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Miller v. Clarke

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

April 18, 2019

DEREK A. MILLER, Petitioner,
HAROLD CLARKE, Respondent.


          Elizabeth K. Dillon, United States District Judge.

         Petitioner Derek A. Miller, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his 2014 conviction and sentence imposed by the Rockingham County Circuit Court. This matter is before the court on respondent's motion to dismiss. After reviewing the record, the court grants respondent's motion and dismisses the petition.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Underlying Conduct

         On the afternoon of July 24, 2013, while driving on a two-lane road in a no-passing zone, Miller passed multiple cars at a speed of at least 80 mph in Rockingham County. Miller began to fishtail and hit another car head-on. The victim died at the scene. Miller smelled of alcohol; admitted to drinking three beers that afternoon; and had bloodshot, glassy eyes and slurred speech. Miller was on probation at the time and was charged with aggravated involuntary manslaughter, driving while intoxicated (DUI), and driving on a revoked license.

         B. Trial Court

         On April 30, 2014, pursuant to a written plea agreement, Miller pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and probation violations[1] in exchange for the reduction from aggravated involuntary manslaughter and nolle prosequi of the DUI and driving on a revoked license charges.[2] The Plea Form noted that there was no agreement as to sentences, and, by signing it, Miller averred that no one "ha[d] made any promises to [him] that [he] would receive a lighter sentence or probation if [he] would plead guilty." Miller also confirmed to the court that there was no agreement regarding his sentence. Miller stated, under oath, that he fully understood the amended charge against him and that he had discussed the charge, its elements, and possible defenses with counsel. Miller told the court that he and counsel had discussed his potential pleas and that he had decided for himself, freely and voluntarily, to plead guilty because he was guilty. Miller confirmed that he understood that his conviction could cause the revocation of any suspended sentences and various collateral consequences. And he affirmed that no one had threatened or forced him to plead guilty and that no one had made any promises to induce his guilty plea. Regarding the Plea Form, Miller stated that he had read and understood "every single word" of the agreement and discussed it and its consequences with counsel. Miller specifically confirmed that he understood the range of punishment for the charge, described in the Plea Form as: "My attorney has advised me that the maximum punishment which the law provides for this offense is ... up to 10 years incarceration, or up to 12 months incarceration and/or a $2500 fine." Miller also told the court that he had discussed the sentencing guidelines with counsel and that he understood that the court was not required to follow those guidelines.

         The Commonwealth of Virginia then proffered that it would have offered additional testimony that Miller's blood alcohol content was .08 at approximately one hour and fifteen minutes after the accident, which extrapolated to approximately .11 or . 12 when he struck the victim's car. Further evidence would have shown that Miller was on Depakote, [3] Buspirone, [4] and Cymbalta, [5] which amplified the effects of the alcohol in his system. Miller specifically agreed to the Commonwealth's evidence and its sufficiency.

         The trial court found the evidence sufficient to convict Miller and further found that his plea was freely, voluntarily, and intelligently made with an understanding of the nature of the charge and the consequences of his guilty plea and plea agreement. Accordingly, the court accepted the plea agreement and found Miller guilty.

         At sentencing, Miller admitted that he understood how dangerous it was to combine his psychiatric prescriptions "with even a drop of alcohol." He admitted that on the day of the crash, he disobeyed his doctor's order by drinking after taking his medications. He also admitted that he had drunk more, later into the afternoon, than he had previously admitted to the police.

         The Commonwealth argued that the guidelines did not take into account Miller's speed, reckless passing, or suspended driver's license. It also noted Miller's prior DUI conviction, his significant criminal record, and discrepancies in Miller's testimony (at sentencing and the presentence investigation report) regarding his guilt and remorse. Finally, the Commonwealth noted that the victim's family did "not want a guidelines sentence. They want[ed] the full amount of time."

         In sentencing Miller, the court deviated upward from the sentencing guidelines. It noted that Miller had never successfully completed probation or parole connected to his thirty-two prior misdemeanors; that his future risk assessment "just about maxed [the scale] out"; that Miller had a "stop snitching" tattoo; and that Miller had refused to comply with his medication regimen and compounded that failure by drinking alcohol. On July 18, 2014, the court sentenced Miller to ten years of incarceration on the involuntary manslaughter conviction and a total of two years and ten months on the probation violations.

         C. Direct Appeals

         On appeal, Miller argued that the "trial court erred in sentencing [him] to a term of [twelve years and ten months] upon his conviction and probation violations." The Court of Appeals denied the appeal after it determined that the sentences were not an abuse of discretion because they were within the legal sentencing range. The Supreme Court of Virginia refused Miller's petition for appeal on November 6, 2015, and refused rehearing on February 5, 2016.

         D. State Habeas ...

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