Beckham v. Warden
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Norman K. Moon on 5/4/2017. (tvt)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA
COREY LEVON BECKHAM,
CASE NO. 7:16CV00161
By: Norman K. Moon
Senior United States District Judge
Corey Levon Beckham, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this petition for a writ
of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging the validity of his confinement on a
judgment by the Washington County Circuit Court. Respondent filed a motion to dismiss
Beckham’s § 2254 petition, and Beckham responded, making the matter ripe for disposition.
After review of the record, I grant the motion to dismiss.
Factual & Procedural Background
In November 2009, DEA agents wiretapped calls from one Troy Burrows in
Birmingham, Alabama. Trapped calls indicated the following: that a customer would travel
down from the D.C., Maryland area to purchase cocaine. The customer would arrive in a rental
vehicle on November 24th, change vehicles at his parents’ house, and then meet Burrows to
purchase cocaine at another location.
Federal agents organized ground and air surveillance on Burrows. An individual arrived
in a white Chevrolet Lumina, met up with Burrows, and the two men went to a drug house. The
men went into the drug house carrying a black bag and came out some time later. The individual
who entered the house wore a yellow shirt and the DEA followed him to 4148 37th Avenue,
Agents determined that an Eric Beckham maintained utilities at that
While parked at the house, agents placed a GPS tracking device on a Lincoln MKX.
Agents continued to surveil the individual and the MKX as it traveled through Tennessee and
into Virginia. The DEA contacted the Virginia State Police and requested that they conduct a
walled-off stop to protect the sealed wire tap and the Birmingham investigation.
Trooper Rex Carter spotted the MKX in a Marathon gas station in Glade Spring,
Virginia, and initiated a traffic stop based on tinted windows and a failure to signal. Beckham
had a rental agreement in his possession and told Carter that he had been to Birmingham to visit
his mother. Carter advised Beckham that he had probable cause to search the car based on DEA
information, including a vehicle tracking device.
The vehicle stopped by Carter was the same vehicle that the DEA observed in
Birmingham, and the MKX had not stopped since it had entered Virginia. Officers found
marijuana in an Altoids tin, a yellow shirt inside of a black bag, and two bricks of cocaine
powder in a door panel, later weighed at 748 grams.
On October 1, 2010, Beckham pleaded guilty to possessing more than 500 grams of
cocaine, possessing cocaine with the intent to distribute, second or subsequent offense,
transporting into the Commonwealth more than one ounce of cocaine, and conspiracy to
distribute cocaine. The Washington County Circuit Court convicted Beckham, and sentenced
him to one hundred years in prison, with eight-five years suspended. Beckham did not pursue a
Beckham did, however, file a timely petition for a writ of habeas corpus to the circuit
court, raising three claims arguing that counsel was ineffective for:
A. failing to investigate and neglecting to use satellite images to discredit Trooper Rex
B. telling Beckham that: (1) Judge Lowe had never overturned a case on appeal, (2) if
Beckham pleaded guilty, Judge Lowe would sentence him according to the guidelines of
seven to ten years imprisonment, and (3) Beckham could not appeal if he pleaded guilty;
C. failing to investigate or inquire as to how a GPS tracking device could have been secreted
on Beckham’s vehicle by government agents in Alabama without either a properly
obtained warrant or the approval of a neutral magistrate.
On March 5, 2013, the circuit court denied and dismissed the petition, because Beckham’s
claims were not reviewable under Anderson v. Warden, 281 S.E.2d 885 (Va. 1981), and in the
alternative, Beckham had not met his burden under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668
On October 28, 2013, the Virginia Supreme Court refused Beckham’s appeal of the trial
court’s habeas judgment.
On November 5, 2013, Beckham then filed a § 2254 petition in the Eastern District of
Virginia; the Eastern District transferred the matter to the Western District. Judge James Turk
dismissed Beckham’s first federal habeas petition as untimely.
On May 18, 2015, Beckham filed an additional state habeas petition in the Supreme
Court of Virginia, stating that he had learned, on May 15, 2014, that his defense counsel had
been found not guilty by reason of insanity on drug and firearms charges in a 2013 trial.
Beckham asserted that counsel’s criminal trial revealed that during the time counsel represented
Beckham, counsel abused alcohol as well as illicit and prescription drugs. Beckham reiterated
Anderson generally binds a defendant to his statements during the colloquy regarding the validity of his
guilty plea and the effectiveness of his attorney. A defendant’s representations may not be impeached on collateral
appeal absent sufficient justification, such as extraordinary misconduct, e.g., counsel informing a defendant that
counsel is unready for trial, or counsel encouraging a defendant to lie to the court.
his original state habeas claims with mental illness and incompetency components, and added a
blanket mental illness ineffective assistance claim. The Virginia Supreme Court dismissed the
petition as untimely under Va. Code § 8.01-654(A)(2), and later refused a rehearing. On January
19, 2016, the United States Supreme Court refused certiorari.
Beckham filed the current federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus on April 4, 2016,
asserting four ineffective assistance claims, stating that counsel was ineffective because:
A. Counsel, who suffered a mental illness at the relevant time, neglected to investigate or
inquire as to how a GPS tracking device could have been secreted on Beckham’s vehicle
by government agents without either a properly obtained warrant or the approval of a
B. Counsel, who suffered a mental illness at the relevant time, failed to investigate and
neglected to use satellite images to discredit Trooper Carter.
C. Counsel, who suffered a mental illness at the relevant time, told Beckham that: (1) Judge
Lowe had never had a case overturned on appeal, (2) if he pled guilty, he would be
sentenced according to the guidelines and receive not more than seven to eleven years,
and (3) counsel also told Beckham that there was no chance of an appeal if he pled guilty.
D. Counsel, who suffered from a mental illness at the relevant time, assured Beckham that
he would file a notice of appeal, but failed to do so.
Standards of Review
A. Successive Petition
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) strictly limited the
consideration of second or successive habeas petitions. See In re Williams, 444 F.3d 233, 235
(4th Cir. 2006) (abrogated on other grounds by In re Gray, 850 F.3d 139 (4th Cir. 2017)).
Generally, courts must dismiss any second or successive claims with prejudice that were
previously adjudicated on the merits. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b); see also Villanueva v. United States,
346 F.3d 55, 60 (2d Cir. 2003). Untimeliness is considered an adjudication on the merits, unless
the decision was erroneous: “the dismissal of a § 2255 petition as untimely under AEDPA
presents a ‘permanent and incurable’ bar to federal review of the merits of the claim.”2 Id. at 61.
Additionally, a petitioner cannot bring “new” claims in a second or successive petition
unless the applicant receives permission from the appropriate court of appeals by showing that
(1) the claim relies on a new, previously unavailable, and retroactively applied rule of
constitutional or federal law, or (2) if the factual predicate for the claim could not have been
discovered previously through the exercise of due diligence, and the facts underlying the claim,
if proven, would sufficiently establish by clear and convincing evidence that no reasonable
factfinder would have found the applicant guilty of the underlying offense. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b).
Under § 2244(b), “[a] ground is successive if the basic thrust or gravamen of the legal
claim is the same [as in a prior petition], regardless of whether the basic claim is supported by
new and different legal arguments . . . [I]dentical grounds may often be proved by different
United States v. Allen, 157 F.3d 661, 664 (9th Cir. 1998) (internal
quotations and citations omitted); see also Babbitt v. Woodford, 177 F.3d 744, 746 (9th Cir.
1999) (holding that when the court rejects a petitioner’s ineffective assistance of counsel claims
in his first petition, new factual explanations for counsel’s ineffectiveness in second petition,
“[N]ot every numerically second petition is a ‘second or successive’ petition within the meaning of the
AEDPA.” In re Williams, 444 F.3d at 235. Petitions that are not considered successive include: (1) if a petition is
first dismissed without prejudice on technical grounds, such as failure to exhaust state remedies, (2) if a claim was
not ripe at the time of the first petition, such as when a new petition challenges an intervening judgment or when a
petitioner seeks to file a Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399 (1986) mental incompetency claim, and (3) when a
prisoner uses a motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 or § 2254 to regain a right to appeal. See, e.g., In re Williams,
444 F.3d at 235 (discussing technical grounds); In re Gray, 850 F.3d at 142 (discussing new petition for intervening
judgment); Panetti v. Quarterman, 551 U.S. 930 (2007) (discussing Ford motions for incompetence); In re
Goddard, 170 F.3d 435, 438 (4th Cir. 1999) (discussing petitioner seeking to regain a right to appeal under § 2255);
Evans v. Smith, 220 F.3d 306 (4th Cir. 2000) (exhaustive review of all exceptions).
such as ongoing alcohol abuse, do not affect the court’s initial Strickland v. Washington analysis;
the court has already determined that trial counsel’s performance was not constitutionally
deficient); In re Fowlkes, 326 F.3d 542, 549 (4th Cir. 2003).
B. Federal Habeas Statute of Limitation
Under § 2244(d)(1), a petitioner must file his federal habeas petition within one year
from the latest of when: (1) his conviction became final by the conclusion of direct review or the
expiration of the time for seeking such review, (2) any illegal state created impediment to filing
was removed, (3) the United States Supreme Court recognized a new, retroactively applied
constitutional right, or (4) the factual predicate of the claim could have been discovered through
due diligence. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1).
A petitioner can “toll” the federal habeas statute of limitation in two ways: statutory
tolling and equitable tolling. Statutory tolling occurs when a petitioner files a state habeas
petition within the federal statute of limitation period. The federal habeas statute of limitation is
then tolled for the duration of the state habeas proceeding. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2). Equitable
tolling occurs only if a petitioner shows “‘(1) that he has been pursuing his rights diligently, and
(2) that some extraordinary circumstance stood in his way’ and prevented timely filing.”
Holland v. Florida, 560 U.S. 631, 649 (2010) (quoting Pace v. DiGuglielmo, 544, U.S. 408, 418
C. Procedural Default
“[A] federal court may not grant a writ of habeas corpus to a petitioner in state custody
unless the petitioner has first exhausted his state remedies by presenting his claims to the highest
Baker v. Corcoran, 220 F.3d 276, 288 (4th Cir. 2000) (citing 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254(b)(1); O’Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 848 (1999)). To meet the exhaustion
requirement, a petitioner “must have presented to the state court both the operative facts and the
controlling legal principles.” Kasi v. Angelone, 300 F.3d 487, 501-02 (4th Cir. 2002) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted). “A claim that has not been presented to the highest state
court nevertheless may be treated as exhausted if it is clear that the claim would be procedurally
barred under state law if the petitioner attempted to present it to the state court.” Baker, 220 F.3d
at 288 (citing Gray v. Netherland, 518 U.S. 152, 161 (1996)).
“A habeas petitioner is barred from seeking federal review of a claim that was presented
to a state court and ‘clearly and expressly’ denied on the independent, adequate state ground of
procedural default.” Bennet v. Angelone, 92 F.3d 1336, 1343 (4th Cir. 1996) (citing Harris v.
Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 263 (1989). A procedural rule is adequate “if it is regularly or consistently
applied by the state court,” and independent “if it does not ‘depend on a federal constitutional
ruling.’” Yeatts v. Angelone, 166 F.3d 255, 260 (4th Cir. 1999) (quoting Ake v. Oklahoma, 470
U.S. 68, 75 (1985)).
Va. Code § 8.01-654(A)(2) establishes the statute of limitation for Virginia state habeas
petitions. A petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenging a criminal conviction must be
brought within (1) two years from the date of final judgment in the trial court, or (2) within one
year from either final disposition in the state court or the time for filing such an appeal has
Federal courts recognize Va. Code § 8.01-654(A)(2) as an independent and
adequate state ground for denying relief. See Sparrow v. Dir., Dep’t of Corr., 439 F. Supp. 584,
587-88 (E.D. Va. 2006).
D. Merits Standard
To obtain federal habeas relief, a petitioner must demonstrate that he is “in custody in
violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a).
Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), however, the federal habeas court may not grant a writ of habeas
corpus based on any claim that a state court decided on the merits unless that adjudication:
(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; or
(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); see also Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 403-13 (2000). “Where, as here,
the state court’s application of governing federal law is challenged, it must be shown to be not
only erroneous, but objectively unreasonable.” Yarborough v. Gentry, 540 U.S. 1, 5 (2003).
Under this standard, “[a] state court’s determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal
habeas relief so long as fair-minded jurists could agree on the correctness of the state court’s
decision.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011) (omitting internal quotations).
To state a constitutional claim for ineffective assistance of counsel, a petitioner must
satisfy the two-pronged Strickland v. Washington test by showing (1) “that counsel’s
performance was deficient,” and (2) “that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense.”
466 U.S. 668, 686-687 (1984).
A petitioner must overcome “a strong presumption” that
counsel’s tactical decisions during the representation were reasonably competent, and the court
may adjudge counsel’s performance deficient only when a petitioner demonstrates that “in light
of all the circumstances, the identified acts or omissions were outside the wide range of
professionally competent assistance.” Id. at 689-90.3 Additionally, when reviewing a Strickland
claim under the AEDPA, the court’s review is “doubly” deferential. See Harrington, 562 U.S. at
“The Sixth Amendment guarantees reasonable competence, not perfect advocacy judged with the benefit
of hindsight.” Yarborough, 540 U.S. 1 at 8.
A. Successive Petition
As a threshold issue, Beckham does not argue that a new, retroactive federal law applies
to his claims, and he does not satisfy any of the successive petition exceptions: his first federal
petition was adjudicated on the merits, his claims were ripe at the time of filing his first federal
habeas petition, and he is not seeking to regain a right to appeal.
In 2013, Judge Turk dismissed Beckham’s initial petition for untimeliness. Judge Turk’s
dismissal was not erroneous; therefore, the petition is successive under § 2244(b).4
Alternatively, Beckham presented the first three claims in his prior petition but he now contends
that counsel’s mental illness creates new evidence of ineffective assistance.
Beckham’s initial state habeas petition, the Washington County Circuit Court previously
determined that counsel’s performance was not constitutionally deficient for the underlying legal
grounds of claims A through C. The state court held that counsel was not ineffective regarding
the GPS attachment, satellite images, statements about the trial judge, or the guilty plea. The
gravamens of his current legal claims are the same as his initial petition, and the state courts
dismissed Beckham’s first state habeas petition under Anderson and as without merit. Therefore,
Beckham’s first three claims are barred from federal habeas review as a second or successive
B. Statute of Limitations
The circuit court convicted Beckham on September 23, 2010; his conviction became final thirty days later
when Beckham failed to appeal by October 23, 2010. Beckham’s one-year period to file his § 2254 petition thus
began to run on October 23, 2010, and expired on October 23, 2011. Beckham failed to file a state habeas or federal
habeas petition until after the October 23, 2011 expiration date. Therefore, his 2013 federal habeas petition was
untimely and not subject to tolling.
Beckham has not presented claim D in a prior petition, and he has failed to establish that the United States
Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit granted him leave to file a successive habeas petition. 28 U.S.C. §
2244(b)(3). Normally, “[w]ithout  authorization from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit . . . [the
district court] must dismiss the petition . . . without prejudice to [petitioner’s] subsequent attempt to receive
authorization.” Williams v. Clarke, 2014 WL 1220526, at *3 (E.D. Va. Mar. 24, 2014). However, Beckham’s
fourth claim is time-barred, procedurally defaulted on other grounds, and ultimately without merit. Therefore, I will
not dismiss claim D without prejudice, as discussed in Subparts B, C, and D.
Beckham’s petition is also time-barred. Beckham’s conviction became final in 2010
when he failed to appeal his conviction within 30 days, and Beckham’s period for filing a timely
federal petition for habeas corpus expired in 2011. Since Beckham did not file a state habeas
petition until 2012, his state habeas petition did not toll the running of the federal habeas
statutory period under § 2244(d)(2).6
Additionally, Beckham is not entitled to equitable tolling.
Beckham has not
demonstrated that he pursued his rights diligently or that any extraordinary circumstances
prevented his filing within the limitation period. In fact, he has not provided the court with any
excuse or information as to why he was unable to timely file his federal habeas petitions. He
may claim confusion or lack of awareness of the filing period, but a petitioner’s “ignorance of
the law is not a basis for equitable tolling.” United States v. Sosa, 364 F.3d 507, 512 (4th Cir.
2004). Regardless, by 2014 Beckham had extensive experience dealing with the federal habeas
statute of limitation considering that Judge Turk had dismissed his initial petition as untimely.
Beckham has no excuse for making the same procedural mistake twice in the same court.
Beckham also argues that his petition is timely because his discovery of counsel’s 2013
plea of not-guilty-by-reason-of insanity should be considered “new evidence” under
§ 2244(d)(1)(D). However, the one-year limitation period runs from “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)(D). In both his 2015 state habeas petition
and his current petition, Beckham admitted that he discovered counsel’s insanity plea on May 15,
2014. Beckham did not file his state habeas petition until May 18, 2015. Once again, Beckham
allowed § 2244(b)’s one-year limitation period to expire on May 15, 2015 before filing either a
Beckham appears to argue that his 2012 and 2015 state habeas petitions tolled the statute of limitations for
his federal habeas petitions. He is incorrect. In order for a petition to be eligible for tolling, a petitioner must file
his state habeas petition within the one-year federal habeas statute of limitation.
state habeas petition or a federal habeas petition. Beckham does not offer an explanation for his
failure to timely file, and thus he fails to show that he is entitled to equitable tolling.7
C. Procedural Default
Regardless of whether Beckham’s petition is successive and/or time-barred, I conclude
that all claims are procedurally defaulted under Va. Code. § 8.01-654(A)(2). Beckham’s current
claims are exhausted for the purposes of federal review because they were presented to the
Virginia Supreme Court in his 2015 state habeas petition. The Virginia Supreme Court denied
Beckham’s petition as untimely under Va. Code § 8.01-654(A)(2), and the Fourth Circuit has
recognized § 8.01-654(A)(2) as an independent and adequate state ground for denying relief.
Further, Beckham has not demonstrated cause or prejudice that excuses his default, and he has
not asserted a miscarriage of justice under McQuiggin v. Perkins, 133 S. Ct. 1924 (2013).
The Washington County Circuit Court determined that counsel’s performance was not
constitutionally deficient,8 and based on the record, the state court’s decision was not contrary to,
or an unreasonable application of, Strickland, or an unreasonable determination of the facts.
Moreover, Beckham fails to show how his “new evidence” of counsel’s mental illness, alcohol
abuse, and drug abuse affected Beckham’s representation. He has not offered any specific
examples of deficient performance deriving from counsel’s mental state at the time, and he
In his Response to the Motion to Dismiss, Beckham claims that he did not discover the insanity plea until
May 2015. However, he offers no proof that he first learned of the plea in 2015; meanwhile, he informed multiple
courts that his discovery date was May 15, 2014.
“[T]he record  confirms that trial counsel rendered effective representation and that there is nothing
remotely approaching an objectively reasonable probability that [Beckham] would have gone to trial on the merits,
but for his attorney’s claimed errors.” Beckham v. Warden, No. CL12-1339, at 8 (Va. Cir. Ct. Mar. 11, 2013) (ECF
No. 10, Attach. 10).
proffers no additional evidence that counsel’s alleged mental illness during his representation of
Beckham affected the outcome of his case.9
For the reasons stated, I GRANT the motion to dismiss.
Beckham’s petition is
successive, he fails to demonstrate that he is entitled to the tolling of the statute of limitation, and
he fails to show cause and prejudice or a fundamental miscarriage of justice to excuse his
procedural default. Regardless, his claims have no merit. An appropriate order will enter this
The Clerk is directed to send copies of this memorandum opinion and accompanying
order to Beckham and to counsel of record for Respondent. Further, concluding that petitioner
has failed to make a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right as required by 28
U.S.C. § 2253(c)(1), a certificate of appealability is DENIED.
ENTER: This _____ day of May, 2017.
In Beckham’s Response to the Motion to Dismiss, he cites “Supreme Court” cases such as United States
v. Maynard, 615 F.3d 544 (D.C. Cir. 2010), United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400 (2012), and United States v.
Chadwick, 433 U.S. 1 (1977) (abrogated by California v. Acevedo, 500 U.S. 565 (1991)). Maynard is not a
Supreme Court or a binding Fourth Circuit case. Chadwick discussed the constitutionality of searching a footlocker,
had nothing to do with modern technology, and was abrogated by Acevedo. The Supreme Court of the United States
did not definitively decide whether use of GPS technology by law enforcement was a Fourth Amendment “search”
until Jones. Beckham pleaded guilty in 2010, and Jones was not decided until 2012; regardless, Jones was not made
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