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Evans v. Dematteis

United States District Court, D. Delaware

September 30, 2019

BRYAN EVANS, Petitioner,
v.
CLAIRE DEMATTEIS, Commissioner, Delaware Department of Corrections, [1]DANA METZGER, Warden, [2] and and ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF DELAWARE, Respondents. ERIC HOWELL, Petitioner,
v.
CLAIRE DEMATTEIS, Commissioner, Delaware Department of Corrections, ROBERT MAY, Warden, KARAM MOSLEY, Petitioner,
v.
CLAIRE DEMA TIEIS, Commissioner, Delaware Department of Corrections, ROBERT MAY, Warden, and and ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF DELAWARE, Respondents. JAMES MOSES, Petitioner,
v.
CLAIRE DEMATTEIS, Commissioner, Delaware Department of Corrections, DANA METZGER, Warden, and and ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STA TE OF DELAWARE, Respondents. ANTOINE J. JONES, Petitioner,
v.
CLAIRE DEMATTEIS, Commissioner, Delaware Department of Corrections, DANA METZGER, Warden, and and ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF DELAWARE, Respondents.

          James B. O'Neill, Office of Defense Services for the State of Delaware, Wilmington, Delaware. Attorney for Petitioners Bryan Evans, Eric Howell, Karam Mosley, James Moses, and Antoine J. Jones.

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

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          STARK, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court are five separate but nearly-identical Applications For A Writ Of Habeas Corpus Pursuant To 28 U.S.C. § 2254 ('Petitions"). One Petition is filed by each of the following Petitioners: Bryan Evans ("Evans") (CA. No. 16-818 D.I. 2); Eric Howell ("Howell") (CA. No. 16-820); Karam Mosley ("Mosley") (CA. No. 16-823); James Moses ("Moses") (CA. No. 16-841); and Antoine J. Jones ("Jones") (CA. No. 16-849).

         Each of the Petitions raises the same two claims for relief arising from issues relating to an evidence scandal in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ("OCME").

         The State has filed an Answer in opposition to each Petition, to which each Petitioner has filed Replies.

         Having considered all of the briefing and other materials submitted, and having considered each Petition separately and individually, the Court will dismiss all of the Petitions and deny the relief requested.

         BACKGROUND

         A. Evans

         On December 12, 2012, Evans pled guilty to delivery of cocaine. The Superior Court immediately sentenced Evans to twenty-five years at Level V incarceration, suspended after three years for six months at Level IV, followed by eighteen months of Level III probation. Evans did not file a direct appeal.

         On March 18, 2013, Evans filed a motion for modification of sentence, which the Superior Court denied on April 9, 2013. Evans did not appeal that decision.

         On May 8, 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 Evans' behalf. The Superior Court denied the motion on December 3, 2014. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed that decision on October 12, 2015. See Aricidiacono v. State, 125 A.3d 677 (Del. 2015).

         On September 19, 2016, the OPD filed a § 2254 Petition on Evans' behalf, asserting that his lack of knowledge of the OCME evidence scandal 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). Evans 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 Evans' Petition should be dismissed as time-barred or, alternatively, because the Claims are meritless. Evans filed a Reply, arguing that his Petition is timely filed pursuant to § 2244(d)(1)(D), and that the Claims warrant habeas relief.

         B. Howell

         On February 4, 2014, pursuant to a consolidated plea agreement, Howell pled guilty to aggravated possession of heroin in a tier two quantity. That same day, the Superior Court sentenced Howell as a habitual offender to twelve years of Level V incarceration. He did not file a direct appeal.

         On April 28, 2014, Howell filed a motion to modify his sentence, which the Superior Court denied on May 5, 2014.

         On May 7, 2014, OPD filed a Rule 61 motion on Howell's behalf. The Superior Court denied the motion on December 3, 2014. See State v. Absher et al, 2014 WL 7010788 (Del. Super. Ct Dec. 3, 2014). The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed that decision on October 12, 2015. See Aricidiacono v. State, 125 A.3d 677 (Del. 2015).

         On September 19, 2016, the OPD filed a § 2254 Petition on Howell's behalf, asserting the same Claims as already described above with respect to Evans' Petition. The State Answered with the same arguments it made in connection with Evans' Petition, to which Howell replied.

         C. Mosley

         On January 6, 2014, Mosley pled guilty to drug dealing (heroin - tier 2) as a lesser included offense. That same day, the Superior Court sentenced Mosley to ten years at Level V, suspended after six months for eighteen months of Level III supervision. He did not file a direct appeal.

         On May 14, 2014, OPD filed a Rule 61 motion on Mosley's behalf. The Superior Court denied the motion on December 3, 2014. See State v. Absher et al, 2014 WL 7010788 (Del Super. Ct Dec. 3, 2014). The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed that decision on October 12, 2015. See Aricidiacono v. State, 125 A.3d 677 (Del. 2015).

         On September 19, 2016, the OPD filed a timely § 2254 Petition on Mosley's behalf, asserting the same Claims as already described above with respect to Evans' Petition. The State Answered with the same arguments it made in connection with Evans' Petition (although the State does not argue that Mosley's Petition was untimely), to which Mosley replied.

         D. Moses

         On October 8, 2013, Moses pled guilty to drug dealing. On December 12, 2013, the Superior Court sentenced Moses as a habitual offender to five years at Level V incarceration, followed by twelve months of Level III probation. He did not file a direct appeal.

         On April 30, 2014, OPD filed a Rule 61 motion on Moses' behalf. The Superior Court denied the motion on April 20, 2015, and denied his motion for reargument on June 17, 2015. See State v. Anderson et al, 2015 WL 2067158 (Del. Super. Ct. Apr. 20, 2015); State v. Banks, 2015 WL 4400130 (Del. Super. Ct. June 17, 2015). The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed that decision on December 9, 2015. See Banks v. State, 129 A.3d 881 (Table), 2015 WL 8481972 (Del. Dec. 9, 2015).

         On September 21, 2016, the OPD filed a § 2254 Petition on Moses' behalf, asserting the same Claims as already described above with respect to Evans' Petition. The State Answered with the same arguments it made in connection with Evans' Petition, to which Moses replied.

         E. Jones

         On February 15, 2010, Jones pled guilty to delivery of cocaine. The Superior Court immediately sentenced Jones to fifteen years at Level V incarceration, suspended after eleven years for six months at Level IV, followed by one year of Level III probation. He did not file a direct appeal.

         On May 10, 2010, Jones filed a motion for modification of sentence, which the Superior Court denied on May 21, 2010. Petitioner filed a second motion for modification of sentence on March 24, 2014, which the Superior Court granted in part, on April 8, 2014, limited to correcting a typographic error in the sentencing order.

         On June 20, 2014, OPD filed a Rule 61 motion on Jones' behalf. The Superior Court denied die motion on April 20, 2015, and denied his motion for reargument on June 17, 2015. See State v. Anderson et al, 2015 WL 2067158 (Del. Super. Ct. Apr. 20, 2015); State v. Banks, 2015 WL 4400130 (Del. Super. Ct. June 17, 2015). The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed that decision December 9, 2015. See Banks v. State, 129 A.3d 881 (Table), 2015 WL 8481972 (Del. Dec. 9, 2015).

         On September 21, 2016, the OPD filed a § 2254 Petition on Jones' behalf, asserting the same Claims as already described above with respect to Evans' Petition. The State Answered with the same arguments it made in connection with Evans' Petition, to which Jones replied.

         F. 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 die 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).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When a state's highest court has 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). 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. 2009). 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. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) & (2); see also Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000); Appel v. Horn, 250 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2001). This 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;" as recently 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." Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 98-100 (2011).

         Finally, a federal court must presume that the state court's determinations of factual issues are correct. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); see also Appel, 250 F.3d at 210. This presumption of correctness applies to both explicit and implicit findings of fact, and is only rebutted by clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); see also 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).

         THE PETITIONS ARE NOT TIME-BARRED

         The State contends that all of the Petitions other man Mosley's are time-barred.[4] The Court disagrees.

         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 prisoners, which begins to run from the latest of:

(A) the date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the rime for seeking such review;
(B) the date on which the impediment to filing an application created by State action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed, if the applicant was prevented from filing by such State action;
(C) the date on which the constitutional right asserted was initially recognized by the Supreme Court, if the right has been newly recognized by the Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review; or
(D) the date on which the factual predicate of the claim or claims presented could have been discovered through the ...

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