United States District Court, D. Delaware
Merritt. Pro se petitioner.
Gregory E. Smith, Deputy Attorney General, Delaware
Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for
before the court is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 and an amended petition
(hereinafter referred to as "petition") filed by
petitioner David Merritt ("Wynn"). (D.I. 2; D.I. 7;
D.I. 8; D.I. 25) The State filed an answer in opposition.
(D.I. 15) For the reasons discussed, the court will deny the
2010, a Delaware Superior Court jury convicted Merritt on
eight counts of first degree rape, one count of continuous
sexual abuse of a child, and two counts of first degree
unlawful sexual contact. See Merritt v. State, 12
A.3d 1154 (Table), 2011 WL 285097, at * 1-2 (Del. Jan. 27,
2011). The convictions stemmed from Merritt's sexual
abuse of his older daughter. He was sentenced to a total of
127 years of imprisonment. The Delaware Supreme Court
affirmed Merritt's convictions on direct appeal.
Id. at *4.
filed a Rule 61 motion in the Delaware Superior Court, which
the Superior Court denied. See State v. Merritt,
2012 WL 5944433 (Del. Super. Comm'r Nov. 20, 2012). The
Delaware Supreme Court affirmed that decision. See
Merritt v. State, 77 A.3d 272 (Table), 2013 WL 5432824
(Del. Sept. 24, 2013).
GOVERNING LEGAL PRINCIPLES
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
enacted the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of
1996 ("AEDPA") "to reduce delays in the
execution of state and federal criminal sentences . . . and
to further the principles of comity, finality, and
federalism." Woodford v. Garceau, 538 U.S. 202,
206 (2003). Pursuant to AEDPA, 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). AEDPA imposes procedural requirements and
standards for analyzing the merits of a habeas petition in
order to "prevent federal habeas 'retrials' and
to ensure that state-court convictions are given effect to
the extent possible under law." Bell v. Cone,
535 U.S. 685, 693 (2002).
Exhaustion and Procedural Default
exceptional circumstances, a federal court cannot grant
habeas relief unless the petitioner has exhausted all means
of available relief under state law. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254(b); O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S.
838, 842-44 (1999); Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270,
275 (1971). AEDPA states, in pertinent part:
An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a
person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court
shall not be granted unless it appears that -
(A) the applicant has exhausted the remedies available in the
courts of the State; or
(B)(i) there is an absence of available State corrective
(ii) circumstances exist that render such process ineffective
to protect the rights of the applicant.
28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1).
exhaustion requirement is based on principles of comity,
requiring a petitioner to give "state courts one full
opportunity to resolve any constitutional issues by invoking
one complete round of the State's established appellate
review process." O'Sullivan, 526 U.S. at
844-45; Werts v. Vaughn, 228 F.3d 178, 192 (3d Cir.
2000). A petitioner satisfies the exhaustion requirement by
demonstrating that the habeas claims were "fairly
presented" to the state's highest court, either on
direct appeal or in a post-conviction proceeding, in a
procedural manner permitting the court to consider the claims
on their merits. See Bell, 543 U.S. at 451 n.3;
Castille v. Peoples, 489 U.S. 346, 351 (1989).
petitioner's failure to exhaust state remedies will be
excused if state procedural rules preclude him from seeking
further relief in state courts. See 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. See 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).
courts may not consider 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. See
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 ...