Taylor v. G.R. Johnson et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Sue L. Robinson on 6/19/2017. (nmg)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE
JOSEPH E. TAYLOR,·
) Civ. No. 16-337-SLR
G.R. JOHNSON, Warden, and
ATTORNEY GENERAL OF
THE STATE OF DELAWARE,
Joseph E. Taylor. Prose petitioner.
Kathryn Joy Garrison, Deputy Attorney General, Delaware Department of Justice,
Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for respondents.
June l't , 2017
enior District Judge
Petitioner Joseph E. Taylor ("petitioner") filed a pro se application for a writ of
habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (D.I. 3) The State filed an answer in
opposition. (D.I. 12) For the reasons that follow, the court will deny the application in its
The facts leading up to petitioner's arrest and conviction are as follows:
After his arrest in March 2013 on several drug charges, [petitioner] was
indicted in Cr. ID No. 1303012813 with four offenses: Aggravated Drug
Dealing, Aggravated Possession of Marijuana, and two counts of
Possession of Drug Paraphernalia. The  State of Delaware moved to
declare [petitioner] a habitual offender in that case.
In October 2013, [petitioner] was arrested on new drug charges. In the
information that followed in Cr. ID No. 1310008424, [petitioner] was
charged with three offenses: Aggravated Drug Dealing, Aggravated
Possession of Marijuana, and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia.
On November 6, 2013, under a consolidated plea agreement, [petitioner]
pied guilty to two counts of Aggravated Drug Dealing, one count from Cr.
ID No. 1303012813 and the other count from Cr. ID No. 1310008424.
Also, in Cr. ID No. 1303012813, [petitioner] agreed to.be sentenced as a
habitual offender under title 11, section 4214(a) of the Delaware Code
(hereinafter "section 4214(a)"). 1
[Petitioner] was immediately sentenced, on November 6, 2013, in
accordance with the plea agreement. For Aggravated Drug Dealing in Cr.
ID No. 1303012813, [petitioner] was sentenced, under section 4214(a), to
five years at Level V and to complete the Key or long term Greentree
program. For Aggravated Drug Dealing in Cr. ID No. 1310008424, he was
sentenced to fifteen years at Level V suspended after completion of the
aforementioned Key/Greentree program(s), followed by decreasing levels
of supervision. Also, the sentence included a provision that allowed
[petitioner] to report to the Sussex Correctional Institution six days later,
on November 12, 2013, to begin serving the sentence.
On November 26, 2013, the Superior Court issued a capias after
[petitioner] failed to report to the Sussex Correctional Institution on
November 12, 2013 to begin serving the sentence. The capias was
returned on June 6, 2014, and a violation of probation (VOP) hearing was
At the VOP hearing on June 18, 2014, the Superior Court adjudged
[petitioner] guilty of VOP and sentenced him as follows. For Aggravated
Drug Dealing in Cr. ID No. 1303012813, [petitioner] was sentenced to five
years at Level V under section 4214(a), and for Aggravated Drug Dealing
in Cr. ID No. 1310008424, he was sentenced to fifteen. years at Level V
suspended after five years and successful completion of the Key program
for one year at Level IV residential substance abuse treatment, followed
by eighteen months at Level Ill aftercare.
Taylor v. State, 105 A:3d 990 (Table), 2014 WL 7009960, at *1 (Del. Nov. 12, 2014).
Petitioner appealed his VOP sentence and conviction. On August 14, 2014,
while his appeal was pending in the Delaware Supreme Court, petitioner filed a motion
for modification of sentence in the Superior Court. (D.I. 12 at 2) The Superior Court
notified petitioner that it did not have jurisdiction to consider the motion for sentence
modification while his appeal was pending, and informed petitioner that he would need
to refile the motion after the appeal was decided. Id. The Delaware Supreme Court
affirmed petitioner's VOP conviction and sentence on November 12, 2014. See Taylor,
2014 WL 7009960, at *2.
On December 10, 2014, petitioner filed a new motion for modification of his VOP
sentence in the Superior Court. The Superior Court denied the motion on December
17, 2014. (D.I. 12 at 2) Petitioner did not appeal that decision.
On December 31, 2014, petitioner filed a motion for post-conviction relief
pursuant to Delaware Superior Court Criminal Rule 61 ("Rule 61 motion"). The Superior
Court summarily dismissed the Rule 61 motion as time- barred, and the Delaware
Supreme Court affirmed that decision on December 21, 2015. See Taylor v. State, 129
A.3d 230 (Table), 2015 WL 7746733, at *1 (Del. Nov. 30, 2015).
Thereafter, petitioner filed in this court the instant pending application for habeas
relief. The application asserts three grounds for relief: (1) the Superior Court
erroneously denied his Rule 61 motion as time-barred (D.I. 3 at 5); (2) the State violated
Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963) by failing to disclose ongoing governmental
misconduct at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ("OCME") that was discovered
in 2014, and this failure rendered his consolidated 2013 guilty plea involuntary (D.I. 3 at
7) ; and (3) defense counsel provided ineffective assistance during the plea process by
failing to properly investigate the corruption of the employees at the OCME, which
deprived petitioner of the ability to determine if he should enter a guilty plea or proceed
to trial (D.I. 3 at 8).
The State filed an answer, asserting that the application should be denied in its
entirety as time-barred or, alternatively, because the claims are procedurally barred or
meritless. (D.I. 12)
A. Claim One: Not Cognizable
In claim one, petitioner contends that the Superior Court erroneously denied as
time-barred the Rule 61 motion he filed on December 31, 2014. According to petitioner,
the one-year deadline for filing his Rule 61 motion expired on June 18, 2015, which
demonstrates that his Rule 61 motion was timely filed.
As a threshold matter, federal habeas relief is not available for errors of state law.
See Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991). Petitioner's ultimate criticism in
claim one is with the Superior Court's analysis in his state collateral proceeding rather
than a challenge to his underlying 2013 guilty plea. Therefore, the court will deny claim
one because it asserts a state law error that is not cognizable on federal habeas review.
See Wilson v. Corcoran, 562 U.S. 1, 5 (201 O)(reiterating that federal habeas corpus
relief does not lie for errors of state law); see also Lambert v. Blackwell, 387 F.3d 210,
247 (3d Cir. 2004)("alleged errors in [state] collateral proceedings ... are not a proper
basis for habeas relief'). 1
B. Claims Two and Three: Time-Barred
In February 2014, the Delaware State Police and the Department of Justice
began an investigation into a drug evidence scandal in the OCME. See Brown v. State,
108 A.3d 1201, 1204 (Del. 2015). In June 2014, they issued a preliminary report
regarding the "systemic operational failings of the [Controlled Substances Unit of the
DME's Office]" revealing "51 pieces of potentially compromised evidence at the CSU,
stemming from 46 cases between 2010 and 2013." Biden: Investigation of State
Medical Examiner's Drug Lab Reveals Systemic Failings, Urgent Need for Reform,
Dep't of Justice, Att'y Gen.'s Website (June 19, 2014), http://news.delaware.gov/.
In claim two, petitioner contends that the State's failure to disclose the OCME
drug evidence scandal to him during the plea process in 2013 violated Brady and
deprived him of his "right to confront." (D.I. 3 at 7) In claim three, petitioner contends
if claim one presented a cognizable issue, the court would dismiss it as timebarred for the same reasons the court concludes claims two and three are time-barred.
that defense counsel provided ineffective assistance during the plea process by failing
to properly investigate the OCME scandal, and that counsel's failure deprived petitioner
of background facts necessary for him to determine if he should enter a plea or proceed
to trial. (D.I. 3 at 8) Since these two claims challenge the validity of the plea leading to
his incarceration, they are cognizable on federal habeas review. Nevertheless, for the
reasons set forth below, the court concludes that claims two and three are time-barred.
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") was signed
into law by the President on April 23, 1996, and it prescribes a one-year period of
limitations for the filing of habeas petitions by state prisoners. 28 U.S.C.
§ 2244(d)(1 ). The one-year limitations period 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)(1). AEDPA's limitations period is subject to statutory and equitable
tolling. See Holland v: Florida, 560 U.S. 631 (201 O)(equitable tolling); 28 U.S.C.
§ 2244(d)(2)(statutory tolling).
Petitioner's application, which is dated May 2016, is subject to the one-year
limitations period contained in§ 2244(d)(1). See Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 336
(1997). Petitioner does not assert, and the court does not discern, any facts triggering
the application of§ 2244(d)(1 )(B), (C), or (D). 2 Thus, the one-year period of limitations
in this case began to run when petitioner's conviction became final under
§ 2244(d)(1 )(A).
Pursuant to§ 2244(d)(1 )(A), if a state prisoner does not appeal a state court
judgment, the judgment of conviction becomes final after the expiration of the time
allowed.to seek direct 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
Superior Court sentenced petitioner on November 6, 2013, and he did not appeal that
decision. 3 (D.I. 15-3 at 2) Therefore, his judgment of conviction became final on
the extent petitioner's argument in claim two that the State violated Brady by failing
to disclose the existence of the OCME drug evidence scandal until after his conviction in
2013 could be construed as an attempt to establish the revelation of the OCME drug
evidence scandal as a "newly discovered" factual predicate triggering a later starting
date of the limitations period under§ 2244(d)(1 )(D), it is unavailing. A violation of Brady
occurs when the government fails to disclose evidence materially favorable to the
accused, including both impeachment evidence and exculpatory evidence. See United
States v. Bagley, 473 U.S. 667, 676 (1985). Therefore, in order to trigger a later starting
date under§ 2244(d)(1)(D) for his Brady claim, petitioner must show that, exercising
due diligence, he could not have learned that the State suppressed information that the
evidence in his case may have been part of the compromised drug evidence involved in
the OCME scandal until February or June of 2014.
The fact that the Delaware State Police and the Department of Justice did not start
investigating the handling of evidence at the OCME until February 2014, see Brown,
108 A.3d at 1204, indicates that the State was not aware of the possibility that any drug
evidence had been mishandled by the OCME until 2014. Consequently, the State could
not have concealed any potentially exculpatory or material impeachment evidence
concerning any alleged mishandling of the drug evidence in petitioner's case by the
OCME during the pendency of petitioner's case in 2013. In other words, the factual
predicate underlying petitioner's Brady claim did not exist.
his VOP appeal in July 2014, petitioner asserted several claims challenging his
November 6, 2013 guilty plea and sentence. The Delaware Supreme Court explained
December 6, 2013. Applying one year to that date, petitioner had until December 8,
2014 to timely file his petition. 4 See Wilson v. Beard, 426 F.3d 653, 662-64 (3d Cir.
2005)(Fed. R. Civ. P. 6(a) applies to AEDPA's limitations period); Phlipot v. Wilson,
2015 WL 1906127_, at *3 n. 3 (D. Del. Apr. 27, 2015)(AEDPA's one-year limitations
period is calculated according to the anniversary method, i.e., the limitations period
expires on the anniversary of the date it began to run).
Petitioner did not file the instant application until May 4, 2016, 5 approximately
one year and five months after the expiration of the limitations period. Therefore, his
habeas application is time-barred and should be dismissed, unless the limitations period
can be statutorily or equitably tolled. The court will discuss each doctrine in turn.
A. Statutory Tolling
Pursuant to§ 2244(d)(2), a p·roperly filed state post-conviction motion tolls
AEDPA's limitations period during the time the action is pending in the state courts,
that, "[t]o whatever extent [petitioner's] claims arise from his November 6, 2013 guilty
plea and sentence, the claims are procedurally improper in this appeal, which is limited
to a review of [petitioner's] VOP conviction and sentence on June 18, 2014." Taylor,
2014 WL 7009960, at *2. In other words, petitioner's VOP appeal did not constitute a
direct appeal of his guilty plea entered in 2013.
one-year period actually expired on December 7, 2014, which was a Sunday.
Therefore, the limitations period extended through the end of the next business day,
December 8, 2014. See Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 6(a)(1)(C).
to the prison mailbox rule, a pro se prisoner's habeas application is deemed
filed on the date he delivers it to prison officials for mailing to the district court, not on
the date the application is filed in the court. See Longenette v. Krusing, 322 F.3d 758,
761 (3d Cir. 2003); Woods v. Kearney, 215 F. Supp. 2d 458, 460 (D. Del. 2002)(date on
petition is presumptive date of mailing and, thus, of filing). Applying this rule to the
instant case, the court adopts May 4, 2016, as the date of filing because that is the date
petitioner signed the application.
including any post-conviction appeals, provided that the motion was filed and pending
before the expiration of AEDPA's limitations period. See Swartz v. Meyers, 204 F.3d
417, 424-25 (3d Cir. 2000); Price v. Taylor, 2002 WL 31107363, at *2 (D. Del. Sept. 23,
2002). Notably, a state post-conviction motion that is rejected by a state court as
untimely or for lack of jurisdiction is not "properly filed" for§ 2244(d)(2) purposes. See
Pace v. DiGug/ielmo, 544 U.S. 408, 417 (2005)(untimely filed application for collateral
relief does not trigger statutory tolling); Satterfield v. Johnson, 434 F.3d 185, 192 (3d
Cir. 2006)(an application for collateral relief that has been denied as untimely or for lack
of jurisdiction does not trigger statutory tolling). Additionally, a matter is "pending" for§
2244(d)(2) purposes "as long as the ordinary state collateral review process is 'in
continuance.'" Carey v. Saffold, 536 U.S. 214, 219-20 (2002).
Petitioner filed his first motion for modification of sentence on August 14, 2014,
while his VOP appeal was still pending. Consequently, the Superior Court denied the
motion for lack of jurisdiction on August 29, 2014. (D.I. 15-11 at 2, Entry No. 19) In this
situation, petitioner's first motion for sentence modification does not trigger statutory
tolling for two reasons: (1) the dismissal for lack of jurisdiction demonstrates that the
motion was not properly filed; and (2) the motion was filed and denied well before
AEDPA's limitations period started to run on December 7, 2013.
When the limitations clock started to run on December 7, 2013, it ran without
interruption until AEDPA's limitations period expired on December 8, 2014. Petitioner's
second motion for modification of sentence (filed on December 10, 2014) and his Rule
61 motion (filed on December 31, 2014) have no statutory tolling effect, because they
were filed after the expiration of the limitations period. Accordingly, the application is
time-barred, unless equitable tolling is available.
B. 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, 560 U.S. at 648-49 (emphasis added). With respect to
the diligence requirement, the burden is on the petitioner to prove that he has been
reasonably diligent in pursuing his rights; 6 equitable tolling is not available where the
late filing is due to the petitioner's excusable neglect. Id. at 651-52; Miller v. New
Jersey State Dept. of Corr., 145 F.3d 616, 618-19 (3d Cir. 1998). A petitioner's
obligation to act diligently applies to both his filing of the federal habeas application and
to his filing of state post-conviction applications. Lacava v. Kyler, 398 F.3d 271, 277
(3d Cir. 2005). In turn, the Third Circuit has explained that extraordinary circumstances
for equitable tolling purposes may be found where:
the defendant actively misled the plaintiff;
the plaintiff was in some extraordinary way prevented from asserting
the plaintiff timely asserted his rights mistakenly in the wrong forum.
See Fahy v. Hom, 240 F.3d 239, 244 (3d Cir. 2001).
In claim two, petitioner contends that the State violated Brady by failing to
disclose the OCME drug evidence scandal to the defense during the plea process. (D.I.
3 at 7) To the extent petitioner's OCME drug evidence scandal/Brady violation
Urcinoli v. Cathe/, 546 F.3d 269, 277 (3d Cir. 2008).
argument should be construed as an attempt to trigger equitable tolling at least through
February 2014, the month in which the State initiated its investigation into the OCME
drug scandal, the attempt is unavailing. There is no indication that the State knew about
the general mishandling of drug evidence in the OCME that occurred in some cases
while petitioner's case was pending in 2013. In turn, although petitioner raised the issue
of the OCME drug evidence scandal in his VOP appeal filed on August 13, 2014, he
provides no explanation as to why he waited until May 4, 2016 to file the instant
application asserting this claim. Given these circumstances, petitioner cannot
demonstrate that the OCME scandal, and/or the State's failure to inform him about the
OCME scandal, actually prevented him fro~ timely filing a petition seeking federal
Finally, to the extent petitioner's late filing was the result of his own
miscalculation of the one-year filing period, such mistakes do not warrant equitably
tolling the limitations period. See Taylor v. Carroll, 2004 WL 1151552, at *5-6 (0. Del.
May 14, 2004). For all of these reasons, the court concludes that the doctrine of
equitable tolling is not available to petitioner on the facts he has presented.
Accordingly, the court will dismiss the instant application as time-barred.7
CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY
When a district.court issues a final order denying a§ 2254 application, 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
determined that the application is time-barred, the_ court will not address the
State's alternate reason for denying the application.
"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
If a federal court denies a habeas application 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 application states a valid claim of the denial of a
constitutional right; and (2) whether the court was correct in its procedural ruling. Id.
"Where a plain procedural bar is present and the district court is correct to invoke it to
dispose of the case, a reasonable jurist could not conclude either that the district court
erred in dismissing the petition or that the petitioner should be allowed to proceed
further." Slack, 529 U.S. at 484.
The court has concluded that petitioner's application for a writ of habeas corpus
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 should be dismissed, because claim one is not cognizable
on federal habeas review, and all three claims are time-barred. Reasonable jurists
would not find this conclusion to be debatable. Consequently, the court declines to
issue a certificate of appealability.
For the reasons stated, petitioner's application for habeas relief filed pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 2254 is dismissed. An appropriate order shall issue.
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