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Caldwell v. Phelps

United States District Court, D. Delaware

March 18, 2013

FRED T. CALDWELL, Petitioner,
PERRY PHELPS, Warden, and JOSEPH R. BIDEN, III, Attorney General of the State of Delaware, Respondents

Decided March 15, 2013

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Mark S. Greenberg, Counsel for petitioner.

Danielle J. Brennan, Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware, Counsel for respondents.

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SUE L. ROBINSON, District Judge.


Petitioner Fred T. Caldwell (" petitioner" ) is a Delaware inmate in custody at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Wilmington, Delaware. Presently before the court is petitioner's application for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (D.I. 1) For the reasons that follow, the court will dismiss his application.


On the evening of June 25, 2003, petitioner and his cousin, Warner Henry, were visiting the home of Colleen Thompson in the Rodney Village subdivision south of Dover, Delaware. See Caldwell v. State, 865 A.2d 521 (Table), 2004 WL 2937673, at *1 (Del. Dec. 17, 2004). At approximately 10:00 p.m., a man petitioner did not recognize knocked on the front door. When no one answered the front door, the man began breaking through the back door. Petitioner told Henry to retrieve a handgun that was located in the house. Petitioner escaped by jumping out a front window and running across the street. He ran to a nearby house where he called the Delaware State Police to report the break-in. The intruder entered the house and started beating Henry, who eventually was able to escape by climbing out the bathroom window. Id. at *1-2.

The police were notified about the break-in at approximately 10:15 p.m. Id. Detective William Porter and Corporal Robert Wallace were assigned to the case. As Detective Wallace drove through the Rodney Village subdivision looking for the intruder, he encountered a man running toward him who matched the intruder's description. As the man approached the police car, Detective Wallace jumped out and grabbed him. Detective Wallace found a plastic baggie containing what appeared to be crack cocaine in the man's right front pocket and a scale in the man's left front pocket. The man, who was later identified as Warner Henry, had a bleeding head wound. Id.

Petitioner telephoned Thompson, who reported that Henry had been hurt and that the police had found drugs in Henry's pocket. Id. Petitioner agreed to be interviewed by the police and Thompson drove him to the Delaware State Police Troop 3. Thompson and petitioner arrived at the troop between 12:00 midnight and 12:30 a.m. At the troop, Detective Porter interviewed petitioner about the incident. During

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the interview, which was not videotaped, [1] petitioner told Detective Porter that he and Henry had been out delivering drugs in the Capitol Park areas of Dover earlier the same day. Petitioner also told Detective Porter that, at the time of the break-in, he had between $2,000 and $3,000 in cash in his pocket. Caldwell, 2004 WL 2937673, at *1-2.

After hearing about petitioner's drug dealing, Detective Porter contacted two of the Drug Unit detectives at Troop 3, Donald Boulerice and David Ellingsworth. Id. Detective Ellingsworth interviewed petitioner during the early morning of June 26, 2002, with Detective Boulerice videotaping it from another room. During the interview, petitioner admitted to Detective Ellingsworth that he had given a half ounce of cocaine to Henry the day before the break-in; that he owned the handgun he told Henry to retrieve; and that he had $3,000 and four ounces of crack cocaine in his possession at the time of the break-in. Petitioner also stated that he " moved" one to two kilograms of cocaine per week.

Detective Boulerice interviewed petitioner's cousin, Warner Henry. Id. Henry told Detective Boulerice that he had some crack cocaine in his possession at the time of the break-in which he had obtained from petitioner and for which he owed petitioner $950. Henry also told Detective Boulerice that petitioner sold approximately three kilograms of cocaine per week. At trial, Henry claimed that what he told Detective Boulerice during the interview was false. Henry also testified that he pled guilty to conspiring with petitioner to traffic in cocaine. Id.

Petitioner testified in his own behalf at trial. Id. He acknowledged that he previously had been convicted of drug trafficking and possession with intent to deliver illegal drugs, but denied that he was currently a drug dealer. Petitioner claimed that he had only pretended to be a big time drug dealer in the interview because Detective Ellingsworth said Henry had sustained potentially fatal injuries and petitioner was concerned about being charged with Henry's homicide if he did not tell Detective Ellingsworth what he wanted to hear. See Caldwell, 2004 WL 2937673, at *1-2.

In September 2003, a Delaware Superior Court jury convicted petitioner of trafficking cocaine, possession with intent to deliver cocaine, and second degree conspiracy. Id. He was sentenced as an habitual offender to two terms of life imprisonment, and to an additional two years imprisonment on the conspiracy charge. Acting pro se, petitioner appealed, and the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed his convictions on December 17, 2004. Id.

Thereafter, petitioner filed a motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Delaware Superior Court Criminal Rule 61 (" Rule 61 motion" ), which was denied. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed that judgment. Caldwell v. State, 991 A.2d 17 (Table), 2010 WL 376902 (Del. Jan. 29, 2010), rearg't den. Mar. 3, 2010.

Petitioner timely filed a § 2254 application in this court. (D.I. 1) The State filed an answer (D.I. 20), arguing that some of the claims should be dismissed as meritless and others as procedurally barred from habeas review.

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A. Exhaustion and Procedural Default

A federal court may consider a habeas petition filed by a state prisoner 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). One prerequisite to federal habeas review is that a petitioner must exhaust all remedies available in the state courts. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1). The exhaustion requirement is grounded on principles of comity to ensure that state courts have the initial opportunity to review federal constitutional challenges to state convictions. Werts v. Vaughn, 228 F.3d 178, 192 (3d Cir. 2000). A petitioner satisfies the exhaustion requirement by " fairly presenting" the substance of the federal habeas claim to the state's highest court, either on direct appeal or in a post-conviction proceeding, and in a procedural manner permitting the state courts to consider it on the merits. See Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364, 365, 115 S.Ct. 887, 130 L.Ed.2d 865 (1995); Castille v. Peoples, 489 U.S. 346, 351, 109 S.Ct. 1056, 103 L.Ed.2d 380 (1989); Lambert v. Blackwell, 134 F.3d 506, 513 (3d Cir. 1997).

A petitioner's failure to exhaust state remedies will be excused if state procedural rules preclude him from seeking further relief in state courts. Lines v. Larkins, 208 F.3d 153, 160 (3d Cir. 2000); see Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288, 297-98, 109 S.Ct. 1060, 103 L.Ed.2d 334 (1989). Although treated as technically exhausted, such claims are nonetheless procedurally defaulted. Lines, 208 F.3d at 160; Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750-51, 111 S.Ct. 2546, 115 L.Ed.2d 640 (1991). Similarly, if a petitioner presents a habeas claim to the state's highest court, but that court " clearly and expressly" refuses to review the merits of the claim due to an independent and adequate state procedural rule, the claim is exhausted but procedurally defaulted. See Coleman, 501 U.S. at 750; Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 260-64, 109 S.Ct. 1038, 103 L.Ed.2d 308 (1989).

A federal court cannot review the merits of procedurally defaulted claims unless the petitioner demonstrates either cause for the procedural default and actual prejudice resulting therefrom, or that a fundamental miscarriage of justice will result if the court does not review the claims. McCandless v. Vaughn, 172 F.3d 255, 260 (3d Cir. 1999); Coleman, 501 U.S. at 750-51. To demonstrate cause for a procedural default, a petitioner must show that " some objective factor external to the defense impeded counsel's efforts to comply with the State's procedural rule." Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 488, 106 S.Ct. 2639, 91 L.Ed.2d 397 (1986). To demonstrate actual prejudice, a petitioner must show that the errors during his trial created more than a possibility of prejudice; he must show that the errors worked to his actual and substantial disadvantage, infecting his entire trial with error of constitutional dimensions." Id. at 494.

Alternatively, if a petitioner demonstrates that a " constitutional violation has probably resulted in the conviction of one who is actually innocent," Murray, 477 U.S. at 496, then a federal court can excuse the procedural default and review the claim in order to prevent a fundamental miscarriage of justice. Edwards v. Carpenter, 529 U.S. 446, 451, 120 S.Ct. 1587, 146 L.Ed.2d 518 (2000); Wenger v. Frank, 266 F.3d 218, 224 (3d Cir. 2001). The miscarriage of justice exception applies only in extraordinary cases, and actual innocence means factual

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innocence, not legal insufficiency. Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 623, 118 S.Ct. 1604, 140 L.Ed.2d 828 (1998); Murray, 477 U.S. at 496. A petitioner establishes actual innocence by asserting " new reliable evidence -- whether it be exculpatory scientific evidence, trustworthy eyewitness accounts, or critical physical evidence -- that was not presented at trial," showing that no reasonable juror would have voted to find the petitioner guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Hubbard v. Pinchak, 378 F.3d 333, 339-40 (3d Cir. 2004).

B. Standard of Review

If a state's highest court adjudicated a federal habeas claim on the merits, the federal court must review the claim under the deferential standard contained in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), federal habeas relief may only be granted if the state court's decision was " contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States," or the state court's decision was an unreasonable determination of the facts based on the evidence adduced in the trial. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) & (2); see also Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000); Appel v. Horn, 250 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2001). A claim has been " adjudicated on the merits" for the purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) if the state court decision finally resolves the claim on the basis of its substance, rather than on a procedural or some other ground. Thomas v. Horn, 570 F.3d 105, 115 (3d Cir. 2009). The deferential standard of ยง 2254(d) applies even " when a state court's order is unaccompanied by an opinion explaining the reasons relief has been denied" ; as recently explained ...

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