Stinnett v. Clarke
MEMORANDUM OPINION re 10 MOTION to Dismiss. Signed by District Judge T. S. Ellis, III on 6/3/2021. (c/s) (lber)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
EASTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA
Walter Stinnett, Jr.,
Walter Stinnett, Jr. (“Stinnett” or “petitioner”), a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, has
filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging the
constitutionality of his October 16, 2019 convictions in the Circuit Court of the City of
Chesapeake, Virginia for driving as a habitual offender, second or subsequent offense, and
misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Respondent has filed a Motion to Dismiss, with a
supporting brief and exhibits. [Dkt. Nos. 10-12]. Stinnett has been notified of the opportunity to
file responsive materials pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975) [Dkt.
No. 13], and he has not responded. Accordingly, this matter is now ripe for disposition. A review
of the record in this matter establishes that the respondent’s Motion to Dismiss must be granted,
and the petition will be dismissed with prejudice.
I. Procedural History
Stinnett is currently confined pursuant to a final order of the City of Chesapeake Circuit
Court dated October 16, 2019. Stinnett was convicted, on his pleas of guilty and no contest, of
driving as a habitual offender, second or subsequent offense, and misdemeanor possession of
marijuana. Commonwealth v. Stinnett, Case Nos. CR18-866-00 and -01 (R. at 152-54).The
circuit court sentenced Stinnett to five years and six months of in prison, with three years and
seven months suspended, for an active sentence of one year and eleven months. (Id.). Stinnett did
not file a notice of appeal in the circuit court or a petition for appeal in the Court of Appeals of
Virginia or the Virginia Supreme Court.
On April 6, 2020, Stinnett filed a timely petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Supreme
Court of Virginia, Stinnett v. Clarke, Record No. 200481 (“VSCT R. at __”) raising the
(a) Probable Cause: I didn’t get a ticket for initial stop. Va. Code § 19.2-59.
(b) Due Process: 4th, 5th, 6th Amendments of Organic Constitution.
(c) No valid contract: UCC -8.1-103, 8.10-203, 8.01-30.8 per HJR of 192 of 1933.
(VSCT R. at 14). In addition, Stinnett alleged his attorney was ineffective for not filing a
discovery motion in general district court to obtain the video recording of the traffic stop that led
to Stinnett’s arrest. He argued that had counsel obtained the video, and proceeded with the
preliminary hearing, his charges would have been dismissed. (Id. at 17-18).
The Supreme Court of Virginia dismissed the habeas petition on December 9, 2020
finding that claims (a) through (c) were barred from review in habeas because those claims were
“non-jurisdictional issues [that] could have been raised at trial and on direct appeal and, thus,
[were] not cognizable in a petition for a writ habeas.” (Id. at 227, citing Slayton v. Parrigan, 215
Va. 27, 29 (1974)). The Supreme Court of Virginia dismissed the ineffective assistance claim
finding that counsel had obtained copies of several videos through discovery that depicted the
traffic stop and that after reviewing the videos “counsel determined that they supported the
officer’s articulated reasons for the traffic stop.” (VSCT R. at 227). The court then found that the
petitioner had failed to establish a valid claim of ineffective assistance of counsel under Hill v.
Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985) and dismissed the claim. (Id. at 228).
II. Exhaustion and Procedural Default
On February 4, 2021, Stinnett filed his federal petition for writ of habeas corpus, which
raises the following claim:
Ground 1: “Jurisdiction, injured party, no valid contract, no probable cause, no initial
ticket for purpose of the stop.” [Dkt. No. 1 at 5].
Respondent admits that the petition was timely filed and that “Stinnett presented all of the claims
encompassed by Ground 1 to the Supreme Court of Virginia in his state habeas petition” as state
habeas claims (a), (b), and (c), and has therefore exhausted his claim “for purposes of federal
habeas review.” [Dkt. No. 12, ⁋ 7].
Although exhausted, Stinnett’s federal claim is barred from federal habeas review
because the Supreme Court of Virginia found the components of his federal claim were defaulted
under the rule of Slayton v. Parrigan. “A federal habeas court may not review a claim when a
state court has declined to consider its merits on the basis of an independent and adequate state
procedural rule.” Bacon v. Lee, 225 F.3d 470, 476 (4th Cir. 2000) (citing Coleman v. Thompson,
501 U.S. 722, 731-32 (1991)); Breard v. Pruett, 134 F.3d 615, 619 (4th Cir. 1998) (dismissal of a
claim on procedural grounds in state court precludes federal review of the claim). “The Fourth
Circuit has repeatedly recognized that the procedural default rule set forth in Parrigan constitutes
an adequate and independent state law ground for decision.” Fisher v. Angelone, 163 F.3d 835,
844 (4th Cir. 1998) (quoting Mu’min v. Pruett, 125 F.3d 192, 196 (4th Cir. 1997)); see Vinson v.
True, 436 F.3d 412, 417 (4th Cir. 2005) (Slayton v. Parrigan is a procedural bar that “constitutes
an adequate and independent state law ground for default” and precludes federal habeas review
of the merits of the claim) (citing Wright v. Angelone, 151 F.3d 151, 159-60 (4th Cir. 1998)).
The dismissal of the state claims pursuant to the rule of Slayton v. Parrigan precludes federal
review of Stinnett’s federal claim unless he “can demonstrate cause for the default and actual
prejudice as a result of the alleged violation of federal law” or a fundamental miscarriage of
justice. Vinson, 436 F.3d at 417.
Whether a petitioner has established cause “ordinarily turn[s] on whether the prisoner can
show that some objective factor external to the defense impeded [his] efforts to comply with the
State’s procedural rule.” Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 488 (1986). Cause refers to “some
objective factor external to the defense” that impeded compliance with the State’s procedural
rule. Strickler v. Greene, 527 U.S. 263, 283 n.24 (1999) (citation omitted). Factors that may
constitute “cause” include: (1) “interference by officials that makes compliance with the State’s
procedural rule impracticable;” (2) “a showing that the factual or legal basis for a claim was not
reasonably available to counsel;” (3) novelty of the claim; and (4) constitutionally ineffective
assistance of counsel. Wright, 151 F.3d at 160 n.5 (quoting McCleskey v. Zant, 499 U.S. 467,
493-94 (1991)). In addition, an absence of due diligence by the petitioner will defeat an assertion
of cause. See Hoke v. Netherland, 92 F.3d 1350, 1354 n.1 (4th Cir. 1996).
Here, Stinnett pleaded guilty and no contest to his charges and agreed to a stipulation of
facts that summarized the prosecution’s evidence. (R. at 74-75; 160). The stipulation established
that on January 31, 2018, Stinnett was stopped for a traffic infraction in the City of Chesapeake
and when asked for his license, Stinnett told the officer “that he did not have a license and that it
was suspended.” (R. at 74). The DMV abstract indicated that Stinnett had been convicted of
driving after having been declared a habitual offender on five prior occasions in Virginia. (Id.).
The stipulation also established that Stinnett had possessed a bag of marijuana that a second
officer had found on the ground next to Stinnett after Stinnett had exited the vehicle. (Id.).
Stinnett admitted to the second officer that he had been concealing the marijuana in his shirt
pocket prior to discarding it. (Id.). Stinnett has not argued cause to excuse his default, and none
is apparent from the record.
Further, Stinnett’s “pro se status and his ignorance of Virginia law do not constitute cause
sufficient to excuse his default.” Wilson v. Lee, No. 3:02CV551, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29320,
*4 (E.D. Va. Apr. 4, 2003) (citations omitted); see Dellinger v. Bowen, 301 F.3d 758, 766 (7th
Cir. 2002) (“youth and lack of education do not constitute the type of external impediment
sufficient to excuse a procedural default”); Washington v. James, 996 F.2d 1442, 1447 (2d Cir.
1993) (ignorance or inadvertence do not constitute cause to excuse a procedural default);
Henderson v. Cohn, 919 F.2d 1270, 1272 (7th Cir. 1990) (“illiteracy does not constitute cause for
a procedural default”) (collecting cases); Hughes v. Idaho State Bd. of Corrections, 800 F.2d
905, 909 (9th Cir. 1986 (illiteracy does not constitute cause); Baugh v. Lane, 722 F. Supp. 525,
531, (C.D. Ill. 1989) (“pro se status and ignorance of the law” are “insufficient to establish
cause.”) (collecting cases); see also United States v. Sosa, 364 F.3d 507, 512 (4th Cir. 2004) (pro
se petitioner’s ignorance and misconceptions about the operation of the statute of limitations do
not justify equitable tolling because they are not extraordinary circumstances beyond his
control). Because Stinnett cannot establish cause to excuse his default, there is no need to reach
the issue of prejudice. See Kornahrens v. Evatt, 66 F.3d 1350, 1359 (4th Cir. 1995).
Stinnett has also not argued that failure to consider his claim will result in a fundamental
miscarriage of justice because he is actually innocent of the crimes for which he has been
convicted. Proof of a fundamental miscarriage of justice requires “a constitutional violation
[that] has probably resulted in the conviction of one who is ‘actually innocent’ of the substantive
offense.” Richmond v. Polk, 375 F.3d 309, 323 (4th Cir. 2004) (citation and internal quotation
marks omitted). In McQuiggin v. Perkins, 569 U.S. 383 (2013), the Supreme Court held that a
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