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Wright v. Pierce

United States District Court, District of Delaware

May 22, 2014

DONALD WRIGHT, Petitioner,
v.
DAVID PIERCE, Warden, and JOSEPH R. BIDEN, III, Attorney General of the State of Delaware, Respondents.[1]

Donald Wright. Pro se petitioner.

Elizabeth R. McFarlan Deputy Attorney General, Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for respondents.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ROBINSON DISTRICT JUDGE

I. INTRODUCTION

Petitioner Donald Wright ("petitioner) has filed an application for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (D.I. 1) Petitioner is an inmate in custody at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Wilmington, Delaware. For the reasons that follow, the court will dismiss his application.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Petitioner sexually assaulted his minor step-daughter on numerous occasions between April 2006 and November 2007. See Wright v. State, 980 A.2d 1020 (Del. 2009). In May 2008, petitioner was indicted on thirty-six counts of first degree rape, one count of second degree rape, one count of first degree unlawful sexual contact, and one count of continuous sexual abuse of a child. (D.I. 11 at 1)

On the first scheduled day of trial, the State nolle prossed eighteen counts of the first degree rape charges. Id. At trial, petitioner denied engaging in vaginal intercourse with his minor step-daughter, but he admitted that he engaged in oral sex with her on four occasions, ejaculated on her stomach, touched her breasts, rubbed his penis on the outside of her vagina and placed his fingers inside her vagina. See Wright, 980 A.2d at 1022. A Superior Court jury convicted petitioner of eight counts of first degree rape, and one count each of second degree rape, first degree unlawful sexual contact, and continuous sexual abuse of a child; the jury, however, did not reach a unanimous verdict on the remaining ten counts of first degree rape. In February 2009, the Superior Court sentenced petitioner to a total of 151 years at Level V, suspended after 140 years for decreasing levels of supervision. Id. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed petitioner's convictions and sentence. See Wright, 980 A.2d at 1024.

In March 2010, petitioner filed a motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Delaware Superior Court Criminal Rule 61 ("Rule 61 motion") alleging ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel. (D.I. 11 at 2) The Superior Court denied the Rule 61 motion as meritless on July 22, 2010. (D.I. 13, Appellant's App. in Wright v. State, No. 507, 2010, at Exhibit B) The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed that decision. See Wright v. State, 12 A.3d 1155 (Table), 2011 WL 181470 (Del. Jan. 14, 2011).

Petitioner timely filed a § 2254 application in this court. (D.I. 1) The State filed an answer, arguing that the court should deny the application for failing to satisfy § 2254(d). (D.I. 11)

III. 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 (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 § 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 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." Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 784-85(2011).

Finally, when reviewing a habeas claim, a federal court must presume that the state court's determinations of factual issues are correct. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). 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 ยง ...


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