Dawkins v. Phelps et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION - Signed by Judge Gregory M. Sleet on 1/23/13. (rwc)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE
BRYAN L. DAWKINS,
PERRY PHELPS, Warden, and
ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE
STATE OF DELAWARE,
Civil Action No. 09-960-GMS
Bryan L. Dawkins. Pro se petitioner.
Gregory E. Smith, Deputy Attorney General, Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington,
Delaware. Counsel for respondents.
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Pending before the court is an application for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28
U.S. C. § 2254 ("petition") filed by petitioner Bryan L. Dawkins ("Dawkins"). (D.I. 2) For the
reasons discussed, the court will deny the petition as time-barred by the one-year limitations
period prescribed in 28 U.S.C. § 2244.
I. FACTUAL 1 ANDPROCEDURALBACKGROUND
The incident leading up to the charges against Dawkins began on October 21, 2002, when
Dawkins' ex-wife, Stacey, picked up her son, Myles, at the Boys and Girls Club in Wilmington,
Delaware, where he attended an after-school program. Stacey and Dawkins had lived separately
since June of2002. Dawkins was not Myles' biological father, but had legally adopted him in
1998 when he and Stacey were married. The Family Court had issued a protection from abuse
("PF A") order which, among other things, enjoined Dawkins from going to Myles' after-school
program at the Boys and Girls Club.
In violation ofthe PFA order, Dawkins parked his car close to the Boys and Girls Club
and, when Stacey went inside to get Myles, hid inside the trunk of her car. As Stacey drove
towards North Wilmington, Myles heard Dawkins in the trunk. Stacey stopped to let Dawkins
out of the trunk and he got into the car on the front passenger side. Stacey continued to drive
and, by the time they reached northbound U.S. Route 202, she and Dawkins were involved in a
heated argument. Other drivers on the road observed that the car was driving erratically, as
Dawkins attempted to take control of the steering wheel. The car finally ended up in a grass
The facts are quoted directly from Dawkins v. State, 884 A.2d 511 (Table), 2005 WL
2254197, at *1 (Del. 2005).
median between the north and southbound lanes of Route 202.
The argument between Dawkins and Stacey then turned even more violent. Dawkins
punched Stacey in the face and she ran out of the car, screaming for help. Rush hour traffic on
Route 202 came to a halt. As Dawkins caught up with Stacey, he stabbed her with a knife at
least six times. Most of the wounds were in her chest, but she also sustained cuts to her hands
and skull. One driver, who had stopped to help, returned to his vehicle when Dawkins displayed
a silver object, which the driver assumed to be a weapon. Another driver who witnessed the
incident identified the weapon as a knife. An off-duty Wilmington police officer chased
Dawkins to a wooded area in the vicinity of Augustine Cut-Off, an area close to Route 202,
where Dawkins managed to escape. Stacey struggled back to her car and collapsed. She later
died of multiple stab wounds. Her son, Myles, who remained in the car, witnessed the incident.
Drivers who came to his rescue testified that he was screaming hysterically. Delaware State
Police arrested Dawkins the next day.
On December 16, 2002, Dawkins was indicted on the following charges: two counts of
first degree murder; three counts of possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a
felony ("PDWDCF"); first degree kidnaping; endangering the welfare of a child; and third degree
assault. Prior to trial, the Superior Court granted Dawkins' motion to sever the charge of third
degree assault. In April 2004, a Delaware Superior Court jury convicted Dawkins of one count
of first degree murder, one count of PDWDCF, and endangering the welfare of a child. The jury
acquitted Dawkins on the remaining charges. On June 15, 2004, the Superior Court sentenced
Dawkins to natural life at Level V for the first degree murder conviction; twenty years at Level
V, suspended after four years, for the PDWDCF conviction; and one year at Level V for the
endangering the welfare of a child conviction. Dawkins appealed, and the Delaware Supreme
Court affirmed his convictions and sentences on September 15, 2005. See Dawkins, 2005 WL
On September 26, 2006, Dawkins filed his first motion for state post-conviction relief
pursuant to Delaware Superior Court Rule 61 ("Rule 61 motion"); the motion asserted eleven
grounds for relief, including numerous ineffective assistance of counsel allegations.
See State v. Dawkins, 2007 WL 959519, at *1 (Del. Super. Ct. Mar. 28, 2007). The Superior
Court denied the motion, and Dawkins appealed. The Delaware Supreme Court remanded the
case, calling for Dawkins' trial counsel to file a Rule 61 affidavit in response to the ineffective
assistance of counsel allegations, and for the Superior Court to decide whether a hearing was
desirable. See State v. Dawkins, 2008 WL 741487, at *2 (Del. Super. Ct. Mar. 19, 2008). After
reviewing defense counsel's Rule 61 affidavit, the Superior Court denied Dawkins' Rule 61
motion. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed that judgment on June 13,2008. Dawkins v.
State, 954 A.2d 910 (Table), 2008 WL 2404444 (Del. June 13, 2008).
Dawkins filed his second Rule 61 motion on September 18,2008. The Superior Court
denied the motion, and the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed that decision on April28, 2009.
Dawkins v. State, 972 A.2d 311 (Table), 2009 WL 1123969 (Del. Apr. 28, 2009).
Dawkins filed the instant habeas petition in December 2009, asserting the following ten
grounds for relief: (1) changing the venue from Sussex County to New Castle County violated
his due process rights; (2) the indictment was defective because the count charging him with
felony murder did not comply with the requirements established in Williams and Chao; (3) the
indictment was fraudulent; (4) the warrantless search and seizure of evidence violated Dawkins'
constitutional rights; (5) there was insufficient evidence of intent to commit first degree murder;
(6) the jury instruction regarding extreme emotional distress was improper; (7 & 9) there was
perjured testimony and prosecutorial misconduct relating to the testimony of Myles Dawkins; (8)
defense counsel provided ineffective assistance for numerous reasons; and (1 0) this court should
compel the "reversal" ofthe convictions Dawkins believes was already ordered by the Delaware
Supreme Court when it remanded his Rule 61 motion back to the Superior Court. The State filed
an answer, arguing that the petition should be dismissed as time-barred. (D.I. 14) Alternatively,
the State contends that claims one through seven, several allegations of claim eight, and claim
nine should be denied as procedurally barred; the other allegations in claim eight should be
denied for failing to satisfy the standards articulated in§ 2254(d)(1); and claim ten should be
denied for failing to present a cognizable issue for habeas review. !d.
A. One-Year Statute of Limitations
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDP A") was signed into
law by the President on April 23, 1996, and habeas petitions filed in federal courts after this date
must comply with the AEDPA's requirements. See generally Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320,
336 (1997). AEDPA prescribes a one-year period oflimitations 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 time 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 exercise of due diligence.
28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(l).
Dawkins' petition, filed in December 2009, is subject to the one-year limitations period
contained in§ 2244(d)(1). See Lindh, 521 U.S. at 336. Dawkins does not allege, and the court
cannot discern, any facts triggering the application of§ 2244(d)(l)(B), (C), or (D). Accordingly,
the one-year period of limitations began to run when Dawkins' convictions became final under
Pursuant to§ 2244(d)(l)(A), if a state prisoner appeals a state court judgment but does
not seek certiorari review, the judgment of conviction becomes final upon expiration of the
ninety-day time period allowed for seeking certiorari review. See Kapral v. United States, 166
F.3d 565, 575, 578 (3d Cir. 1999); Jones v. Morton, 195 F.3d 153, 158 (3d Cir. 1999). In this
case, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed Dawkins' convictions and sentences on September
15,2005, and denied his motion for rehearing en bane on October 14,2005. Following that
decision, Dawkins did not file a petition for a writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme
Court. Consequently, Dawkins' convictions became final for the purposes of§ 2244(d)(1) on
January 12, 2006. Accordingly, to comply with the one-year limitations period, Dawkins had to
file his§ 2254 petition by January 12, 2007. See Wilson v. Beard, 426 F.3d 653 (3d Cir.
2005)(holding that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 6(a), (e) applies to federal habeas petitions).
Dawkins did not file his habeas petition until December 14, 2009,2 almost two full years
after the expiration of AEDPA's statute of limitations. Thus, the petition is time-barred, unless
the limitations period can be statutorily or equitably tolled. See Holland v. Florida,_ U.S._,
130 S.Ct. 2549, 2560 (2010)(equitable tolling); 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2)(statutory tolling). The
court will discuss each doctrine in tum.
B. Statutory Tolling
Pursuant to § 2244(d)(2), a properly filed application for state collateral review tolls
AEDPA's limitations period during the time the application is pending in the state courts,
including any post-conviction appeals, provided that the application is filed during AEDPA's
one-year limitations period. Swartz v. Meyers, 204 F.3d 417, 424-25 (3d Cir. 2000). In this case,
Dawkins filed his first Rule 61 motion on September 26, 2006. The Superior Court denied the
Rule 61 motion, and the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed that decision on June 13, 2008.
Dawkins filed a motion for rehearing en bane, which the Delaware Supreme Court denied on
July 7, 2008. Consequently, Dawkins' first Rule 61 motion tolled the limitations clock from
September 26, 2006, through July 7, 2008.
When Dawkins filed his first Rule 61 motion on September 26, 2006, 252 days of
AEDP A's limitations period had already expired. The limitations clock started to run again on
July 8, 2008, and ran another 72 days without interruption until September 18 , 2008, the day on
which Dawkins filed his second Rule 61 motion. Dawkins' second Rule 61 motion tolled the
Pursuant to the prisoner mailbox rule, the court adopts the petition's postmark date
(December 14, 2009) as the filing date. See Longenette v. Krusing, 322 F.3d 758, 761 (3d Cir.
2003)(the date on which a prisoner transmitted documents to prison authorities for mailing is to
be considered the actual filing date).
limitations period until April28, 2009, the date on which the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed
the Superior Court's decision. The limitations clock started running on April29, 2009, and
continued to run the remaining 41 days without interruption until the limitations period expired
on June 8, 2009. Therefore, even with statutory tolling, Dawkins filed the petition approximately
six months too late. Accordingly, the petition must be dismissed as time-barred unless equitable
tolling is available.
C. Equitable Tolling
The one-year limitations period may be tolled for equitable reasons in rare circumstances
when the petitioner demonstrates "(1) that he has been pursuing his rights diligently, and (2)
some extraordinary circumstance stood in his way and prevented timely filing." Holland, 130
S.Ct. at 2562 (emphasis added). Equitable tolling is not available where the late filing is due to
the petitioner's excusable neglect. Id; Miller v. New Jersey State Dept. ofCorr., 145 F.3d 616,
618-19 (3d Cir. 1998). Consistent with these principles, the Third Circuit has explained that
equitable tolling of AEDPA's limitations period may be appropriate in the following
(I) where the defendant (or the court) actively misled the plaintiff;
(2) where the plaintiff was in some extraordinary way prevented from asserting his rights;
(3) where the plaintiff timely asserted his rights mistakenly in the wrong forum.
Jones, 195 F.3d at 159; Thomas v. Snyder, 2001 WL 1555239, at *3-4 (D. Del. Nov. 28, 2001).
Here, Dawkins does not allege, and the court cannot discern, that any extraordinary
circumstances prevented him from filing his habeas petition with this court in a timely manner.
Significantly, even though Dawkins filed two documents in response to the State's answer (D.I.
21; D .I. 23), neither of these filings address the statute of limitation issue raised by the State. To
the extent Dawkins simply miscalculated AEDPA's filing deadline, it is well settled that a
prisoner's ignorance of the law and lack of legal expertise does not excuse a prompt and timely
filing. See Jones v. Morton, 195 F.3d 153, 160 (3d Cir. 1999); Simpson v. Snyder, 2002 WL
1000094, at *3 (D. Del. May 14, 2002)(a petitioner's lack oflegal knowledge does not constitute
an extraordinary circumstance for equitable tolling purposes). Accordingly, the court will
dismiss the petition as time-barred. 3
III. PENDING MOTION
Dawkins filed a "motion to set aside state court's finding of facts" during the pendency of
this proceeding. (D.I. 23) He contends that the Delaware Superior Court's failure to conduct an
evidentiary hearing on the ineffective assistance of counsel allegations presented in his Rule 61
motion resulted in an unreasonable determination of facts for the purpose of federal habeas
review, and he asks this court to conduct its own evidentiary hearing. However, as just
discussed, the court has concluded that it must dismiss the instant petition as time-barred.
Accordingly, the court will deny as moot Dawkins' motion to set aside the state court's findings
IV. CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY
When a district court issues a final order denying a § 2254 petition, the court must also
decide whether to issue a certificate of appealability. See 3d Cir. L.A.R. 22.2 (2011). A
certificate of appealability is appropriate when a petitioner makes a "substantial showing of the
denial of a constitutional right" by demonstrating "that reasonable jurists would find the district
Having determined that the petition is time-barred, the court need not address the State's
alternative reason for denying the petition.
court's assessment of the constitutional claims debatable or wrong." 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2);
Slackv. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473,484 (2000). If a federal court denies a habeas petition on
procedural grounds without reaching the underlying constitutional claims, the court is not
required to issue a certificate of appealability unless the petitioner demonstrates that jurists of
reason would find it debatable: (1) whether the petition states a valid claim of the denial of a
constitutional right; and (2) whether the court was correct in its procedural ruling. !d.
The court has concluded that Dawkins' petition filed pursuant to 28 U.S. C. § 2254 is
time-barred. The court is persuaded that reasonable jurists would not find this conclusion to be
debatable. Therefore, the court will not issue a certificate of appealability.
For the reasons discussed, the court will deny Dawkins' petition for a writ of habeas
corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (D.I. 1.)
An appropriate order will be entered.
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