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Spellman v. Warden of Kershaw Correctional Institution

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

February 13, 2017

Reginald Spellman, #316802 Petitioner,
Warden of Kershaw Correctional Institution, Respondent,


          Richard Mark Gergel, United States District Court Judge

         This matter comes before the Court on the Report and Recommendation (R & R) of the Magistrate Judge (Dkt. No. 25). The R & R recommends that Petitioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 21) be denied, Respondent's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 18) be granted, and the habeas petition be dismissed. For the reasons stated below, the Court ADOPTS the R & R, DENIES Petitioner's Motion for Summary Judgment, GRANTS Respondent's Motion for Summary Judgment, and DISMISSES the habeas petition.

         I. Background

         In December 2010, a Richland County Grand Jury indicted Petitioner for assault with intent to commit criminal sexual conduct (CSC) with a minor, first degree. (Dkt. No. 17-2 at 183). Petitioner was represented by Reynolds Blankenship and Prentiss Shealy, and proceeded to a jury trial on January 9, 2012. After a 5-day trial, the jury returned a guilty verdict. (Dkt. No. 17-2 at 24-26). Petitioner's sentencing was deferred because the trial judge fell ill the day the jury returned a verdict. (Dkt. No. 17-2 at 27-29).

         On February 2, 2012, an on-the-record in camera chambers discussion between the trial judge and a juror took place to address the juror's mid-deliberations disclosure to her fellow jurors that she had been sexually molested as a child. (Dkt. No. 17-2 at 31-45). The juror did not disclose this information during the jury qualification process or voir dire, and believed that her disclosure convinced three jurors that Petitioner was guilty. (Dkt. No. 17-2 at 40).

         Although Petitioner's counsel did not file a motion for a mistrial, the Judge indicated that he was not inclined to grant a mistrial because he believed the juror's voir dire omission was unintentional. (Dkt. No. 17-2 at 49). The parties consented to set aside the guilty verdict and reached a negotiated plea agreement in which Petitioner would waive presentment to the grand jury on a charge of lewd act upon a minor, plead guilty, and receive a 15-year sentence, which was the maximum charge available. (Dkt. No. 17-2 at 48-55). On February 27, 2012, the trial judge accepted the plea and sentenced Petitioner to 15 years with credit for time served. (Dkt. No. 17-2 at 53).

         Petitioner filed a pro se notice of appeal. (Dkt. No. 17-3) Upon direction by the court, Petitioner filed a pro se Rule 203(d)(1)(B)(iv) explanation further stating the basis for his appeal. (Dkt. No. 17-4). Petitioner's trial and plea counsel notified the Court of Appeals that he believed the record contained no appealable issues (Dkt. No. 17-7), and on February 2, 2013, the South Carolina Court of Appeals found that Petitioner had failed to provide a sufficient explanation as required by S.C. App. R. 203(d)(1)(B)(iv) and dismissed his appeal. (Dkt. No. 17-8). The South Carolina Court of Appeals sent the remittitur to the Richland County Clerk of Court on March 28, 2013. (Dkt. No. 17-9).

         On June 24, 2013, Petitioner filed an application for post-conviction relief (PCR) raising the following issues: "(A) Ineffective Assistance of Counsel; (B) Did not knowingly or intelligently plead guilty; [and] (C) Coerced into plea of guilty." (Dkt. No. 17-2 at 62). After an evidentiary hearing, the PCR court dismissed Petitioner's application in its entirety on February 13, 2015.

         Petitioner timely filed a notice of appeal, and his appellate counsel filed a Johnson petition seeking to be relieved as counsel and raising the following issue: "Did the PCR court err in failing to find plea counsel ineffective for not insuring that Petitioner Spellman's guilty plea was entered voluntarily and knowlingly?" (Dkt. Nos. 17-13, 17-14). Petitioner also filed apro se Johnson petition. (Dkt. No. 17-15). On March 25, 2016, the South Carolina Supreme Court filed an order denying certiorari and granting appellate counsel's petition to be relieved (Dkt. No. 17-16). The South Carolina Court of Appeals remitted the matter on April 12, 2016. (Dkt. No. 17-17).

         Petitioner filed this Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus on April 26, 2016. (Dkt. No. 1). Petitioner raises three grounds for relief: (1) "Unknowing and Involuntary Plea due to improper advice of counsel"; (2) "Ineffective assistance of counsel for a variety of issues"; and (3) "Los[t] Evidence." (Dkt. No. 22 (narrowing scope of petition in response to Respondent's motion for s ummary j udgment).

         The Magistrate Judge found that all of Petitioner's grounds lacked merit and recommended granting Respondent's motion for summary judgment and dismissing the petition. (Dkt. No. 25). Petitioner subsequently filed objections (Dkt. Nos. 27, 30).

         II. Legal Standard

         A. Report & Recommendation

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court, The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber,423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The Court may "accept, reject, or "5 modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). This Court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the R & R or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made. Diamond v. ...

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