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Clayton v. Curley

March 22, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Arthur J. Tarnow United States District Judge



This matter is pending before the Court on petitioner Julius Leonard Clayton's habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The petition challenges Petitioner's Saginaw County convictions for felonious driving and vehicular manslaughter. Also pending before the Court are respondent Michael Curley's motion for an extension of time to file a responsive pleading, his motion to dismiss the petition, and Petitioner's motions for entry of a default, for immediate release, and to have Respondent serve a copy of his motion to dismiss on him.

Respondent has shown "good cause" for his failure to file a timely responsive pleading. Fed. R. Civ. P. 6(b)(1). Therefore, his motion for an extension of time [Dkt. #6] is GRANTED, and Petitioner's motion for entry of a default [Dkt. #8] is DENIED. Because Petitioner's habeas claims lack merit, Respondent's motion to dismiss the petition [Dkt. #9] is GRANTED, and Petitioner's motions for immediate release [Dkt. #10 and #14] are DENIED. Petitioner's motion to have Respondent effect service of his motion to dismiss on him [Dkt. #12] is DENIED as moot, because it is apparent from Petitioner's reply brief that he received a copy of the motion to dismiss.

I. Background

Petitioner initially was charged in Saginaw County, Michigan with felony murder, two counts of felonious driving, one count of unlawfully driving away a motor vehicle (or, in the alternative, receiving or concealing stolen property worth more than $100), and one count of second-degree retail fraud. The prosecutor later amended the information to include an additional count of manslaughter with a vehicle.

The charges arose from an incident that began at a J.C. Penney's department store on September 16, 1996, at approximately 4:00 p.m. Testimony at the preliminary examination established that Petitioner removed a sweatshirt from a rack in the store and placed it in a bag that he was carrying. Then he went from clerk to clerk trying to obtained a cash refund for the clothing. He was ultimately successful in obtaining a cash refund. He then left the store and drove away in a white car. Security officers at the store had observed Petitioner's conduct in the store and notified the police of the license plate number on the car that Petitioner drove away from the store. A police officer subsequently observed the car and followed it. The officer tried to effect a traffic stop, but the car which Petitioner was driving collided with a car driven by Juan Jesse Sotto. Mr. Sotto's three-year-old grandson, Adam Sotto, was killed in the crash. Also injured were Mr. Sotto and the passenger in Petitioner's car. Petitioner left the scene of the accident, but a civilian followed him, and the police detained him shortly afterward.

On April 29, 1997, Petitioner pleaded guilty to manslaughter with a vehicle, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.321, and two counts of felonious driving, Mich. Comp. Laws § 752.191. He also acknowledged being a habitual offender. Petitioner was thirty-five years old at the time, and he stated that he had completed six years of college. In return for Petitioner's plea, the prosecutor dismissed the other counts against Petitioner.

On July 22, 1997, the trial court sentenced Petitioner as a habitual offender to imprisonment for two to three years for each felonious driving conviction and fifteen to twenty-two and a half years for the manslaughter conviction. All the sentences were ordered to run concurrently.

The trial court initially denied Petitioner's motion for appointment of appellate counsel, stating that there were no arguable appellate issues. However, in 2003, Petitioner renewed his request for appointment of appellate counsel, and on November 26, 2003, the trial court granted his motion. Because the time for filing a direct appeal had expired, Petitioner's newly appointed attorney moved for relief from judgment, raising the same claims that Petitioner has presented in his habeas petition. The trial court denied the motion after stating that Petitioner's sentence was appropriate. The Michigan Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal on the ground that Petitioner had failed to establish entitlement to relief under Michigan Court Rule 6.508(D). See People v. Clayton, No. 274270 (Mich. Ct. App. May 14, 2007). On October 29, 2007, the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal for the same reason. See People v. Clayton, 480 Mich. 922; 740 N.W.2d 279 (2007).

Petitioner filed his habeas corpus petition on January 8, 2009. His claims are: (1) he did not receive any consideration for his plea; (2) trial counsel was ineffective; and (3) he is entitled to re-sentencing. Respondent urges the Court to dismiss the habeas petition for failure to comply with the one-year statute of limitations. Petitioner replies that he diligently pursued his claims and that the statute of limitations should be equitably tolled.

Neither the statute of limitations, nor procedural default, is a jurisdictional bar to consideration of a habeas petition on the merits. Trussell v. Bowersox, 447 F.3d 588, 590 (8th Cir. 2006) (quoted with approval in Smith v. Ohio Dep't of Rehabilitation and Corr., 463 F.3d 426, 429 n.2 (6th Cir. 2006)). Thus, there is no reason to address the statute of limitations or any procedural default. The Court will proceed to the merits of the petition "in the interest of judicial economy." Id.

II. Standard of Review

Section 2254(d) of Title 28, United States Code, imposes the following standard of review for habeas cases:

An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim --

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or

(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceedings.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Additionally, this Court must presume the correctness of state court factual determinations. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

A decision of a state court is "contrary to" clearly established federal law if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by the Supreme Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than the Supreme Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000). An "unreasonable application occurs" when "a state-court decision unreasonably applies the law of [the Supreme Court] to the facts of a prisoner's case." Id. at 409. A federal habeas court may not "issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather, that application must also be unreasonable." Id. at 410-11. Review of Petitioner's first and second claims is de novo because the state courts did not address those claims on their merits, and there is no state court decision to which this Court can defer under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Thompson v. Bell, 580 F.3d 423, 439 (6th Cir. 2009).

III. Discussion

A. Denial of the Motion to Withdraw the Plea

Petitioner alleges that his guilty plea to the manslaughter charge was not knowing and voluntary and that he should have been permitted to withdraw his plea because he did not receive any consideration for it. The essence of this claim is that the guilty plea was illusory because the original charge of felony murder was baseless. Petitioner contends that he could not have been found guilty of felony murder because: (1) he did not commit an underlying felony for purposes of the felony murder statute, and even if he did, the crime was completed when the taking occurred; (2) he did not possess the necessary mens rea; (3) a pivotal witness's testimony at the preliminary examination was inherently incredible; and (4) he was not the proximate cause of Adam Sotto's death.

1. Legal Framework

The Court begins its analysis by noting that a defendant in a criminal case has no absolute or constitutional right to withdraw a knowing and voluntary guilty plea. United States v. Williams, 23 F.3d 629, 634 (2nd Cir. 1994); Martuzas v. Reynolds, 983 F. Supp. 87, 90 (N.D. N.Y.1997); Freeman v. Muncy, 748 F. Supp. 423, 429 (E.D. Va. 1990); Williams v. Smith, 454 F. Supp. 692, 696 (W.D. N.Y. 1978). It is within the trial court's discretion to permit a defendant to withdraw his plea. Williams v. Smith, 454 F. Supp. at 696. Petitioner was fully advised of his rights and of the consequences of his plea. Therefore, he "has stated no basis for permitting him to withdraw his solemn admission of guilt." Siers v. Ryan, 773 F.2d 37, 42 (3rd Cir. 1985).

Even if Petitioner has stated a cognizable claim, the Court finds that Petitioner's plea to vehicular manslaughter was not illusory. In Michigan, ...

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