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Earl J. Peoples v. Paul Schultz

August 29, 2011

EARL J. PEOPLES, PETITIONER,
v.
PAUL SCHULTZ, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James E. Boasberg United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Petitioner Earl Peoples was convicted in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia in October 1989 of arson, murder, and other crimes arising out of a deadly attack at the home of a former girlfriend. He was sentenced several months later to a term of seventy-three years to life for these crimes, and his conviction was affirmed by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in April 1994. Petitioner thereafter filed several § 23-110 collateral review petitions before the Superior Court, as well as a habeas petition before a federal court in South Carolina, where he was detained at the time. After these proved unsuccessful, he filed the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Respondent has now moved to dismiss the petition on the ground that it is not properly before the Court and, alternatively, that it is time-barred by the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. Concurring on both grounds, the Court will grant the Motion.

I.Background

On October 27, 1989, after a trial in the Superior Court, a jury convicted Petitioner of arson, felony murder while armed, second-degree murder while armed, six counts of assault with a dangerous weapon, five counts of mayhem while armed, five counts of malicious disfigurement while armed, and malicious destruction of property. Pet. at 2. During the trial, the government established that Petitioner had attacked the home of a former girlfriend because he had overheard her speak to another man. See Peoples v. U.S., 640 A.2d 1047, 1050 (D.C. 1994). He had previously committed violent acts against her and their son and had threatened to kill her and her family should she ever be unfaithful. Id. In February 1990, he was sentenced to seventy-three years to life for these acts. Pet. at 2.

On direct appeal, his conviction was affirmed by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals on April 28, 1994, except on the issue of merger of several offenses. Mot. at 2. The DCCA remanded the case to the Superior Court for resentencing regarding this last issue, id., though it is unclear from the record precisely when Petitioner was resentenced.

Petitioner filed his first § 23-110 petition, alleging ineffective assistance of trial counsel, with the Superior Court on November 30, 2000. See Mot., Exh. A (Mot. to Vacate, Set Aside and/or Correct Sentence Imposed). Judge Stephen Milliken denied this petition in January 2001, finding that Petitioner's ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim was procedurally barred because he had failed to raise it during his direct appeal. See Mot., Exh. B (Jan. 16, 2001, Opinion of Judge Stephen G. Milliken) at 2. Petitioner did not appeal, but instead filed a second § 23-110 petition in the Superior Court in December 2003. See Mot., Exh. H (Oct. 9, 2008, Opinion by D.C.C.A.) at 1.

In this second § 23-110 petition, he again presented an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim, but also argued that the instructions presented to the jury in his case had been misleading and that the sentence imposed by the trial court was unconstitutional. See Mot., Exh. G (Oct. 24, 2007, Opinion of Judge John Ramsey Johnson) at 1. Judge Johnson rejected all of Petitioner's claims. He found the jury-instructions claim procedurally barred because it had not been raised on direct review, id. at 3-4, the ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim likewise barred as successive, id. at 5, and the sentencing challenge under Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), unsuccessful because that Supreme Court decision was decided years after he was sentenced and was not retroactive. Id. at 6-7. Judge Johnson's decision was upheld by the D.C. Court of Appeals. Oct. 9, 2008, DCCA Opinion.

Meanwhile, Petitioner also filed a § 2241 federal habeas petition before a district court in South Carolina, where he was imprisoned, on December 23, 2002. Mot. at 3. That court also dismissed his petition, finding that his claims could be brought "only under the D.C. collateral attack statute section 23-110." Mot., Exh. D (Jan. 9, 2003, Recommendation by Magistrate Judge Joseph R. McCrorey) at 3, adopted by Mot., Exh. E (Oct. 17, 2003, Order of Judge Terry L. Wooten). In rejecting Petitioner's § 2241 petition, the court held that "section 2241 is an appropriate basis for a habeas petition where a prisoner challenges the execution of his/her sentence, but it is not generally available when the underlying validity of the conviction and sentence are challenged." M.J. McCrorey Recommendation at 5 (emphasis in original).

Petitioner then filed the instant habeas petition in April 2010, seeking review of the constitutionality of his detention based on the grounds of actual innocence, defective indictment, erroneous jury instructions, and denial of due process during jury deliberations. Respondent has now filed a Motion to Dismiss the case.*fn1

II.Analysis

Respondent argues that Petitioner's claims should be dismissed both because he cannot show that the favored D.C. § 23-110 remedy is inadequate or ineffective and because, even if cognizable as a § 2254 federal habeas petition, his claims would be time-barred by the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). Petitioner responds that the local remedy is inadequate and ineffective and that the Court should consider his claims as an action under § 2241 rather than § 2254. The Court sides with Respondent as set out below.

A. § 23-110

Respondent first contends that Petitioner's habeas petition should be dismissed under D.C. Code § 23-110. Mot. at 8-9. This statute forbids any federal court from entertaining "[a]n application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a prisoner" in custody under sentence of the Superior Court if that court has previously rejected a petition "unless it also appears that the remedy by motion is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention." D.C. Code § 23-110(g). In fact, this Circuit has found that "when Congress enacted section 23-110 as part of the District of Columbia Court Reform and Criminal Procedure Act of 1970, it sought to vest the Superior Court with exclusive jurisdiction over most collateral challenges by prisoners sentenced in that court." Williams v. Martinez, 586 F.3d 995, 1000 (D.C. Cir. 2009); see also Swain v. Pressley, 430 U.S. 372, 377-78 (1977) (finding parallel between changes introduced to federal habeas process by 28 U.S.C. § 2255 and new post-conviction procedure envisaged by Congress when it implemented § 23-110).

As Petitioner has already twice requested review from the Superior Court under § 23-110, this Court may only entertain this latest habeas petition if it finds that the previous use of the local collateral-attack remedy was "inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention." Yet Petitioner does not provide any support for his conclusory claim that the District's § 23-110 process was inadequate or ineffective. On the contrary, Judge Johnson considered individually each claim in Petitioner's second § 23-110 application and ultimately found that he had not raised any cognizable claim requiring additional action in the form of an evidentiary hearing. The D.C. Court of Appeals also looked at the record to determine that Petitioner's ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim was without merit. See D.C.C.A. Oct. 9, 2008, Opinion at 2. It would thus defy clear congressional intent for the Court to entertain the merits of this latest petition for habeas review. Petitioner has already benefited from collateral review of his conviction before the Superior Court and the D.C. Court ...


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