Mason v. James T. Vaughn Correctional Center et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Gregory M. Sleet on 6/6/14. (cla, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE
DAVID PIERCE, Warden, and
ATTORNEY GENERAL OF
THE STATE OF DELAWARE,
Civil Action No. 11-325-GMS
Marquis Mason. Pro se petitioner.
Maria Knoll, Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for respondents.
Warden David Pierce replaced Warden Perry Phelps, an original party to this case. See Fed. R.
Civ. P. 25(d).
Pending before the court is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254 filed by petitioner Marquis Mason ("Mason"). (D.I. 2) For the reasons discussed, the
court will deny the petition.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
As recounted by the Delaware Supreme Court, the facts leading to Mason's arrest and
conviction are as follows:
On October 31,2006, Marquis Mason shot and killed Parrish Johnson, in a
Wilmington parking lot, after a drug deal went bad. Johnson and a friend, Prentiss
Butcher, were in the front seat of Johnson's car. Mason, who was there to buy cocaine,
got into the back seat. Mason paid Johnson less than the agreed upon amount, and the
two started arguing. Johnson got out of the car and pulled Mason out of the back seat.
Johnson grabbed Mason, then put his hands in Mason's pockets trying to take back the
drugs and Mason's money. According to Mason, while they were scuffling, Johnson
asked Butcher to hand him "that," and Butcher bent down to get something from under
the driver's seat. Mason saw that it was a gun, so Mason "reacted fast" and shot Johnson
twice. After the shooting, Mason ran away.
One week later, the police took Mason into custody and interrogated him. Mason
gave almost no direct answers. Instead, he either said that he did not know what the
police officer was talking about, or that he knew he had a violation of probation.
Whenever Mason said that he was there because of a violation of probation, the police
officer corrected Mason and told him that he was being questioned about a murder. At
one point, Mason apparently succeeded in irritating the police officer, who said, "if you
mention VOP one more time we're walking out of here, right, you're done, do you
understand? You're not here for a VOP, you're here for Murder P\ do you understand
Mason v. State, 963 A.2d 124, 125 (Del. 2008).
Mason was charged with first degree murder, possession of a firearm during the
commission of a felony ("PFDCF"), and possession of a deadly weapon by a person prohibited
("PDWPP"). !d. During the trial, Mason testified that he shot Johnson in self-defense. !d. On
November 8, 2007, a Delaware Superior Court jury convicted Mason of manslaughter, PFDCF,
and PDWPP. !d. at 126. The Superior Court sentenced him to total of twenty-seven years in
prison, suspended after twenty-three years for probation. Mason appealed, and Delaware
Supreme Court affirmed his conviction. !d. at 127.
In June 2009, Mason filed a motion for post-conviction relief under Delaware Superior
Court Criminal Rule 61 ("Rule 61 motion"), which was denied on June 28,2010. (D.I. 1 at 1)
Mason filed a notice of appeal, and the Delaware Supreme Court dismissed the appeal as
untimely. See Mason v. State, 2010 WL 3603588 (Del. Sept. 15, 2010).
GOVERNING LEGAL PRINCIPLES
A. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
Congress enacted the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA")
"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).
Pursuant to AEDP A, 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). AEDPA 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).
B. Exhaustion and Procedural Default
Absent exceptional circumstances, a federal court cannot grant habeas relief unless the
petitioner has exhausted all means of available relief under state law. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b);
O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 842-44 (1999); Picardv. Connor, 404 U.S. 270,275
(1971). AEDPA states, in pertinent part:
An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to
the judgment of a State court shall not be granted unless it appears that(A) the applicant has exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State; or
(B)(i) there is an absence of available State corrective process; or
(ii) circumstances exist that render such process ineffective to protect the rights of the
28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1).
The exhaustion requirement is based on principles of comity, requiring a petitioner to
give "state courts one full opportunity to resolve any constitutional issues by invoking one
complete round ofthe State's established appellate review process." O'Sullivan, 526 U.S. at
844-45; Werts v. Vaughn, 228 F.3d 178, 192 (3d Cir. 2000). A petitioner satisfies the
exhaustion requirement by demonstrating that the habeas claims were "fairly presented" to the
state's highest court, either on direct appeal or in a post-conviction proceeding, in a procedural
manner permitting the court to consider the claims on their merits. Bell v. Cone, 543 U.S. 447,
451 n.3 (2005); Castille v. Peoples, 489 U.S. 346, 351 (1989).
A petitioner's failure to exhaust state remedies will be excused if state procedural rules
preclude him from seeking further relief in state courts. Lines v. Larkins, 208 F.3d 153, 160 (3d
Cir. 2000); see Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288, 297-98 (1989). Although treated as technically
exhausted, such claims are nonetheless procedurally defaulted. Lines, 208 F.3d at 160; Coleman
v. Thompson,501 U.S. 722,750-51 (1991). Similarly,ifapetitionerpresentsahabeasclaimto
the state's highest court, but that court "clearly and expressly" refuses to review the merits of the
claim due to an independent and adequate state procedural rule, the claim is exhausted but
procedurally defaulted. See Coleman, 501 U.S. at 750; Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 260-64
Federal courts may not consider the merits of procedurally defaulted claims unless the
petitioner demonstrates either cause for the procedural default and actual prejudice resulting
therefrom, or that a fundamental miscarriage of justice will result if the court does not review the
claims. McCandless v. Vaughn, 172 F.3d 255, 260 (3d Cir. 1999); Coleman, 501 U.S. at 75051. To demonstrate cause for a procedural default, a petitioner must show that "some objective
factor external to the defense impeded counsel's efforts to comply with the State's procedural
rule." Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478,488 (1986). To demonstrate actual prejudice, a
petitioner must show "that [the errors at trial] worked to his actual and substantial disadvantage,
infecting his entire trial with error of constitutional dimensions." ld at 494.
Alternatively, a federal court may excuse a procedural default if the petitioner
demonstrates that failure to review the claim will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice.
Edwards v. Carpenter, 529 U.S. 446,451 (2000); Wenger v. Frank, 266 F.3d 218,224 (3d Cir.
2001). A petitioner demonstrates a miscarriage of justice by showing a "constitutional violation
has probably resulted in the conviction of one who is actually innocent." Murray, 477 U.S. at
496. Actual innocence means factual innocence, not legal insufficiency. Bousley v. United
States, 523 U.S. 614, 623 (1998). In order to establish actual innocence, the petitioner must
present new reliable evidence- not presented at trial- that demonstrates "it is more likely than
not that no reasonable juror would have found petitioner guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."
House v. Bell, 547 U.S. 518,537-38 (2005); Sweger v. Chesney, 294 F.3d 506,522-24 (3d Cir.
Mason asserts two grounds for relief in his petition: 2 ( 1) defense counsel provided
constitutionally ineffective assistance; and (2) the Superior Court committed evidentiary errors
during the trial and exhibited prejudice during Mason's post-conviction proceeding. The State
contends that the court should deny the petition in its entirety because claim one is procedurally
barred and claim two asserts state law issues that are not cognizable on federal habeas review.
Claim One: Ineffective Assistance
Mason contends that defense counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to: (1)
present his theory of self-defense during the trial; (2) properly cross-examine his mother and two
other witnesses (Butcher and Winn); and (3) call witnesses who would have supported his selfdefense claim.
All three of these allegations are procedurally defaulted. First, Mason did not present in
his Rule 61 motion or on post-conviction appeal his allegation regarding counsel's failure to
raise the issue of self-defense during the trial. Any attempt to present this particular allegation in
a new Rule 61 motion would be time-barred under Rule 61(i)(1) and barred as repetitive under
Rule 61 (i)(2), which means that this allegation should be treated exhausted but procedurally
defaulted. See Kellum v. Pierce,_ F.Supp.2d_, 2014 WL 975698, at *10 (D. Del. Mar. 7,
2014 ). Second, although Mason presented his remaining two ineffective assistance allegations to
the Superior Court in his Rule 61 motion, the Delaware Supreme Court denied his postconviction appeal as untimely under Delaware Supreme Court Rule 6(a)(iii). Because this court
has consistently ruled that Delaware Supreme Court Rule 6 is an independent and adequate state
The court has combined Mason's three separate claims regarding counsel's ineffective
assistance into one claim with three subparts.
procedural rule precluding federal habeas review, these two remaining ineffective assistance of
counsel allegations are also exhausted but procedurally defaulted. See Tribuani v. Phelps, 820 F.
Supp. 2d 588, 593 (D. Del. 2011).
Given these circumstances, the court cannot review the merits of the three allegations
contained in claim one absent a showing of cause for the default, and prejudice resulting
therefrom, or upon a showing that a miscarriage of justice will occur if the claim is not reviewed.
Mason does not assert, and the court cannot discern, any cause for Mason's default of claim one.
In the absence of cause, the court need not address the issue of prejudice. Additionally, Mason's
default cannot be excused under the miscarriage of justice exception to the procedural default
doctrine, because he has failed to provide new reliable evidence that can establish his actual
Innocence. Accordingly, the court will deny claim one as procedurally barred.
Claim Two: Superior Court Committed Errors During Trial and PostConviction Review
It is well-settled that "[s]tate courts are the ultimate expositors of state law," 1 and claims
based on errors of state law are not cognizable on habeas review. Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S.
62,67-68 (1991). Consequently, "evidentiary errors of states courts are not considered to be of
constitutional proportion, cognizable in federal habeas corpus proceedings, unless the error
deprives a defendant of fundamental fairness in his criminal trial." See Biscaccia v. Attorney
General, 623 F .2d 307, 312 (3d Cir. 1980). Additionally, the "federal role in reviewing an
application for habeas corpus is limited to evaluating what occurred in the state or federal
proceedings that actually led to the petitioner's actual conviction; what occurred in petitioner's
Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684, 691 (1975).
collateral proceedings does not enter into the habeas calculation." Hassine v. Zimmerman, 160
F.3d 941,954 (3d Cir. 1998).
In claim two, Mason contends that the Superior Court erred during his trial by ruling that
his mother's testimony was inadmissible hearsay. Mason does not offer any factual or legal to
support this allegation, and he does not even assert that this alleged evidentiary error violated his
due process rights by depriving him of a fundamentally fair trial. As such, Mason's claim
regarding the state court's erroneous evidentiary ruling does not present an issue cognizable on
federal habeas review.
Mason also contends that the Delaware Superior Court erred by considering defense
counsel's Rule 61 affidavit during his post-conviction proceeding even though the affidavit was
filed after the Superior Court's filing deadline. This argument fails to assert an issue cognizable
on federal habeas review, because it concerns a procedural issue in Mason's collateral
Accordingly, the court will deny claim two in its entirety because it does not present a
proper basis for habeas relief.
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 (20 11 ). 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). 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 Mason's petition fails to warrant federal habeas relief, and
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 stated, Mason's petition for habeas relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 is
denied without an evidentiary hearing or the issuance of a certificate of appealability. An
appropriate order shall issue.
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