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Wooten v. Dematteis

United States District Court, D. Delaware

September 5, 2019

EDSEL WOOTEN, Petitioner,
v.
CLAIRE DEMATTEIS, Commissioner, Delaware Department of Corrections, ROBERT MAY, Warden, 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.

          Brian L. Arban, Deputy Attorney General, Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware. Attorney for Respondents.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [2]

          NOREIKA, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (“Petition”) filed by Petitioner Edsel Wooten (“Petitioner”). (D.I. 2). The State filed an Answer in opposition, to which Petitioner filed a Reply. (D.I. 11; D.I. 17). 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

         A. Case Number 13020488

         On July 17, 2013 Petitioner pleaded guilty to one count of drug dealing. (D.I. 11 at 1). On that same day, the Superior Court sentenced Petitioner to ten years of Level V incarceration, suspended for eighteen months of Level III probation. (D.I. 11 at 1-2). Petitioner did not file a direct appeal.

         On January 15, 2015, Delaware's Office of Defense Services (“OPD”) filed a motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Delaware Superior Court Criminal Rule 61 (“Rule 61 motion”) on Petitioner's behalf, which the Superior Court dismissed on January 15, 2015. (D.I. 11 at 2). The Superior Court denied Petitioner's motion for reargument on February 12, 2015. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court's denial of Petitioner's Rule 61 motion on November 4, 2015. (D.I. 11 at 2).

         B. Case Number 1303025577

         On July 17, 2013, Petitioner pleaded guilty to one count of drug dealing. (D.I. 11 at 2). On that same day, the Superior Court sentenced Petitioner to fifteen years of Level V incarceration, suspended after two years for lower levels of supervision. Petitioner did not file a direct appeal. (D.I. 11 at 2).

         On January 15, 2015, the OPD filed a motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Delaware Superior Court Criminal Rule 61 (“Rule 61 motion”) on Petitioner's behalf, which the Superior Court dismissed on January 15, 2015. (D.I. 11 at 2-3). The Superior Court denied Petitioner's motion for reargument on February 12, 2015. (D.I. 11 at 3). The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court's denial of Petitioner's Rule 61 motion on November 4, 2015. (D.I. 11 at 3).

         C. Habeas Proceeding

         On September 23, 2016, the OPD filed a § 2254 Petition on Petitioner's behalf, challenging his convictions in both of the two consolidated cases. (D.I. 2). According to the Petition, 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. 11). 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. 17 at 7-9).

         D. 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 ...

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