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Cabrera v. Pierce

United States District Court, D. Delaware

March 14, 2014

LUIS CABRERA, Petitioner,
v.
DAVID PIERCE, Warden, and ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF DELAWARE, Respondents.[1]

Edson Bostic. Federal Public Defender's Office, Wilmington, Delaware. Attorney for Petitioner.

Elizabeth R. McFarlan, Deputy Attorney General of the Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware. Attorney for Respondents.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

LEONARD P. STARK, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Pending before the Court is an Application For A Writ Of Habeas Corpus Pursuant To 28 U.S.C. § 2254 ("Petition") filed by Petitioner Luis Cabrera ("Petitioner"). (D.I..2) For the reasons discussed, the Court will dismiss the Petition as time-barred by the limitations period prescribed in 28 U.S.C. § 2244.

II. BACKGROUND

On May 29, 1998, a Delaware Superior Court jury convicted Petitioner of felony murder, intentional murder, first degree conspiracy, and first degree burglary. (D.I. 11 at 1) A penalty phase hearing was held before the same jury in June 1998, which ended with the jury recommending the death penalty by a vote of seven to five. See State v. Cabrera, 1999 WL 41630, at* 1 (Del. Super. Ct. Jan. 21, 1999). In January 1999, the Superior Court sentenced Petitioner to two life sentences for the two murder convictions, and nine years of incarceration for the remaining offenses.[2] The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed Petitioner's convictions and sentence on direct appeal. See Cabrera v. State, 747 A.2d 543 (Del. 2000), overruled on other grounds by Brooks v. State, 40 A.3d 346 (Del. 2012) (establishing new rule for accomplice liability jury instructions).

On March 17, 2003, Petitioner filed a motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Delaware Superior Court Criminal Rule 61 ("Rule 61 motion"), which the Superior Court denied in October 2003. Petitioner appealed, and the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court's decision on April 26, 2004. See Cabrera v. State, 856 A.2d 1066 (Table), 2004 WL 906552 (Del. Apr. 26, 2004). Petitioner filed a second Rule 61 motion in December 2005. In the second Rule 61 motion, Petitioner argued that the Delaware Supreme Court's reinterpretaion or clarification of Delaware's felony murder statute in Williams v. State, 818 A.2d 906 (Del. 2003), superseded by statute as stated in Comer v. State, 977 A.2d 334 (Del. 2009), made retroactively applicable in Chao v. State, 931 A.3d 1000 (Del. 2007) ( "Chao II" ), required that Petitioner's conviction for felony murder be vacated because there was no proof that the murder was committed "in furtherance of' the underlying burglary. After receiving the State's response, the Superior Court appointed counsel to represent Petitioner in the post-conviction proceedings. On August 22, 2008, the Superior Court granted Petitioner's Rule 61 motion and vacated his conviction for felony murder on the basis that the Delaware Supreme Court's decision in Chao II permitted Williams to be applied retroactively. See State v. Cabrera, 2008 WL 4868762 (Del. Super. Ct. Aug. 22, 2008). Petitioner's convictions and sentences for first degree intentional murder, first degree conspiracy, and first degree burglary remained as previously imposed. See id. at *4. Petitioner did not appeal the Superior Court's decision.

Acting pro se, Petitioner filed a third Rule 61 motion on December 29, 2008, which the Superior Court summarily denied on May 13, 2010. (D.I. 13, Del. Super. Ct. Crim. Dkt.) The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed that denial on August 19, 2010, explicitly holding that the claims raised in Petitioner's third Rule 61 motion were time-barred. See Cabrera v. State, 3 A.3d 1096 (Table), 2010 WL 3277556 (Del. Aug. 19, 2010).

Initially acting pro se, Petitioner filed the instant§ 2254 Petition in this Court in February 2011. (D.I. 2) His Petition asserts the following three interrelated ineffective assistance of counsel claims: (1) trial counsel was ineffective for failing to raise a legal challenge to the felony murder charge, because such a challenge would have been successful; (2) in the absence of the felony murder charge counsel would have had no strategic rationale for not requesting a jury instruction on second degree murder, the lesser included offense of first degree intentional murder; and (3) appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the felony murder conviction and the trial court's failure to charge the jury on second degree murder. (D.I. 20) The State filed an Answer, asserting that the Petition should be dismissed as time-barred. (D.I. 11) Petitioner then filed a Motion to Appoint A Federal Public Defender, which was granted. (D.I. 14; D.I. 15) Appointed counsel filed a Reply to the State's Answer, asserting various arguments as to why the Court should conclude that the Petition is not time-barred. (D.I. 20)

III. THE ONE YEAR STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") was signed into law by the President on April 23, 1996. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(I). AEDPA prescribes a one-year period of limitations for the filing of habeas petitions by state prisoners, which begins to run from the latest of:

(A) the date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review;
(B) the date on which the impediment to filing an application created by State action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed, if the applicant ...

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