United States District Court, D. Delaware
Brown. Pro se Petitioner.
Kathryn J. Garrison, Deputy Attorney General of the Delaware
Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware. Attorney for
25, 2019 Wilmington, Delaware conviction because that
sentence should have merged with Petitioner's sentence
for his drug dealing conviction. (D.I. 14-14 at 1-7) The case
was returned to the Delaware Supreme Court, which affirmed
the remainder of Petitioner's convictions and sentence on
June 17, 2015. See Brown v. State, 117A.3d568');">117A.3d568, 581
September 2015, Petitioner filed a motion for post-conviction
relief pursuant to Delaware Superior Court Criminal Rule 61
("Rule 61 motion"). (D.I. 11 at 3) The Superior
Court denied the Rule 61 motion on April 6, 2018. See
Brown, 2018 WL 1702888, at *10. The Delaware Supreme
Court affirmed that judgment on post-conviction appeal in
November 2018. See Brown v. State, 2018 WL 6181657,
at *4 (Del. Nov. 26, 2018).
GOVERNING LEGAL PRINCIPLES
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); Vicardv. Connor, 404 U.S. 270,
275 (1971). The 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." OSullivan, 526 U.S. at 844-45;
see 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. Bell v. Cone, 543 U.S. 447, 451 n.3
(2005); see also Castille v. Peoples, 489 U.S. 346,
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); league 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 show "that [the errors at trial] worked
to his actual and substantial disadvantage, infecting his
entire trial with error of constitutional dimensions."
Id. at 494.
a federal court may excuse a procedural default if the
petitioner demonstrates that failure to review the claim will
result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice. See
Edwards v. Carpenter, 529 U.S. 446, 451 (2000);
Wengerv. Frank, 266 F.3d 218, 224 (3d Or. 2001). A
petitioner demonstrates a miscarriage of justice by showing a
"constitutional violation has probably resulted in the
conviction of one who is actually innocent."
Murray, 477 at 496. Actual innocence means factual
innocence, not legal insufficiency. See Bousley v. United
States, 523 U.S. 614, 623 (1998). In order to establish
actual innocence, the petitioner must present new reliable
evidence - not presented at trial - that demonstrates
"it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror
would have found petitioner guilty beyond a reasonable
doubt." House v. Bell, 547 U.S. 518, 537-38
(2006); see also Swegerv. Chesney, 294 F.3d 506,
522-24 (3d Cir. 2002).
Standard of Review
state's highest court 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
also Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000);
Appelv. Horn, 250 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2001). A
claim has been "adjudicated on the merits" for the
purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) if the state court
decision finally resolves the claim on the basis of its
substance, rather than on a procedural or some other ground.
See Thomas v. Horn, 570 F.3d 105, 115 (3d Cir.
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."
Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 98 (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.
when reviewing a habeas claim, a federal court must presume
that the state court's determinations of factual issues
are correct. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). This
presumption of correctness applies both to explicit and
implicit findings of fact, and is only rebutted by clear and
convincing evidence to the contrary. See 2% 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 clear and convincing standard
in § 2254(e)(1) applies to factual issues, whereas
unreasonable application standard of § 2254(d)(2)
applies to factual decisions).