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Johnson v. Rapelje

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

February 3, 2017

LLOYD RAPELJE, Respondent.



         Petitioner Delangelo Johnson seeks habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner is a state prisoner in the custody of the Michigan Department of Corrections pursuant to convictions for second-degree murder, felon in possession of a firearm, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. He raises eight claims for habeas relief. Respondent argues that the claims are procedurally defaulted and/or meritless. The Court denies the petition.

         I. Background

         Petitioner's convictions arise from the killing of Ayanna May. On September 15, 2002, May and Petitioner's girlfriend, Rashawn Cook, argued outside Cook's home on Ashton Street in Detroit. May stood outside her car in front of Cook's home. A person identified as Petitioner exited Cook's home and entered the driver's seat of a van. The van drove close to May, an arm reached out the driver's side window and three shots were fired in May's direction. May sustained a fatal gunshot to the head.

         Following a jury trial in Wayne County Circuit Court, Petitioner was convicted of second-degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.317, felon in possession of a firearm, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.224f, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b. Petitioner was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder conviction, one to five years' imprisonment for the felon in possession conviction, and two years' imprisonment for felony-firearm conviction.

         Petitioner filed an appeal of right in the Michigan Court of Appeals. He raised these claims: (i) trial court improperly instructed the jury on second-degree murder; and (ii) he was denied his right to confrontation, a fair trial and due process by admission of witness's preliminary examination testimony. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's convictions. People v. Johnson, No. 249497, 2004 WL 2726065, at *2 (Mich. Ct. App. Nov. 30, 2004).

         Petitioner filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court, raising the same claims raised in the Michigan Court of Appeals. The Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal. People v. Johnson, 699 N.W.2d 701 (Mich. 2005).

         Petitioner then filed a motion for relief from judgment in the trial court, raising these claims: (i) denied right to a fair trial and impartial jury; (ii) unduly suggestive pretrial photographic identification; (iii) evidence of prior bad acts improperly admitted; (iv) prosecutorial misconduct; (v) ineffective assistance of trial counsel; (vi) cumulative effect of prejudicial errors; and (vii) ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. The trial court dismissed the motion without prejudice and ordered appointment of counsel to represent Petitioner in the filing of a motion for relief from judgment. See 2/16/06 Order, ECF No. 11-13. Petitioner, through counsel, filed another motion for relief from judgment raising essentially raising the same claims raised in the first motion. The trial court denied the motion. See 4/13/09 Order, ECF No. 11-14. Petitioner sought leave to appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals and Michigan Supreme Court. Both state appellate courts denied leave to appeal. See 10/25/10 Order, ECF No.11-9; People v. Johnson, 796 N.W.2d 70 (Mich. 2011).

         Petitioner then filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in this Court. The Court found that the petition was time-barred by the one-year statute of limitations applicable to habeas corpus petitions. See 7/9/12 Order, ECF No. 13. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed this Court's decision that the petition was untimely and remanded for further proceedings. Johnson v. Rapelje, 542 F. App'x 453 (6th Cir. Oct. 22, 2013).

         Petitioner seeks habeas corpus relief on these grounds:

I. Petitioner was denied a fair trial and due process where, over objection, the trial court instructed on second-degree murder.
II. Extraneous influence on jurors deprived Petitioner of a fair trial and due process.
III. Use of unnecessarily suggestive pretrial identification procedure deprived Petitioner of due process and a fair trial.
IV. Impermissibly introduction of prior bad acts denied Petitioner due process and a fair trial.
V. Prosecutorial misconduct in the form of denigrating defense counsel and engaging in burden shifting argument denied due process and a fair trial.
VI. Ineffective assistance of trial counsel in failure to object, failure to file pretrial motions, failure to remove jurors for cause, failure to interview alibi witnesses and present an alibi defense and failure to present expert testimony at trial prejudiced Petitioner.
VII. Lack of due diligence by the prosecutor in producing eye witness prejudiced Petitioner.
VIII. Failure to provide constitutionally effective representation on appeal.

         Respondent filed an answer to the petition arguing that certain of the claims are procedurally defaulted and that all are meritless. Petitioner filed a reply brief.

         II. Standard of Review

         Review of this case is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”). Under the AEDPA, a state prisoner is entitled to a writ of habeas corpus only if he can show that the state court's adjudication of his claims -

(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).

         A decision of a state court is “contrary to” clearly established federal law if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by the Supreme Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than the Supreme Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405 (2000). An “unreasonable application” occurs when “a state court decision unreasonably applies the law of [the Supreme Court] to the facts of a prisoner's case.” Id. at 408. “[A] federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly.” Id. at 411.

         The Supreme Court has explained that “[a] federal court's collateral review of a state-court decision must be consistent with the respect due state courts in our federal system.” Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003). The “AEDPA thus imposes a ‘highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, ' and ‘demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.'” Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010) (quoting Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 333 n. 7 (1997); Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (per curiam)). “[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). The Supreme Court has emphasized “that even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable.” Id. at 102. Furthermore, pursuant to § 2254(d), “a habeas court must determine what arguments or theories supported or ... could have supported, the state court's decision; and then it must ask whether it is possible fairminded jurists could disagree that those arguments or theories are inconsistent with the holding in a prior decision of th[e Supreme] Court.” Id.

         Although 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), as amended by the AEDPA, does not completely bar federal courts from relitigating claims that have previously been rejected in the state courts, it preserves the authority for a federal court to grant habeas relief only “in cases where there is no possibility fairminded jurists could disagree that the state court's decision conflicts with” Supreme Court precedent. Id. Indeed, “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. (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 332 n. 5 (1979)) (Stevens, J., concurring)). Therefore, in order to obtain habeas relief in federal court, a state prisoner is required to show that the state court's rejection of his claim “was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” Id. at 103, 131 S.Ct. at 786-87.

         Additionally, a state court's factual determinations are entitled to a presumption of correctness on federal habeas review. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). A petitioner may rebut this presumption with clear and convincing evidence. See Warren v. Smith, 161 F.3d 358, 360-61 (6th Cir. 1998). Moreover, habeas review is ‚Äúlimited to the ...

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