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Holland v. Pierce

United States District Court, D. Delaware

June 11, 2015

KENNETH L. HOLLAND, Petitioner,
v.
DAVID PIERCE, Warden, and ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF DELAWARE, Respondents.[1]

Kenneth L. Holland, Pro se petitioner.

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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

SUE L. ROBINSON, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Presently before the court is petitioner Kenneth L. Holland'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[2] AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In May 2006, probation officers conducted an administrative search of a trailer in petitioner's name, as well as the home of petitioner's mother, which was listed as his home address with his probation officer. The search of the properties uncovered drugs, weapons, paraphernalia, and ammunition. Police officers arrested petitioner on May 18, 2006, and he was subsequently indicted on two counts of a firearm during the commission of a felony ("PFDCF"), two counts of possession of a firearm by a person prohibited ("PFBPP"), three counts of possession of ammunition by a person prohibited ("PABPP"), two counts of maintaining a dwelling for keeping controlled substances, possession of cocaine within 300 feet of a church, possession of cocaine within 1000 feet of a school, two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia, trafficking in cocaine, possession with intent to deliver cocaine ("PWITD cocaine"), and second degree conspiracy. (D.I. 13 at 2)

Prior to trial, defense counsel filed a motion to suppress the evidence on the ground that the administrative searches were invalid. The Superior Court denied the suppression motion after a hearing.

Also prior to trial, petitioner's former girlfriend and codefendant, Yvonne Bradshaw, gave a recorded statement to police, in the presence of her attorney, detailing her and petitioner's involvement in the case. Thereafter, Bradshaw pled guilty to maintaining a dwelling and second degree conspiracy. As a condition of her sentence, Bradshaw agreed to testify truthfully against petitioner at his trial.

In November 2007, a Delaware Superior Court jury found petitioner guilty of trafficking in cocaine, PWITD cocaine, second degree conspiracy, maintaining a dwelling, and possession of drug paraphernalia. (D.I. 13 at 2) The Superior Court severed the PFBPP and PABPP before trial, and the State voluntarily dismissed these charges following petitioner's convictions. (D.I. 13 at 2 n.3) The State also voluntarily dismissed the charge of possession within 300 feet of a church, and the Superior Court granted petitioner's motion for judgment of acquittal on both counts of PFDCF. The jury acquitted petitioner of the following charges: possession within 1000 feet of a school, one count of possession of drug paraphernalia, and one count of maintaining a dwelling. Id. In March 2008, the Superior Court sentenced petitioner as a habitual offender to a total of nine years in prison.[3] Petitioner appealed, and the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed his convictions and sentence. See Holland v. State, 962 A.2d 917 (Table) 2008 WL 4918213 (Del. Nov. 18, 2008).

In March 2009, petitioner filed a motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Delaware Superior Court Criminal Rule 61 ("Rule 61 motion"). A Delaware Superior Court Commissioner issued a report and recommendation that the motion be denied, and the Superior Court adopted that recommendation and denied the motion. (D.I. 15. App. to State's Ans. Br. in Holland v. State , No. 510, 2010, at B-66 to B-80) After remanding the case back to the Superior Court, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court's judgment. See Holland, 2011 WL 5352960, at *2.

Petitioner timely filed a § 2254 application in this court. (D.I. 2) The State filed an answer in opposition (D.I. 13), 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 (1995); Castille v. Peoples, 489 U.S. 346, 351 (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 (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 (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 procedural rule, the claim is exhausted but procedurally defaulted. See Coleman, 501 U.S. at 750; Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 260-64 (1989).

A federal court cannot review the merits of procedurally defaulted claims unless the petitioner demonstrates either cause for the procedural default and actual prejudice resulting therefrom, or that a fundamental miscarriage of justice will result if the court does not review the claims. McCandless v. Vaughn, 172 F.3d 255, 260 (3d Cir. 1999); Coleman, 501 U.S. at 750-51. To demonstrate cause for a procedural default, a petitioner must show that "some objective factor external to the defense impeded counsel's efforts to comply with the State's procedural rule." Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 488 (1986). To demonstrate actual prejudice, a petitioner must show that the errors during his trial created more than a possibility of prejudice; he must show that the errors worked to his actual and substantial disadvantage, infecting his entire trial with error of constitutional dimensions." Id. at 494.

Alternatively, if a petitioner demonstrates that a "constitutional violation has probably resulted in the conviction of one who is actually innocent, " Murray, 477 U.S. at 496, then a federal court can excuse the procedural default and review the claim in order to prevent a fundamental miscarriage of justice. Edwards v. Carpenter, 529 U.S. 446, 451 (2000); Wenger v. Frank, 266 F.3d 218, 224 (3d Cir. 2001). The miscarriage of justice exception applies only in extraordinary cases, and actual innocence means factual innocence, not legal insufficiency. Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 623 (1998); Murray, 477 U.S. at 496. A petitioner establishes actual innocence by asserting "new reliable evidence - whether it be exculpatory scientific evidence, trustworthy eyewitness accounts, or critical physical ...


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