United States District Court, D. Delaware
RONALD L. EVANS, JR., Petitioner,
DAVID PIERCE, Warden, and JOSEPH R. BIDEN, III, Attorney General of the State of Delaware, Respondents.
Ronald L. Evans, Jr., Petitioner, Pro se.
For Respondents: Karen V. Sullivan. Deputy Attorney General, Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware.
Sue L. Robinson, District Judge.
Presently before the court is petitioner Ronald L. Evans, Jr.'s (" petitioner" ) application for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (D.I. 2) Petitioner is incarcerated at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Institution in Smyrna, Delaware. For the reasons that follow, the court will dismiss his application.
II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
On the morning of July 8, 2008, Sylvia E. Weeks telephoned petitioner to purchase $85.00 worth of crack cocaine. Petitioner told Weeks to meet him at 867 Paul Street, Lincoln Park, Dover to complete the drug transaction.
That same morning, Dover Police Officer Peter Martinek was on patrol in the city limits. Master Corporal Andrew Morris informed Officer Martinek that Weeks had an outstanding capias for her arrest and that she was in the alley of Paul Street next to a house on the corner. Corporal Morris suggested that Officer Martinek should approach the house from the south by using the alley connecting Lincoln Street to Paul Street, and Corporal Morris planned to approach the house from the north.
Officer Martinek arrived at the Paul Street location first and drove toward the house via the alley. He stopped approximately fifteen feet north of the house because he could not get by a white Monte Carlo automobile in the alley. Petitioner was standing next to the white vehicle, and Officer Martinek asked petitioner if his name was Weeks. Petitioner responded that he was not Weeks. At that point, Officer Martinek detected a strong odor of marijuana coming from the area of the white car where petitioner was standing.
When Corporal Morris subsequently arrived, Sylvia Weeks and Ernest Peterson were sitting on the west side of 867 Paul Street. Corporal Morris walked up the driveway, and petitioner yelled that the other police officer was calling him Mr. Weeks. Corporal Morris informed Officer Martinek that the man outside the car was petitioner. Officer Martinek then advised Corporal Morris that he smelled marijuana coming from the white Monte Carlo.
Jabrielle Gilbert, petitioner's girlfriend, was sitting in the front passenger seat of the Monte Carlo. Gilbert exited the automobile and stated that she had been smoking marijuana. A police search of Gilbert's purse revealed a clear plastic bag of crack cocaine, two more sandwich bags of marijuana, a marijuana blunt, a digital scale, and additional sandwich bags. Also inside Gilbert's purse was a counterfeit $20 bill and two room key cards for the Dover Budget Inn. Finally, the police found an open box of plastic sandwich bags located on the floor on the passenger side of the Monte Carlo.
The police arrested Sylvia Weeks on her outstanding warrant, and she was found in possession of $85 and a crack pipe. Weeks informed the police that her $85 was for the crack cocaine she had ordered from petitioner.
The police also arrested Gilbert and petitioner. Before being transported to the Dover Police Station, petitioner said he wanted his cell phone. Two of petitioner's phones were found next to a chair on the porch of the house, and a third phone was found in the driver's seat of the white Monte Carlo.
Field testing of the seized suspected contraband revealed 9.6 grams of cocaine, and a total of 5.4 grams of marijuana. Weeks said she telephoned petitioner at number 535-4069 to order the crack cocaine, and petitioner confirmed that this was his phone number. Petitioner was also in possession of $414.
At the police station, Gilbert claimed that the digital scale and all of the crack cocaine and marijuana belonged to her. Gilbert also said that Weeks called her on the phone to order drugs. Weeks contradicted Gilbert and told the police that she had contacted petitioner to purchase crack cocaine, and that petitioner had directed her to meet him at the Paul Street location. During her audio and video recorded interview, Weeks also informed the Dover Police that Gilbert is petitioner's girlfriend and that Gilbert sometimes accompanies petitioner to deliver crack cocaine.
When the police continued their investigation at the Dover Budget Inn, they discovered that the room key cards recovered from the white car and Gilbert's purse belonged to rooms 117 and 235. Since room 235 was vacant, the police only obtained a search warrant for room 117. During the search of room 117, the police located men's and women's clothing, a plastic bag of .8 grams of marijuana in a pair of women's jean shorts, three burnt marijuana blunts on the bed nightstand, and several plastic sandwich bags. Gilbert told police that the marijuana found in the room belonged to her, and she said petitioner had visited her at the room the night before. Police also found paperwork indicating that Gilbert worked at the Dover Budget Inn. Petitioner informed the Dover Police that he had not been to the Budget Inn for several months.
Following his July 8, 2008 arrest, petitioner was released on unsecured bond on the condition that he assist the police in other contraband drug investigations. As part of his bond release, petitioner was not to have contact with Gilbert, and he was required to wear an ankle bracelet to monitor his location. Petitioner violated these requirements by failing to assist the police and by cutting off his ankle bracelet. As a result, he was wanted by probation and parole.
During the week of August 17, 2008, a confidential informant advised Dover Police Detective Robbins that petitioner was selling crack cocaine from room 216 of the Dover Comfort Inn. On August 22, 2008, while the police were conducting surveillance of the Comfort Inn, they observed petitioner entering and leaving room 216 with a key card on two occasions. The police followed petitioner, but when they attempted to stop petitioner's vehicle, he continued driving for approximately another half mile while talking on a cell phone. When he finally stopped, the police took him into custody. A police search of the vehicle petitioner was operating revealed a clear baggie containing two rocks of suspected crack cocaine and four door key cards for the Comfort Inn. Petitioner said he was staying in room 242, but he did not mention room 216.
The police used one of the key cards found in his car to access room 216 of the Comfort Inn to prevent potential destruction of evidence. Inside room 216, the police found Gilbert sleeping, and saw, in plain view, partially smoked marijuana blunts on the end tables, as well as a clear plastic bag containing suspected marijuana. The police left and obtained a search warrant. During their search of room 216, the police recovered a bag containing suspected crack cocaine, a digital scale, and other plastic baggies. In a recorded police interview, petitioner admitted that the crack cocaine found in room 216 belonged to him.
In September 2008, petitioner was indicted on the following twelve offenses arising out of his first arrest in July 2008: possession with intent to deliver a narcotic schedule II controlled substance; two counts of possession of marijuana; two counts of possession of a controlled substance within 1000 feet of a school; distribution of a controlled substance within 300 feet of a park; second degree conspiracy; third degree conspiracy; two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia; maintaining a dwelling for keeping a controlled substance; and maintaining a vehicle for keeping a controlled substance. (D.I. 17 at 5-6)
In October 2008, petitioner was indicted on the following twelve offenses arising out of his second arrest in August 2008: trafficking cocaine (10-50 grams); two counts of possession with intent to deliver a narcotic schedule I controlled substance; maintaining a dwelling for keeping a controlled substance; maintaining a vehicle for keeping a controlled substance; noncompliance with condition of bond; second degree conspiracy; two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia; possession of marijuana; driving while license suspended or revoked; and driving after judgment prohibited. (D.I. 17 at 6)
On March 27, 2009, petitioner pled guilty to trafficking cocaine and three counts of possession with intent to deliver cocaine. (D.I. 17 at 6) In exchange for petitioner's guilty plea, the State nolle prossed petitioner's twenty other pending charges, and agreed to refrain from seeking an habitual offender sentence for petitioner. The Superior Court immediately sentenced petitioner that same day to a total of seventy years of Level V incarceration, suspended after twelve years for decreasing levels of probation supervision. Petitioner did not appeal his convictions or sentence. Id.
Thereafter, petitioner filed a series of motions challenging his sentence, including: a motion for correction of illegal sentence filed on April 1, 2009; a motion for correction of an illegal sentence and conviction filed on April 28, 2009; and a motion for modification of sentence filed on June 5, 2009. (D.I. 17 at 6-7) The Superior Court denied all three motions on July 23, 2009. Id. at 7. Petitioner filed a notice of appeal from that decision, but subsequently voluntarily dismissed the appeal. Id.
In April 2009, petitioner filed a motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Delaware Superior Court Criminal Rule 61 (" Rule 61 motion" ). Id. The Superior Court denied petitioner's Rule 61 motion in August 2010, and the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed that decision. See Evans v. State, 19 A.3d 301 (Table), 2011 WL 1758828, at *1-2 (Del. May 9, 2011). Thereafter, petitioner filed the following motions: (1) petition for a writ of habeas corpus, filed on May 23, 2011 and denied by the Superior Court on May 25, 2011; (2) motion for reargument of the denial of his petition for writ of habeas corpus, filed on June 1, 2011 and denied by the Superior Court on June 6, 2011; (3) motion for modification of sentence, filed on June 24, 2011, and denied by the Superior Court on July 8, 2011, with that decision affirmed by the Delaware Supreme Court on November 22, 2011. (D.I. 17 at 8-9); see also Evans v. State, 32 A.3d 988, 2011 WL 5866248 (Del. 2011). In April 2012, petitioner filed a motion for complete review of the sentence, which the Superior Court denied. (D.I. 17 at 9)
Petitioner timely filed a § 2254 application in this court. (D.I. 2) The State filed an answer in opposition (D.I. 17), asserting that the claims should be denied as procedurally barred and/or meritless.
III. GOVERNING LEGAL PRINCIPLES
A. Exhaustion and Procedural Default
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). One prerequisite to federal habeas review is that a petitioner must exhaust all remedies available in the state courts. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1). The exhaustion requirement is grounded on principles of comity to ensure that state courts have the initial opportunity to review federal constitutional challenges to state convictions. Werts v. Vaughn, 228 F.3d 178, 192 (3d Cir. 2000). A petitioner satisfies the exhaustion requirement by " fairly presenting" the substance of the federal habeas claim to the state's highest court, either on direct appeal or in a post-conviction proceeding, and in a procedural manner permitting the state courts to consider it on the merits. See Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364, 365, 115 S.Ct. 887, 130 L.Ed.2d 865 (1995); Castille v. Peoples, 489 U.S. 346, 351, 109 S.Ct. 1056, 103 L.Ed.2d 380 (1989).
A petitioner's failure to exhaust state remedies will be excused if state procedural rules preclude him from seeking further relief in state courts. Lines v. Larkins, 208 F.3d 153, 160 (3d Cir. 2000); see Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288, 297-98, 109 S.Ct. 1060, 103 L.Ed.2d 334 (1989). Although treated as technically exhausted, such claims are nonetheless procedurally defaulted. Lines, 208 F.3d at 160; Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750-51, 111 S.Ct. 2546, 115 L.Ed.2d 640 (1991). Similarly, if a petitioner presents a habeas claim to the state's highest court, but that court " clearly and expressly" refuses to review the merits of the claim due to an independent and adequate state ...