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Nava v. Bauman

United States District Court, Western District of Michigan, Southern Division

April 16, 2015

CARLOS ALBERTO NAVA, Petitioner,
v.
CATHERINE S. BAUMAN, Respondent.

OPINION

ROBERT HOLMES BELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This is a habeas corpus action brought by a state prisoner pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Promptly after the filing of a petition for habeas corpus, the Court must undertake a preliminary review of the petition to determine whether “it plainly appears from the face of the petition and any exhibits annexed to it that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court.” Rule 4, Rules Governing § 2254 Cases; see 28 U.S.C. § 2243. If so, the petition must be summarily dismissed. Rule 4; see Allen v. Perini, 424 F.2d 134, 141 (6th Cir. 1970) (district court has the duty to “screen out” petitions that lack merit on their face). A dismissal under Rule 4 includes those petitions which raise legally frivolous claims, as well as those containing factual allegations that are palpably incredible or false. Carson v. Burke, 178 F.3d 434, 436-37 (6th Cir. 1999). After undertaking the review required by Rule 4, the Court concludes that the petition must be dismissed because it fails to raise a meritorious federal claim.

Factual Allegations

Petitioner Carlos Alberto Nava presently is incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections at the Alger Correctional Facility. Petitioner was convicted by a jury in the Ottawa County Circuit Court of three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC), Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.520b(1)(a). Additionally, before trial, Petitioner pleaded nolo contendere to one count of third-degree CSC, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.520d(1)(a). On March 19, 2012, Petitioner was sentenced to prison terms of 6 to 15 years for the third-degree CSC conviction, 15 to 50 years for one of the first-degree CSC convictions and 25 to 50 years for the other two first-degree CSC convictions.[1]

Petitioner appealed his convictions to the Michigan Court of Appeals which affirmed the judgment in a per curiam opinion issued on April 18, 2013. Petitioner filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court which was denied on December 23, 2013. Petitioner timely filed the instant action raising the same grounds for relief that he raised in the courts of appeal:

I. THE APPLICATION OF A MANDATORY MINIMUM OF 25 YEARS TO MR. NAVA – WITHOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF PAROLE – IS A [SIC] DISPROPORTIONATE AND THUS IS A VIOLATION OF HIS MICHIGAN AND FEDERAL CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS TO BE FREE FROM CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT.
II. THE MICHIGAN LEGISLATURE’S CONSTRUCTION OF A MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCING REGIME THAT ALLOWS FOR NO JUDICIAL DISCRETION OR FLEXIBILITY IN APPLICATION IS A VIOLATION OF THE DOCTRINE OF SEPARATION OF POWERS OF THE MICHIGAN CONSTITUTION.

Am. Pet., docket #4-1, Page ID# 55.

Discussion

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, Pub. L. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (AEDPA) “prevents federal habeas ‘retrials’” and ensures that state court convictions are given effect to the extent possible under the law. Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693-94 (2002). The AEDPA has “drastically changed” the nature of habeas review. Bailey v. Mitchell, 271 F.3d 652, 655 (6th Cir. 2001). An application for writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person who is incarcerated pursuant to a state conviction cannot be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the adjudication: “(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 upon an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

The AEDPA limits the source of law to cases decided by the United States Supreme Court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). This Court may consider only the “clearly established” holdings, and not the dicta, of the Supreme Court. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000); Bailey, 271 F.3d at 655. In determining whether federal law is clearly established, the Court may not consider the decisions of lower federal courts. Lopez v. Smith, __ S.Ct. __, 2014 WL 4956764, at *3 (Oct. 6, 2014); Bailey, 271 F.3d at 655; Harris v. Stovall, 212 F.3d 940, 943 (6th Cir. 2000). Moreover, “clearly established Federal law” does not include decisions of the Supreme Court announced after the last adjudication of the merits in state court. Greene v. Fisher, 132 S.Ct. 38 (2011). Thus, the inquiry is limited to an examination of the legal landscape as it would have appeared to the Michigan state courts in light of Supreme Court precedent at the time of the state-court adjudication on the merits. Miller v. Stovall, 742 F.3d 642, 644 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Greene, 132 S.Ct. at 44).

A federal habeas court may issue the writ under the “contrary to” clause if the state court applies a rule different from the governing law set forth in our cases, or if it decides a case differently than we have done on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Bell, 535 U.S. at 694 (citing Williams, 529 U.S. at 405-06). The court may grant relief under the “unreasonable application” clause “if the state court correctly identifies the governing legal principle from our decisions but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular case.” Id. A federal habeas court may not find a state adjudication to be “unreasonable” “simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly.” Williams, 529 U.S. at 411; accord Bell, 535 U.S. at 699. Rather, the issue is whether the state court’s application of clearly established federal law is “objectively unreasonable.” Id. at 410. “[R]elief is available under § 2254(d)(1)’s unreasonable-application clause if, and only if, it is so obvious that a clearly established rule applies to a given set of facts that there could be no ‘fairminded disagreement’ on the question.” White v. Woodall, 572 U.S.___, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1706-07 (2014) (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 131 S.Ct. 770, 784 (2011)).

Where the state appellate court has issued a summary affirmance, it is strongly presumed to have been made on the merits, and a federal court cannot grant relief unless the state court’s result is not in keeping with the strictures of the AEDPA. See Harrington, 131 S.Ct. at 784; see also Johnson v. Williams, 133 S.Ct. 1088, 1094 (2013); Werth v. Bell, 692 F.3d 486, 494 (6th Cir. 2012) (applying Harrington and holding that a summary denial of leave to appeal by a Michigan appellate court is considered a decision on the merits entitled to AEDPA deference). The presumption, however, is not irrebuttable. Johnson, 133 S.Ct. at 1096. Where other circumstances indicate that the state court has not addressed the merits of a claim, the court conducts de novo review. See Id . (recognizing that, among other things, if the state court only decided the issue based on a state standard different from the federal standard, the presumption arguably might be overcome); see also Harrington, 131 S.Ct. at 785 (noting that the presumption that the state-court’s decision was on the merits “may be overcome when there is reason to think some other explanation for the state court’s decision is more likely”); Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 534 (2003) (reviewing habeas issue de novo where state courts had not reached the question).

The AEDPA requires heightened respect for state factual findings. Herbert v. Billy, 160 F.3d 1131, 1134 (6th Cir. 1998). A determination of a factual issue made by a state court is presumed to be correct, and the petitioner has the burden of rebutting the presumption by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Lancaster v. Adams, 324 F.3d 423, 429 (6th Cir. 2003); Bailey, 271 F.3d at 656. This presumption of correctness is accorded to findings of state appellate courts, as well as the trial court. See Sumner v. Mata, 449 U.S. 539, 546 (1981); Smith ...


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