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Brandon v. Palmer

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

February 10, 2017

CARMEN PALMER, Respondent.



         This is a habeas corpus action brought by a state prisoner pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner was convicted after a jury trial in the Wayne Circuit Court of first-degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.316, and two counts of first-degree child abuse. Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.136b(2). Petitioner was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder conviction and concurrent terms of 10 to 15 years for the child abuse convictions. The petition raises a single claim: Petitioner's right to present a defense was violated by exclusion of a hearsay statement by the deceased victim's mother that she killed her child. The petition will be denied because Petitioner's claim is without merit. The Court will also deny Petitioner a certificate of appealability and deny him permission to proceed on appeal in forma pauperis.

         I. Background

         The charges against Petitioner and his girlfriend, Nicole Roberts, stemmed from events occurring between September 21, 2011, and December 5, 2011, and involved their twin sons, Kayden and Cameron Brandon, who were then about two and one-half months old. Kayden died on December 5, 2011, from asphyxiation and blunt force trauma to the chest. The Court recites verbatim the relevant facts relied upon by the Michigan Court of Appeals in its opinion affirming Petitioner's convictions, which are presumed 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):

Medical examiners testified that the two children in question sustained multiple injuries, including fractured bones and ribs, severe bruising and swelling, deep hemorrhages, and internal bleeding. . . .
The prosecution presented substantial evidence that defendant caused these injuries when he physically abused his children-and that he intended to harm his children in so doing. The medical examiners noted that the injuries sustained by the infants are rare in children that cannot walk, and that, given the amount of force it would take to inflict such injuries, it was extremely unlikely the injuries occurred by accident. Defendant had ready opportunity to abuse his children because he was one of their primary caretakers five days per week, and their sole caretaker at night. Moreover, defendant admitted that he committed abuse-included, but not limited to, biting the children, placing his hand over their mouths for an extended period of time, and punching his infant's chest in an attempt to make the baby quiet. [n.1 During an interrogation, defendant speculated that it was this last action that caused one of his children to die.] And the jury heard testimony from a witness that said she had seen defendant engage in both physical and verbal aggression toward the children.

         People v. Brandon, No. 317568, 2014 WL 6468190, at *2 (Mich. Ct. App. Nov. 18, 2014).

         Following his conviction and sentence, Petitioner filed a claim of appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals. His appellate brief raised the following claims:

         I. The prosecution's evidence was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Brandon committed the crimes of felony murder, with first-degree child abuse as the predicate felony, or that he committed the two counts of first-degree child abuse, thus rendering those convictions constitutionally defective under the Fourteenth Amendment and Const. 1963, Art. 1, §17, and, further, the trial court's denial of a motion for directed verdict was an abuse of discretion.

         II. Brandon was denied his Constitutional due process rights to present a defense, under the Fourteenth Amendment and Const. 1963, Art. 1, §17, where evidence of another's guilt was prohibited from use at trial.

         The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's conviction in an unpublished opinion. Id. Petitioner then filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court, raising the same claims. The Michigan Supreme Court denied the application because it was not persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed by the Court. People v. Brandon, 863 N.W.2d 62 (Mich. 2015) (table).

         II. Standard of Review

         28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) curtails a federal court's review of constitutional claims raised by a state prisoner in a habeas action if the claims were adjudicated on the merits by the state courts. Relief is barred under this section unless the state court adjudication was “contrary to” or resulted in an “unreasonable application of” clearly established Supreme Court law.

         “A state court's decision is ‘contrary to' . . . clearly established law if it ‘applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court cases]' or if it ‘confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme] Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [this] precedent.'” Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 15-16 (2003) (per curiam), quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000).

         “[T]he ‘unreasonable application' prong of the statute permits a federal habeas court to ‘grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts' of petitioner's case.” Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520 (2003) quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 413.

         “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). ‚ÄúSection 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. . . . As 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 ...

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