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Hutley v. Warden, Lieber Correctional Institution

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

July 5, 2018

Marlin Jamelle Hutley, Petitioner,
Warden, Lieber Correctional Institution, Respondent.



         Petitioner, Marlin Jamelle Hutley (“Petitioner”), a state prisoner, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02, D.S.C., this matter was referred to a magistrate judge for pretrial handling. Before the court is the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation (“Report”), recommending that Respondent's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 9) be granted. (ECF No. 17). The parties were advised of their right to file objections to the Report. (ECF No. 17 at 8). Petitioner timely filed objections on June 15, 2018. (ECF No. 22). On June 25, 2018, Respondent filed a response. (ECF No. 23).

         The magistrate judge makes only a recommendation to the court. The Report has no presumptive weight and the responsibility to make a final determination in this matter remains with this court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The court need not conduct a de novo review when a party makes only “general and conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). In the absence of a timely filed, specific objection, the magistrate judge's conclusions are reviewed only for clear error. See Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005).

         I. Background

         The magistrate judge set forth the background and procedural history in her Report. (ECF No. 17 at 1-4). Briefly, the case stems from a traffic stop which resulted in Petitioner's arrest. (ECF Nos. 1 at 5 and 10 at 13-14). Drugs were found in Petitioner's car incident to his arrest and he was indicted for trafficking cocaine and possession with intent to distribute cocaine. (ECF No. 17 at 1).

         On October 10, 2011, Petitioner was convicted as charged after a bench trial and sentenced to twenty-five years incarceration for trafficking crack-cocaine and fifteen years incarceration for possession with intent to distribute cocaine with the sentences to run concurrent. (ECF No. 17 at 2).[1]

         Petitioner filed a direct appeal and the South Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's conviction and sentence on June 26, 2013. Id. The remittitur was issued by the Court of Appeals on July 17, 2013, and entered by the trial court on August 1, 2013. Id. Petitioner filed an application for post-conviction relief (“PCR”) on December 30, 2013. Id. After a hearing, the PCR court denied Petitioner relief in an order filed December 8, 2014. Id. at 3. Petitioner filed a timely appeal of the denial of his PCR application. Id. On October 20, 2016, the South Carolina Supreme Court denied Petitioner's petition for a writ of certiorari. Id. The remittitur was issued November 7, 2016, and filed on November 18, 2016. Id. Petitioner filed this habeas corpus petition on November 1, 2017, raising two grounds for relief:

Ground One: Ineffective Assistance of counsel.
Ground Two: Petitioner was denied due process when trial court relied on legal precedent that was over-turned.

Id. at 3-4. In his Report, the magistrate judge found that Petitioner's petition is subject to dismissal because Petitioner failed to file his application for writ of habeas corpus in federal court within one year following the exhaustion of his state court remedies. Id. at 4-7.

         II. Discussion

         In his objections, Petitioner acknowledges that the history of the post-conviction proceedings is largely “not disputed, ” and that Petitioner's “petition may have been untimely.” (ECF No. 22 at 1, 3). However, he contends that the court should issue an order rejecting the Report and enable his petition to proceed forward because exceptional circumstances exist warranting equitable tolling of the limitations period. Id. at 3. Petitioner failed to raise the issue of equitable tolling prior to his objections. In fact, the magistrate judge noted in his Report, “Petitioner does not present any argument for equitable tolling.” (ECF No. 17 at 7 n.8). However, the court will consider Petitioner's argument.

         A petitioner seeking to invoke equitable tolling must establish that: (1) extraordinary circumstances, (2) beyond his control and external to his own conduct, (3) prevented him from filing on time. Rouse v. Lee, 339 F.3d 238, 247 (4th Cir. 2003). The Fourth Circuit has cautioned that equitable tolling of the limitations period is rarely warranted and is to be reserved “for those rare instances where-due to circumstances external to the party's own conduct-it would be unconscionable to enforce the limitation period against the party and gross injustice would result.” Harris v. Hutchinson, 209 F.3d 325, 330 (4th Cir. 2000). Also important is the settled principle that a petitioner's own lack of diligence in pursuing his federal remedy may preclude the application of equitable tolling. See Spencer v. Sutton, 239 F.3d 626, 630 (4th Cir. 2001). Courts have held that “unfamiliarity with the legal process, lack of representation, or illiteracy does not constitute grounds for equitable tolling.” Harris, 209 F.3d at 330-32. Nor are prison conditions, such as lockdowns or misplacement of legal papers, normally grounds for equitable tolling.” Id.; see also Jones v. South Carolina, 2006 WL 1876543, (D.S.C. June 30, 2006) (unpublished) (“Other courts addressing equitable tolling have found that ‘extraordinary circumstances' are not: having an inadequate law library, attorney error, claims of actual innocence, reliance on other inmates' advice, ignorance of the AEDPA filing deadline, or even (in some instances) petitioner illness.”)

         Petitioner alleges that the history of his underlying case warrants a finding of exceptional circumstances because he has been incarcerated in the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) with limited resources and limited access to legal materials. According to Petitioner, he mistakenly believed that no period of time had expired during the state court process, which would have provided him additional time to secure counsel and file the instant petition. Id. at 3-4. Petitioner further argues that he delayed filing his petition in hopes of being able to retain counsel and, after some delay, was able to secure present counsel the night ...

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