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Phillips v. Woods

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

October 24, 2016

ANTON PHILLIPS, Petitioner,
v.
JEFFREY WOODS, Respondent.

          OPINION

          ROBERT HOLMES BELL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Petitioner Anton Phillips filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus challenging the validity of his state-court conviction. On August 10, 2016, Magistrate Judge Timothy Greeley issued a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) recommending that the Court dismiss the petition with prejudice because Petitioner's claims are without merit and are procedurally defaulted. (ECF No. 8.) The matter is before the Court on Petitioner's objections to the R&R. (ECF No. 12.)

         This Court is required to make a de novo review upon the record of those portions of the R&R to which specific objections have been made, and may accept, reject, or modify any or all of the magistrate judge's findings or recommendations. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b); see also Miller v. Currie, 50 F.3d 373, 380 (6th Cir. 1995) (“[A] general objection to a magistrate's report, which fails to specify the issues of contention, does not satisfy the requirement that an objection be filed. The objections must be clear enough to enable the district court to discern those issues that are dispositive and contentious.”).

         Petitioner has several objections. Petitioner objects to the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that the Michigan Court of Appeals decision was not contrary to, or did not involve an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law for Petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claims, his police coercion and intimidation claim, and his due process claim. Petitioner also objects to the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that his claim for denial for a Ginther hearing is not cognizable on habeas review. Finally, Petitioner objects to the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that his prosecutorial misconduct claim is procedurally defaulted.

         I. Standard of Review

         When a petitioner's claim has been adjudicated on the merits in state court, § 2254(d) provides that a habeas petition shall not be granted 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 on an unreasonable determination of facts in light of the evidence presented in the state-court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2554(d)(1)-(2).

         This Court may only consider the clearly established holdings of the Supreme Court when analyzing Petitioner's claim under § 2254(d). Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000). A state-court decision may only be overturned if: (1) it applies a rule contradicting Supreme Court governing law; (2) it contradicts a set of facts materially indistinguishable from a Supreme Court decision; (3) it unreasonably applies correct Supreme Court precedent to the facts of the case; (4) it unreasonably extends Supreme Court legal principles where it should not apply; or (5) it unreasonably refuses to extend Supreme Court legal precedent where it should apply. Bailey v. Mitchell, 271 F.3d 652, 655 (6th Cir. 2001) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 404-409 (2000)). This Court defers to state-court decisions when the state court addressed the merits of Petitioner's claim. Harris v. Stovall, 212 F.3d 940, 943 (6th Cir. 2000). The state court's factual findings are presumed to be correct but may be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

         A. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claims

         The Supreme Court has set forth a two-prong test to evaluate claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-88 (1984). Petitioner must prove: (1) that counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness; and (2) that counsel's deficient performance prejudiced the defendant resulting in an unreliable or fundamentally unfair outcome. Id. A court considering a claim of ineffective assistance must “indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.” Id. at 689. Petitioner bears the burden of overcoming this presumption. Id. Moreover, when a federal court reviews a state court's application of Strickland under § 2254(d), the review is “doubly” deferential. Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 105 (2011) (citing Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, 123 (2009)). A federal court must determine “whether there is any reasonable argument that counsel satisfied Strickland's deferential standard.” Id.

         Petitioner raises two separate claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. First, he argues that counsel was ineffective because he did not provide the jury with a self-defense or a lesser-included offense instruction. Petitioner raised this argument with the Michigan Court of Appeals. Applying Strickland's two-prong test, the Michigan Court of Appeals rejected his claim, and concluded that Petitioner's trial counsel performed within an objective standard of reasonableness with regard to jury instructions. (ECF No. 7-10, PageID.331-32.) The Michigan Court of Appeals noted that the evidence did not support a self-defense instruction, and that Petitioner was not entitled to a jury instruction on assault and battery, so counsel was not ineffective in failing to make a meritless motion or objection in regard to jury instructions. (Id.) These factual findings are presumed correct, and Petitioner has not rebutted these findings with clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

         Petitioner argues that the Michigan Court of Appeals erroneously held that Petitioner could only advance defense theories with direct evidence to support them and could not have advanced more than one defense theory. Petitioner asserts that it was “overwhelmingly established by evidence presented from the prosecution's witness no less, that the victim attacked the perpetrator first.” (ECF No. 12, PageID.634.) Yet the Michigan Court of Appeals explained that “the evidence at trial revealed that defendant's continued attack while the victim was on the ground was excessive and was unnecessary for self-defense.” (ECF No. 7-10, PageID.331.) Petitioner argues that it cannot be a sound trial strategy to fail to advance a defense theory that would have benefitted Petitioner, but the court found that the witness testimony showed that Petitioner was not acting in self-defense. Therefore, the court's conclusion that defense counsel performed within an objective standard of reasonableness was not contrary to and did not involve an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law. See Keeble v. United States, 412 U.S. 205, 208 ...


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