United States District Court, D. Delaware
Stevenson. Pro se petitioner.
Gregory E. Smith, Deputy Attorney General, Delaware
Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
before the Court is a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 ("Petition")
filed by Petitioner Lamott Stevenson
("Petitioner"). (D.I. 3; D.I. 13). The State filed
an Answer in opposition. (D.I, 19). For the reasons
discussed, the Court will deny the Petition.
forth by the Delaware Supreme Court in Petitioner's
post-conviction appeal the facts leading up to his arrest,
convictions, and sentences are as follows:
On December 15, 2011, [Petitioner] and two accomplices broke
into the home of a married couple to rob them. They beat the
husband with a crowbar and threatened the wife with a gun.
Eventually, the husband was able to get to his own gun and
fired some shots, which convinced the robbers to flee. The
police later tracked down [Petitioner] and arrested him.
The State charged [Petitioner] in a twenty-three count
The State offered [Petitioner] a single plea deal on three
occasions before his trial. The terms were that if
[Petitioner] agreed to plead guilty, identify his
co-conspirators, and testify truthfully against them, the
State would drop all but six of the counts against him. There
would then be a pre-sentence investigation and open
sentencing, and [Petitioner] would face between 14 and 117
years incarceration. [Petitioner] rejected the deal each time
it was offered.
Trial Counsel and the State knew that [Petitioner] had two
felony convictions in Delaware state court. But just before
trial, the State learned that [Petitioner] also pled guilty
in 2009 in federal district court to possession of a firearm
by a felon. Although the State had turned over
[Petitioner's] DELJIS criminal history report to Trial
Counsel during discovery, the DELJIS report did not include
the federal conviction. Trial Counsel did not learn of the
federal conviction until sometime during trial. The federal
conviction made [Petitioner] eligible for sentencing as an
habitual offender under 11 Del.C. § 4214(a).
The jury convicted [Petitioner] of two counts of robbery
first degree, burglary first degree, assault second degree,
conspiracy second degree, two counts of possession of a
firearm during the commission of a felony, three counts of
possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a
felony, and wearing a disguise during the commission of a
felony. Before sentencing, the State filed a petition to have
[Petitioner] declared an habitual offender, which the
Superior Court granted. The trial judge sentenced
[Petitioner] to an aggregate of 192 years incarceration.
Stevenson v. State, 132 A.3d 1 (Table), 2016 WL
258783, at* 1 (Del. Jan. 19, 2016). The Delaware Supreme
Court affirmed Petitioner's convictions and sentences on
direct appeal. See Stevenson, 2013 WL 6798899, at
April 2014, Petitioner filed in the Delaware Superior Court a
motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Delaware
Superior Court Criminal Rule 61 ("Rule 61 motion").
(D.I. 19 at 3).
February 2015, a Superior Court Commissioner recommended that
Petitioner's Rule 61 Motion be denied. See
Stevenson, 2016 WL 258783, at *2. The Superior Court
adopted the Commissioner's Report and Recommendation and
denied the Rule 61 Motion in May 2015, and the Delaware
Supreme Court affirmed that decision. See Stevenson,
2016 WL 258783, at *2, *4.
GOVERNING LEGAL PRINCIPLES
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of
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,
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
process; or (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 v. Cone, 543 U.S. 447, 451
n.3 (2005); Castille v. Peoples, 489 U.S. 346, 351
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). Federal 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
Standard of Review
state's highest court has adjudicated a federal habeas
claim on the merits,  the federal court must review the claim
under the deferential standard contained in 28 U.S.C. §
2254(d). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), federal habeas
relief may only be granted if the state court's decision
was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable
application of, clearly established federal law, as
determined by the Supreme Court of the United States,"
or the state court's decision was an unreasonable
determination of the facts based on the evidence adduced in
the trial. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) & (2); see
Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000); Appel
v. Horn, 250 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2001). The
deferential standard of § 2254(d) applies even when a
state court's order is unaccompanied by an opinion
explaining the reasons relief has been denied. See
Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 98-101 (2011). As
explained by the Supreme Court, "it may be presumed that
the state court adjudicated the claim on the merits in the
absence of any indication or state-law procedural principles
to the contrary." Id. at 99.
court decision is "contrary to" clearly established
federal law "if the state court arrives at a conclusion
opposite to that reached by [the Supreme Court] on a question
of law or if the state court decides a case differently than
[the Supreme Court] has on a set of materially
indistinguishable facts." Williams, 529 U.S. at
413. The mere failure to cite Supreme Court precedent does
not require a finding that the decision is contrary to
clearly established federal law. See Early v.
Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002). For instance, a decision
may comport with clearly established federal law even if the
decision does not demonstrate an awareness of relevant
Supreme Court cases, "so long as neither the reasoning
nor the result of the state-court decision contradicts
them." Id. In turn, an "unreasonable
application" of clearly established federal law occurs
when a state court "identifies the correct governing
legal principle from the Supreme Court's decisions but
unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of a
prisoner's case." Williams, 529 U.S. at
413; see also White v. Woodall, 572 U.S. 415, 426
when performing an inquiry under § 2254(d), a federal
court must presume that the state court's determinations
of factual issues are correct. See 28 U.S.C. §
2254(e)(1); Appel, 250 F.3d at 210. This presumption
of correctness applies to both explicit and implicit findings
of fact, and is only rebutted by clear and convincing
evidence to the contrary. See 28 U.S.C. §
2254(e)(1); Campbell v. Vaughn, 209 F.3d 280, 286
(3d Cir. 2000); Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322,
341 (2003) (stating that the clear and convincing standard in
§ 2254(e)(1) applies to factual issues, whereas the
unreasonable application standard of § 2254(d)(2)
applies to factual decisions).
timely filed habeas Petition alleges four grounds for relief:
(1) the State engaged in prosecutorial misconduct during its
rebuttal closing argument; (2) the Superior Court improperly
admitted the medical records of "Bryant Brown"
during Petitioner's criminal proceeding; (3) there was
insufficient evidence supporting Petitioner's conviction
for wearing a disguise during the commission of a felony
("WDDCF"); and (4) defense counsel provided
ineffective assistance by failing to discover
Petitioner's prior federal conviction that made him
eligible for habitual offender sentencing. The State filed an
Answer to the Petition, arguing that the Claims should be
dismissed as meritless ...