECF No. 6-2 at 132-134, 140-144,
183, 186, 189-192, 229, 234-236. The State also admitted cell
site evidence to corroborate Matthews whereabouts at the time
of the shooting. ECF No. 6-2 at 76-79, 85-87.
was tried before a jury who found him guilty on all counts.
On July 21, 2011, the Circuit Court sentenced Matthews to
life imprisonment on the attempted first degree murder
conviction; a consecutive twenty-year term for the use of a
handgun during the commission of the crime; and two
consecutive five year terms for possession of a regulated
firearm by a prohibited person. ECF No. 6-6 at 19. Matthews
appealed his convictions, challenging the denial of merger as
to the two firearm offenses as well as the trial court's
refusal to declare a mistrial after the jurors announced a
deadlock in deliberations. See Matthews v. State,
No. 1442 (unreported, Sept. Term 2011, Feb. 22, 2013);
see also ECF No. 6-9. The Maryland Court of Special
Appeals vacated one of Matthews's convictions for
possession of a regulated firearm but otherwise affirmed the
judgment in an unreported opinion. Id. The Maryland
Court of Appeals denied further review on July 5, 2013.
Matthews v. State, 432 Md. 469 (2013).
October 3, 2014, Matthews moved for post-conviction relief in
the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, contending that
trial counsel provided ineffective assistance based on an
array of omissions, including failure to request DNA and GSR
testing on evidence found at the scene; failure to seek
suppression of victim identification testimony and to
introduce Antoine Johnson's prior out-of-court signed
statement; failure to seek a lesser-included-offense jury
instruction and missing witness instruction; failure to
object to the state's closing argument; and a variety of
claimed errors related to deliberations and sentencing.
Matthews also challenged the effectiveness of appellate
counsel for failing to raise on appeal the propriety of
State's closing argument referencing witnesses who did
not testify at trial. ECF No. 6-10 at 4-11, 14-20, 11-13.
hearing, the Montgomery County Circuit Court denied relief
except as to whether trial counsel was ineffective for
failing to file for review of sentence. The Court granted
Matthews leave to seek review of sentence within thirty days
from the date of its order. ECF No. 6-10 at 21.
August 12, 2015, Matthews requested that Court of Special
Appeals review his claims of ineffective assistance based on:
(1) trial counsel's failure to request a jury instruction
on a lesser included offense of second-degree attempted
murder; (2) counsel's waiver of Matthews' personal
appearance in court to address a jury note; and (3) the
failure to object to aspects of the State's closing
argument. ECF No. 6-11 at 8. On February 4, 2016, the Court
of Special Appeals ordered the State to address whether the
post-conviction court erred by not finding counsel
ineffective for failure to object or otherwise attempt to
cure the State's remarks in rebuttal regarding
Matthews' failure to call any witnesses. ECF No. 6-12 at
1. The State, in response, singularly argued that
Matthews' application for leave to appeal was time-barred
and generally meritless. ECF No. 6-12. Although the Court of
Special Appeals rejected that the petition was time barred,
it nonetheless summarily denied the application for leave to
appeal. ECF No. 6-14.
thereafter filed a timely federal habeas Petition in this
Court, arguing that the trial court erred in denying his
motion for new trial. ECF No. 1. Matthews also resurrects his
ineffectiveness arguments regarding the lion's share of
claims raised in his state post-conviction proceeding. ECF
No. 1-1, 1-2. The claims are thus exhausted as having been
presented in Matthews' post-conviction proceedings and in
his application for leave to appeal and not procedurally
defaulted. Nonetheless, for the reasons stated below, the
Petition must be denied in its entirety.
Standard of Review
Court may grant a petition for a writ of habeas corpus only
to address violations of the United States Constitution or
laws of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a) (2018)
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)). In
reviewing the decisions of the post-conviction court, this
Court must give “considerable deference to the state
court decision, ” and 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 an unreasonable determination of the facts
in light of the evidence presented in the State court
proceeding.'” Nicolas v. Att'y Gen. of
Md., 820 F.3d 124, 129 (4th Cir. 2016) (quoting 28
U.S.C. § 2254(d)). Further, this Court “must
presume that the state court's factual findings are
correct unless the petitioner rebuts those facts by clear and
convincing evidence, ” and “cannot disturb the
state court's ruling simply because it is incorrect; it
must also be unreasonable.” Id.
state court's decision to be contrary to established
federal law, the state court must have arrived at a
conclusion contrary to the United States Supreme Court on a
question of law or must have confronted facts that are
“materially indistinguishable from a relevant Supreme
Court” case but nevertheless arrived at the opposite
result. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405
(2000); see also Lovitt v. True, 403 F.3d 171, 178
(4th Cir. 2005); Barnes v. Joyner, 751 F.3d 229, 238
(4th Cir. 2014). As to an unreasonable determination, a
federal court “may not issue the writ simply because
that court concludes in its independent judgment that the
relevant state-court decision applied established federal law
erroneously or incorrectly.” Lovitt, 403 F.3d
at 178 (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 411). Rather,
the Petitioner must show that the state court's ruling
was “so lacking in justification that there was an
error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond
any possibility for fairminded disagreement.”
Barnes, 751 F.3d at 238 (quoting White v.
Woodall, 572 U.S. 415, 419-20 (2014)). “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).
Trial Court Error
first argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion
for new trial based on the jury's inability to reach a
verdict after several hours of deliberation. ECF No. 1-2 at
1. This closely parallels Matthews's direct appeal
argument that the trial court abused its discretion by not
declaring a mistrial during the first evening of
deliberations when the jury announced it was deadlocked. ECF
No. 6-7, at 14-21; ECF No. 6-9, at 8-20. The Court of Special
Appeals determined that the trial court was well within his
discretion to continue deliberations. ECF No. 6-9 at 18.
reframing his earlier argument, Matthews does not assert that
the trial court's error was one of federal constitutional
magnitude. Nor could he. The claim squarely involves the
exercise of the trial court's discretion to allow further
deliberations. Absent violation of a federal constitutional
right, a habeas petitioner fails to state a cognizable claim
for relief. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); see also
Wilson, 562 U.S. at 1; Spencer, 18 F.3d at
239-40. Thus, the Court denies Matthews' petition on this
next argues that the State engaged in prosecutorial
misconduct, justifying the grant of habeas relief.
Undoubtedly, “[a] fair trial in a fair tribunal is a
basic requirement of due process, ” In re
Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 136 (1955), and so prosecutors
must comport themselves accordingly. See Berger v. United
States, 295 U.S. 78, 88 (1935). Prosecutorial misconduct
is actionable when it “so infected the trial with
unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of
due process.” Darden v. Wainwright, 477 U.S.
168, 181 (1986); see also United States v. Caro, 597
F.3d 608, 624 (4th Cir. 2010). To succeed on this claim,
Matthews “must show (1) ‘that the
prosecutor's remarks or conduct were improper' and
(2) ‘that such remarks or conduct prejudicially
affected his substantial rights so as to deprive him of a
fair trial.'” Caro, 597 F.3d at 624-25
(quoting United States v. Scheetz, 293 F.3d 175, 185
(4th Cir. 2002). Matthews presents two misconduct
first contends that the State committed reversible error by
shifting the burden of production to the defense during
rebuttal argument. The State argued:
You can't go on about how this person didn't come in
and this person didn't come in and not produce the ones
you talked about the whole time. Where is Patrice Smith, the
girlfriend he was with? Where is his brother, Jacob Chase?
She just talked about him. Where is he at? Jeffrey Thomas?
ECF No. 6-4 at 107-08. The post-conviction court, citing
Waddington v. Sarausad, 555 U.S. 179, 193 (2009),
found that these statements had not misled the jury as to the
State's burden of proof. Specifically, the court
determined that these comments taken as whole did not
implicate Matthews' right to remain silent or the choice
not to mount an affirmative defense, and thus did not render
the trial fundamentally unfair. See Smith v.
Phillips, 455 U.S. 209, 219 (1982) (citing Brady v.
Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 87 (1963) (aim of due process
“is not punishment of society for the misdeeds of the
prosecutor but avoidance of an unfair trial to the
finding is supported by the record. The challenged statements
were brief and in response to Matthews's counsel arguing
at length that the “social milieu” caused many
eyewitnesses to avoid testifying at trial. ECF No. 6-4 at
104-07. Furthermore, the comments were limited, rhetorical,
and designed to highlight the illogic of defense
counsel's argument. The comments were not suggestive of
burden shifting. Accordingly, Matthews cannot meet the heavy
burden of showing that such comments so infected his trial as
to deprive him constitutional due process.
also challenges that the State's rebuttal closing
argument violated his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation.
In rebuttal, the prosecutor argued:
Ladies and gentlemen, you've already been here for three
days. Do you really want to hear about a patrol officer that
came and put tape around a house and there was nobody there?
I set up a perimeter here and I directed traffic and I
didn't allow cars. I don't think you wanted to hear
all that. I mean that's why patrol officers aren't
ECF No. 6-4 at 108-09. Matthews maintains that the
prosecutor's comments, suggestive of what the patrol
officer may have said if called, stripped Matthews of his
right to confront ...