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Yelardy v. Pierce

United States District Court, D. Delaware

March 31, 2014


Stanley Yelardy. Pro se petitioner.

Gregory Smith, Deputy Attorney General, Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for respondents.


GREGORY M. SLEET, Chief District Judge.

Pending before the court is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 filed by petitioner Stanley Yelardy ("Yelardy"). (D.I. 3; D.I. 18) For the reasons discussed, the court will deny the petition.


As summarized by the Delaware Supreme Court, the facts leading to Yelardy's arrest and conviction are as follows:

On March 12, 2003, at approximately 10:30 a.m., a black man wearing gloves, a stocking mask, and dark clothing entered the Delaware National Bank at 281 East Main Street in Newark brandishing a handgun and demanding money. An employee of the bank slipped a dye pack into the money bag before giving it to the robber. The robber fled the bank. A car filled with red smoke came "flying" out of the bank parking lot and crashed into another car. A black man wearing dark clothing and carrying a black bag ran from the car. An off-duty police officer pursued the robber, but did not catch him. However, within minutes of the robbery, [1 Yelardy was taken into custody by Newark police officers. Yelardy was found siting on the steps of a business located at 319 East Main Street and was in possession of a handgun. At the police station, Yelardy confessed to the robbery.

Yelardy v. State, 945 A.2d 595 (Table), 2008 WL 450215 (Del. Mar. 12, 2008).

In April 2003, Yelardy was indicted on four counts of first degree robbery, four counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, and one count each of wearing a disguise during the commission of a felony, receiving stolen property, and second degree reckless endangering. (D.I. 29 at 1) Prior to the start of his jury trial in August 2004, Yelardy elected to discharge his counsel and proceed pro se. The jury found Yelardy guilty on all counts and, in January 2005, the Superior Court sentenced Yelardy as an habitual offender to one hundred and sixty years in prison. Id. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed Yelardy's convictions and sentence on direct appeal. Yelardy v. State, 2008 WL 450215 (Del. Mar. 12, 2008).

In April 2009, Yelardy filed a motion for post-conviction relief under Delaware Superior Court Criminal Rule 61 ("Rule 61 motion"). See Yelardy v. State, 12 A.3d 1155 (Table), 2011 WL 378906 (Del. Feb. 14, 2011). The Superior Court denied the Rule 61 motion after determining that Yelardy's claims were without merit or otherwise procedurally barred under Delaware Superior Court Criminal Rule 61(i)(3) and (4). The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed that decision. Id.


A. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996

Congress enacted the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") "to reduce delays in the execution of state and federal criminal sentences... and to further the principles of comity, finality, and federalism." Woodford v. Garceau, 538 U.S. 202, 206 (2003). Pursuant to AEDPA, 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). AEDPA imposes procedural requirements and standards for analyzing the merits of a habeas petition in order to "prevent federal habeas retrials' and to ensure that state-court convictions are given effect to the extent possible under law." Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693 (2002).

B. Standard of Review

When a state's highest court has 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).[2] 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 (2000); Appel v. Horn, 250 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2001). This deferential standard of § 2254(d) applies even "when a state court's order is unaccompanied by an opinion explaining the reasons relief has been denied." Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 784-85 (2011). As recently explained by the Supreme Court, "it may be presumed that the state court adjudicated the claim on the merits in the absence of any indication or state-law procedural principles to the contrary." Id.

Finally, when reviewing a habeas claim under § 2254(d), a federal court must presume that the state court's determinations of factual issues are correct. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Appel, 250 F.3d at 210. This presumption of correctness applies to both explicit and implicit findings of fact, and is only rebutted by clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Campbell v. Vaughn, 209 F.3d 280, 286 (3d Cir. 2000); Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 341(2003)(stating that the clear and convincing standard in § 2254(e)(1) applies to factual issues, whereas the unreasonable application standard of § 2254(d)(2) applies to factual decisions).


Yelardy's petition asserts the following eleven grounds for relief: (1) the police officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights by arresting him without probable cause; (2) his Fifth Amendments rights were violated when the police questioned him prior to giving him Miranda warnings; (3) the trial court misinterpreted Delaware Rule of Evidence 609; (4) Officer Gates fabricated his in-court identification; (5) he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to counsel; (6) he was denied funds for an expert witness; (7) the jury selection process resulted in minorities being underrepresented on the jury; (8) transcripts were incomplete, edited, or withheld; (9) prosecutorial misconduct; (10) there was insufficient evidence to support the jury verdict; and (11) the indictment was invalid because the jury foreman's signature was forged.

A. Claim One: Fourth Amendment Rights Violated

In claim one, Yelardy contends that the police violated his Fourth Amendment rights by arresting him without probable cause. This claim does not provide a basis for habeas relief.

Pursuant to Stone v. Powell, 428 U.S. 465, 494 (1976), a federal habeas court cannot review a Fourth Amendment claim if the petitioner had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the claim in the state courts. Id. ; see also Wright v. West, 505 U.S. 277, 293 (1992). A petitioner is considered to have had a full and fair opportunity to litigate such claims if the state has an available mechanism for suppressing evidence seized in or tainted by an illegal search or seizure, irrespective of whether the petitioner actually availed himself of that mechanism. See U.S. ex rel. Hickey v. Jeffes, 571 F.2d 762, 766 (3d Cir. 1980); Boyd v. Mintz, 631 F.2d 247, 250 (3d Cir. 1980). Conversely, a petitioner has not had a full and fair opportunity to litigate a Fourth Amendment claim, and therefore, avoids the Stone bar, if the state system contains a structural defect that prevented the state court from fully and fairly hearing that Fourth Amendment argument. Marshall v. Hendricks, 307 F.3d 36, 82 (3d Cir. 2002). Whether or not a state court incorrectly decided a petitioner's Fourth Amendment claim is immaterial to the "full and fair opportunity" analysis. See Marshall, 307 F.3d at 82 ("an erroneous or summary resolution by a state court of a Fourth Amendment claim does not overcome the [ Stone ] bar.").

Delaware Superior Court Criminal Rule 41 provides a defendant with a mechanism for filing a pre-trial motion to suppress evidence and raise Fourth Amendment issues. In this case, Yelardy filed many pro se pre-trial motions, including a motion to suppress his statement to the police, but he did not file a suppression motion challenging the probable cause for his arrest. Although Yelardy contends that his failure to file such a suppression motion should be excused because was representing himself, Yelardy's pro se status does not demonstrate that Delaware's system contains a structural defect preventing the trial court from hearing and considering his Fourth Amendment argument. In other words, the fact that Yelardy could have presented the instant Fourth Amendment claim to the Superior Court under Delaware Rule 41 precludes habeas review of the claim. Accordingly, the court will deny claim one as barred by Stone.

B. Claim Two: Miranda Violation

In claim two, Yelardy contends that the Delaware Supreme Court erred in holding that the Newark police detective who took his confession did not violate his Fifth Amendment rights by asking several questions before informing Yelardy of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Yelardy presented this argument on direct appeal, and the Delaware Supreme Court denied it as meritless. Consequently, habeas relief will only be warranted if the Delaware Supreme Court's decision was contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law.

It is well-settled that "the prosecution may not use statements, whether exculpatory or inculpatory, stemming from custodial interrogation of the defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination." Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444. Pursuant to Miranda, law enforcement officers must warn a person in custody prior to questioning that he has a right to remain silent, that anything he says may be used against him as evidence, and that he has a right to counsel. Id. A court must engage in a two-step inquiry to determine whether a person was in custody for Miranda purposes:

[F]irst, what were the circumstances surrounding the interrogation; and second, given those circumstances, would a reasonable person have felt that he or she was not at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave. Once the scene is set and the players' lines and actions are reconstructed, the court must apply an objective test to resolve the ultimate inquiry: was there a formal arrest or restraint on freedom of movement of the degree associated with a formal arrest.

Thompson v. Keohane, 516 U.S. 99, 112 (1995). Three factors should be weighed when performing the second step of the custody inquiry: (1) the location of the questioning; (2) the information known by the officer concerning the suspect's culpability; and (3) whether the officer revealed his belief that the suspect was guilty. U.S. v. Jacobs, 431 F.3d 99, 105 (3d Cir. 2005).

The Supreme Court has clarified that "that the goals of the Miranda safeguards could be effectuated if those safeguards extended not only to express questioning, but also to its functional equivalent." Pennsylvania v. Muniz, 496 U.S. 582, 600 (1990). The functional equivalent of express questioning includes "any words or actions on the part of the police (other than those normally attendant to arrest and custody) that the police should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect." Id. at 601. However, questions that are asked "for record-keeping purposes" during a custodial interrogation constitute "routine booking questions" that fall outside Miranda's ambit. Muniz, 496 U.S. at 601-02. "[R]outine booking questions" are those that are asked to secure the "biographical data necessary to complete booking or pretrial services." Id.

On direct appeal, Yelardy argued that he was in custody for Miranda purposes because the detective's first contact with him was while he was in the holding cell. The detective asked Yelardy if he would speak with him, and Yelardy replied that he would, but that he did not want to incriminate himself. Yelardy was then taken to an interview room, and he contends that he answered twenty questions before he began to incriminate himself, at which time the detective read him his Miranda rights.

After reviewing the record and citing Miranda, Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291, 301 (1980), and Herring v. State, 911 A.2d 803 (Table), 2006 WL 3062899 (Del. 2006), the Delaware Supreme Court held that "neither the brief exchange between Yelardy and the detective in the holding cell, nor the detective's request for biographical data [in the interview room], was the functional equivalent of an interrogation. Rather, the record reflects that the detective interrogated Yelardy only after timely informing him of his Miranda rights, and that Yelardy chose to waive those rights." Yelardy, 2008 WL 450215, at *2.

To begin, the court notes that it does not entirely agree with the Delaware Supreme Court's conclusion that the detective's questions regarding Yelardy's biographical and pedigree information (i.e., name, address, and age) do not qualify as custodial interrogation "merely because the questions were not intended to elicit information for investigatory purposes." See Muniz, 496 U.S. at 601. The proper focus under Innis is the perspective of the suspect. Id.

Nevertheless, the court concludes that the Delaware Supreme Court's denial of Yelardy's Miranda claim was neither contrary to, nor an unreasonably application of, Miranda and its progeny. In this case, the Delaware Supreme Court made a factual determination that the questions asked by the detective prior to the Miranda warnings were requests for biographical data. The court defers to this determination because Yelardy has not presented any clear and convincing evidence to rebut it. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Miller v. Fenton, 474 U.S. 104, 114 (1985). In fact, during the suppression hearing, Yelardy actually admitted that the pre- Miranda questions pertained to his name, address, phone number, and his past criminal history (with respect to his familiarity with the process). (D.I. 18-1 at 80-82)

Having determined that the pre- Miranda questions were made "for record-keeping purposes only, " they "fall outside the protections of Miranda. " Muniz, 496 U.S. at 602. For all of these reasons, the court concludes that the Delaware state courts' rejection of Yelardy's Miranda claim was not contrary to, and did not involve an unreasonable ...

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