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Cabrera v. Pierce

United States District Court, D. Delaware

August 13, 2014

LUIS CABRERA, Petitioner,


LEONARD P. STARK, District Judge.


Pending before the Court is Petitioner Luis Cabrera's ("Petitioner") Motion to Alter and Amend Judgment Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) regarding the dismissal of his time-barred Application for habeas relief. (D.I. 25) For the reasons discussed, the Court will deny the Motion for Reconsideration.


On May 29, 1998, a Delaware Superior Court jury convicted Petitioner of one count of felony murder, one count of 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. 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 reinterpretation or clarification of Delaware's felony murder statute in Williams v. State, 818 A.2d 906 (Del. 2003), superseded by statute as stated in Comer v. State, 977 A.2d 334 (Del. 2009), made retroactively applicable in Chao v. State, 931 A.3d 1000 (Del. 2007) ("Chao Ii") ,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. (Di 13, Del. Super. Ct. Crim. Dkt.) The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed that decision 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 ยง 2254 Petition in February 2011. (D.I. 2) The Petition asserted the following three interrelated ineffective assistance of counsel claims: (1) his trial attorney 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)

In a Memorandum Opinion and Order dated March 14, 2014, the Court determined that the limitations period in Petitioner's case did not begin to run until August 22, 2008, the date on which the Delaware Superior Court vacated Petitioner's felony murder conviction pursuant to Chao II. (D.I. 23 at 6-7) However, after rejecting Petitioner's arguments for equitable tolling, the Court denied the Petition as time-barred. (D.I. 23; D.I. 24) Petitioner filed the instant Rule 59(e) Motion, asserting two main arguments as to why the Court should have equitably tolled AEDPA's limitations period and have found the Petition timely filed. (D.I. 25) The State filed Response in opposition (D.I. 26), and Petitioner filed a Reply (D.I. 29).


A motion for reconsideration or to amend judgment, filed pursuant Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e), is "a device to relitigate the original issue decided by the district court, and [it is] used to allege legal error." United States v. Fiorelli, 337 F.3d 282, 288 (3d Cir. 2003). The moving party must show one of the following in order to prevail on a Rule 59(e) motion: (1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that was not available when the court issued its order; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent a manifest injustice. See Max's Seafood Cafe v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999). A motion for reconsideration should not be used to reargue issues that the Court has already considered and decided. See Brambles USA Inc. v. Blocker, 735 F.Supp. 1239, 1240 (D. Del. 1990).


Petitioner timely filed the instant Rule 59(e) Motion, contending that the "Court made clear errors of law and fact regarding equitable tolling in dismissing Petitioner's habeas corpus petition as time-barred." (D.I. 25 at 1-2) The Rule 59(e) Motion asserts two main arguments: (1) Petitioner's decision to challenge his felony murder conviction before proceeding in federal court was irrelevant to the issue of extraordinary circumstances; and (2) post-conviction counsel's abandonment and failures to include Petitioner's excluded claims in his second Rule 61 motion stood in the way of a timely filing and ...

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