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Atkinson v. MDOC

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

November 15, 2016

MDOC, Respondent.


          THOMAS L. LUDINGTON United States District Judge.

         Petitioner Steven Atkinson, presently on parole supervision through the Lapeer County Parole Office in Lapeer, Michigan, was convicted by a jury in the Emmet County Circuit Court of two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct in violation of Mich. Comp Laws § 750.520c(1)(a). Petitioner was sentenced to three to fifteen years in prison. On February 16, 2016 Petitioner filed a pro se application for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 contending that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel and that his lifetime tether requirement violates the Fourth and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Respondent Michigan Department of Corrections (“MDOC”) has filed an answer to the petition, asserting that the claims lack merit and have been procedurally defaulted. Because Petitioner's claims are without merit, the petition will be denied.


         The following relevant facts relied upon by the Michigan Court of Appeals are presumed correct on habeas review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). See Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 413 (6th Cir. 2009).

Defendant and KH lived together from July 2009, through defendant's conviction in March 2012. Defendant's teenage daughter, HA, and KH's two daughters, HR and MR, resided with the couple. In late November or early December 2011, the three girls reported that defendant had sexually touched MR. During this time period, MR was suffering from chronic back pain and would often climb into defendant and her mother's bed in search of a back rub. MR claimed that the inappropriate touching occurred as a result of such a massage. The girls' stories were inconsistent about dates and whether defendant had previously molested MR, and their stories changed over time. MR was inconsistent about what body parts defendant touched, where she was lying at the time, and whether defendant was actually awake during the incident. HR added her accusation of sexual touching after the fact. Following the accusations, HR and MR moved in with their father and HA also left the residence.
Defense counsel's strategy was to attack the girls' credibility in order to show that they fabricated their claims against defendant in retaliation for his strict discipline. Despite the attack on the witnesses' veracity, the jury convicted defendant of sexually touching MR.[1]

People v. Atkinson, No. 311626, 2014 WL 129269, at *1 (Mich. Ct. App. Jan. 14, 2014). Petitioner's conviction was affirmed by the Michigan Court of Appeals. Id. The Michigan Supreme Court then denied Petitioner's application for leave to appeal. People v. Atkinson, 497 Mich. 896, 855 N.W.2d 744 (Mich. 2014).


         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 adjudication is contrary to Supreme Court precedent under § 2254(d)(1) if (1) “the state court applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases” or (2) “ the state court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision [of the Supreme Court] and nevertheless arrives at a [different result].” Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 73 (2003) (internal quotation marks omitted). A state court adjudication involves an unreasonable application of federal law under § 2254(d)(1) if “the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme Court's] decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.” Harris v. Haeberlin, 526 F.3d 903, 909 (6th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         “In order for a federal court to find a state court's application of [Supreme Court] precedent unreasonable, the state court's decision must have been more than incorrect or erroneous, ” but rather “must have been objectively unreasonable.” Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520-21 (2003) (internal quotations and citations omitted):

[E]ven clear error will not suffice. Rather, 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.

White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014) (citations, quotation marks, and alterations omitted). “When reviewing state criminal convictions on collateral review, federal judges are required to afford state courts due respect by overturning their decisions only when there could be no reasonable dispute that they were wrong.” Woods v. Donald, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015). “Federal habeas review thus exists as ‘a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal.'” Id. (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102-03 (2011)). “[W]hether the trial judge was right or wrong is not the pertinent question under AEDPA.” Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 778 n.3 (2010). Rather, the pertinent question is whether the state court's application of federal law was “objectively unreasonable.” White, 134 S.Ct. at 1702. In short, the standard for obtaining federal habeas relief is “difficult to meet . . . because it was meant to be.” Burt v. Titlow, 134 S.Ct. 10, 16 (2013) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In his § 2254 petition, Petitioner Atkinson seeks a writ of habeas corpus on two separate grounds. First, he argues that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel because his trial counsel failed to interview necessary witnesses with exculpatory testimony and failed to play a forensic protocol DVD, which highlighted inconsistencies in MR's allegations. Petitioner also argues that imposition of lifelong GPS monitoring infringes upon his constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures under the ...

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