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Poindexter v. Berghuis

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

December 2, 2016

DAMON LAMONT POINDEXTER, Petitioner,
v.
MARY BERGHUIS, Respondent.

          OPINION

          ROBERT HOLMES BELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is a habeas corpus proceeding brought by a state prisoner pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner seeks to overturn his plea-based convictions in Saginaw County Circuit Court for carrying a dangerous weapon with unlawful intent, carrying a firearm by a felon, felony firearm, and assault with intent to commit great bodily harm less than murder. In accordance with the terms of the plea agreement, Petitioner was sentenced as an habitual offender, fourth felony offense, Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.12, to a consecutive two-year sentence for the felony-firearm conviction and concurrent sentences of five to twenty years' imprisonment on the other convictions.

         After unsuccessful attempts to overturn his plea-based convictions in Michigan's courts, Petitioner filed his federal habeas corpus petition. He asks this Court to overturn his convictions on grounds rejected by Michigan's courts:

I. The trial court violated petitioner's Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights by not accepting plaintiff's demand that the court replace his trial counsel.
II. Petitioner was deprived of his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment right to counsel by his attorney's failure to investigate petitioner's case or seek an adjournment.

(Pet., 6-7, ECF No. 1, PageID.6-7.)

         On August 28, 2014, respondent filed her answer to the petition. Respondent argues that the petition should be denied for lack of merit. (Resp't's Answer, 23-37, ECF No. 7, PageID.70-84.) After review of the state-court record, the Court concludes that the habeas petition should be denied for lack of merit in the grounds presented.

         Procedural and Factual Backround

         Petitioner was charged with assault with intent to murder, carrying a dangerous weapon with unlawful intent, felon in unlawful possession of a firearm, felony firearm, and being an habitual offender, fourth felony offense. (ECF No. 8-1, PageID.94.) Following a preliminary examination held on October 7, 2010, Petitioner was bound over for trial on all of the charged offenses. (PE, 35-36, PageID.134-35.)

         Petitioner's trial was originally scheduled to begin on February 15, 2011. That trial date was adjourned. Petitioner's attorney had requested a forensic examination in October 2010, and the court had granted his motion. As of February 15, 2011, the court did not have the results of the forensic examination. (ECF No. 8-3, PageID.138.) Petitioner's trial was rescheduled for April 2011.

         On April 26, 2011, the court granted Petitioner's attorney's motion for an adjournment. At that time, the parties anticipated that the forensic report would be completed within two weeks. (ECF No. 8-4, PageID.140-143.) On June 27, 2011, the trial court conducted a competency hearing and determined that Petitioner was competent to stand trial. The court rescheduled trial to begin on July 19, 2011. (ECF No. 8-5, PageID.147-148.)

         The prosecutor filed a motion in limine to use Petitioner's prior convictions for impeachment purposes. (ECF No. 8-6, PageID.150.) On July 18, 2011, the court conducted a hearing on this motion. During the course of this hearing, one day before his trial was scheduled to begin, Petitioner asked the court to remove defense counsel and either appoint new counsel or adjourn the trial date so that Petitioner could try to hire an attorney. The court denied Petitioner's requests, concluding that it was impossible to get Petitioner a new attorney one day before trial. The trial court noted that the case was quite old, was the number-one case set for trial the next day, and the trial had already been adjourned on multiple occasions. (ECF No. 8-7, PageID.154-155.)

         The following day, July 19, 2011, Petitioner entered his guilty plea. (Plea Transcript (PT), ECF No. 8-8.) The transcript reveals that the terms of the plea agreement were reviewed with plaintiff at length. The prosecution agreed to drop the charge of assault with intent to commit murder and allow Petitioner to plead guilty of the lesser charge of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder. Petitioner understood that he faced a potential life sentence on the charge of assault with intent to commit murder. (PT, 4-5, PageID.161-162.) In addition, the prosecution agreed to drop the charge against Petitioner for possession of a weapon in jail. Petitioner expressed his understanding that, as a habitual offender, he faced a potential life sentence if convicted of that offense. (PT, 6-7, PageID.163-164.) Petitioner stated that he understood that he would be pleading guilty to carrying a dangerous weapon with unlawful intent, possession of a firearm by a felon, felony firearm, and assault with intent to commit great bodily harm and that he would acknowledge his status as an habitual offender, fourth felony offense. (PT, 7, PageID.164.) As a habitual offender, Petitioner faced potential life sentences on all of the charges other than the felony-firearm charge. (PT, 9-11, PageID.166-68.) However, the plea agreement negotiated by Petitioner's attorney was a Cobbs[1] plea agreement, where Petitioner would receive an extremely favorable sentence. Instead of facing life sentences he faced a sentence of seven years. The felony-firearm conviction carried a mandatory two years, and it was required to be served before the sentence for assault with intent to do great bodily harm. (PT, 5, PageID.162-163.) The prosecutor also agreed to recommend a sentence of no more than five years on the assault with intent to do great bodily harm conviction. (PT, 4, PageID.161.) Thus, with agreement that Petitioner would receive credit for time served counting against the two year sentence on the felony-firearm conviction, Petitioner faced six years, plus a few months.[2] (PT, 5-7, PageID.162-164.)

         Petitioner asked the court to accept the plea agreement. (PT, 8, PageID.165.) Petitioner acknowledged that he had had a chance to read and had signed the advice of rights form and had reviewed those rights with his attorney. He also appeared to understand those rights. In addition, he acknowledged that he understood the rights that he would be giving up by pleading guilty. (PT, 12-13, PageID.169-170.) Petitioner told the trial court that he was voluntarily pleading guilty because he was guilty:

THE COURT: You understand you'd be giving up any claim that it was not your own free choice to plead guilty?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, sir.
THE COURT: You understand I'm not bound to follow the sentence recommendation made by the prosecutor, but if I don't do that, I would allow you to withdraw ...

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