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Adams v. State

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

June 8, 2018

Blair Markeith Adams, #222497 Petitioner,
State of South Carolina, Warden of Tyger River Correctional Institution Respondent.



         This is an action seeking habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. [Doc. 1.] Petitioner is a prisoner in the custody of the South Carolina Department of Corrections (“SCDC”) at Tyger River Correctional Institution. [Id.] The Petition is subject to summary dismissal.


         According to online court records from the Spartanburg County 7th Judicial Circuit Public Index, Petitioner is currently serving a twenty-five (25) year term of imprisonment under a sentence imposed on November 2, 2006, following a conviction in the Spartanburg County Court of General Sessions for the crime of trafficking in cocaine, 10g or more, but less than 28g, 3rd or subsequent offense. See Spartanburg County 7th Judicial Circuit Public Index, PublicIndex/PISearch.aspx (search case number “K101224") (last visited June 5, 2018) (Indictment No. 2006GS4203329).[1] Petitioner alleges that, in March 1998, he pled guilty in federal court to possession with intent to distribute 14 grams of crack cocaine and was sentenced to 84 months imprisonment.[2] [Doc. 1 at 1.] Petitioner did not file a direct appeal for that conviction and now alleges that he “was simply not informed that I could [appeal] from my attorney at the time.” [Id. at 2, 5.] Petitioner alleges that his guilty plea resulting in the 1998 conviction was “involuntary.” [Id. at 5.] According to Petitioner, that conviction arose from a traffic stop wherein the officer claimed to recognized Petitioner as driving under a suspended license. [Id.] However, that officer had never stopped Petitioner before. [Id.] Petitioner's attorney at that time informed Petitioner that his 4th Amendment rights had been violated by the officer, but Petitioner's attorney never filed anything challenging the stop. [Id. at 6.] Petitioner contends that his attorney explained that he was “going to look into why the government was treating [Petitioner's] case the way it did.” [Id.] Petitioner alleges the officer did not have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to initiate a traffic stop and that he did not have any prior encounters with Petitioner. [Id.] Instead, Petitioner contends, the officer falsified his incident report. [Id.] Petitioner's attorney also never informed him that he could enter a conditional plea of nolo contendere and never filed a suppression motion; instead, the attorney “allowed Petitioner to just plead guilty.” [Id. at 7.] Because of Petitioner's 1998 conviction, the offense underlying his current state court conviction was treated as a 3rd offense, and, as a result, the trial judge in the state court proceedings had no choice but to sentence Petitioner to the mandatory minimum term of 25 to 30 years imprisonment, which he is currently serving. [Id.] Had Petitioner been charged with a 2nd offense instead, the trial judge would have had a range of 5 to 30 years and the plea offer would have been significantly lower. [Id.] In light of this, Petitioner contends, his former attorney violated his Sixth Amendment rights by allowing Petitioner to plead guilty in federal court to the 1998 charge, for which Petitioner could have been acquitted and which is causing “continuing injury to Petitioner.” [Id.]

         Petitioner alleges he filed a post-conviction relief (“PCR”) action challenging his current state court conviction and sentence in the Spartanburg County Court of Common Pleas at case no. 2008-CP-42-2240, which was dismissed on July 29, 2009, but Peitioner did not know that he could raise the issue in his PCR action that he now seeks to raise in the instant Petition. [Id. at 9-10.] Petitioner claims that he never talked to his court-appointed PCR attorney, there was never any discussion of any type of strategy for the PCR proceedings, and that an associate from his attorney's office came to interview him, but stated he was “not a criminal attorney and that he doesn't argue criminal cases . . . [and that] he hated my case fell into his lap.” [Id. at 10-11.] Now, Petitioner wishes to collaterally attack the prior conviction that was used to enhance his current sentence. [Id. at 14-15.]

         Petitioner appears to assert a single ground for relief, challenging his “Involuntary Plea to the 1997 charge, and 1998 conviction. [Id. at 5.] Petitioner alleges he previously filed a habeas petition in this Court at case No. 8:12-cv-2717-JMC-JDA, which raised challenges to his current state conviction and sentence. [Id. at 16.] Petitioner alleges that the instant Petition is timely because his prior conviction “has clear collateral consequence[s] in that it would add at least 25 yrs. to a future sentence in a state conviction. A criminal defendant's suffering collateral legal consequences from a sentence already served permits him to have his reviewed [sic] in this court on the merits.” [Id. at 18.] For his relief, Petitioner seeks “reversal of conviction, or be allowed to challenge that stop, which resulted in the charge itself.” [Id. at 19.]


         Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(c) DSC, the undersigned is authorized to review such petitions for relief and submit findings and recommendations to the district court. Petitioner filed this action in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. This statute authorizes the Court to dismiss a case if it is satisfied that the action fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, is frivolous or malicious, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B); see also Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25 (1992); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324-25 (1989); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972); Nasim v. Warden, Md. House of Corr., 64 F.3d 951 (4th Cir. 1995); Todd v. Baskerville, 712 F.2d 70 (4th Cir. 1983).

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, habeas relief may be extended to a prisoner only when he “is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Thus, a federal court has jurisdiction over such a petition only if the petitioner is “in custody” and the custody is allegedly “in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” Id.; Maleng v. Cook, 490 U.S. 488, 490 (1989). Pursuant to Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases, this Court is required to preliminarily review a petitioner's habeas petition and determine whether it “plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief.” Pursuant to this rule, a district court is “authorized to dismiss summarily any habeas petition that appears legally insufficient on its face.” McFarland v. Scott, 512 U.S. 849, 856 (1994). As a pro se litigant, Petitioner's pleadings are accorded liberal construction and held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by attorneys. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007) (per curiam). However, even under this less stringent standard, the instant Petition is subject to summary dismissal. The requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts which set forth a claim cognizable in a federal district court. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 390-91 (4th Cir. 1990).


         The Court Lacks Jurisdiction

         Petitioner seeks to challenge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, the collateral consequences of a conviction and sentence imposed upon him in federal court in 1998. However, Petitioner is no longer in custody under that sentence. Pursuant to § 2254, a writ of habeas corpus is available only if a prisoner demonstrates that he is “in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. 2254(a) (emphasis added). This statutory language has been consistently interpreted as requiring that the habeas petitioner be “in custody” under the conviction or sentence under attack at the time his petition is filed. See, e.g., Carafas v. LaVallee, 391 U.S. 234, 238 (1968). Furthermore, a prisoner can utilize habeas corpus proceedings only if he is challenging the fact or duration of his present confinement. Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 489 (1973). Put differently, “[f]ederal courts lack jurisdiction to consider a habeas petition challenging a sentence which has fully expired at the time the petition is filed.” Hardy v. Warden, No. 6:06-cv-1796-HMH-WMC, 2006 WL 2996107, at *3 (D.S.C. Oct. 19, 2006) (citing Maleng v. Cook, 490 U.S. 488 (1989)). Here, Petitioner is no longer serving a sentence for the 1998 offense. Because Petitioner's sentence has expired on this conviction, he is no longer in custody on this conviction, and, therefore, this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over his habeas petition with respect to this conviction. See Fields v. Cartledge, No. 0:16-cv-2463-TMC, 2017 WL 3140910, at *3 (D.S.C. July 25, 2017) (citing Steverson v. Summers, 258 F.3d 520, 523 (6th Cir. 2001)).

         Nevertheless, Petitioner asserts this Court may properly evaluate the Petition because the collateral consequences of the expired conviction he seeks to challenge impact the sentence he is now serving. Thus, the instant Petition presents the issue of whether a state prisoner can challenge a current sentence based on an allegedly unconstitutional prior conviction for which he has already served his sentence. In addressing this precise question, the Supreme Court held that federal post-conviction relief is unavailable to state prisoners through a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 when the prisoner challenges a current sentence on the ground that it was enhanced based on an allegedly unconstitutional prior conviction for which the petitioner is no longer in custody. Lackawanna Cty. Dist. Attorney v. Coss, 532 U.S. 394, 396-97 (2001). Further, the Supreme Court has explained, where “a prior conviction has not been set aside on direct or collateral review, that conviction is presumptively valid and may be used to enhance” a subsequent sentence. Daniels v. United States, 532 U.S. 374, 382 (2001). “This rule is subject to only one exception: If an enhanced [ ] sentence will be based in part on a prior conviction obtained in violation of the right to counsel, the defendant may challenge the validity of his prior conviction during his [ ] sentencing proceedings.” Id.

         Here, Petitioner challenges his current state sentence by arguing that a prior federal conviction, which was used to enhance the sentence he is now serving, was unconstitutional. While the Supreme Court in the cases above recognized certain limited circumstances which would permit this Court to review the grounds for ...

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