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Williams v. Dematteis

United States District Court, D. Delaware

September 9, 2019

RONALDO WILLIAMS, 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. Counsel for Respondents.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [2]

          Connolly, 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 Ronaldo Williams ("Petitioner"). (D.I. 2) The State filed an Answer in opposition, (D.I. 11), and Petitioner filed a Reply (D.I. 15). For the following reasons, the Court will deny the petition as barred by the one-year limitations period prescribed in 28 U.S.C. § 2244.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On October 16, 2012, Petitioner pled guilty to drug dealing (heroin) with the aggravating factor of having been within 300 feet of a park. (D.I. 11 at 1) On April 26, 2013 Superior Court sentenced Petitioner as a habitual offender to nine years of Level V imprisonment. (D.I. 11 at 1-2) Petitioner did not file a direct appeal.

         On May 17, 2013, Petitioner filed a motion to receive credit for time previously served, which the Superior Court denied on June 24, 2103. Petitioner filed a motion to correct his sentence on June 25, 2013, which the Superior Court denied on July 8, 2013. Petitioner did not appeal these decisions. (D.I. 11 at 2)

         Petitioner filed a motion for sentence modification on August 27, 2014, which the Superior Court granted on September 27, 2014, thereby prompting the issuance of a modified sentence order on September 18, 2014. The modified sentence permitted Petitioner to participate in inpatient treatment while incarcerated. (D.I. 11 at 2 n.4)

         On March 11, 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), which the Superior Court denied on July 27, 2015. (D.I. 11 at 2) The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed that decision on December 14, 2015. See Williams v. State, 129 A.3d 883 (Table), 2015 WL 8979037 (Del. Dec. 14, 2015).

         On September 23, 2016, the OPD filed a federal habeas Petition on Petitioner's behalf, asserting the following two grounds for relief: (1) the Delaware Supreme Court unreasonably applied Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742, 748 (1970) when denying Petitioner's due process argument that his guilty plea was involuntary; and (2) the Delaware Supreme Court made unreasonable findings of fact regarding the misconduct at the Delaware Office of the Medical Examiner ("OCME"). (D.I. 7) The State filed an Answer asserting that the Petition should be denied as time-barred or, alternatively, because the claims are meritless. (D.I. 11) Petitioner filed a Reply arguing that the Petition should be deemed timely filed through the application of equitable tolling and that the claims warrant relief under § 2254(d)(1) and (2). (D.I. 15 at 7-17)

         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 tabbing" (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 ...

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