United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS AND DECLINING TO ISSUE CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY
GERALD E. ROSEN, Chief District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on Petitioner Manuel Gonzales' petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner challenges his convictions for second-degree murder, possession of a dangerous weapon with unlawful intent, possession of a firearm by a felon, and felony firearm on the grounds that he was denied his right to counsel of choice, his attorney had a conflict of interest, that he was twice placed in jeopardy for the same offense, his sentence was unlawfully increased, the prosecutor committed misconduct, and his trial and appellate attorneys were ineffective. The Court denies the petition.
Petitioner's convictions arise out of events that occurred on July 4, 2001, in Saginaw, Michigan, leading to the death of Jake Lawrence Stark. Deangelo Kelly testified that he lived with his mother, siblings, and his step-father Stark. Kelly testified that, on July 4, 2001, Petitioner, who is Kelly's cousin, and several other guests, were at the Stark home barbequing. At some point, Petitioner and Stark argued when Petitioner lit a cigar inside the home. Stark pushed Petitioner, hitting him in the eye. Petitioner then left the Stark home. Stark became angry and ordered everyone to leave the home, threatening to shoot anyone who did not leave.
Approximately ten minutes later, Petitioner returned holding a gun which was wrapped in a white towel. Petitioner fired once, hitting the barbeque grill. He then approached a vehicle in which Stark was seated and started shooting. Stark tried to exit the vehicle and fell to the ground. Petitioner fled.
Bryant Wilbert (Stark's grandson), who was nine years old at the time of the shooting, testified that he witnessed Petitioner and Stark argue on the day of the shooting. A few minutes before the shooting, Wilbert saw Petitioner across the street. Petitioner approached the home quickly, shooting, while moving toward the car where Stark was seated.
Dr. Kanu Virani testified that Stark died from gunshot wounds to his abdomen.
Police Officer Danny McDone testified that he responded to the 911 call regarding a shooting on Johnson Street. Someone in the crowd informed him that Petitioner had been the shooter.
Petitioner testified in his own defense. He admitted to bringing a.22 caliber weapon, wrapped in a towel, to Stark's home. He testified that he carried it for protection because Stark often bullied him. He believed that Stark was going to his vehicle to retrieve a gun and would kill him. He fired shots at Stark because he was afraid.
II. Procedural History
Petitioner originally pleaded guilty but mentally retarded in Saginaw County Circuit Court to second-degree murder, possession of a dangerous weapon with unlawful intent, possession of a firearm by a felon, and felony firearm. In exchange for the plea, the charge of first-degree murder would be dismissed. Petitioner later filed a motion to withdraw his plea, which the trial court granted and a jury trial was held. Petitioner was convicted of second-degree murder, possession of a dangerous weapon with unlawful intent, possession of a firearm by a felon, and felony firearm. On November 7, 2003, he was sentenced to thirty to fifty years imprisonment for the murder conviction, three to five years imprisonment for the carrying-a-dangerous-weapon conviction, three to five years imprisonment for the felon-in-possession conviction, and two years imprisonment for the felony-firearm conviction.
Petitioner did not timely request appointment of counsel to file a claim of appeal. He, therefore, lost his appeal of right. Petitioner filed a motion for new trial in the trial court, which was denied. People v. Gonzales, No. 01-20393-FC-2 (Saginaw County Circuit Court Sept. 28, 2004). Petitioner filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals, presenting the following claims:
I. Defendant was deprived of his Ams. V and XIV rights of due process and his Am. VI right to counsel of his choosing when the Court required him to proceed with counsel who was associated with a conflict of interest.
II. Defendant was deprived of his Ams. V and XIV rights of due process and his Am. VI right to effective assistance of counsel, when counsel failed to recuse himself.
III. Defendant was deprived of his Ams. V and XIV rights of due process when he was deprived of his right to be free from double jeopardy.
IV. Defendant contends that he was denied his Ams. V and XIV rights to due process when he received an increased minimum sentence based upon exercise of his right to trial.
The Michigan Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal. People v. Gonzales, No. 258799 (Mich. Ct. App. Apr. 6, 2005).
Petitioner filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court, raising the same claims raised in the Michigan Court of Appeals. The Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal. People v. Gonzales, 474 Mich. 933 (Mich. 2005).
Petitioner then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, presenting the same claims presented to the state courts. The Court appointed counsel to represent Petitioner. On June 25, 2008, the Court issued an order staying and administratively closing the habeas proceeding to allow Petitioner to file a motion for relief from judgment in the state trial court.
Petitioner raised the following claims in his motion for relief from judgment: (i) trial counsel was ineffective in failing to advise Gonzales of his conflict of interest until the day of trial and failing to withdraw as counsel, allowing Gonzales to withdraw his guilty plea, failing to object to the prosecutor's improper cross-examination, and failing to investigate and present mitigating facts; (ii) prosecutor committed misconduct by eliciting testimony from Gonzales regarding prior juvenile convictions; and (iii) appellate counsel was ineffective, which establishes cause for failure to raise these issues in prior appeal. The trial court denied the motion. People v. Gonzales, No. 01-020393-FC-2 (Saginaw County Cir. Ct. Feb. 23, 2009).
The Michigan Court of Appeals denied Gonzales's application for leave to appeal "for failure to meet the burden of establishing entitlement to relief under M.C.R. 6.508(D)." People v. Gonzales, No. 293876 (Mich. Ct. App. Jan. 14, 2010). The Michigan Supreme Court also denied leave to appeal "because the defendant has failed to meet the burden of establishing entitlement to relief under M.C.R. 6.508(D)." People v. Gonzales, 487 Mich. 853 (Mich. July 26, 2010).
Gonzales then moved for the Court to reopen this habeas proceeding, which the Court did. Gonzales raises these claims in his habeas corpus petition:
I. Petitioner was deprived of his V and XIV Amendment rights of due process and his VI Amendment rights to counsel of his choosing when the court required him to proceed with counsel who was associated with a conflict of interest.
II. Petitioner was deprived of his V and XIV Amendment rights of due process and his VI Amendment rights to effective assistance of counsel when counsel failed to recuse himself.
III. Petitioner was deprived of his V and XIV Amendment rights of due process when he was deprived of his right to be free from double jeopardy.
IV. Defendant was denied his V and XIV Amendment rights to due process when he received an increased minimum sentence based upon exercise of his right to trial.
V. Trial counsel was ineffective by (1) failing to properly disclose in a timely fashion to his mentally retarded client the fact that he and the prosecutor were step-brothers; (2) advising or allowing Petitioner to withdraw his guilty plea to a lesser included offense causing reinstatement of first-degree murder charges based upon a non-existent defense; (3) directing the prosecutor at trial to elicit testimony from Gonzales about his inadmissible prior drug and firearms convictions, thereby seriously prejudicing Petitioner in the eyes of the jury; and (4) failing to investigate or present existing mitigating facts at trial or at sentencing.
VI. Prosecutorial misconduct rendered the trial fundamentally unfair where he elicited statements from Petitioner regarding his prior juvenile firearm and felony drug convictions even though Petitioner had stipulated to a prior felony conviction to satisfy that element of the felon in possession charge.
VII. Appellate counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to properly raise Petitioner's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel and omitting a prosecutorial misconduct claim on appeal.
Respondent filed an answer contesting the merits of the petition, and raising a procedural default defense for several of the issues. The Court finds it unnecessary to address the question of procedural default. It is not a jurisdictional bar to review of the merits of an issue, Howard v. Bouchard, 405 F.3d 459, 476 (6th Cir. 2005), and "federal courts are not required to address a procedural-default issue before deciding against the petitioner on the merits, " Hudson v. Jones, 351 F.3d 212, 215 (6th Cir. 2003) (citing Lambrix v. Singletary, 520 U.S. 518, 525 (1997)). Application of a procedural bar would not affect the outcome of this case, and it is more efficient to proceed directly to the merits.
Review of this case is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"). Under the AEDPA, a state prisoner is entitled to a writ of habeas corpus only if he can show that the state court's adjudication of his claims -
(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).
"A state court's decision is contrary to'... clearly established law if it applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court cases]' or if it confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme] Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [this] precedent.'" Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 15-16 (2003) (per curiam) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)). "[T]he unreasonable application' prong of the statute permits a federal habeas court to grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts' of petitioner's case." Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520 (2003) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 413). However, "[i]n order for a federal court find a state court's application of [Supreme Court] precedent unreasonable, ' the state court's decision must have been more than incorrect or erroneous. The state court's application must have been objectively unreasonable.'" Wiggins, 539 U.S. at 520-21 (citations omitted); see also Williams, 529 U.S. at 409. "A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as fairminded jurists could disagree' on the correctness of the state court's decision." Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011), quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004). "Section 2254(d) reflects the view that habeas corpus is a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal.... As a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement." Id. at 786-87 (internal quotation omitted).
Section 2254(d)(1) limits a federal habeas court's review to a determination of whether the state court's decision comports with clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court at the time the state court renders its decision. See Williams, 529 U.S. at 412. Section 2254(d) "does not require citation of [Supreme Court] cases - indeed, it does not even require awareness of [Supreme Court] cases, so long as neither the reasoning nor the result of the state-court decision contradicts them." Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002). "[W]hile the principles of "clearly established law" are to be determined solely by resort to Supreme Court rulings, the decisions of lower federal courts may be instructive in assessing the reasonableness of a state court's resolution of an issue." Stewart v. Erwin, 503 F.3d 488, 493 (6th Cir. 2007), citing Williams v. Bowersox, 340 F.3d 667, 671 (8th Cir. 2003); Dickens v. Jones, 203 F.Supp.2d 354, 359 (E.D. Mich. 2002).
Lastly, a federal habeas court must presume the correctness of state court factual determinations. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). A petitioner may rebut this presumption only with clear and convincing evidence. ...