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Beeler v. Clarke

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

May 30, 2017

LABARRY BEELER, Petitioner,
v.
HAROLD W. CLARKE, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION.

          NORMAN K. MOON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Labarry Beeler, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this petition for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, asserting his actual innocence regarding a conviction in Culpepper County Circuit Court. Respondent filed a motion to dismiss Beeler's § 2254 petition, and Beeler responded, making the matter ripe for disposition. After review of the record, I will grant the motion to dismiss.

         I. Procedural Background

         In 1999, Beeler pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the Culpepper County Circuit Court. The circuit court sentenced Beeler to life in prison. Beeler did not pursue a direct appeal.

         Beeler did, however, file a timely petition for a writ of habeas corpus to the Virginia Supreme Court, raising three ineffective assistance of counsel claims. The court dismissed the petition in 2000. Next, he filed a federal habeas petition, which the district court denied in 2001. Beeler appealed, but the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision. Lastly, he petitioned for a writ of certiorari from the United States Supreme Court, but the Court refused review.

         In 2016, Beeler filed the present habeas action, alleging two actual innocence claims:

         1. Newly discovered evidence shows that the petitioner was involuntarily intoxicated and actually innocent when he committed his crime and thus his procedural defaults should not be enforced against him; and

         2. The newly discovered evidence requires a new trial for the petitioner. Beeler has not raised either claim before the current petition.

         II. Actual Innocence Gateway

         “Generally, a federal court may not consider claims that a petitioner failed to raise at the time and in the manner required under state law.” Teleguz v. Zook, 806 F.3d 803, 807 (4th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). The “actual innocence gateway” under Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298 (1995) and McQuiggin v. Perkins, 133 S.Ct. 1924 (2013) enables a federal court to review otherwise defaulted or time-barred claims when a petitioner makes a “compelling showing of actual innocence.” Teleguz, 806 F.3d at 807. For a petitioner to claim actual innocence, “[new] evidence must establish sufficient doubt about [a petitioner's] guilt to justify the conclusion that his [incarceration] would be a miscarriage of justice unless his conviction was the product of a fair trial.” Schlup, 513 U.S. at 316 (emphasis in original). Actual innocence “does not by itself provide a basis for relief. Instead, [the petitioner's] claim for relief depends critically on the validity of his [procedurally defaulted claim].” Id. at 315 (citing Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390, 403 (1993)) (emphasis added).

         Beeler has alleged actual innocence, and he demands a new trial, but he has not asserted any underlying substantive allegations that are cognizable on federal habeas review. Actual innocence is merely a gateway that enables federal review of otherwise defaulted claims; it is not, in and of itself, a claim for habeas relief under § 2254.

         Beeler argues that his actual innocence entitles him to review of his defaulted claims and a new trial. However, neither “claim” in his present petition is an allegation of error that renders his conviction contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, federal law, or an unreasonable determination of facts. In Herrera v. Collins, the Supreme Court addressed precisely this situation:

Petitioner in this case is simply not entitled to habeas relief . . . [f]or he does not seek excusal of a procedural error so that he may bring an independent constitutional claim challenging his conviction or sentence, but rather argues that he is entitled to habeas relief because newly discovered evidence shows that his conviction is factually incorrect. The fundamental miscarriage of justice exception is available “only where the prisoner supplements his constitutional claim with a colorable showing of factual ...

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