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Bethard v. Dematteis

United States District Court, D. Delaware

September 19, 2019

MICHAEL BETHARD, Petitioner,
v.
CLAIRE DEMATTEIS, Commissioner, KOLAWOLE AKINBAYO, 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

          ANDREWS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court is an Application For A Writ Of Habeas Corpus Pursuant To 28 U.S.C. § 2254 ("Petition") filed by Petitioner Michael Bethard. (D.I. 2) The State filed an Answer in opposition, to which Petitioner filed a Reply. (D.I. 9; D.I. 15) 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 June 27, 2013, Petitioner pled guilty to, inter alia, drug dealing (as a lesser-included offense of aggravated possession) and a single count of endangering the welfare of a child. (D.I. 9 at 1-2) On that same day, the Superior Court sentenced Petitioner as follows: (1) for the drug dealing conviction, to fifteen years of Level V incarceration, suspended after successful completion of the Greentree Program for six months at Level IV, followed by a year at Level III probation; and (2) for the endangering conviction, to one year of Level V, suspended for a year of probation to run concurrently. (D.I. 9 at 2) Petitioner did not file a direct appeal.

         On September 6, 2013, Petitioner filed a motion for modification of sentence, which the Superior Court denied on September 27, 2013. He did not appeal that decision. (D.I. 9 at 2)

         On December 19, 2014, 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 April 20, 2015. (D.I. 9 at 2) The Superior Court denied his motion for reargument on June 17, 2015. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court's denial of Petitioner's Rule 61 motion on December 9,2015. (D.I. 9 at 2)

         On September 21, 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. 9) 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. 15 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).

         II. TIMELINESS

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


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