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Criminal Practice – Habeas Review Ordered for Conflict of Interest

Woodfolk v. Maynard (Lawyers Weekly No. 001-117-17, 42 pp.) (Gregory, J.) No. 15-6364, May 23, 2017; USDC at Baltimore, Md. (Motz, J.) 4th Cir.

Holding: A defendant who has for 30 years contended that his guilty plea to attempted murder and a firearm offense was procured by a lawyer who had a conflict of interest in favor of his codefendant, who went free, is entitled to have his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel adjudicated, as the 4th Circuit finds no time bar or adequate procedural bar to preclude review; the court vacates denial of defendant’s habeas petition.

Time Limit

Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, a habeas petition is subject to a one-year statute of limitations. The one-year period here runs from the date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review. The parties dispute which of several state court judgments triggered the limitations period under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A).

In state court proceedings addressing petitioner’s criminal judgment – including the most recent circuit court decision modifying petitioner’s sentence in 2016 – the Maryland courts have characterized the circuit court’s November 2008 hearing as a resentencing proceeding. It is not our prerogative to second-guess the state courts’ characterization of their own proceedings, and we find their characterization of the hearing compelling. Construing the November 2008 hearing as a resentencing, we hold that the petition is timely. The majority of our sister circuits to consider the issue have concluded that when a state court defendant has been granted a resentencing, the limitations period under § 2244(d)(1)(A) runs from the judgment entered upon resentencing – even if, as here, defendant’s habeas petition challenges the underlying conviction. His petition is timely.

Having overcome the time bar, petitioner may not obtain review of the merits of his claim unless he also can overcome the district court’s finding of procedural default. Under the exceptional circumstances presented by petitioner’s case, we conclude that neither procedural bar identified by the state is adequate to preclude federal review of his ineffective assistance of counsel claim.

The state fails to point to a single case in which Maryland courts have barred review of an ineffective assistance claim on post-conviction review because it was not raised in an application for leave to appeal a conviction based upon a guilty plea. Our research reveals a paucity of relevant authority. The state’s failure to establish that the bar in Md. Code Ann. Crim. Proc. § 7-106(b)(1)(i)(4) is regularly and consistently applied to claims analogous to petitioner’s claim renders the bar inadequate and consequently permits a federal habeas court to address his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.

The parties seemingly agree that petitioner’s trial counsel represented petitioner and a codefendant on related charges, and that the state did not proceed with charges against the codefendant while petitioner was sentenced to a term of incarceration. The parties dispute, however, both the extent to which this apparent conflict of interest affected counsel’s representation of petitioner and the reasonableness of the remaining alternative strategies petitioner proffers. While we express no opinion as to the ultimate merits of petitioner’s claim, we reserve the appropriate resolution of these factual questions for the district court on remand.

We vacate the denial of the petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 and remand for further proceedings.

Vacated and remanded.

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