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Hope v. Cartledge

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

May 22, 2017

MAURICE SHAUNDELL HOPE, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
WARDEN CARTLEDGE, Respondent-Appellee.

          Argued: March 21, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, at Greenville. R. Bryan Harwell, District Judge. (6:14-cv-03571-RBH)

         ARGUED:

          Daniel Kazhdan, JONES DAY, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

          Alphonso Simon, Jr., OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF SOUTH CAROLINA, Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Jennifer L. Swize, Yaakov M. Roth, JONES DAY, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

          Alan Wilson, Attorney General, John W. McIntosh, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Donald J. Zelenka, Assistant Deputy Attorney General, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF SOUTH CAROLINA, Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellee.

          Before KING, SHEDD, and THACKER, Circuit Judges.

          SHEDD, Circuit Judge:

         Maurice Hope appeals the denial of his habeas corpus petition. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         I.

         On January 1, 2008, between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., a Bi-Lo grocery store located in Rock Hill, South Carolina, was robbed. Hope was arrested for this crime along with two co-conspirators, brothers Corey Spruell[1] and Jarrod Heath. Spruell and Heath pled guilty to charges related to the robbery, and Hope proceeded to trial on charges of kidnapping, armed robbery, conspiracy to commit armed robbery, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime.

         At trial, the State presented the testimony of three Bi-Lo employees who were present at the time of the robbery. The employees testified that two men entered the store wearing ski masks and carrying handguns. One of the men held the employees at gunpoint while the other took the money from the bookkeeper's station. Because the robbers wore ski masks, the employees could not specifically identify them. However, they described the robber who held them at gunpoint as a black male of medium or stocky build, similar to Hope's physical characteristics.

         Pursuant to plea deals, Spruell and Heath testified on behalf of the State. Spruell testified that he and Hope, with the help of Heath, robbed the Bi-Lo store. According to Spruell, he entered the store with Hope while Heath remained in the car as the getaway driver, and he took the money from the bookkeeper's station while Hope held the employees at gunpoint. Heath then testified that he had overheard Spruell and Hope planning the robbery and agreed to drive them. Heath confirmed that Spruell and Hope entered the Bi-Lo with handguns and robbed the store while wearing ski masks. The State also presented evidence showing that Hope's wallet was found in the trunk of Heath's car when police searched it.[2]

         A videotape of the robbery confirmed this general description of the events. Additionally, the State called a disinterested third party witness who testified that she saw a suspicious car containing a minimum of three individuals enter the Bi-Lo parking lot shortly before the robbery. The witness testified that she thought the car was a dark colored Dodge Stratus or Intrepid. The trial testimony indicates that these vehicles look very similar to the dark green Chrysler 300 driven by Heath. Thus, the videotape corroborates the testimony of what occurred inside the Bi-Lo, and the disinterested third party substantiates Spruell and Heath's testimony that three men participated in the robbery.

         The defense called six witnesses, including Hope. One witness was Hope's girlfriend, and now wife, Christian, three witnesses were Hope's roommates, and one witness was a roommate's friend. According to the defense witnesses, Hope arrived at his house between 12 a.m. and 1 a.m. on January 1, 2008, for a party. Hope and the other witnesses testified that they stayed up talking until the sun came up, and during that time Hope never left the house. After the sun rose, at around 7 a.m., Hope and his girlfriend went to their bedroom. At about this time, Hope and his girlfriend accidentally broke their bed, and it took somewhere between 30-60 minutes to fix the bed. Thus, according to Hope and his alibi witnesses, Hope could not have robbed the Bi-Lo between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. on January 1, 2008, because he was at home when the robbery occurred.

         Hope also testified that he left the jurisdiction after being informed that he was wanted for armed robbery. Hope went to Detroit, Michigan, for four months and lived with a cousin. Hope was on probation at the time, and his travel to Detroit was a violation of his probation. He returned to South Carolina for his son's birthday, and the police found him hiding in a closet when they searched his house.

         In the State's reply, a detective testified that he went to Hope's residence on January 11, 2008. He recalled that at least three of the alibi witnesses were present when he arrived, including Christian. Despite explaining that he was there to inquire about Hope's involvement in the robbery, the individuals did not advise the detective that Hope was at home with them on the morning of the robbery. Christian also failed to mention that Hope was with her on the morning of the robbery during any of the four to six subsequent phone conversations the detective had with her.

         Hope's sole defense was the alibi testimony, and South Carolina law requires that an alibi charge be given under these circumstances. See State v. Robbins, 271 S.E.2d 319, 320 (S.C. 1980); State v. Bealin, 23 S.E.2d 746, 756 (S.C. 1943). Nevertheless, Hope's trial counsel failed to request an alibi instruction, and the court did not sua sponte provide one. The jury found Hope guilty on all counts, and the court sentenced him to a 30-year imprisonment term.

         Thereafter, the South Carolina Court of Appeals summarily dismissed Hope's direct appeal. Hope then filed an application for post-conviction relief ("PCR"), asserting claims of ineffective assistance of counsel pursuant to Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984) (requiring proof of deficient performance and resulting prejudice to succeed on an ineffective assistance claim). Among other allegations, Hope argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request an alibi charge. After conducting a hearing, the PCR court denied his application, and the South Carolina Supreme Court summarily denied his petition for writ of certiorari.

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, Hope then filed this federal habeas petition reiterating his claim that his trial counsel was ineffective because he did not request an alibi instruction. The State moved for summary judgment arguing that Hope did not suffer prejudice from trial counsel's failure to request an alibi charge. The district court granted the motion and dismissed the habeas petition, finding no prejudice under Strickland. However, the district court granted a certificate of appealability on the question of whether Hope was prejudiced from the lack of an alibi instruction.

         II.

         We review the district court's order denying habeas relief de novo. Tucker v. Ozmint, 350 F.3d 433, 438 (4th Cir. 2003) (citations omitted). Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, federal courts may not grant habeas relief in a § 2254 action unless the underlying state adjudication:

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the ...

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