United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
K. Majzoub Mag. Judge.
OPINION AND ORDER SUMMARILY DENYING THE PETITION FOR
WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS , GRANTING A CERTIFICATE OF
APPEALABILITY ON ONE ISSUE, AND GRANTING LEAVE TO APPEAL IN
E. LEVY United States District Judge.
Valona Lucaj, confined at the Huron Valley Women's
Complex in Ypsilanti, Michigan, filed a pro se
petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254. Petitioner challenges her sentence for her
conviction of involuntary manslaughter (keeping a dangerous
animal causing death). Mich. Comp. Laws § 287.323(1).
For the reasons set forth below, the petition is summarily
denied, a certificate of appealability is granted as to one
issue, and leave to appeal in forma pauperis is
and her husband were charged with second-degree murder and
involuntary manslaughter (keeping a dangerous animal causing
death) after two of their dogs escaped their property in
Metamora Township, Michigan, and killed a man who was
pled nolo contendere in the Lapeer County Circuit
Court to the involuntary manslaughter charge and the
second-degree murder charge was dropped. The parties agreed
that the judge could exceed the sentencing guidelines at the
highest point by six months and that doing so would not be an
appealable issue. Petitioner was sentenced to four years,
nine months to fifteen years in prison and was fined $7500.
Her conviction and sentence were affirmed on appeal.
People v. Lucaj, No. 331129 (Mich. Ct. App. Feb. 22,
2016), leave to appeal denied People v. Lucaj, 499
Mich. 987 (2016).
seeks a writ of habeas corpus on the following grounds: (1)
the trial court erred by incorrectly scoring certain
variables under Michigan's sentencing guidelines,
resulting in a violation of her due process and statutory
rights at sentencing; and (2) the trial court erred by
imposing the fine at sentencing because the fine was imposed
outside the plea agreement. (Dkt. 1) On the second claim,
Petitioner seeks only that the Court vacate the fine.
petition for a writ of habeas corpus must set forth facts
that give rise to a cause of action under federal law or it
may be summarily dismissed. See Perez v. Hemingway,
157 F.Supp.2d 790, 796 (E.D. Mich. 2001). Any habeas petition
that appears legally insufficient on its face may be
dismissed. McFarland v. Scott, 512 U.S. 849, 856
(1994); see Carson v. Burke, 178 F.3d 434, 436 (6th
Cir. 1999) (a habeas corpus petition may be summarily
dismissed if it plainly appears from the face of the petition
or the exhibits that are attached to it that the petitioner
is not entitled to federal habeas relief).
“a show cause order [to the respondent]” should
not issue “until after the District Court first has
made a careful examination of the petition.” Allen
v. Perini, 424 F.2d 134, 140 (6th Cir. 1970). The
district court must screen any habeas petition, and a
response is unnecessary when the petition is frivolous,
obviously lacks merit, or the necessary facts can be
determined from the petition itself without consideration of
a return by the state. Id. at 141. For the reasons
set forth below, Petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief
on her sentencing claims, and the petition is summarily
denied. See McIntosh v. Booker, 300 F.Supp.2d 498,
499 (E.D. Mich. 2004).
courts are the final arbiters of state law. See Bradshaw
v. Richey, 546 U.S. 74, 76 (2005); Sanford v.
Yukins, 288 F.3d 855, 860 (6th Cir. 2002). Claims that
arise out of a state trial court's sentencing decision
are not normally cognizable on federal habeas review, unless
the petitioner can show that the sentence exceeded the
statutory limits or is wholly unauthorized by law. See
Vliet v. Renico, 193 F.Supp.2d 1010, 1014 (E.D. Mich.
2002). Thus, a sentence within the statutory limits or
otherwise authorized by law is not subject to habeas review.
Townsend v. Burke, 334 U.S. 736, 741 (1948);
Cook v. Stegall, 56 F.Supp.2d 788, 797 (E.D. Mich.
claim that the state trial court incorrectly scored or
miscalculated her sentencing guidelines range under the
Michigan Sentencing Guidelines (Dkt. 1 at 14-20) is not a
cognizable claim on federal habeas review. See Tironi v.
Birkett, 252 F. App'x 724, 725 (6th Cir. 2007);
Howard v. White, 76 F. App'x 52, 53 (6th Cir. 2003);
McPhail v. Renico, 412 F.Supp.2d 647, 656 (E.D.
Mich. 2006). Errors in the application of state sentencing
guidelines cannot independently support habeas relief.
See Kissner v. Palmer, 826 F.3d 898, 904 (6th Cir.
2016). Such errors, alone, do not violate federal due process
rights. Austin v. Jackson, 213 F.3d 298, 301 (6th
read in the light most favorable to her, Petitioner also
seems to argue that the trial court judge violated her Sixth
Amendment right to a trial by jury by using factors during
sentencing that had not been submitted to a jury and proven
beyond a reasonable doubt or admitted to by petitioner. Any
fact that increases the mandatory minimum sentence for a
crime is an element of the criminal offense that must be
proven beyond a reasonable doubt. See Alleyne v. United
States, 133 S.Ct. 2151, 2155 (2013). But facts
influencing judicial discretion in sentencing need not meet
the same threshold. Id. at 2163.
Michigan law, only the minimum sentence must presumptively be
set within the appropriate sentencing guidelines range.
See People v. Babcock,469 Mich. 247, 255 n.7 (2003)
(citing Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.34(2)). The maximum
sentence is not determined by the trial judge; rather, it is
set by law. See ...