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DANIELS v. WARDEN OF THE RED ONION STATE PRISON




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DANIELS

v.

WARDEN OF THE RED
ONION STATE PRISON


Present: All the Justices

Record No. 022195

TRAVIS EUGENE DANIELS, NO. 304441

 

v.

 

WARDEN OF THE RED ONION STATE PRISON

PER CURIAM

October 31, 2003

UPON A PETITION FOR A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

 

In this habeas corpus case, Travis Eugene Daniels, the
petitioner, previously filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the trial
court in which he was convicted of various felony offenses and sentenced to a
period of incarceration of 33 years in prison. Prior to a consideration of the
merits of that petition, the trial court entered an order of nonsuit at Daniels’
request and dismissed that petition.[1]
On September 23, 2002, invoking the original jurisdiction of this Court, Daniels
filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus against the Warden of the Red Onion
State Prison, challenging the legality of his convictions in the trial court.
The dispositive issue before us is whether this petition is procedurally barred
by the provision of Code ? 8.01-654(B)(2) that "[n]o writ shall be
granted on the basis of any allegation the facts of which petitioner had
knowledge at the time of filing any previous petition." See Dorsey
v. Angelone
, 261 Va. 601, 604, 544 S.E.2d 350, 352 (2001), cert. denied,
534 U.S. 924 (2001)(holding that a habeas petition that was
"withdrawn" by the petitioner barred the filing of a subsequent
petition).

Daniels does not dispute that his initial habeas petition, which
asserted a generalized claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, contained
inadequate allegations of fact to support the specific issues he now raises in
his current petition to this Court. Rather, Daniels contends that dismissal of
his habeas petition is not warranted because the nonsuit of his first habeas
petition did not invoke the bar of Code ? 8.01-654(B)(2). Daniels notes
that unlike the "withdrawal" of the habeas petition in Dorsey,
the dismissal of his prior habeas petition by nonsuit was pursuant to the
statutory right provided by Code ? 8.01-380. Thus, Daniels contends that,
as would be permitted in any other civil case, he is entitled to commence a new
proceeding on the same cause without limitation on the introduction of new
claims and allegations of fact.[2]
This is so, he asserts, because "[a] nonsuit does not involve a decision on
the merits, rather it ‘simply [puts] an end to the present action, but is no
bar to a subsequent action for the same cause.’ " Sheets v.
Castle
, 263 Va. 407, 413, 559 S.E.2d 616, 620 (2002) (quoting Payne v.
Buena Vista Extract Co.
, 124 Va. 296, 311, 98 S.E. 34, 39 (1919)).

The Attorney General, on behalf of the Warden, responds that,
for purposes of resolving the successive petitions issue in this case, the
holding of Dorsey controls. The Attorney General asserts that there is no
significant distinction between a habeas petition which is "withdrawn"
on the petitioner’s motion and one which is the subject of a voluntary nonsuit
by the petitioner. We agree with the Attorney General.

In Dorsey, we held that:

The statutory language [of Code ? 8.01-654(B)(2)] is
plain and unambiguous, clearly limiting the right of a prisoner to file
successive petitions for writs of habeas corpus. The key provisions of this
statutory language focus on "the time of filing" the first habeas
petition.

 

The statutory language could not be more explicit; it means
what it says. At the time of filing the initial petition, the prisoner must
include "all" claims the facts of which are known to the prisoner.
And, no habeas relief will be granted based upon "any" allegation
the facts of which the prisoner had knowledge at the time of filing any
previous petition.

 

Dorsey, 261 Va. at 603-04, 544 S.E.2d at 352.

 

Daniels correctly contends that generally the effect of a first
voluntary nonsuit pursuant to Code ? 8.01-380 is to put an end to a case
without prejudice and without a decision on the merits, and the fact of the
former suit places no impediment on the claims or allegations that may be raised
in a timely filed subsequent action on the same cause. However, Code
? 8.01-380 is a statute of general application for all civil cases. By
contrast, Code ? 8.01-654 is a specific statute, narrow in scope, applying
only to petitions for writs of habeas corpus.

To the extent that these code sections can be said to be
facially in conflict in the context of the present case, our resolution of that
conflict is guided by a well established rule. "The rule is that ‘when
one statute speaks to a subject in a general way and another deals with a part
of the same subject in a more specific manner, the two should be harmonized, if
possible, and where they conflict, the latter prevails.’" Thomas v.
Commonwealth
, 244 Va. 1, 22-23, 419 S.E.2d 606, 618 (1992) (quoting Virginia
National Bank v. Harris
, 220 Va. 336, 340, 257 S.E.2d 867, 870 (1979)).

Applying this rule and the rationale of Dorsey that
"the key provisions of [Code ? 8.01-654(B)(2)] focus on ‘the time
of filing’ the first habeas petition" and that at "the time of
filing the initial petition, the prisoner must include ‘all’ claims the
facts of which are known to the prisoner," the provisions of Code
? 8.01-654(B)(2) and those of Code ? 8.01-380 may be readily
harmonized. Simply put, the provisions of Code ? 8.01-654(B)(2) require a
prisoner to include all claims that he intends to bring before the court in his
first habeas petition. Regardless of the manner in which that habeas petition is
resolved, he may not thereafter file a subsequent habeas petition that seeks
relief based upon any allegations of fact that were known to him at the time of
the initial filing and not included therein. Accordingly, Code
? 8.01-654(B)(2) does not conflict with a prisoner’s right to seek a
nonsuit under Code ? 8.01-380, but having elected to take a nonsuit under
the latter statute, the former statute bars him from raising in a subsequent
petition those issues which he knew of and could have raised in the first
petition, but failed to assert.

In this case, the allegations of fact that form the basis of his
claims challenging the legality of his convictions unquestionably were known to
Daniels at the time he filed his first habeas petition in the trial court, but
were not raised therein. Accordingly, Daniels’ petition for a writ of habeas
corpus will be dismissed.

Dismissed.

FOOTNOTES:

[1]Daniels
also filed a habeas petition in the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Virginia, which subsequently was dismissed at his request. The fact
of the federal court habeas petition does not impinge upon our analysis of this
case.

 

[2]Challenging
the rationale of Dorsey, Daniels also contends that a proper
interpretation of Code ? 8.01-654(B)(2) would bar the filing of a
subsequent habeas petition only where there had been a decision on the merits of
a prior petition, and he urges this Court to reconsider the holding in Dorsey
and overturn that decision. Since the decision in Dorsey was announced,
the General Assembly has met twice in regular session and has not acted to amend
Code ? 8.01-654 to alter our decision in that case. "‘Under these
circumstances, the construction given to the statute is presumed to be
sanctioned by the legislature and therefore becomes obligatory upon the courts.’"
Cochran v. Commonwealth, 258 Va. 604, 607, 521 S.E.2d 287, 289 (1999), cert.
denied
, 529 U.S. 1075 (2000) (quoting Vansant and Gusler, Inc. v.
Washington
, 245 Va. 356, 361, 429 S.E.2d 31, 33-34 (1993)). Accordingly, we
decline Daniels’ invitation that we revisit our decision in Dorsey.

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