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Wright v. Pierce

United States District Court, D. Delaware

March 12, 2015

DAVID R. WRIGHT, Petitioner,

David R. Wright, Petitioner, Pro se.

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


Sue L. Robinson, District Judge.


Currently before the court is David R. Wright's (" petitioner" ) amended application for a writ of habeas corpus filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (" application" ). (D.I. 1; D.I. 12) For the reasons that follow, the court will deny petitioner's § 2254 application.


In December 2007, Robert Steck was the administrator of the Lewes/Rehoboth Beach Moose Lodge. Around 6 a.m. on December 31, 2007, Steck went to the Moose Lodge bar to gather cash and checks to make a bank deposit. Steck gathered approximately $5,000 in cash and $1,270 in checks, placed the money in a bag, set the building's alarm, locked the doors, and left the building. Once outside, Steck was approached by petitioner, who was wearing a ski mask and a hooded sweatshirt, and carrying a shotgun.

Petitioner brandished his shotgun at Steck and demanded that Steck drop his bag, but Steck refused. Petitioner then bludgeoned Steck with the shotgun, and Steck dropped the bag. Petitioner ordered Steck to unlock the door to the Lodge and go back inside. Petitioner followed Steck into the vestibule, ordered him to lie face down on the floor, and proceeded to duct tape Steck's hands and feet together. Petitioner rummaged through Steck's pockets and took his wallet, cell phone, and pocket knife. At that point, the building's audible alarm went off. Petitioner fled, locking the entry door behind him. The Delaware State Police responded within a few minutes of the alarm. By then, Steck had loosened his duct tape bonds and unlocked the door for the police. Shortly after the robbery, police recovered an abandoned white Dodge Caravan on Log Cabin Hill Road, approximately 1/10 of a mile from the Moose Lodge. At that time, police were unaware of the significance of the Caravan or of any connection to the robbery at the Moose Lodge. The van was towed and, during an inventory search, police found an identification card with petitioner's name and picture in the glove compartment.

On January 28, 2008, the Delaware State Police took petitioner into custody on an unrelated warrant. Prior to the arrest, petitioner had been living in his sister's second home without her knowledge. When petitioner left the home, he left behind personal property including two cell phones. Petitioner's sister collected these belongings, put them in her shed, and granted police access. On one cell phone, police found text messages sent to petitioner's girlfriend that appeared to reference the incident at the Moose Lodge. After reviewing prison phone calls from petitioner to his girlfriend, police recovered a damaged shotgun from under some brush on the side of Log Cabin Hill Road, where the white van had previously been found. A piece of wood found at the Moose Lodge following the robbery matched the damaged part of the shotgun.

The police arrested petitioner for the Moose Lodge robbery on February 20, 2008. Petitioner waived indictment. On March 31, 2008, petitioner was charged by information with: first degree robbery; possession of a firearm during the commission of felony (" PFDCF" ); second degree kidnapping; wearing a disguise during the commission of a felony; possession of a deadly weapon by a person prohibited (" PDWBPP" ); and third degree assault.

Trial began on November 10, 2008. Petitioner stipulated to being a person prohibited from possessing a deadly weapon, and the State entered a nolle prosequi on the third degree assault charge. At the close of the State's case, defense counsel moved for a judgment of acquittal on the kidnapping charge. The trial judge denied the motion. On November 14, 2008, a Superior Court jury found petitioner guilty of first degree robbery, PFDCF, second degree kidnapping, wearing a disguise during the commission of a felony, and PDWBPP. On January 14, 2009, the Superior Court sentenced petitioner to seventy-four years of imprisonment. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed petitioner's convictions and sentence on August 19, 2009. See Wright v. State, 980 A.2d 372 (Del. 2009).

Petitioner filed a motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Delaware Superior Court Criminal Rule 61 (" Rule 61 motion" ) on March 11, 2010, which the Superior Court summarily dismissed on March 17, 2010. See State v. Wright, 2010 WL 975577 (Del. Super. Mar. 17, 2010). Petitioner appealed, and the Delaware Supreme Court remanded the matter and ordered the Superior Court to make supplemental findings regarding the claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. On February 22, 2011, the Superior Court issued its supplemental findings, again denying petitioner's Rule 61 motion. See Wright v. State, 2011 WL 664124 (Del. Super. Feb. 22, 2011). The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed that judgment on May 23, 2011. See Wright v. State, 21 A.3d 598, 2011 WL 2020812 (Del. May 23, 2011).

Thereafter, petitioner filed a § 2254 application asserting three grounds for relief: (1) ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel; (2) illegal search and seizure of the cell phones in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments; and (3) the trial court violated petitioner's due process rights by ruling that the cell phones were abandoned and he, therefore, had no expectation of privacy. (D.I. 1) Petitioner then filed an amended application asserting the following three grounds for relief: (1) trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to conduct an adequate pre-trial investigation and by failing to file a timely motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the cell phone; (2) appellate counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to challenge trial court's ruling that the evidence obtained from the cell phone was admissible; and (3) the warrantless search and seizure of the evidence from petitioner's cell phone violated his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. (D.I. 12) The State filed an answer, asserting that the amended application should be denied in its entirety as time-barred or, alternatively, because the ineffective assistance of counsel claims do not warrant relief under § 2254(d)(1), and the Fourth Amendment claim fails to assert an argument cognizable on federal habeas review. (D.I. 18)


The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (" AEDPA" ) was signed into law by the President on April 23, 1996, and it prescribes a one-year period of limitations for the filing of habeas petitions by state prisoners. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1). The one-year limitations period 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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