Williams v. Phelps et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Gregory M. Sleet on 3/12/14. (mdb)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE
DAVID L. WILLIAMS,
) Civil Action No. 11-196-GMS
DAVID PIERCE, Warden, and
ATTORNEY GENERAL OF
THE STATE OF DELAWARE,
David L. Williams. Pro se petitioner.
Elizabeth R. McFarlan, Deputy Attorney General, Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington,
Delaware. Counsel for Respondents.
_+--'H...........:~'-----=-I_2-._ _, 2014
the court is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
2254 filed by petitioner David L. Williams ("Williams"). (D'!.3) For the reasons discussed, the
court will deny the petition.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
In June 2008, Williams was indicted on the following charges: (1) possession with intent
to deliver a narcotic schedule I controlled substance (heroin); (2) distribution of a controlled
substance (heroin) within 300 feet of a park, recreation area or place of worship; (3) possession
of a controlled substance (heroin) within 1000 feet of a school; and (4) loitering. See State v.
Williams, 2010 WL 2396973, at *1 (Del. Super. Ct. May 28,2010). On August 27,2008,
petitioner filed a motion to suppress heroin that had been found on or near him during a police
search of his person, contending that police officers had no reasonable suspicion to stop him and
that the officers' patdown search was unjustified. (D.!. 18, State's Resp. to Rule 26(c) Brief, in
Williams v. State, No. 147,2009) The Superior Court denied the motion on October 10,2008,
and a stipulated bench trial was held on October 23,2008. In exchange for agreeing to a
stipulated bench trial, the State nolle prossed the charges of possession with intent to distribute
heroin and possession of heroin within 1000 feet of a school. After hearing the evidence, the
Superior Court found Williams guilty of distribution of heroin within 300 feet of a park, but
acquitted him of loitering. Id. On March 6, 2009, the Superior Court sentenced Williams as an
habitual offender to ten years at Level V incarceration. !d. The Delaware Supreme Court
affirmed Williams' conviction and sentence on direct appeal. See Williams v. State, 981 A.2d
1174 (Table), 2009 WL 2959644 (Del. Sept. 16,2009).
In December 2009, Williams filed a pro se motion for post -conviction relief pursuant to
Delaware Superior Court Criminal Rule 61 ("Rule 61 motion"), alleging two grounds for relief:
(I) illegal search and seizure; and (2) defense counsel provided ineffective assistance. See
Williams v. State, 2010 WL 2396973 (Del. Super. Ct. May 28,2010). After briefing, the
Superior Court denied ground one as procedurally barred by Rule 61 (i)(4) and ground two as
meritless. [d. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed that decision on post-conviction appeal.
See Williams v. State, 12 A.3d 1155 (Table), 2011 WL 252948 (Del. Jan. 26, 2011).
Williams timely filed a petition for federal habeas relief. (D.1. 3) The State filed an
answer in opposition. (D.I. 16)
II. GOVERNING LEGAL PRINCIPLES
A. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
Congress enacted the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of ] 996 ("AEDP A")
"to reduce delays in the execution of state and federal criminal sentences ... and to further the
principles of comity, finality, and federalism." Woodford v. Garceau, 538 U.S. 202, 206
(2003)(internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Pursuant to AEDPA, a federal court may
consider a habeas petition filed by a state prisoner only "on the ground that he is in custody in
violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.c. § 2254(a).
AEDP A imposes procedural requirements and standards for analyzing the merits of a habeas
petition in order to "prevent federal habeas 'retrials' and to ensure that state-court convictions are
given effect to the extent possible under law." Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693 (2002); see
Woodford, 538 U.S. at 206.
B. Standard of Review Under AEDPA
If a federal court determines that a claim is not procedurally defaulted and the state court
adjudicated the federal claim on the merits, the court can only grant habeas relief if the state
court's adjudication ofthe claim:
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of,
clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States;
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in
light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.
28 U.S.c. § 2254(d)(1), (2); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362,412 (2000); Appel v. Horn, 250
F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2001). 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. Thomas v. Horn, 570 F.3d 105,
115 (3d Cir. 2009). When determining whether the Federal law is "clearly established," the
focus is on Supreme Court holdings, rather than dicta, that were clearly established at the time of
the pertinent state court decision. See Greene v. Palakovich, 606 F.3d 85 (3d 2010).
If a state's highest court 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).
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. 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254(d)(I) & (2); see also Williams, 529 U.S. at 412.
A claim has been "adjudicated on the merits" for the purposes of28 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. Thomas v. Horn, 570 F.3d 105, 115 (3d Cir. 2009). The
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,
131 S.Ct. 770, 784-85 (2011).
Finally, when reviewing a habeas claim, a federal court must presume that the state
court's determinations of factual issues are correct. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). 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. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Campbell v. Vaughn, 209 F.3d
280,286 (3d Cir. 2000); Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 341 (2003)(stating that the clear
and convincing standard in § 2254(e)(1) applies to factual issues, whereas the unreasonable
application standard of § 2254(d)(2) applies to factual decisions).
Williams asserts two grounds for relief in his petition: (1) the police violated his Fourth
Amendment rights because they did not have a reasonable suspicion to stop him and pat him
down; and (2) counsel provided constitutionally ineffective assistance before and during the
suppression hearing. The State contends that claim one should be denied for failing to state a
claim reviewable on habeas review, and that claim two should be denied for failing to satisfy §
2254(d). The court will review the claims in seriatim.
A. Claim One: Fourth Amendment Violation
In claim one, Williams contends that the police improperly searched him and seized his
property in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, and that the Superior Court's denial of his
suppression motion was based on erroneous findings of fact. Specifically, Williams contends
that the police lacked reasonable suspicion to stop him, pat him down, and arrest him.
This claim is not cognizable on federal habeas review under the doctrine established in
Stone v. Powell, 428 U.S. 465, 494 (1976). In Stone, the Supreme Court held that a federal court
cannot provide habeas review ofa Fourth Amendment claim if the petitioner had a full and fair
opportunity to litigate the claim in the state courts. See also Wright v. West, 505 U.S. 277, 293
(1992). A petitioner is considered to have had a full and fair opportunity to litigate such claims
if the state has an available mechanism for suppressing evidence seized in or tainted by an illegal
search or seizure, irrespective of whether the petitioner actually availed himself of that
us. ex rei. Hickey v. Jejjes,
571 F.2d 762, 766 (3d Cir. 1980); Boyd v. Mintz,
631 F.2d 247,250 (3d Cir. 1980). Conversely, a petitioner has not had a full and fair opportunity
to litigate a Fourth Amendment claim, and therefore, avoids the Stone bar, if the state system
contains a structural defect that prevented the state court from fully and fairly hearing that Fourth
Amendment argument. Marshall v. Hendricks, 307 F.3d 36, 82 (3d Cir. 2002).
Here, Williams filed a pre-trial motion to suppress pursuant to Rule 41 of the Delaware
Superior Court Rules of Criminal Procedure, which was denied by the Superior Court after a
hearing. Williams filed a direct appeal challenging the Superior Court's denial of the
suppression motion, and the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision.
Williams then presented the instant Fourth Amendment claim in his Rule 61 motion, which the
Superior Court denied as procedurally barred. In tum, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed
that decision on post-conviction appeal.
The fact that Delaware provides these mechanisms for presenting Fourth Amendment
issues, and that Williams actually utilized these mechansims, demonstrates that Williams had a
"full and fair opportunity to litigate" his Fourth Amendment claim for federal habeas purposes.
The correctness of the state courts' resolution, or Williams' dissatisfaction with the resolution, is
irrelevant when determining if a defendant had a "full and fair opportunity to litigate" a Fourth
Amendment claim. See, e.g., ll4arshall, 307 F.3d at 82 (holding that "[a]n erroneous or summary
resolution by a state court of a Fourth Amendment claim does not overcome the [Stone] bar.");
Gilmore v. A1arks, 799 F.2d 51, 56 (3d Cir. 1986). Accordingly, the court will deny claim one as
barred by Stone.
B. Claim Two: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
In his second claim, Williams contends that defense counsel provided ineffective
assistance by failing to: (1) conduct any pretrial investigation ofthe evidentiary facts and enter
the surveillance video as evidence at the suppression hearing; I (2) include any case citations in
the suppression motion; and (3) subject the State's case to meaningful adversarial testing. The
Superior Court denied Williams' ineffective assistance of counsel claim as meritless, and the
Delaware Supreme Court affirmed that decision. Given the Delaware Supreme Court's
adjudication of claim two, the court can only grant habeas relief if the Delaware Supreme
IThe first ineffective assistance allegation contained in claim two of Williams' memorandum
asserts that counsel erred by failing to conduct any pretrial investigation and by failing to admit
the surveillance video. The fourth ineffective assistance allegation in claim two also complains
about counsel's failure to enter the surveillance video as evidence. Given this overlap of issues,
the court will review the arguments together.
Court's denial of the instant ineffective assistance of counsel claim was contrary to, or an
unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law.
The clearly established Supreme Court precedent governing ineffective assistance of
counsel claims is the two-pronged standard enunciated by Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S.
668 (1984) and its progeny. See Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510 (2003). Under the first
Strickland prong, a petitioner must demonstrate that "counsel's representation fell below an
objective standard of reasonableness," with reasonableness being judged under professional
norms prevailing at the time counsel rendered assistance. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688. Under the
second Strickland prong, a petitioner must demonstrate "there is a reasonable probability that,
but for counsel's error the result would have been differen1." Id. at 687-96. A reasonable
probability is a "probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Id. at 688.
In order to sustain an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, a petitioner must make
concrete allegations of actual prejudice and substantiate them or risk summary dismissal. See
Wells v. Petsock, 941 F.2d 253,259-60 (3d Cir. 1991); Dooley v. Petsock, 816 F.2d 885, 891-92
(3d Cir. 1987). Although not insurmountable, the Strickland standard is highly demanding and
leads to a "strong presumption that the representation was professionally reasonable."
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689.
Turning to the first prong of the § 2254(d)(1) inquiry, the court notes that the Delaware
Supreme Court specifically applied the Strickland standard in affirming the Superior Court's
decision. Therefore, the Delaware Supreme Court's decision was not contrary to clearly
established federal law. See Williams, 529 U.S. at 406 ("[A] run-of-the-mill state-court decision
applying the correct legal rule from [Supreme Court] cases to the facts of a prisoner's case [does]
not fit comfortably within § 22S4(d)(l)'s 'contrary to' clause").
The court's inquiry is not over, however, because it must also determine if the Delaware
Supreme Court reasonably applied the Strickland standard to the facts of Williams' case. When
performing this inquiry, the court must review the Delaware Supreme Court's decision with
respect to Williams' ineffective assistance of counsel claim through "doubly deferential" lens.
Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 788 (2011). In other words, "the question is not whether
counsel's actions were reasonable, [but rather], whether there is any reasonable argument that
counsel satisfied Strickland's deferential standard." Id.
1. Counsel's inadequate preparation and investigation of facts and failure to
admit the surveillance video
Williams contends that counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to familiarize
himself with the pertinent facts surrounding his case, and that counsel's unfamiliarity with the
case resulted in the following three errors. First, counsel failed to correct the judge's mistaken
belief that Williams was observed in a high crime area at night when, in fact, Williams was
arrested at 10 0' clock in the morning. Second, counsel failed to argue that Williams had a
legitimate reason for being in the high crime area where he was observed by police because
Williams actually lived in that area. And third, counsel should have entered the surveillance
video into evidence because the video would have discredited Officer Sowden's testimony that
Williams approached an automobile and engaged in a hand-to-hand drug transaction with the
driver. According to Williams, viewing these three errors "cumulatively" demonstrates that
counsel's inadequate preparation for the suppression hearing amounted to ineffective assistance.
It is well-settled that the police may stop and briefly detain an individual for investigative
purposes if they have a "reasonable suspicion" of criminal activity. See United States v. Arvizu,
534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002). Reasonable suspicion exists if the police have a particularized and
objective basis for suspecting legal wrongdoing, and a court determines the existence of
reasonable suspicion by considering the totality of the circumstances of each case. Id
When the Superior Court denied Williams' suppression motion, it explicitly held that,
"under the circumstances, there was certainly reasonable articulable suspicion to stop Mr.
Williams and to search him." (D.I. 8 at 16) On direct appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court
explicitly held that that the totality of the circumstances supported the Superior Court's
conclusion that the officers had a reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop Williams. In
reaching this conclusion, the Delaware Supreme Court described the evidence as consisting of
the following police observations: (1) Williams was in a high crime area with a known criminal;
(2) Williams stopped twice in a short period for brief transactions; (3) Williams engaged in a
hand-to-hand transaction with someone in a car on the street; (4) Williams and the car both
retreated quickly upon seeing the officers; and (5) Williams behaved suspiciously by walking
backwards and hiding his hands behind his back, out of the officers' view, as they approached
him. See Williams, 2009 WL 2959644, at *2.
Then, on post-conviction appeal, when rejecting Williams' first two specific complaints
about counsel's performance as set forth in claim two for lack of prejudice, the Delaware
Supreme Court explained that,
[e]ven if counsel had argued that Williams lived in the high crime area where he was
observed or had corrected the trial court's misstatement that Williams was observed at
night, we find no reasonable probability of a different ruling on the suppression motion.
The totality ofthe other evidence presented at the suppression hearing supported a
finding that the officers had reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop Williams.
Williams, 2011 WL 252948, at *1. With respect to Williams' complaint about counsel's failure
to admit the surveillance video, the Delaware Supreme Court again found that Williams did not
demonstrate any prejudice resulting from this action. Specifically, the Delaware Supreme Court
[b]oth the prosecutor and defense counsel had reviewed the surveillance video prior to
the hearing and determined that the videotape was taken from so far away as to offer
nothing of evidentiary value to contradict the testimony of the officer who conducted the
surveillance. Williams has not, and cannot, articulate any specific prejudice to him from
counsel's failure to submit the videotape to the Superior Court for review.
Id. at *2.
After reviewing Williams' instant complaint about counsel's actions within the context of
the aforementioned record and the applicable legal framework, the court concludes that
allegation one of claim two does not warrant habeas relief. Even if the court presumed
counsel's actions were the result of inadequate pre-trial investigation, Williams has failed to
demonstrate a reasonable probability that his suppression motion would have been successful if
counsel had acted in the way Williams believe he should have acted. Significantly, both the
Superior Court and Delaware Supreme Court clearly determined that the totality ofthe
circumstances amounted to reasonable suspicion to stop Williams. Viewing these decisions
through the doubly deferential lens applicable on habeas review, the court cannot conclude that
counsel's three alleged errors were prejudicial. As such, the Delaware Supreme Court
reasonably applied Strickland in denying the instant portion of claim two.
Legal cites in suppression motion
Williams' next argument is that counsel was ineffective because he did not include any
cites to cases involving the Fourth Amendment in the suppression motion. The Delaware
Supreme Court rejected this contention because "Williams has not, and cannot, cite to any case
law that would have changed the outcome of the Superior Court's ruling that the totality of the
specific circumstances in his case justified the officers' stop of Williams." Williams, 2011 WL
252948, at *2.
In this proceeding, Williams appears to contend that counsel should have cited the
Supreme Court case Arzivu in the suppression motion. However, Arzivu sets forth the very
"totality of circumstances" standard applied by the Superior Court and the Delaware Supreme
Court when they determined that the police had reasonable suspicion to stop him. Williams does
not provide any other case law he believes should have been included in the suppression motion.
Moreover, as explained by the State in its answering brief on post-conviction appeal, the absence
of legal cites in the suppression motion was "not outside the norm of practice. Typically, a
defendant files a motion to suppress in Superior Court, the State responds with proffer of the
expected evidence, and the Superior Court then holds an evidentiary hearing. After an
evidentiary hearing, if the Superior Court deems it appropriate, then the parties may file legal
memoranda more likely to contain legal citations." (D.1. 18, State's Ans. Br. in Williams v.
State, No.366,20 I 0, at 10) Given these circumstances, the court cannot conclude that the
Delaware Supreme Court unreasonably applied Strickland in holding that counsel's failure to
include legal cites in the suppression motion did not amount to constitutionally ineffective
assistance. Accordingly, the court will deny allegation two of the instant claim for failing to
satisfy § 2254(d).
Adversarial testing of the State's case during the suppression hearing
In his final allegation, Williams asserts that counsel failed to object to police testimony
that Williams had been observed walking with an individual named Craig Parker, and that both
Williams and Parker were known to police through prior contact. Williams contends that
counsel should have objected to this testimony as being pure speculation, because the police did
not stop the person with whom he was walking and confirm that individual's identity.
Additionally, Williams contends that he does not know anyone named Craig Parker and that his
walking companion on the day of surveillance was actually his little cousin. Finally, Williams
asserts that the police named Craig Parker as the other individual in order to support the
inference that Williams was "criminally affiliated" with other known criminals.
The Delaware Supreme Court denied the instant contention on post-conviction appeal as
factually baseless, because defense counsel did, in fact, object when the testifying officer
referred to Williams' and Parker's "prior police conduct." (D.I. 8 at 8) The court notes that the
transcript clearly reflects defense counsel's objection to the testimony, as well as the Superior
Court's overruling of that objection on the ground that prior criminal history and an accused's
associations are relevant factors when determining the presence of "reasonable suspicion." (D.I.
8 at 8)
Given this record, the court concludes that the Delaware Supreme Court's decision was
based on a reasonable determination of the facts and also involved a reasonable application of
Strickland. As such, the court will deny the last allegation three of claim two for failing to
satisfy § 2254( d).
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
court's assessment of the constitutional claims debatable or wrong." 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2);
Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473,484 (2000).
The court concludes that Williams' petition does not warrant federal habeas relief.
Reasonable jurists would not find this conclusion to be debatable. Consequently, the court
declines to issue a certificate of appealability.
For the reasons stated, Williams' petition for habeas relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254
is denied. An appropriate order shall issue.
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