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Serpa v. Dematteis

United States District Court, D. Delaware

September 30, 2019

ANTONIO SERPA, 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. Attorney for Respondents.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          STARK, U.S. 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 Antonio Serpa ("Petitioner"). (D.I. 2) The State Sled an Answer in opposition, to which Petitioner filed a Reply. (D.I. 11; 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. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On October 18, 2011, Petitioner pled guilty to two counts of delivery of cocaine and one count of second degree conspiracy. (D.I. 11 at 2) That same day, the Superior Court sentenced Petitioner as a habitual offender to a total of thirty-one years of Level V incarceration, suspended after eighteen years for various levels of supervision. (D.I. 11 at 2) Petitioner did not file a direct appeal.

         On October 28, 2011, Petitioner filed a motion for modification of sentence, which the Superior Court denied on November 4, 2011, (D.I. 11 at 2)

         On December 11, 2012, Petitioner filed a motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Delaware Superior Court Criminal Rule 61 ("Rule 61 motion"), which the Superior Court denied on March 14, 2013. (D.I. 11 at 2) Petitioner appealed, and the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed that decision on July 30, 2013. See Serpa v. State, 72 A.3d 502 (Table), 2013 WL 3961198 (Del. July 30, 2013).

         On December 29, 2014, Delaware's Office of Defense Services ("OPD") filed a second 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 as untimely on January 15, 2015. (D.I. 11 at 2) The Superior Court also denied his motion for reargument on February 12, 2015. (Id.) The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court's denial of Petitioner's Rule 61 motion on November 4, 2015. See Jones v. State, 127 A.3d 397 (Table), 2015 WL 7776322 Del. 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 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. 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)

         A. OCME CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION

         The relevant information regarding the OCME evidence mishandling is set forth below:

In February 2014, die 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 die 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 die 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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