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Oney v. Dematteis

United States District Court, D. Delaware

September 5, 2019

HASAN ONEY, Petitioner,
CLAIRE DEMATTEIS, Commissioner, Delaware Department of Corrections, SHARE TROXLER, Bureau Chief, and ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF DELAWARE, Respondents.[1]

          J. Brendan O'Neill, Office of Defense Services for the State of Delaware, Wilmington, Delaware. Attorney for Petitioner.

          Kathryn J. Garrison, Deputy Attorney General, Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware. Attorney for Respondents. September 5, 2019 Wilmington, Delaware



         Pending before the Court is a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (“Petition”) filed by Petitioner Curtis Williams (“Petitioner”). (D.I. 2). The State filed an Answer in opposition, to which Petitioner filed a Reply. (D.I. 8; D.I. 12). For the reasons discussed, the Court will dismiss Petitioner's § 2254 Petition as time-barred by the one-year period of limitations prescribed in 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1).

         I. BACKGROUND

         On November 19, 2012, Petitioner pleaded guilty to drug dealing heroin in a tier 2 quantity (as the lesser included offense of drug dealing in a tier 4 quantity), possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (“PFDCF”), and endangering the welfare of a child. (D.I. 8 at 2). On that same day, the Superior Court sentenced Petitioner as follows: (1) for drug dealing, to fifteen years of Level V incarceration, suspended after one year for eighteen months of Level III probation; (2) for PFDCF, to three years at Level V; and (3) for endangering the welfare of a child, to one year at Level V, suspended for one year of Level III probation. (D.I. 8 at 2). Petitioner did not file a direct appeal.

         On May 5, 2014, Delaware's Office of Defense Services (“OPD”) filed a motion for postconviction relief pursuant to Delaware Superior Court Criminal Rule 61 (“Rule 61 motion”) on Petitioner's behalf, which the Superior Court dismissed on December 3, 2014. (D.I. 8 at 2). The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court's denial of Petitioner's Rule 61 motion on October 12, 2015. (D.I. 8 at 2).

         On September 19, 2016, the OPD filed a § 2254 Petition on Petitioner's behalf, asserting that Petitioner's lack of knowledge of an evidence scandal at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (“OCME”) was material to his decision to plead guilty and, therefore, his guilty plea was involuntary pursuant to Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742, 748 (1970). (D.I. 2). Petitioner also argues that the Delaware Supreme Court made unreasonable findings of fact during his post-conviction appeal regarding OCME misconduct. The State filed an Answer asserting that the Petition should be dismissed as time-barred or, alternatively, because the claim is meritless. (D.I. 8). Petitioner filed a Reply, asserting that the Petition should be deemed timely filed after applying § 2244(d)(1)(D) and the doctrine of equitable tolling. (D.I. 12 at 7-8).

         A. OCME Criminal Investigation

         The relevant information regarding the OCME evidence mishandling is set forth below:

In February 2014, the Delaware State Police (“DSP”) and the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) began an investigation into criminal misconduct occurring in the Controlled Substances Unit of the OCME.
The investigation revealed that some drug evidence sent to the OCME for testing had been stolen by OCME employees in some cases and was unaccounted for in other cases. Oversight of the lab had been lacking, and security procedures had not been followed. One employee was accused of “dry labbing” (or declaring a test result without actually conducting a test of the evidence) in several cases. Although the investigation remains ongoing, to date, three OCME employees have been suspended (two of those employees have been criminally indicted), and the Chief Medical Examiner has been fired.
There is no evidence to suggest that OCME employees tampered with drug evidence by adding known controlled substances to the evidence they received for testing in order to achieve positive results and secure convictions. That is, there is no evidence that the OCME staff “planted” evidence to wrongly obtain convictions. Rather, the employees who stole the evidence did so because it in fact consisted of illegal narcotics that they could resell or take for personal use.

Brown v. State, 108 A.3d 1201, 1204-05 (Del. 2015).


         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”) prescribes a one-year period of limitations for the filing of habeas petitions by ...

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