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McGrath v. Executive Director, Court Support Services

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 19, 2016

JOHN MCGRATH, Petitioner,
v.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COURT SUPPORT SERVICES, Respondent.

          ORDER DISMISSING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge

         Petitioner John McGrath has filed this pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons set forth below, I will dismiss the petition on the ground that it was not timely filed within one year of when his state court convictions became final.

         Background

         On August 9, 2002, McGrath was convicted after a bench trial in the Connecticut Superior Court on multiple counts of sexual assault and risk of injury to a child, and he was sentenced to a total effective sentence of 18 years of imprisonment, suspended after 11 years, and 20 years of probation. His convictions were affirmed by the Connecticut Appellate Court on February 8, 2005, see State v. John M., 87 Conn.App. 301 (2005), and by the Connecticut Supreme Court on March 11, 2008, see State v. John M., 285 Conn. 822 (2008). He did not seek certiorari from the U.S. Supreme Court.

         During the pendency of his direct appeal, McGrath filed a pro se petition for a new trial on the ground of newly discovered evidence. See Docs. #13-6 at 2; #13-7. The trial court denied the petition on August 9, 2007. See McGrath v. State, 2007 WL 2429203 (Conn. Super. 2007).

         Before the trial court denied him a new trial, McGrath amended his petition to include a claim for ineffective assistance of trial counsel, which the trial court construed as a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. See Docs. #13-6; #13-8. The state trial court eventually denied the petition on July 27, 2010. See McGrath v. State, 2010 WL 3326820 (Conn. Super. 2010). McGrath did not file a timely petition for certification to pursue appellate review of this decision. Doc. #13-1 at 10.

         More than two years later, McGrath was released from custody and began his term of probation on December 28, 2012. Doc. #13-2 at 2. A few months after his release, McGrath filed a writ of error to the Connecticut Supreme Court on March 14, 2013, to challenge the state court's denial in 2010 of his habeas petition. Docs. #13-6 at 3; #13-11 at 2. After transfer of the writ to the Connecticut Appellate Court, the state moved to dismiss the writ on the ground that it was procedurally improper, because McGrath should have-but did not-file a timely appeal from the state court's denial of his habeas corpus petition; the state's motion to dismiss was granted on September 18, 2013. See Docs. #13-14 through #13-17.

         On October 8, 2013, McGrath filed a motion in this Court seeking to toll the one-year statute of limitations for the filing of a federal habeas corpus petition. See Doc. #1, McGrath v. Exec. Dir. of Court Support Servs., No. 3:13-mc-131 (VLB). His motion was assigned to the docket of my colleague, Judge Vanessa Bryant, who denied the motion on November 3, 2014. Judge Bryant declined in the first place to construe the tolling motion as a petition for a writ of habeas corpus because it lacked any statement of a basis for the Court to grant relief. See Doc. #2 at 3, McGrath v. Exec. Dir of Court Support Servs., No. 3:13-mc-131 (VLB) (“this court cannot construe petitioner's motion as a section 2254 petition, as petitioner fails to describe the claims he proposes to assert in a future federal habeas petition”).

         Judge Bryant further concluded that McGrath had not timely sought federal habeas corpus relief. McGrath argued before Judge Bryant that the one-year limitations period should be tolled because his wife had been assisting him with his legal filings while he had been incarcerated, and she had misled him into believing that certain legal actions were proceeding when in fact they were not. Id. at 1-2. Judge Bryant did not agree that the alleged deception by McGrath's wife would allow for equitable tolling of the one-year limitations period:

Even assuming that his wife's alleged deception can be considered extraordinary circumstances, petitioner has not demonstrated that he pursued his rights diligently. Petitioner has not shown why he was required to rely on his wife, who was apparently not acting as his attorney, in filing legal actions for him. A great many incarcerated individuals are able to pursue their own habeas petitions pro se. [citation omitted] Even if, hypothetically, petitioner could show that he required his wife's assistance, he has not demonstrated that he was diligent in supervising her. Petitioner may not simply rely on his wife's representations - as he was proceeding pro se, he was himself ultimately responsible for ensuring that his case was filed and proceeding as he wished. By comparison, even those habeas petitioners proceeding with counsel are “[responsible] for overseeing the attorney's conduct or the preparation of the petition.” [quoting Doe v. Menefee, 391 F.3d 147, 175 (2d Cir. 2004)] Petitioner has not shown that he was diligent in overseeing his wife in assisting him, nor has he shown that he was diligent in making certain that his case was filed and being litigated. Petitioner has thus not demonstrated that he is eligible for equitable tolling.

Id. at 4-5.

         In the meantime, on January 7, 2014, McGrath filed the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus, and this petition ended up on my docket. See Doc. #1. McGrath's federal petition challenges his convictions on multiple grounds, including alleged abuse of judicial discretion by the state trial judge, alleged prosecutorial misconduct, and alleged ineffective assistance of counsel. Predictably enough, respondent has moved to dismiss the petition as untimely. Doc. #13.

         Discussion

         A federal court “shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Federal law, however, imposes stringent time limitations for prisoners to seek federal habeas corpus relief. Subject to certain exceptions, federal law requires that a federal petition for habeas ...


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