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Mitchell v. Woods

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

December 20, 2016

Sedrick Mitchell, Petitioner,
Jeffrey Woods, Respondent.

          Anthony P. Patti Mag. Judge.


          JUDITH E. LEVY United States District Judge.

         This is a habeas case brought by a Michigan prisoner under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. After a jury trial in Wayne County Circuit Court, Petitioner Sedrick Mitchell was convicted of one count of forced labor involving criminal sexual conduct, Mich. Comp. Laws ' 750.520b(1)(f), two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, Mich. Comp. Laws ' 750.520b(1)(b), one count of pandering, Mich. Comp. Laws ' 750.455, two counts of accepting earnings from a prostitute, Mich. Comp. Laws ' 750.457, and one count of conducting a criminal enterprise. Mich. Comp. Laws ' 750.159i(1). Petitioner was sentenced as a third-time habitual felony offender to a series of concurrent terms, with the longest being terms of thirty-five to sixty years for the criminal sexual conduct offenses.

         Read in the light most favorable to Petitioner, the pro se petition appears to raise nine claims: (1) Petitioner was denied the effective assistance of counsel at trial (Dkt. 1 at 4); (2) Petitioner's sentence constitutes cruel and unusual punishment (id. at 14); (3) the prosecutor violated Petitioner's due process rights by amending the criminal information (id. at 15); (4) the trial court erroneously instructed the jury (id. at 21); (5) the prosecutor committed misconduct (id. at 25); (6) the victims are not entitled to restitution (id. at 28); (7) Petitioner's right to be free from double jeopardy was violated by multiple convictions resulting from a single sexual penetration (id. at 30); (8) there was insufficient evidence presented at trial to sustain the criminal sexual conduct convictions (id. at 10-13); and (9) the trial court incorrectly scored the sentencing guidelines. (Id. at 16-17.)

         For the reasons set forth below, Petitioner's claims are denied because they are without merit. Petitioner is also denied a certificate of appealability and leave to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal.

         I. Background

         This Court recites verbatim the relevant facts relied on by the Michigan Court of Appeals, which this Court must presume are 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).

In July 2010, C. M. left the home of her grandmother because she was over protective. C. M. learned of defendant through a friend and contacted him. He took her to a home near Eastland Mall and engaged in sex with her. Initially, he sent her to live in a drug house with a 19-year old male. Then, he began to establish prostitution customers for C. M. and another girl named “Rosie” that occurred in homes. However, in early August 2010, Rosie left defendant. Defendant explained that he wanted C. M. to make more money in light of Rosie's departure, and he took C. M. to work on the streets at the corner of Livernois and Fenkell in the city of Detroit. Defendant established the prices that C. M. would charge for her services and followed her while she worked the streets. She turned over any money she earned to him. If C. M. complained about having to work or said “something smart” to defendant, he would strike her. C. M. was forced to work every day from 8:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m., except Sundays. On Sunday, defendant gave her money to go shopping. While she worked, defendant gave her $10 for food.
Before meeting defendant, C. M. did not engage in prostitution. Defendant maintained control over C. M. by threatening to kill her or her grandmother if C. M. tried to leave him. Defendant always had a gun with him. C. M. observed defendant strike other people, including Rosie. On one occasion, defendant forced C. M. to perform a sexual act upon defendant in front of his friends by holding a gun to her head. Ultimately, C. M. left defendant on August 25, 2010, after the two argued over C. M.'s refusal to go to work. He threatened her with a gun, but when he turned, she struck him with a bottle and ran. C. M. called the police from a gas station, hid from view as the police drove her by defendant's home, and identified defendant. However, defendant was not apprehended at that time.
Although D. J. did not work for defendant at the same time as C. M., her testimony was remarkably similar. Specifically, in early November, 2010, D. J. ran away from home after being sexually abused by a family member. D. J. agreed to go to a party at a home near Eastland Mall where she encountered defendant. Defendant asked D. J. how old she was, and she said, “15.” Defendant responded, “Now, you're 19.” He engaged in sexual intercourse with D. J., and the next day, sent her out to work on the streets as a prostitute with another woman named “LaTonya.” When advised by LaTonya that they had not earned enough money for defendant, D. J. left defendant's residence and stayed away for several weeks.
On December 25, 2010, D. J. returned to defendant's home after contracting a sexually transmitted disease. D. J. needed to have a prescription filled and knew that defendant would help her obtain the prescription. She promised defendant that she would not leave him again, and he got the pills that she needed. The next evening, defendant picked up D. J. and two other girls and took them to the area of Fenkell and Livernois to work the streets. D. J. continued to work for defendant until she was picked up by the police and returned to her family home. After a family dispute, she was placed in a mental hospital for five days, but upon her release, D. J. contacted defendant. Defendant picked her up, she changed her clothes, and he drove her to Fenkell and Livernois to work as a prostitute.
D. J. worked every day for defendant, starting between 7:00 and 9:00 p.m., and returning between 8:00 and 10:00 a.m. One night, D. J. only earned $40. Defendant slapped her across the face and told her that would not happen again. D. J. observed defendant strike other girls, and he told the girls that if they left, defendant would find them and kill them. D. J. admitted that she engaged in sexual intercourse with defendant voluntarily and even initiated sex with him. However, one sexual assault provided the motivation for D. J. to leave defendant permanently. Defendant attempted to anally penetrate D. J. while he choked her, and when she resisted, he forced vaginal penetration as he continued to choke her. Shortly after this assault, D. J. made arrangements to have a friend pick her up when defendant was not home.
C. M. and D. J. came to the attention of a task force investigating child exploitation. The authorities learned of C. M. when reviewing the August 25, 2010 police report. A relative of D. J.'s called the authorities to report her as missing. The information provided by these girls led to an investigation of defendant, and the discovery that he was identified on a social networking website as “Pimping Rock.”
Defendant's theory of the case was that once the minors came into contact with the police, they falsely accused defendant to deflect from their own misconduct. On cross examination, C. M. admitted that she had posted information on the Internet that was incorrect, and D. J. admitted that she had stolen items from her family and a threat against a family member caused her to be sent to a mental hospital. Although C. M. accused defendant of assault and contacted the police, defendant was not arrested at that time, but C. M. was detained for a matter unrelated to defendant. Despite the attack on the credibility of the witnesses, defendant was convicted for his role in exploiting the teenage runaways, sexually assaulting them, forcing them to engage in prostitution, and taking their earnings.

People v. Mitchell, No. 311605, 2014 Mich.App. LEXIS 235, at *2-7 (Mich. Ct. App. Feb. 6, 2014); (see Dkt. 11-19 at 1-3).

         Following Petitioner's conviction, he filed an appeal of right. His appellate counsel filed a brief raising two claims: (1) defendant was denied the effective assistance of counsel at trial; and (2) the sentences imposed violated defendant's right to be free from cruel and unusual punishments. Mitchell, 2014 Mich.App. LEXIS 235, at *7-17. Petitioner also filed a pro se supplemental brief that raised what now form his third through ninth habeas claims. Id. at *17-36. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's convictions and sentences. Id. at *36.

         Petitioner subsequently filed an application for leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, raising most of the claims he raised before the Michigan Court of Appeals, omitting only his claims that the restitution order was invalid, that his right to be free from double jeopardy was violated, and that the sentencing guidelines were scored incorrectly. (See Dkt 11-20.) His pro se application also added two additional allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel.

         The Michigan Supreme Court denied the application because it was not persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed by the Court. People v. Mitchell, 497 Mich. 902 (2014). Thus, the Michigan Court of Appeals was the last state court to adjudicate Petitioner's claims.

         II. Standard

         Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (“AEDPA”), a federal court can order habeas relief only if the state's adjudication of a 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. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). When applying these standards, this Court is to examine the holdings of the Supreme Court as they existed at “the time of the relevant state-court decision.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000). The Court can, however, look to decisions of other courts to determine whether a legal principle has been clearly established by the Supreme Court. Hall v. Vasbinder, 563 F.3d 222, 232 (6th Cir. 2009); Smith v. Stegall, 385 F.3d 993, 998 (6th Cir. 2004).

         “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.” Id. at 103 (internal quotation omitted).

         III. Analysis

         a. Ineffective assistance of counsel claim

         Petitioner claims that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of his trial counsel. Petitioner argues that trial counsel was constitutionally deficient because he stipulated to the admission of a police report that contained inculpatory information, conceded that Petitioner was guilty of firearm and sexual conduct charges, failed to move to adjourn the case to locate the author of the police report, and failed to remove a biased juror. (Dkt. 1 at 4-8.)

         To establish a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, Petitioner must show that (a) “counsel's performance was deficient, ” and (b) the “deficient performance prejudiced the defense.” See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). To satisfy the performance element, a defendant must point to some action “outside the wide range of professionally competent assistance.” Id. at 690. To satisfy the prejudice element, “[t]he defendant must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Id. at 694.

         On federal habeas review of a state court decision on the merits, a court must apply a “doubly” deferential standard of review under AEDPA. “[T]he question is not whether counsel's actions were reasonable. The question is whether there is any reasonable argument that counsel satisfied Strickland's deferential standard.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 105.

         Regarding Petitioner's first argument-that trial counsel was ineffective because he stipulated to the admission of a police report that was authored by an officer who was unavailable to testify at trial-the Michigan Court of Appeals rejected the claim on the merits:

The defense theory of the case was that the testimony of the victims was not credible. To support the challenge to the credibility of C. M., defense counsel sought to call the officer who prepared the August 25, 2010 police report in response to C. M.'s emergency call. However, the officer did not appear at trial. In order to allow the trial to continue, the prosecution and the defense stipulated to admit the police report at trial.
Generally, police reports are inadmissible hearsay. MRE 801(c); In re Forfeiture of a Quantity of Marijuana, 291 Mich.App. 243, 254; 805 N.W.2d 217 (2011). The stipulation to admit the police report is not a mistake apparent on the record, and this Court cannot examine the admission of the report with the benefit of hindsight. [People v Dunigan, 299 Mich.App. 579, 589-590; 831 N.W.2d 243 (2013)]; [People v Payne, 285 Mich.App. 181, 188; 774 N.W.2d 714 (2009)]. Although appellate counsel correctly notes that the police report contained information that corroborated the testimony by the victims, the report contained information critical to the defense. The corroborating information in the report was that C. M. identified defendant as a man who held her captive and forced her to engage in sex. However, C. M. also testified that defendant held a gun to her, and she was forced to strike him with a bottle to leave the house. Despite this testimony, the police report did not contain C. M.'s account of a gun or an injury to defendant from a bottle to allow her escape. Additionally, notwithstanding C. M.'s statements and identification, defendant was not apprehended by the police and charged with any crimes at that time. On the contrary, as a result of her emergency call, C. M. was detained for a matter unrelated to defendant's activities. Consequently, the stipulated admission of the police report disclosed contradictions by C. M. to the jury.
More importantly, the admission of the police report proved beneficial to the defense because the jury acquitted defendant of the charges related to C. M.'s departure from defendant's home. Specifically, C. M. testified that she argued with defendant about having to work. To obtain C. M.'s cooperation, defendant allegedly took C. M.'s clothes and threatened her with a gun. Defendant was charged with three crimes arising from this argument, felonious assault, felony-firearm, and felon in possession, but was acquitted of all three of these offenses. The jury also acquitted defendant of the first-degree CSC charge wherein C. M. testified that she was forced to engage in a sexual act with defendant in front of others at gunpoint. “A jury has the right to disregard all or part of the testimony of a witness.” People v Goodchild, 68 Mich.App. 226, 235; 242 N.W.2d 465 (1976). In light of the admission of the police ...

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