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Stav v. Palmer

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

February 8, 2017

EDWAN DONALD STAV, # 208231, Petitioner,
v.
CARMEN D. PALMER, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Paul L. Maloney United States District Judge

         This is a habeas corpus proceeding brought pro se by a state prisoner pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner seeks to overturn his plea-based convictions in Emmet County Circuit Court. Petitioner's convictions stem from a January 3, 2010, incident in which petitioner shot and killed Nick Sowers.

         On February 16, 2010, petitioner pled no contest, pursuant to a plea agreement, to six criminal charges. In exchange, the prosecutor agreed to dismiss thirteen other charges against petitioner, including a charge of open murder, which carried a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Petitioner pled to three primary offenses: use of firearm causing death, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.237(4), felon in unlawful possession of a firearm, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.224f, and assault with a dangerous weapon, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.82. Petitioner's sentences for these crimes were subject to enhancement based on his status as an habitual offender, fourth felony offense. Petitioner also pled guilty to three felony-firearm counts, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b.

         Judge Charles Johnson sentenced petitioner to concurrent terms of 33 to fifty years' imprisonment for use or discharge of a firearm causing death, 19 to forty years' imprisonment for being a felon in possession of a firearm, ten to fifteen years' imprisonment for assault with a dangerous weapon, and a consecutive term of two years' imprisonment for his felony-firearm convictions.

         After unsuccessful attempts to overturn his convictions and sentences in state court, petitioner filed this habeas corpus petition. Petitioner seeks federal habeas corpus relief on the following grounds:

I. Petitioner was “denied his fundamental due process protections to a fair trial” under the Constitution “when the trial court arraigned petitioner in circuit court, without first having acquired subject-matter jurisdiction over petitioner, creating a jurisdictional defect that not only voids petitioner's convictions, but which demands his immediate release[.]”
II. Petitioner was “denied his fundamental due process protections to a fair trial” under the Constitution “when the prosecution and the police fabricated and misrepresented evidence that tainted petitioner's entire criminal proceeding, and created yet another jurisdictional defect, [a]nd which manifest injustice demands petitioner's immediate release from custody[.]”
III. Petitioner was “denied his fundamental due process protections to a fair trial” under the Constitution “when the trial court acquiesced control of the proceedings, that resulted in structural error by and through a defective plea process, which mandates petitioner's immediate release from custody[.]”
IV. Petitioner was “denied his fundamental due process protections to a fair trial” under the Constitution “when trial counsel not only sabotaged petitioner's criminal proceedings, but the[n] abandoned petitioner, which conduct resulted in structural error that mandates petitioner's immediate release from custody[.]”
V. Petitioner was “denied his fundamental due process protections to a fair trial” under the Constitution “when appellate counsel sabotaged petitioner's appeal, and then abandoned petitioner, which conduct resulted in structural error that mandates petitioner's immediate release from custody[.]”
VI. “The circuit court judge erroneously granted the petitioner an upward departure of 14 years above the high end of the guideline range [under Michigan's sentencing guidelines] without making proper findings pursuant to the Gary Smith[1] case.”

(Petition at 1-6, ECF No. 1, PageID.1-7; Petitioner's Brief at ix-xi, ECF No. 3, PageID.36-38).[2]

         Respondent argues that all six grounds raised by petitioner lack merit. (Answer at 26-70, ECF No. 9, PageID.132-76). In addition, respondent argues that Grounds II, III, IV and V, are barred by procedural defaults and petitioner has not shown cause and prejudice or actual innocence to overcome those defaults. (Id. at 4, 32-36, 45-49, 57, 71, PageID.110, 139-42, 151-55, 163, 177).

         After review of the state-court record, the Court concludes petitioner has not established grounds for federal habeas corpus relief. Petitioner has not shown that the state court decisions rejecting the grounds raised in the petition were “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States” or were “based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding[s].”[3] 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). The petition will be denied.

         Standard of Review

          The Court's review of this petition is governed by the provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (AEDPA). See Penry v. Johnson, 532 U.S. 782, 792 (2001). AEDPA “dictates a highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings which demands the state court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.” Bell v. Cone, 543 U.S. 447, 455 (2005) (citations omitted). “AEDPA requires heightened respect for state court factual and legal determinations.” Lundgren v. Mitchell, 440 F.3d 754, 762 (6th Cir. 2006). “State-court factual findings [] are presumed correct; the petitioner has the burden of rebutting the presumption by clear and convincing evidence.” Davis v. Ayala, 135 S.Ct. 2187, 2199-2200 (2015) (citations and internal quotations omitted).

         If a state court adjudicated the claim, deferential AEDPA standards must be applied. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); see Premo v. Moore, 562 U.S. 115, 121 (2011); Waddington v. Sarausad, 555 U.S. 179, 190 (2009); Holder v. Palmer, 588 F.3d 328, 341 (6th Cir. 2009) ((“[A]ny claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings' is subject to AEDPA deference.”) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)). AEDPA prevents federal habeas “retrials” and ensures that state court convictions are given effect to the extent possible under law. Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693-94 (2002). It prohibits “using federal habeas corpus review as a vehicle to second-guess the reasonable decisions of state courts.” Parker v. Matthews, 132 S.Ct. 2148, 2149 (2012) (per curiam).

         The AEDPA standard is difficult to meet “because it was meant to be.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011). “Section 2254(d) reflects that habeas corpus is a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error corrections through appeal.” Id. at 102-03 (citation and internal quotation omitted); see Woods v. Donald, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015). Section 2254(d) states that an application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person who is incarcerated pursuant to a state conviction cannot be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the adjudication “(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 upon an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); see White v. Wheeler, 136 S.Ct. 456, 460 (2015); Davis v. Ayala, 135 S.Ct. at 2198; White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014).

         The only definitive source of clearly established federal law for purposes of § 2254(d)(1) is the holdings-not dicta-of Supreme Court decisions. White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. at 1702; see Woods v. Donald, 135 S.Ct. at 1377 (“Because none of our cases confront ‘the specific question presented by this case, ' the state court's decision could not be ‘contrary to' any holding from this Court.”). “[W]here the precise contours of a right remain unclear, state courts enjoy broad discretion in their adjudication of a prisoner's claims.” Id. (quotations and internal citations omitted).

         An unreasonable application of the Supreme Court's holding must be “‘objectively unreasonable, ' not merely wrong; even ‘clear error' will not suffice.” White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. at 1702 (quoting Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75-76 (2003)). Rather, “[a]s a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. at 1702 (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. at 103). “[C]ircuit precedent does not constitute ‘clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court, ' ” and “[i]t therefore cannot form the basis for habeas relief under AEDPA.” Hill v. Curtin, 792 F.3d 670, 677 (6th Cir. 2015) (quoting Parker v. Matthews, 132 S.Ct. at 2155); see Glebe v. Frost, 135 S.Ct. 429, 431 (2014) (per curiam) (“As we have repeatedly emphasized, [] circuit precedent does not constitute ‘clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court.'”).

         “[A] state-court factual determination is not unreasonable merely because the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.” Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301 (2010). Section 2254 (d)(2) requires that this Court accord the state trial court substantial deference. If reasonable minds reviewing the record might disagree about the finding in question, on habeas review that does not suffice to supersede the trial court's determination. Brumfield v. Cain, 135 S.Ct. 2269, 2277 (2015); Burt v. Titlow, 134 S.Ct. 10, 15 (2013).

         Findings of Fact

          A. Circuit Court Proceedings

         The transcript of the plea hearing indicates that Judge Johnson reviewed with petitioner the trial rights that he was giving up by pleading no contest. Petitioner signed the Advise of Rights Form. Petitioner read the form and understood it before he added his signature. He understood his plea agreement. Petitioner related that his no contest pleas were his own decision. They were not the result of any threats. They were not based any promises outside the plea agreement. (ECF No. 10-3, PageID.196-99). Petitioner pled no contest to six felonies: Count 3, use of a firearm causing death; Count 4, felony firearm; Count 10, felon in unlawful possession of a firearm; Count 11, felony firearm; Count 16, assault with a dangerous weapon; and Count 17, felony firearm. (Id. at PageID.198-99).

         Petitioner was present in Redmond Township, Emmet County on January 3, 2010. He had consumed a large amount of alcohol on that date. (Id. at PageID.199-200). Petitioner testified that as a result of his alcohol consumption and intoxication, he was unable to accurately recall all of the events that had occurred. Judge Johnson addressed the factual basis for petitioner's no contest pleas:

THE COURT: [Y]ou are willing, pursuant to the plea agreement, to have the Court review and rely upon the police reports and the affidavit of probable cause filed in this matter for both the purposes of establishing a factual basis ...

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