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Martin v. Smith

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

January 10, 2017

ROSCOE MARTIN, Petitioner,
v.
WILLIE O. SMITH, Respondent.

          OPINION

          ROBERT J. JONKER, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is a habeas corpus action brought by a state prisoner under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Promptly after the filing of a petition for habeas corpus, the Court must undertake a preliminary review of the petition to determine whether “it plainly appears from the face of the petition and any exhibits annexed to it that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court.” Rule 4, Rules Governing § 2254 Cases; see 28 U.S.C. § 2243. If so, the petition must be summarily dismissed. Rule 4; see Allen v. Perini, 424 F.2d 134, 141 (6th Cir. 1970) (district court has the duty to “screen out” petitions that lack merit on their face). A dismissal under Rule 4 includes those petitions which raise legally frivolous claims, as well as those containing factual allegations that are palpably incredible or false. Carson v. Burke, 178 F.3d 434, 436-37 (6th Cir. 1999). After undertaking the review required by Rule 4, the Court will dismiss the petition without prejudice for failure to exhaust available state-court remedies.

         Discussion

         I. Factual allegations

         Petitioner Roscoe Martin presently is incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Ionia Correctional Facility in Ionia, Michigan. He is serving a sentence of 50 to 76 years imposed on October 16, 1989 following his jury conviction for second-degree murder in the Genessee County Circuit Court. When he has completed serving that sentence, he will begin serving a sentence of 7 to 30 years imposed on November 27, 2013 following his Marquette County Circuit Court jury conviction for extortion, in violation of Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.213. The instant petition challenges the constitutionality of the Marquette County conviction and sentence.

         The facts underlying Petitioner's extortion were set forth by the Michigan Court of Appeals as follows:

Defendant was a prisoner confined to the Marquette Branch Prison when the instant offense occurred. Lincoln Marshall, an inspector at the Marquette Prison, testified that on May 2, 2011, he intercepted two extortion letters that were addressed to Gail O'Dell, who worked as a correctional officer at the prison. Marshall had alerted the mail room that all communications from prisoners to prison employees be forwarded to him as a matter of course. Marshall took particular interest in the letters because there was an “inquiry” into whether O'Dell had become overly familiar with some of the prisoners. The letters were sealed in envelopes and marked “confidential” with no return address. The letters instructed O'Dell to send money to an address or the author would publicly accuse her of criminal activity. Marshall made copies of each letter and then sent the copied letters along to O'Dell to see if she would turn the letters in and to better assess the truth of the letter's allegations.
O'Dell testified that she received the letters alleging that she had set up a hit on an inmate who had been stabbed in the eye. The letters threatened to accuse her of setting up the stabbing if she did not send $10, 000 to Gerald Lorence, an attorney in the Lower Peninsula. O'Dell took the letters to Marshall that same day and told him that she believed defendant had sent them. O'Dell's belief was based on similarities between the letters and another letter that she had previously received from defendant, where he accused her of having affairs with prisoners. She knew defendant wrote that letter because he asked her to retrieve it from the mail. O'Dell testified that she threw that first letter away without showing it to her superiors. She further testified that the next two letters were written in the same fashion as the first.
Michigan State Police Officer Todd Johnston interviewed defendant. Defendant admitted to Johnston that an address written inside an envelope flap found in his cell was his handwriting. This was important because the extortion letters had bragged about knowing the personal address of another prison employee and the written notation on the envelope found in defendant's cell was the same address. Johnston also spoke with the attorney mentioned in the extortion letters. Defendant had contacted the attorney in 2009 to work on an appeal but they never entered into an attorney-client relationship because the attorney never received legal fees or records from defendant.
Defendant denied writing or sending the letters. Defendant testified that both Marshall and Johnston tried to enlist defendant as an informant for investigations involving prison employees and other inmates. Defendant had multiple conversations with both Marshall and Johnston and, on more than one occasion, the officers took defendant on excursions, driving around the Upper Peninsula. Defendant did not want to become a “snitch” or “mole” because it was too dangerous; the risk of death was too great. He was eventually transferred to Baraga Prison. Defendant acknowledged that he corresponded with the attorney named in the extortion letters in 2009 or 2010, stating that he never hired the attorney and that the attorney wanted $2, 000 for a retainer to work on his case.
Defendant's fingerprint was matched to a latent fingerprint on one of the envelopes. His DNA matched samples taken from the two envelope flaps. The DNA on the flaps was likely from bodily fluid, rather than from cellular debris (dead skin cells, etc.), because there was a large amount of DNA present on the flaps. The odds that the DNA profiles from the flaps would randomly match defendant's DNA profile were one in 1.5 quadrillion.

People v. Martin, No. 319400, 2015 WL 3477791 *1-2 (Mich. Ct. App. Jun. 2, 2015) (footnotes omitted).

         Petitioner directly appealed his conviction and sentence. His initial brief on appeal, filed by counsel, raised four issues:

I. The Defendant's conviction should be overturned because there was insufficient credible evidence at trial to prove ...

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