United States District Court, D. Maryland
J. MESSITTE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
is Petitioner Edward Hall Bell's pro se Petition for Writ
of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. ECF No.
1. Petitioner challenges the validity of his 2004 conviction
in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, Maryland
for first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, and
two counts of use of a handgun in a crime of violence.
Id. at 1, 2. Respondents filed an Answer, arguing
Bell's petition is time-barred, which they supplemented
at direction of the Court, further seeking dismissal based on
the merits. ECF Nos. 13, 25. Bell opposes dismissal of the
Petition. ECF Nos. 16, 35. After reviewing the submissions,
the Court concludes there is no need for an evidentiary
hearing. See Rule 8(a), Rules Governing Section 2254
Cases in the United States District Courts; see also
28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2). For reasons set forth herein,
the Petition is DENIED. A Certificate of Appealability shall
September 7, 2004, Bell was indicted in the Circuit Court for
Prince George's County for first-degree murder, attempted
first-degree murder, and several related counts arising from
events that took place at a liquor store on March 14, 2004.
ECF No. 25-1 at 6. In October 2004, a jury convicted Bell of
first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, and two
counts of use of a handgun in a crime of violence.
Id. at 9. On January 28, 2005, Bell was sentenced to
life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, plus
forty years. ECF No. 25-6 at 19-20.
his sentencing, Bell mounted a series of challenges to his
conviction. On direct appeal, the Court of Special Appeals
corrected an error on the docket regarding sentencing but
otherwise affirmed Bell's conviction. ECF No. 25-1 at 71.
On July 24, 2007, Bell filed a state petition for
post-conviction relief. Id. at 72. In his petition,
Bell alleged that trial counsel was ineffective for: (1)
failing to object to Bell's absence during certain parts
of his trial, specifically bench conferences and the
discussion of jury notes; (2) failing to object to the
State's service of a notice of intent to seek life
without parole on defense counsel but not Bell; and (3)
failing to timely file a motion for modification or reduction
of sentence. Id. at 75, 87. On January 11, 2011, the
Circuit Court for Prince George's County held a hearing
on Bell's post-conviction petition. ECF No. 25-7 at 1.
During the hearing, Bell orally raised an additional
ineffective assistance claim, arguing his counsel failed to
request a transcript of grand jury testimony. Id. at
8. The Circuit Court orally denied relief as to Bell's
ineffective assistance claims but granted Bell's request
to file a belated motion for modification or reduction of
sentence. Id. at 149-53. Bell then filed an
application for leave to appeal the decision, which the Court
of Special Appeals summarily denied. ECF No. 25-1 at 104-14.
12, 2014, Bell filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence
pursuant to Maryland Rule 4-345(a). ECF No. 25-1 at 115. Bell
argued that the Circuit Court could not properly sentence him
to life without parole due to the State's failure to
serve written notice directly to Bell. Id. at 116.
Further, Bell claimed the jury's verdict was
"defective" based on a "lack of
unanimity." Id. at 118. After the jury verdict
was hearkened, Bell's counsel requested that the jury be
polled. Id. at 117. Bell asserted that one of the 12
jurors was not polled, making it "impossible to know if
the jury was unanimous," and resulting in an invalid
conviction and sentence. Id. at 119. The Circuit
Court summarily denied the motion, and the Court of Special
Appeals affirmed the denial. Id. at 125-27.
7, 2016, Bell filed his federal Petition for a Writ of Habeas
Corpus in this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. ECF
No. 1. Bell raises the following grounds for relief: (1)
counsel was ineffective because Bell was denied the right to
be present at bench conferences and the reading of jury
notes; (2) counsel was ineffective for failing to request the
grand jury transcript; (3) the jury verdict was not unanimous
based on a polling error; (4) counsel failed to investigate
other suspects; and (5) the State did not turn over a
firearms examination report. ECF No. 1 at 5-6. The latter two
claims were never raised in state court. Id.
Respondents moved to stay the case, asserting that a pending
case before the Court of Appeals of Maryland could determine
the timeliness of Bell's federal habeas petition. ECF No.
9 at 3. On September 30, 2016, the Court granted the stay.
ECF No. 10.
the Maryland Court of Appeals rendered its decision,
Respondents filed an Answer in this case, arguing Bell's
petition should be dismissed as time-barred. ECF No. 13 at
6-7. The Court then directed Respondents to supplement their
Answer by addressing Bell's claims on the merits. ECF No.
17. Respondents filed a Supplemental Answer, arguing
Bell's claims should be dismissed as time-barred, based
on exhaustion, and on the merits. ECF No. 25 at 5.
respect to exhaustion, Respondents argued Bell's claims
that trial counsel failed to investigate other suspects and
that the State failed to turn over a firearms examination
report were unexhausted, as they were never raised in state
court. In response, Bell moved for a stay and abeyance to
attempt to reopen his state post-conviction proceedings and
exhaust these claims. ECF No. 26 at 2. On March 19, 2019, the
Court issued a Memorandum Opinion, finding the two claims
were procedurally defaulted rather than unexhausted and
denying Bell's motion to stay. ECF No. 32 at 8. Bell has
argued cause and prejudice exists to overcome his default of
those claims and has replied to Respondents' Supplemental
Answer on the merits. ECF Nos. 34, 45. Further, Bell has
filed a second motion to stay based on a case pending before
the Supreme Court of the United States. ECF No. 36.
Standard of Review
application for writ of habeas corpus may be granted only for
violations of the Constitution or laws of the United States.
28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). The federal habeas statute at 28
U.S.C. § 2254 sets forth 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 (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 marks and
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).
adjudication is contrary to clearly established federal law
under § 2254(d)(1) where the state court 1)
"arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by
[the Supreme] Court on a question of law," or 2)
"confronts facts that are materially indistinguishable
from a relevant Supreme Court precedent and arrives at a
result opposite to [the Supreme Court]." Williams v.
Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405 (2000). Under the §
2254(d)(1) "unreasonable application" analysis, a
"state court's determination that a claim lacks
merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as
'fairminded jurists could disagree' on the
correctness of the state court's decision."
Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011)
(quoting Yarborough v. Aharado, 541 U.S. 652, 664
(2004)). Thus, "an unreasonable application of
federal law is different from an incorrect
application of federal law." Id. (internal
quotation marks omitted). "[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
under § 2254(d)(2), "a state-court factual
determination 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). "[E]ven if reasonable minds reviewing the
record might disagree about the finding in question," a
federal habeas court may not conclude that the state court
decision was based on an unreasonable determination of the
facts. Id. The habeas statute provides that "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. §
2254(e)(1). "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 ...