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Woodfolk v. Maynard

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

May 23, 2017

COREY LORENZO WOODFOLK, Petitioner - Appellant,
v.
GARY D. MAYNARD, Sec. of Corr.; THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF MARYLAND; DOUGLAS F. GANSLER, Respondents - Appellees.

          Argued: January 24, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, at Baltimore. J. Frederick Motz, Senior District Judge. (1:13-cv-03268-JFM)

         ARGUED:

          Christopher Brett Leach, GIBSON, DUNN & CRUTCHER LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

          Edward John Kelley, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF MARYLAND, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellees.

         ON BRIEF:

          Joanna Silver, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL DEFENDER, DISTRICT OF MARYLAND, Greenbelt, Maryland; Thomas G. Hungar, David A. Schnitzer, GIBSON, DUNN & CRUTCHER LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

          Brian E. Frosh, Attorney General of Maryland, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF MARYLAND, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellees.

          Before GREGORY, Chief Judge, KING, Circuit Judge, and DAVIS, Senior Circuit Judge.

          GREGORY, Chief Judge:

         In March 1988, Corey Lorenzo Woodfolk pleaded guilty in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City to attempted murder and a related firearm offense. Several months after his plea, Woodfolk sought relief from his criminal judgment on the ground that his trial counsel, who represented both Woodfolk and his codefendant, had brokered a deal with the prosecution, whereby Woodfolk would plead guilty to allow his codefendant to go free. Woodfolk alleged that his guilty plea resulted from his trial counsel's disabling conflict of interest and therefore was constitutionally infirm.

         Woodfolk's troubling claim has evaded merits review throughout a tortuous history of proceedings in the nearly 30 years since his original plea, culminating in the 28 U.S.C. § 2254 proceedings giving rise to this appeal. In the proceedings below, the district court concluded that Woodfolk's petition was both filed outside the one-year statute of limitations applicable to § 2254 petitions and procedurally defaulted by operation of an independent and adequate state procedural bar. We disagree. For the reasons that follow, we vacate the district court's judgment and remand for further proceedings to address the merits of Woodfolk's ineffective assistance of counsel claim.

         I.

         On June 14, 1987, Woodfolk and another young man, Cornelius Langley, were involved in an altercation in a parking lot in Baltimore, Maryland. During the altercation, an off-duty police officer observed Woodfolk draw a handgun. According to this officer, Woodfolk pulled the trigger, but the gun did not fire. Woodfolk and Langley were arrested, and Woodfolk was charged with attempted murder. Both Woodfolk and Langley retained attorney Michael Vogelstein to represent them.

         Woodfolk later would testify that Vogelstein initially expressed optimism about Woodfolk's chances of success at trial. But on March 4, 1988, while Woodfolk waited in a holding cell in the courthouse on the first day of his scheduled trial, Vogelstein advised Woodfolk that he had arranged an agreement with the State. According to that agreement, Woodfolk would plead guilty; Langley would provide a statement to the court inculpating Woodfolk, and Langley's case would be placed on the stet docket, [1] allowing him to go free. Woodfolk, then 18 years old, was resistant to accepting the agreement, but he eventually acceded to Vogelstein's advice.

         That day, Woodfolk pleaded guilty to attempted murder and use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence. After accepting his guilty plea, the circuit court sentenced Woodfolk to ten years' imprisonment, with five years suspended, on the attempted murder count and a concurrent term of five years' imprisonment, suspended, on the handgun count, to be followed by five years' probation. Woodfolk did not appeal his conviction based on his guilty plea.

         On June 3, 1988, represented by new counsel, Woodfolk filed a motion for reduction or modification of sentence pursuant to Maryland Rule 4-345. In the motion, Woodfolk argued that his criminal judgment was tainted by Vogelstein's disabling conflict of interest. At an October 1988 hearing, upon the court's advice, Woodfolk withdrew the Rule 4-345 motion and orally moved for a new trial. The court granted Woodfolk's motion for a new trial based on his conflict-of-interest allegations. Pursuant to an agreement between the parties, Woodfolk pleaded guilty that same day to attempted murder and wearing and carrying a handgun. The court sentenced Woodfolk to 15 years' imprisonment, with all but 18 months suspended, on the attempted murder count and a concurrent 18 months' imprisonment on the handgun count, to be followed by five years' probation. Based on the time Woodfolk had already served in prison on these charges, the new judgment ended his active term of incarceration.

         Woodfolk was convicted in 1994 on unrelated federal charges and sentenced to 50 years' imprisonment.[2] That conviction triggered a violation of the terms of his state probation. Later that year, Woodfolk pleaded guilty in Maryland circuit court to a probation violation. He was sentenced to three years' imprisonment on the attempted murder count and a concurrent 18 months' imprisonment on the handgun count, to be served consecutively to his federal sentence.

         Beginning in 1995, Woodfolk filed various petitions for postconviction relief in Maryland circuit court, attempting to challenge his October 1988 criminal judgment. As relevant to this appeal, Woodfolk filed a postconviction petition in June 1998, which the circuit court denied in 2000. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals summarily denied Woodfolk's petition for leave to appeal that judgment in 2001. Woodfolk sought to reopen his postconviction proceedings in 2005, but that petition also was denied.

         Woodfolk filed a 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition in federal district court in 2002, again challenging his October 1988 judgment. The district court dismissed the petition as untimely, and this court denied a certificate of appealability and dismissed the appeal of that judgment. See Woodfolk v. State of Md. Dep't of Corr., 122 F.App'x 78 (4th Cir. 2005) (No. 04-7748).

         In January 2006, Woodfolk filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence in the Maryland circuit court, again challenging his October 1988 judgment. That motion was unsuccessful in the circuit court; however, on June 6, 2007, the Court of Special Appeals reversed. It concluded that the circuit court had lacked authority to grant Woodfolk's motion for a new trial in October 1988, as the motion was orally made and untimely. Further, it concluded, the circuit court was prohibited from increasing Woodfolk's sentence when considering his timely Rule 4-345 motion for reduction or modification of sentence. In remanding to the circuit court, the Court of Special Appeals explained that it was

not . . . vacating appellant's convictions. "In a criminal case, if the appellate court reverses the judgment for error in the sentence or sentencing proceeding, the Court shall remand the case for resentencing." Md. Rule 8-604(d)(2) (emphasis added). Under the circumstances of this case, we are persuaded that the appropriate procedure is to reinstate appellant's motion to modify sentence, which the [circuit court in October 1988] suggested he voluntarily withdr[aw], nunc pro tunc. That motion can then be considered on remand.

Woodfolk v. Maryland, No. 2836, at 9 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. June 6, 2007) (unpublished).

         On November 12, 2008, the circuit court held a hearing to address the Court of Special Appeals' remand order. The parties discussed at length the procedural posture of the case, the scope of the remand order, and Woodfolk's state postconviction proceedings. Woodfolk requested that the circuit court reimpose the sentence he had originally received in March 1988 to permit him to pursue a postconviction challenge to his March 1988 guilty plea based on Vogelstein's alleged conflict of interest. The court granted this request and reimposed the March 1988 sentence but ran the sentence consecutive to Woodfolk's federal sentence. The circuit court issued a new commitment order that expressly superseded prior commitment orders issued on March 4 and October 28, 1988.

         Woodfolk filed a petition for postconviction relief in Maryland circuit court, at the latest, on January 20, 2009, [3] again arguing that his March 1988 plea was constitutionally invalid due to Vogelstein's conflict of interest. The court held a hearing on that petition, at which Woodfolk testified. The State presented no evidence but, in response to Woodfolk's allegations, argued that Woodfolk had procedurally defaulted his claim and that the claim failed on its merits.

         The circuit court denied the petition. It concluded that Woodfolk had waived his ineffective assistance claim under Md. Code Ann., Crim. Proc. § 7-106(b)(1)(i) by failing to challenge his guilty plea in an application for leave to appeal his March 1988 conviction. Woodfolk filed an application for leave to appeal the circuit court's postconviction ruling, which the Court of Special Appeals summarily denied in January 2012. After Woodfolk filed a motion for reconsideration, clarification, and stay of the mandate, however, the Court of Special Appeals ordered a response from the State to address the application of the procedural bar to Woodfolk's claim. The Court of Special Appeals denied reconsideration based on an alternative subsection of Md. Code Ann., Crim. Proc. § 7-106(b)(1)(i), ruling, sua sponte, that Woodfolk had waived his claim because he did not raise it in his prior postconviction petitions filed in 1998 and 2005. The Court of Appeals denied Woodfolk's petition for a writ of certiorari on October 21, 2013.

         On November 1, 2013, Woodfolk filed the instant 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition, again challenging his March 1988 guilty plea and resulting sentence on the basis of Vogelstein's conflict of interest. The State initially argued only that the petition was untimely, as the limitations period began to run, at the latest, on July 21, 2007, when the Court of Special Appeals' opinion reinstating Woodfolk's Rule 4-345 motion became final. In response, Woodfolk argued that his petition was timely because it was filed within one year of the judgment entered upon his resentencing in November 2008, taking into account statutory tolling for his subsequent state postconviction proceedings.

         The district court ordered the parties to submit additional briefing addressing the impact, if any, of Wall v. Kholi, 562 U.S. 545 (2011), on the timeliness determination; the merits of Woodfolk's claim; and whether the court could reach the merits of that claim even if the petition was timely. In response, the State argued, among other points, that Woodfolk's claim was procedurally defaulted under § 7-106(b)(1)(i) and otherwise failed on its merits. Woodfolk countered that the Maryland courts had not relied upon an independent and adequate state law bar that would preclude the claim's review.

         The district court denied Woodfolk's petition, concluding that the petition was untimely and that his claim was procedurally defaulted. The court determined that the Court of Special Appeals' June 2007 judgment had not authorized a resentencing, but merely reinstated Woodfolk's Rule 4-345 motion and directed the circuit court to consider the merits of that motion on remand. Relying on Kholi, the court held that Woodfolk's revived Rule 4-345 motion did not toll the limitations period and therefore did not render Woodfolk's petition timely. The court also determined that Woodfolk's ineffective assistance claim was procedurally defaulted because the circuit court had deemed it waived under § 7-106(b)(1)(i) due to Woodfolk's failure to file an application for leave to appeal the conviction based on his guilty plea. Woodfolk sought reconsideration pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e), which the district court also denied.

         Woodfolk timely appealed. We granted a certificate of appealability and directed briefing on the following issues: (1) Whether the district court had jurisdiction to adjudicate Woodfolk's numerically second § 2254 petition; (2) whether the district court erred in denying Woodfolk's petition as untimely; (3) whether the district court erred in denying Woodfolk's petition as procedurally defaulted; (4) whether the district court abused its discretion in denying Woodfolk's Rule 59(e) motion[4]; and (5) whether the district court erred in denying Woodfolk's § 2254 petition because he was denied effective assistance of counsel due to Vogelstein's conflict of interest. In assessing these issues, we review the district court's denial of habeas relief de novo. See Teleguz v. Pearson, 689 F.3d 322, 327 (4th Cir. 2012).

         II.

         As a threshold matter, we must consider several jurisdictional issues raised by recent state court action in Woodfolk's case. In November 2016, after the parties had completed formal briefing in this appeal, the Circuit Court for Baltimore City granted Woodfolk's most recent pro se motion to correct an illegal sentence. In accordance with that ruling, the circuit court entered a new commitment order modifying Woodfolk's sentence to run concurrent with, rather than consecutive to, any other outstanding or unserved sentence, including his term of federal incarceration. As a result of this order, Woodfolk's state term of incarceration has expired, and he is scheduled to serve his five-year term of probation upon his release from federal custody.

         The State questions whether the circuit court's action renders this appeal moot. We readily conclude that it does not. When Woodfolk filed his § 2254 petition, he satisfied the requirement that he be "in custody" pursuant to the state court judgment that he sought to invalidate. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). It is well settled that the "in custody" requirement applies at the time a petition is filed. See, e.g., Carafas v. LaVallee, 391 U.S. 234, 238-39 (1968); Griffin v. Balt. Police Dep't, 804 F.3d 692, 697 (4th Cir. 2015). The collateral consequences of Woodfolk's undisturbed convictions also readily satisfy the requirements of Article III jurisdiction. See Spencer v. Kemna, 523 U.S. 1, 7-8 (1998). Further, despite the modification of his sentence, Woodfolk remains "in custody, " and his petition remains ripe for adjudication in light of the probationary term he still must serve upon his release from federal prison. See Maleng v. Cook, 490 U.S. 488, 490-93 (1989) (per curiam) (concluding that federal prisoner under state detainer was "in custody" pursuant to state court judgment imposing term of imprisonment to be served upon completion of ...


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