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Dahlstrom v. Trombley

March 23, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable David M. Lawson


The petitioner, Karl Dahlstrom, is a Michigan prisoner who challenges several convictions and sentences in his pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The petitioner was convicted by a Tuscola County, Michigan jury in 2004 of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, and telephone line cutting. He was sentenced as a second habitual offender to concurrent prison terms of 20 to 60 years, 15 to 22-1/2 years, and two to three years, respectively. The petitioner completed his telephone-line-cutting sentence in 2006 before he instituted this action, but he remains incarcerated on the criminal sexual conduct sentences. He raises several issues regarding the fairness of his trial and sentencing proceedings and the sufficiency of the evidence against him. The respondent filed an answer in opposition to the petition disputing the merits of the claims and raising procedural defenses. After reviewing the record and the submissions, the Court finds that the claim of prosecutorial misconduct must fail because the state court decided the issue on the basis of an independent and adequate state procedural rule, and the state courts' decisions on the other issues were not contrary to or an unreasonable application of federal law as determined by the Supreme Court. Therefore, the Court will deny the petition.


During the early morning hours of August 9, 2003, the petitioner sexually assaulted his former girlfriend, Lori Groth, at her apartment in Caro, Michigan and ripped her telephone from its connection so as to disable it. He was charged with the crimes noted above and proceeded to trial, asserting an alibi. At trial, Groth testified that the petitioner entered her apartment, threatened her and accused her of sleeping with other men, hit and choked her, held her down, ripped at her breasts, and penetrated her with his hand. Richard Campbell, the petitioner's co-worker, testified that he drove the petitioner to Groth's apartment that morning and waited in the car for him. He observed the petitioner throw Groth's telephone into a field and slash her car tires. Police and medical personnel testified that Groth was upset following the assault and that she had injuries consistent with her description of the incident. The petitioner denied going to Caro that morning and denied committing the offense. His alibi defense consisted of testimony by Jim Binder, an acquaintance, and the petitioner himself that the petitioner and Richard Campbell were at Binder's house before 5:00 a.m. on August 9, 2003 for a planned day of fishing. The jury was not convinced.

Following his convictions and sentence, the petitioner filed a motion for new trial challenging the validity of his convictions, his sentence, and trial counsel's handling of his case. The trial court held a hearing during which the petitioner and his original and substitute defense attorneys testified. The trial court denied the motion. The petitioner then filed a direct appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals, which affirmed the convictions and sentence. People v. Dahlstrom, No. 255875, 2005 WL 3238211 (Mich. Ct. App. Dec. 1, 2005) (unpublished). The Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal in a standard order. See People v. Dahlstrom, 475 Mich. 885, 715 N.W.2d 876 (2006).

Mr. Dahlstrom's timely petition contains the following six claims:

I. Petitioner's convictions should be overturned because there was insufficient credible evidence at trial to prove the petitioner guilty of the crimes charged;

II. The petitioner's convictions must be reversed because the verdict is against the great weight of evidence;

III. The petitioner's sentence was invalid because it was based on inaccurate information., i.e. improper scoring of the legislatively imposed sentencing guidelines, as well as inaccuracies in the P.S.I., and therefore use of an incorrect burden of proof, and therefore, his due process rights were violated, which requires resentencing;

IV. The prosecutors['] action denied the petitioner a fair trial and his due process rights under the Michigan and Federal Constitution;

V. The petitioner should receive a new trial because of incompetence of the trial counsel . . . violating petitioner's Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel;

VI. The trial judge erred by denying the petitioner's motion for new trial. Habeas Pet. at 5-6.


The provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (Apr. 24, 1996), which govern this case, "circumscribe[d]" the standard of review federal courts must apply when considering applications for a writ of habeas corpus raising constitutional claims, including claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. See Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520 (2003). As amended, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) permits a federal court to issue the great writ only if the state court decision on a federal issue "was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court," or it amounted to "an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)&(2); Franklin v. Francis, 144 F.3d 429, 433 (6th Cir. 1998). Mere error by the state court will not justify issuance of the writ; rather, the state court's application of federal law "must have been objectively unreasonable." Wiggins, 539 U.S. at 520-21 (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 409 (2000) (internal quotes omitted)). Additionally, this Court must presume the correctness of state court factual determinations. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1) ("In a proceeding instituted by an application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court, a determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct."); see also West v. Seabold, 73 F.3d 81, 84 (6th Cir. 1996) (stating that "[t]he court gives complete deference to state court findings of historical fact unless they are clearly erroneous").

The Supreme Court has explained the proper application of the "contrary to" clause as follows:

A state-court decision will certainly be contrary to [the Supreme Court's] clearly established precedent if the state court applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in our cases. . . .

A state-court decision will also be contrary to this Court's clearly established precedent if the state court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of this Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [the Court's] precedent.

Williams, 529 U.S. at 405-06.

The Supreme Court has held that a federal court should analyze a claim for habeas corpus relief under the "unreasonable application" clause of § 2254(d)(1) "when a state-court decision unreasonably applies the law of this Court to the facts of a prisoner's case." Id. at 409. The Court defined "unreasonable application" as follows:

[A] federal habeas court making the "unreasonable application" inquiry should ask whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law was objectively unreasonable. . . .

[A]n unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of federal law. . . . Under § 2254(d)(1)'s "unreasonable application" clause, then, 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 409-11; see also Knowles v. Mirzayance, __ U.S. __, __, 129 S.Ct. 1411, 1419 (2009) (noting that the Supreme "Court has held on numerous occasions that it is not '"'an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law'"' for a state court to decline to apply a specific legal rule that has not been squarely established by this Court") (quoting Wright v. Van Patten, 552 U.S. 120, 125-26 (2008) (per curiam)); Murphy v. Ohio, 551 F.3d 485, 493-94 (6th Cir. 2009); Eady v. Morgan, 515 F.3d 587, 594-95 (6th Cir. 2008); Davis v. Coyle, 475 F.3d 761, 766-67 (6th Cir. 2007); King v. Bobby, 433 F.3d 483, 489 (6th Cir. 2006); Rockwell v. Yukins, 341 F.3d 507, 512 (6th Cir. 2003) (en banc).


The petitioner first asserts that he is entitled to habeas relief because the prosecution presented insufficient evidence to support his convictions. The respondent contends that this claim lacks merit. As an initial matter, the Court notes that the petitioner has completed his sentence for his conviction for telephone line cutting on August 25, 2006. The present petition was filed on February 8, 2007. A writ of habeas corpus may only be granted to a person who is "in custody."

28 U.S.C. §§ 2241(c)(3), 2254(a); Maleng v. Cook,490 U.S. 488, 490-91 (1989); see also Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 484 (1973) (explaining that under sections "2241(c)(3) and 2254(a) [and] . . . the common-law history of the writ . . . that the essence of habeas corpus is an attack by a person in custody upon the legality of that custody, and that the traditional function of the writ is to secure release from illegal custody"). Under sections 2241 and 2254, custody status is determined at the time that the complaint is filed. Carafas v. LaVallee, 391 U.S. 234, 238 (1968). A person is considered to be "in custody" when his liberty is directly circumscribed by government oversight, such as parole, Jones v. Cunningham, 371 U.S. 236, 240-41 (1963), bail, Hensley v. Mun. Ct., San Jose Milpitas Judicial Dist., 411 U.S. 345, 349 (1973), or probation, McVeigh v. Smith, 872 F.2d 725, 727 (6th Cir. 1989). However, the Supreme Court has "never held . . . that a habeas petitioner may be 'in custody' under a conviction when the sentence imposed for that conviction has fully expired at the time his petition is filed." Maleng, 490 U.S. at 491. It is generally acknowledged that "after a petitioner's sentence for a conviction has completely expired, the collateral consequences of that conviction are insufficient to render him 'in custody' under § 2254(a)." Clemons v. Mendez, 121 F. Supp. 2d 1101, 1102-03 (E.D. Mich. 2000) (citing Maleng, 490 U.S. at 492)) (additional internal citation omitted). Therefore, the Court has no authority to grant a habeas writ that would affect the telephone line cutting conviction. The Court will limit its discussion to whether the prosecution presented sufficient evidence to support the petitioner's criminal sexual conduct convictions.

The Due Process Clause "forbids a State to convict a person of a crime without proving the elements of that crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Fiore v. White, 531 U.S. 225, 229 (2001) (citing Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 316 (1979)); see also In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364 (1970). Sufficient evidence supports a conviction if, "after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319 (emphasis in original).

The Michigan Court of Appeals applied this standard on direct appeal when it denied relief ...

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