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Johnson v. Palmer

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

October 7, 2016

JERELL CHANEY JOHNSON, Petitioner,
v.
CARMEN PALMER, Respondent.

          OPINION

          GORDON J. QUIST 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

         Plaintiff Jerell Chaney Johnson presently is incarcerated at the Michigan Reformatory. Following a jury trial in the Wayne County Circuit Court, Petitioner was convicted of second-degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.317, assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.84, being a felon in possession of a firearm, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.224f, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (felony firearm), Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b. On July 1, 2013, Petitioner was sentenced to respective prison terms of 40 to 80 years, 4 to 10 years, 2 to 5 years, and 2 years.

         Petitioner appealed his convictions and sentences to the Michigan Court of Appeals, raising the following two issues:

I. DID THE INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE PRESENTED DURING THE DEFENDANT-APPELLANT'S TRIAL ON THE ELEMENT OF IDENTITY, TO SUPPORT THE JURY'S VERDICTS OF GUILTY OF ONE COUNT EACH OF SECOND DEGREE MURDER, ASSAULT WITH INTENT TO DO GREAT BODILY HARM LESS THAN MURDER (AGBH), FELON IN POSSESSION OF A FIREARM WHILE INELIGIBLE (FELON IN POSSESSION), AND POSSESSION OF A FIREARM IN THE COMMISSION OF A FELONY (FELONY FIREARM), CONSTITUTE A DENIAL OF THE DUE PROCESS OF LAW GUARANTEED BY THE FIFTH AMENDMENT TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION?
II. DOES THE SENTENCE OF FROM FORTY YEARS TO EIGHTY YEARS, IMPOSED PURSUANT TO THE DEFENDANT-APPELLANT'S CONVICTION FOR ONE COUNT OF SECOND DEGREE MURDER, AND TO BE SERVED CONSECUTIVE TO THE TWO YEAR PRISON TERM IMPOSED PURSUANT TO HIS CONVICTION FOR FELONY FIREARM, CONSTITUTE A VIOLATION OF THE GUARANTEE AGAINST CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT PROVIDED BY THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION AND THE GUARANTEE AGAINST CRUEL OR UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT PROVIDED BY THE MICHIGAN CONSTITUTION?

(Pet., ECF No. 1, PageID.2) In an unpublished opinion issued on October 23, 2014, the court of appeals rejected both appellate grounds and affirmed the convictions and sentences. (10/23/14 Mich. Ct. App. (MCOA) Op., ECF No. 2-1, PageID.70-72.) Petitioner sought leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, raising the same two issues. The supreme court denied leave to appeal on April 28, 2015.

         Petitioner filed his habeas petition on or about June 1, 2016, raising the same two issues presented to and rejected by the Michigan appellate courts.

         Discussion

         This action is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub. L. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (AEDPA). See Penry v. Johnson, 532 U.S. 782, 792 (2001). The 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). This standard is “intentionally difficult to meet.” Woods v. Donald, 575 U.S. ____, 135 S.Ct. 1372');">135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         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, 135 S.Ct. 1, 3 (2014); Bailey, 271 F.3d at 655. 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 the Supreme Court's cases, or if it decides a case differently than the Supreme Court has done on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Bell, 535 U.S. at 694 (citing Williams, 529 U.S. at 405-06). “To satisfy this high bar, a habeas petitioner is required to ‘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.'” Woods, 2015 WL 1400852, at *3 (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011)). In other words, “[w]here the precise contours of the right remain unclear, state courts enjoy broad discretion in their adjudication of a prisoner's claims.” White v. Woodall, 572 U.S.____, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1705 (2014) (quotations marks omitted).

         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, 562 U.S. at 99; 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, 562 U.S. at 99-100 (noting that the presumption that the state-court's decision ...


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