United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division
Sharion Aycock U.S. District Judge
matter comes before the court on the pro se petition
of Sanford Mason for a writ of habeas corpus under
28 U.S.C. § 2254. The State has moved  to dismiss
the petition for failure to state a claim upon which relief
could be granted. The petitioner has not responded, and the
deadline to do so has expired. The mater is ripe for
resolution. For the reasons set forth below, the instant
petition for a writ of habeas corpus must be
dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief
could be granted and as procedurally defaulted.
Corpus Relief Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254
writ of habeas corpus, a challenge to the legal
authority under which a person may be detained, is ancient.
Duker, The English Origins of the Writ of Habeas Corpus: A
Peculiar Path to Fame, 53 N.Y.U.L.Rev. 983 (1978); Glass,
Historical Aspects of Habeas Corpus, 9 St. John's L.Rev.
55 (1934). It is “perhaps the most important writ known
to the constitutional law of England, ” Secretary
of State for Home Affairs v. O'Brien, A.C. 603, 609
(1923), and it is equally significant in the United States.
Article I, § 9, of the Constitution ensures that the
right of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be
suspended, except when, in the case of rebellion or invasion,
public safety may require it. Habeas Corpus, 20 Fed.
Prac. & Proc. Deskbook § 56. Its use by the federal
courts was authorized in Section14 of the Judiciary Act of
1789. Habeas corpus principles developed over time
in both English and American common law have since been
The statutory provisions on habeas corpus appear as
sections 2241 to 2255 of the 1948 Judicial Code. The
recodification of that year set out important procedural
limitations and additional procedural changes were added in
1966. The scope of the writ, insofar as the statutory
language is concerned, remained essentially the same,
however, until 1996, when Congress enacted the Antiterrorism
and Effective Death Penalty Act, placing severe restrictions
on the issuance of the writ for state prisoners and setting
out special, new habeas corpus procedures for
capital cases. The changes made by the 1996 legislation are
the end product of decades of debate about habeas
Id. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, a federal court may
issue the writ when a person is held in violation of the
federal Constitution or laws, permitting a federal
court to order the discharge of any person held by a
state in violation of the supreme law of the land.
Frank v. Mangum, 237 U.S. 309, 311, 35 S.Ct. 582,
588, 59 L.Ed. 969 (1915).
and Procedural Posture
1982, petitioner Sanford Mason was convicted of rape in the
Oktibbeha County Circuit Court and sentenced to serve a term
of life in the custody of the Mississippi Department of
Corrections (“MDOC”), without parole as a
habitual offender. See Exhibit A (Sentencing Order
in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court Cause Number 10-373). On
direct appeal, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed
Mason's conviction and life sentence. Mason v.
State, 440 So.2d 318 (Miss. 1983) (Cause No.
February 8, 2013, Mason filed an Application for Leave to
Proceed in the Trial Court with a motion for DNA testing,
which was docketed in Mississippi Supreme Court Cause Number
2013-M-00253. See Exhibit C. In his motion, brought
pursuant to the Mississippi Uniform Post-Conviction Relief
Act, Miss. Code Ann. § 99-39-5(1)(f), Mason sought DNA
testing of certain biological evidence, which he believed was
available. See Exhibit C. Specifically, he requested
that DNA testing be performed on a rape kit collected during
the investigation of his case. See id.
7, 2013, the Mississippi Supreme Court granted Mason's
Application for Leave to Proceed in the Trial Court with his
petition for post-conviction relief seeking DNA testing.
See Exhibit D. Mason filed a copy of his petition in
the Oktibbeha County Circuit Court, and the Circuit Court
appointed counsel to represent him in his post-conviction
proceeding. See State Court Record
(“SCR”), Cause No. 2017-CP-00415-COA, Vol. 1, p.
25. Mason's appointed counsel advised the circuit court
that she had searched diligently for a rape kit and other
physical evidence related to Mason's case to allow for
DNA testing, but was unsuccessful. See id. at
64-105. On February 6, 2015, the circuit court held a hearing
with Mason present, at which the Oktibbeha County Circuit
Clerk, an investigator for District Attorney's Office, a
witness from the City of Starkville Police Department, and a
former Oktibbeha County Circuit Clerk all testified that
they, along with Mason's attorney, conducted a full and
complete investigation for physical evidence related to
Mason's case; however, despite their efforts, they were
unable to locate any such evidence. See id.
Specifically, the former Oktibbeha County Circuit Clerk
testified that, sometime after 1989, probably closer to 2000,
significant flooding occurred in the county courthouse - raw
sewage spilled from a bathroom in the tax assessor's
office, over into an exhibit storage room located below.
See id. at 81-87. This significant flooding of raw
sewage destroyed or ruined approximately twenty-five percent
of the items stored in the exhibit room, to the point that
such was unsalvageable. See id. The former clerk
testified that, based on her contemporaneous handwritten
notes, she believed that the physical evidence from
Mason's case was destroyed as a result of the flooding of
raw sewage. See id. During the hearing, both Mason
and his counsel acknowledged that there was no proof that any
of the evidence had been intentionally destroyed. See
id. at 92, 95-96. Mason's counsel further
acknowledged that there was no evidence of negligence of the
parties, the Circuit Clerk, or anyone else. See id.
at 92. Mason agreed that his appointed counsel had exhausted
her efforts in searching for the evidence. See id.
at 99. Mason's counsel advised the court that she could
not file a petition for post-conviction relief under
Mississippi Code Annotation section 99-39-5(1)(f)
“because the evidence does not exist.”
Id. at 92. The court determined that, based on the
information provided at the hearing, there was no evidence to
be examined, no showing that the State purposefully destroyed
evidence, nor a showing that the Circuit Clerk's Office
was negligent in its handling of the destroyed evidence.
Id. at 93.
February 10, 2017, the circuit court entered an Order closing
the case. See Exhibit E. In its Order, the circuit
court found that: (1) no physical evidence remained in this
case to be tested because of its apparent physical
destruction; (2) the destruction was not an intentional act
of any party, but due to the flooding of raw sewage into the
storage area where such evidence would be normally be
secured, making any attempt at preservation impossible; and
(3) there was no physical evidence to be subjected to
testing, so Mason's post-conviction petition was moot, as
there was no relief to be sought or which could be granted.
See Exhibit E.
appealed the circuit court's Order, contending that the
destruction of the rape kit and other evidence collected
during the investigation of his case violated his right to
due process. See SCR, Cause No.
2017-CP-00415-COA, Briefs of the Parties, Appellant's
Brief. On May 22, 2018, the Mississippi Court of Appeals
affirmed the trial court's ruling that Mason was not
entitled to post- conviction relief in a published opinion.
See Exhibit F. Mason v. State, 247 So.3d
362 (Miss. Ct. App. 2018) (Cause No. 2017-CP-00415-COA). The
Mississippi Court of Appeals held that there was no evidence
to establish that the State's destruction of the physical
evidence in Mason's rape case was in bad faith, as
required. Id. at 364 (citing Chapman v.
State, 47 So.3d 203, 209 ¶ 22 (Miss. Ct. App.
2010), cert. denied, 63 So.3d 1229 (Miss. 2011), and
Ariz. v. Youngblood, 488 U.S. 51, 58 (1988)
(“[U]nless a criminal defendant can show bad faith on
the part of the police, failure to preserve potentially
useful evidence does not constitute a denial of due process
of law.”)). The record reflects that Mason failed to
seek rehearing and, in turn, certiorari review in
the State's highest court.
3, 2018, Mason filed the instant petition for writ of
habeas corpus and memorandum in support, raising the
sole claim of “spoliation, ” alleging the
“destruction of biological evidence.” ECF Doc. 1
at 5. Mason alleges that, “if the evidence from the
rape kit had not been destroyed it could have been tested
through D.N.A. procedure[, ] and [the] results of testing
could have exonerated Petitioner.” Id. In
support of his spoliation claim, Mason asserts “[t]he
negligent act of the security personnell [sic]” charged
with “keeping rape kit samples secured cause[d]
Petitioner Mason to still be incarcerated in the State
Penitentiary.” Id. In his prayer for relief,
Mason requests “[t]hat evidence be produced for D.N.A.
testing or, ” alternatively, that he be retried, and
for any other relief that this Court deems proper.
Id. at 14.
to State a ...