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Eckstrom v. Dematteis

United States District Court, D. Delaware

September 30, 2019

DANIEL ECKSTROM, Petitioner,
v.
CLAIRE DEMATTEIS, Commissioner, DANA METZGER, Warden, and ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF DELAWARE, Respondents.[1]

          J. Brendan O'NeilL, Office of Defense Services for die 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

          STARK, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before die Court is an Application For A Writ Of Habeas Corpus Pursuant To 28 U.S.C. § 2254 ("Petition") filed by Petitioner Daniel Eckstrom ("Petitioner"). (D.I. 2) The State filed an Answer in opposition, to which Petitioner filed a Reply. (D.I. 9; D.I. 14) 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 May 3, 2010, Petitioner pled guilty to possession with intent to deliver marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. (D.I. 9 at 1) On that same day, the Superior Court sentenced Petitioner on the possession of drug paraphernalia conviction to a total of five years and ninety days of Level V incarceration, suspended after ninety days for eighteen months of Level III probation. (D.I. 9 at 2) Petitioner did not file a direct appeal.

         On December 14, 2010, Petitioner filed a motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Delaware Superior Court Criminal Rule 61 ("Rule 61 motion"), which the Superior Court dismissed on December 29, 2010. (D.I. 9 at 2)

         On June 20, 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 behalf of Petitioner, which the Superior Court summarily dismissed on January 15, 2015. (D.I. 9 at 2) The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed that decision on November 4, 2015. See Jones «. State, 2015 WL 6746873 (Del. Nov. 4, 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 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 postconviction 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 arguing that the Court should equitably toll the limitations period and deem the Petitioner timely filed. (D.I. 14 at 7)

         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. ...


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