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Ortwein v. Dematteis

United States District Court, D. Delaware

September 30, 2019

CLAIRE DEMATTEIS, Commissioner, Delaware Department of Corrections, SHANE 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.

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



         Pending before the Court is an Application For A Writ Of Habeas Corpus Pursuant To 28 U.S.C. § 2254 ("Petition") filed by Petitioner Patrick Ortwein ("Petitioner"). (D.I. 2) The State filed an Answer in opposition (D.I. 11), to which Petitioner filed a Reply (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).


         On March 19, 2013, Petitioner pled guilty to two counts of drug dealing and a violation of probation. (D.I. 11 at 1) On that same day, the Superior Court sentenced Petitioner as a habitual offender to four years of Level V incarceration for the first drug dealing conviction, and on the second drug dealing conviction to ten years of Level V incarceration, suspended upon completion of the Key program for lesser levels of supervision. (D.I. 11 at 1-2) Petitioner did not file a direct appeal.

         On January 16, 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. The Superior Court summarily dismissed the Rule 61 motion on February 12, 2015. (D.I. 11 at 2) The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court's denial of Petitioner's Rule 61 motion on December 2, 2015. See Williams p. State, 129 A.3d 231 (Table), 2015 WL 7776322 pel. Dec. 2, 2015).

         On September 23, 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 her decision to plead guilty and, therefore, her 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 her post- conviction appeal regarding OCME misconduct. The State filed an Answer asserting that the Petition should be dismissed as rime-barred or, alternatively, because the claim is meritiess. (D.I. 11) Petitioner filed a Reply, conceding that the Petition was filed after the expiration of the statute of limitations period, but asserting that it should be deemed timely filed through the application of the doctrine of equitable tolling. (D.I. 15 at 7)


         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 die evidence they received for testing in order to achieve positive results and secure convictions. That is, there is no evidence that die 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 state ...

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