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Clemons v. Palmer

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

October 31, 2016

LAMAR CLEMONS, Petitioner,
CARMEN PALMER, Respondent.


          Denise Page Hood Chief Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Petitioner Lamar Clemons' petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner was convicted in the Oakland Circuit Court after a jury trial of first-degree murder. Mich. Comp. Laws. § 750.316. He was sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole. The petition raises seven claims: (1) there was insufficient evidence presented at trial to sustain Petitioner's conviction, (2) Petitioner's trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request a more detailed accessory-after-the-fact jury instruction, (3) Petitioner's trial counsel was ineffective for failing to move to redact references to a polygraph test from Petitioner's videotaped statement to police, (4) Petitioner's trial was rendered fundamentally unfair by the admission of gruesome photographs, (5) Petitioner's trial counsel was ineffective in numerous other ways, (6) the prosecutor committed misconduct during closing arguments, and (7) Petitioner was denied his right to be present when witnesses testified against his co-defendant outside his presence.

         The Court finds that Petitioner's claims are without merit. Therefore, the petition will be denied. The Court will also deny Petitioner a certificate of appealability, but it will grant him permission to proceed on appeal in forma pauperis.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         Petitioner's convictions result from the shooting death of Jonathan Clements, who had arranged on the internet website Craigslist to purchase a cell phone from Petitioner's co-defendant, Alexander Lyons.

         The evidence presented at trial indicated that Lyons agreed to come to Hazel Park, where Clements lived, to sell his phone. Lyons asked Petitioner for a ride to Hazel Park. Before driving to Hazel Park, though, evidence suggested that Petitioner drove Lyons to another residence where Lyons picked-up a handgun. Lyons promised to pay Petitioner $30 for the ride.

         Evidence was presented indicating that Petitioner knew Lyons had previously schemed to use Craigslist to find a robbery victim. Petitioner had also seen Lyons two days earlier with a gun.

         The two men drove to Hazel Park in Petitioner's car. Lyons texted Clements to let him know they were having a hard time finding his address. Petitioner then parked in a bank parking lot close to Clements' address. Lyons got out of the car and walked out of Petitioner's line of sight.

         Petitioner waited in his car, and he heard two noises that sounded like gunfire. Lyons came running back to the car, told Petitioner he messed up, and Petitioner drove them home. The next day Petitioner drove Lyons to a house where Lyons returned the gun to Jeremy Baker, its owner.

         The next day, police officers pulled Petitioner's vehicle over for a traffic stop. Lyons was a passenger in the car. A detective investigating the shooting was called to the scene and interviewed Petitioner. Petitioner denied that he was with Lyons on the previous day, and he said he knew nothing about the Hazel Park shooting.

         Petitioner voluntarily came to the Hazel Park police station the next day to talk to the detective again. Petitioner told the detective he drove Lyons to Hazel Park two days before. Lyons said he was going there to sell his cell phone. In a second interview, however, Petitioner admitted that Lyons told him he was planning to commit a robbery. Dkt. 6-5, at 90-91, 117. Petitioner told the detective that immediately prior to Lyons leaving his car to meet with the buyer, Petitioner believed there was going to be a robbery. Id., at 117. Petitioner told the detective that he believed Lyons was armed with a gun on the day of the shooting, though he never saw it. Id., at 116.

         Based on this evidence, Petitioner was convicted of first-degree murder under an aiding and abetting theory and sentenced to life imprisonment.

         Petitioner filed a claim of appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals. His appellate brief raised the following claims:

I. Where the evidence did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant-Appellant Lamar Clemons knew of his co-defendant's larceny plan until after he had driven the co-defendant to the scene of the crime, it was legally insufficient to prove that he aided and abetted the larceny and thus insufficient to sustain his felony-murder conviction.
II. Counsel was ineffective for not insisting that the jury instructions make clear that if the jury believed Mr. Clemons to have been an accessory after the fact it should acquit him of the murder charges.
III. Counsel was ineffective for not insisting that the interrogation video be redacted to remove the interrogation's questions about Lamar Clemons's willingness to undergo a polygraph examination and Mr. Clemons's equivocal responses, and for instead expressing satisfaction with the trial judge's inadequate cautionary instruction.
IV. The trial judge denied Mr. Clemons a fair trial by admitting, over his lawyer's objection, a particularly gruesome autopsy photograph that was far more prejudicial than probative.

         Petitioner also filed a pro se supplemental brief that raised the following claims:

I. Defendant was denied his constitutional right to the effective assistance of trial counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment counsel's cumulative errors prejudice defendant to a fair trial.
II. Defendant was denied a fair trial because of prosecutor misconduct during closing arguments.
III. The defendant was denied his constitutional right to be present at all stages of his aiding and abetting trial when he was not allowed to hear the testimony of critical witnesses that testified at his co-defendant's trial in violation of the Due Process Clause.

         The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's conviction in an unpublished opinion. People v. Clemons, No. 306463 (Mich. Ct. App. Dec. 26, 2013). Petitioner subsequently filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court, raising the same claims. The Michigan Supreme Court denied the application because it was not persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed by the Court. People v. Clemons, 853 N.W.2d 100 (Mich. 2014).

         II. Standard of Review

         28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), as amended by The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), imposes the following standard of review for habeas cases:

An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim-
(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 proceeding.

         “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. “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).

         To obtain relief under § 2254(d)(2), a petitioner must show an unreasonable determination of fact and that the resulting state court decision was “based on” that unreasonable determination. Rice v. White, 660 F.3d 242, 250 (6th Cir. 2012). However, a federal habeas court must presume the correctness of state court factual determinations. See 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254(e)(1). A petitioner may ...

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