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Christian v. Romanowski

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

February 14, 2017

Matthew Lane Christian, Petitioner,
Ken Romanowski, Respondent.




         Matthew Lane Christian (“Petitioner”) filed through his attorney Sandra L. Girard a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on August 13, 2015.[1] Dkt. No. 1. In his application, Petitioner challenges his conviction for one count of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.84; and being a second felony habitual offender, Mich. Comp. Laws § 769. For the reasons stated below, the petition for writ of habeas corpus is


         I. Background

         Petitioner was convicted following a jury trial in the Eaton County Circuit Court. This Court recites verbatim the relevant facts relied upon by the Michigan Court of Appeals, 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):

This case arises out of a stabbing that took place in Delta Township on March 9, 2010. Christian and the victim had known each other for approximately ten years. The victim accused Christian of stealing prescription medication from him approximately six weeks before the stabbing. On the night of the incident, Christian was at home with his parents. The victim spoke with Christian's mother and advised that Christian had been making inappropriate telephone calls to him. The victim was intoxicated. Later that evening, the victim arrived at Christian's home. Christian's mother asked the victim to leave and threatened to call the police. The victim testified that he then attempted to leave, but was attacked by Christian. Christian testified that the victim did not attempt to leave, but struck him with a hard object, causing a laceration over Christian's left eye. Christian stabbed the victim several times in the back, causing life-threatening injuries. Eaton County Sheriff's deputies arrived at the scene and interviewed the witnesses and Christian. The deputies observed a small cut over Christian's left eye. The victim was hospitalized for over a month, was placed on a ventilator, and received multiple surgical procedures.

People v. Christian, No. 304265, 2012 WL 1698377, at * 1 (Mich. Ct. App. May 15, 2012). Petitioner's conviction was affirmed on appeal. People v. Christian, lv. den. 493 Mich. 897, 822 N.W.2d 592 (2012).

         Petitioner filed a post-conviction motion for relief from judgment, which was denied. People v. Christian, No. 10-020123-FH (Eaton Cty. Cir. Ct. May 29, 2013). The Michigan appellate courts denied Petitioner leave to appeal. People v. Christian, No. 319051 (Mich. Ct. App. June 2, 2014); lv. den. 497 Mich. 947, 857 N.W.2d 38 (2014).

         Petitioner now seeks a writ of habeas corpus on the following grounds:

I. The prosecution did not present sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Matt Christian did not act in self-defense.
II. Serious errors by trial counsel denied Matt Christian effective assistance of counsel at trial where:
A. Trial counsel failed to call as witnesses Calvin K. “Kody” McDuffie, Lacey Ruiz, and Capri Vaughn, who would have offered testimony in support of Matt's self-defense claim and impeaching Solomon's testimony.
B. Trial counsel should have introduced Matt's medical records from the incident; objected to Detective Maltby's personal opinion of the seriousness of Matt's head injury; and presented an expert to testify that Matt's injury was serious enough to have impaired his judgment.
C. Trial counsel should have presented expert testimony on how Solomon's loss of more than all of his blood affected his memory of events on March 9, 2010.
D. Trial counsel should have objected to the prosecutor's questioning of Allen Christian that suggested that the trail of blood up the steps and into the house came not from Matt's head wound but from the knife with which he stabbed Solomon and he should have had the blood swab from the blood trail on the front step analyzed to show that it was Matt's blood, not Solomon's.
E. Where it was undisputed that Matt was in his home where he had a right to be when Solomon came up the driveway and up the stairs shouting, “Where is he” and “Get him out here, ” trial counsel should have objected to the Court giving the first paragraph of C.J.I.2d 7.16.
III. Matt Christian was denied effective assistance of counsel at sentencing where counsel did not object to the amount of restitution ordered by the trial court. The trial court found that Solomon was also at fault for his own injuries because he was drunk, he came over looking for a fight, and he violated the criminal trespass laws when he came over after Peggy Christian ordered him not to. Given that finding, the court should have apportioned liability and counsel should have objected when it did not.
IV. Matt Christian was denied effective assistance of counsel at sentencing where counsel failed to object to inaccurate, incomplete, contradictory information and questionable conclusions in the presentence report:
A. The claims in the Presentence Report that Matt was on probation when he stabbed Solomon, that he had four prior adult probations, and that he might qualify for SAI [Special Alternative Incarceration] are wrong.
B. The Presentence Report is incomplete because it does not contain a current psychological or psychiatric report or diagnostic opinions required by M.C.R. 6.425(A) and M.C.L. 771.14(2)(g), and it says the writer spoke to “the witnesses” but she did not speak to Peggy Christian, the only sober witness to the entire chain of events.
C. The Presentence Report makes claims that are contradicted by testimony at trial and the trial court's findings at sentencing, specifically it incorrectly asserts that Solomon went to tell Matt's parents about his drug abuse, that Solomon was not drunk when he went to Matt's house, and that Matt was “blame shifting” when he said it would not have happened if Solomon had not come to his home.
D. The Presentence Report draws questionable conclusions that contradict the evidence at trial, including its claims that Matt was “swinging” a knife and that the evidence did not support Matt's statement that Solomon hit him with a rock.
V. Matt Christian was denied effective assistance of counsel on his appeal of right where his appointed counsel did not raise these issues on appeal and move to remand to make a record to support them.

Dkt. No. 1, pp. 4-6 (Pg. ID 4-6).

         II. Standard of Review

         Section 2254(d) of Title 28, United States Code, as amended by The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), imposes the following standard of review for habeas cases:

         An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the 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.

         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, 405-06 (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 409. 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 410-11. “[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) (citing Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)).

         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. A habeas petitioner should be denied relief as long as it is within the “realm of possibility” that ...

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