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Brassfield v. Place

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

February 17, 2017

SANTAEZE MURRY BRASSFIELD, Petitioner,
v.
SHANE PLACE, Respondent.

          OPINION

          GORDON J. QUIST UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is a habeas corpus action brought by a state prisoner pursuant to 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 concludes that the petition must be dismissed because it fails to raise a meritorious federal claim.

         Factual Allegations

         Petitioner, Santaeze Murry Brassfield, presently is incarcerated at the Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility. An Oakland County jury convicted Petitioner of armed robbery, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.529, and of possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b. On February 27, 2014, the trial court sentenced Petitioner as a fourth-offense felony offender, Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.12, to imprisonment for 35 to 99 years on the armed-robbery conviction and 2 years on the felony-firearm conviction.

         Petitioner, through counsel, appealed his convictions to the Michigan Court of Appeals, raising the following four issues:

I. THE TRIAL COURT ABUSED ITS DISCRETION IN EXCEEDING GUIDELINES BY FIVE YEARS[.]
II. [PETITIONER'S] TRIAL WAS FUNDAMENTALLY UNFAIR, IN VIOLATION OF HIS STATE AND FEDERAL DUE PROCESS [R]IGHT TO A FAIR TRIAL, WHERE DEPUTY ROSE WAS ALLOWED TO TESTIFY WITH REGARD TO AN ALLEGED COMMENT MADE BY [PETITIONER] TO MR. THOMAS AFTER HE HAD TESTIFIED WITH REGARD TO [PETITIONER'S] ROLE IN THE OFFENSE. IN THE ALTERNATIVE, TRIAL COUNSEL PROVIDED CONSTITUTIONALLY INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE IN VIOLATION OF THE UNITED STATES AND MICHIGAN CONSTITUTIONS BY FAILING TO OBJECT TO MR. THOMAS'S TESTIMONY REGARDING THE ALLEGED THREAT.
III. THE TRIAL COURT VIOLATED [PETITIONER'S] DUE PROCESS RIGHTS AT SENTENCING BY MIS-SCORING OFFENSE VARIABLES 14 AND 19 OF THE SENTENCING GUIDELINES.
IV. JUDICIAL FACTFINDING AT SENTENCING BASED ON LESS THAN PROOF BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT VIOLATED [PETITIONER'S] FIFTH, SIXTH, AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT RIGHTS.

         (Attach. A to Pet., ECF No. 1-1, PageID.8.) Petitioner filed a supplemental pro per brief on appeal, raising one additional issue:

[V]. [PETITIONER] WAS DENIED HIS STATE AND FEDERAL CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO THE EFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL, WHERE TRIAL COUNSEL FAILED TO REQUEST A CAUTIONARY INSTRUCTION ON THE UNRELIABILITY OF ACCOMPLICE TESTIMONY WITH REGARD TO LAWRENCE J. THOMAS.

(Id.) In an unpublished opinion issued on September 22, 2015, the court of appeals rejected all appellate grounds and affirmed the convictions. See People v. Brassfield, No. 321935, 2015 WL 5569657 (Mich. Ct. App. Sept. 22, 2015). Petitioner sought leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, raising the same five issues. (Attach. B to Pet., ECF No. 1-1, PageID.60.) The supreme court denied leave to appeal on March 29, 2016. (3/29/16 Mich. Sup. Ct. Ord., ECF No. 1-1, PageID.79.)

         In his timely habeas application, Petitioner raises the following four issues:

I. PETITIONER BRASSFIELD IS ENTITLED TO A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS PURSUANT TO 2254 WHERE THE STATE COURT'S DENIAL OF HIS CLAIM THAT JUDICIAL FACTFINDING BASED ON LESS THAN PROOF BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT THAT RAISED HIS MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCE IS A DECISION THAT IS CONTRARY TO THE DICTATES OF THE ALLEYNE RULE.
II. PETITIONER BRASSFIELD IS ENTITLED TO A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS PURSUANT TO 2254 WHERE THE STATE COURT[']S DENIAL OF HIS INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL CLAIM IS A DECISION THAT IS CONTRARY TO STRICKLAND V. WASHINGTON WHERE COUNSEL FAILED TO REQUEST A CAUTIONARY INSTRUCTION ON THE UNRELIABILITY OF ACCOMPLICE TESTIMONY.
III. PETITIONER BRASSFIELD IS ENTITLED TO A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS PURSUANT TO 2254 WHERE THE STATE COURT[']S DENIAL OF HIS CLAIM OF ALLOWANCE OF HIGHLY PREJUDICIAL, INADMISSIBLE TESTIMONY VIOLATED HIS CONSTITUTIONAL DUE PROCESS RIGHTS, AND WHERE THE STATE COURT[']S DENIAL OF HIS INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL CLAIM IS CONTRARY TO STRICKLAND V WASHINGTON WHERE COUNSEL FAILED TO OBJECT TO SAID INADMISSIBLE TESTIMONY.
IV. PETITIONER [BRASSFIELD] IS ENTITLED TO A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS PURSUANT TO 2254 WHERE THE STATE COURT[']S DENIAL OF HIS CLAIM OF THE INCORRECT SCORING OF HIS SENTENCING GUIDELINES IS CONTRARY TO THE DICTATES OF TOWNSEND V. BURKE.

         Standard of Review

         This action is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub. L. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (AEDPA). See Penry v. Johnson, 532 U.S. 782, 792 (2001). The AEDPA “prevents federal habeas ‘retrials'” and ensures that state court convictions are given effect to the extent possible under the law. Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693-94 (2002). The AEDPA has “drastically changed” the nature of habeas review. Bailey v. Mitchell, 271 F.3d 652, 655 (6th Cir. 2001). An application for 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). This standard is “intentionally difficult to meet.” Woods v. Donald, 575 U.S. ___, 135 S.Ct. 1372');">135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         The AEDPA limits the source of law to cases decided by the United States Supreme Court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). This Court may consider only the “clearly established” holdings, and not the dicta, of the Supreme Court. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000); Bailey, 271 F.3d at 655. In determining whether federal law is clearly established, the Court may not consider the decisions of lower federal courts. Lopez v. Smith, 135 S.Ct. 1, 3 (2014); Bailey, 271 F.3d at 655. Moreover, “clearly established Federal law” does not include decisions of the Supreme Court announced after the last adjudication of the merits in state court. Greene v. Fisher, 132 S.Ct. 38 (2011). Thus, the inquiry is limited to an examination of the legal landscape as it would have appeared to the Michigan state courts in light of Supreme Court precedent at the time of the state- court adjudication on the merits. Miller v. Stovall, 742 F.3d 642, 644 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Greene, 132 S.Ct. at 44).

         A federal habeas court may issue the writ under the “contrary to” clause if the state court applies a rule different from the governing law set forth in the Supreme Court's cases, or if it decides a case differently than the Supreme Court has done on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Bell, 535 U.S. at 694 (citing Williams, 529 U.S. at 405-06). “To satisfy this high bar, a habeas petitioner is required to ‘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.'” Woods, 2015 WL 1400852, at *3 (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011)). In other words, “[w]here the precise contours of the right remain unclear, state courts enjoy broad discretion in their adjudication of a prisoner's claims.” White v. Woodall, 572 U.S. ___, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1705 (2014) (quotations marks omitted).

         Where the state appellate court has issued a summary affirmance, it is strongly presumed to have been made on the merits, and a federal court cannot grant relief unless the state court's result is not in keeping with the strictures of the AEDPA. See Harrington, 562 U.S. at 99; see also Johnson v. Williams, 133 S.Ct. 1088, 1094 (2013); Werth v. Bell, 692 F.3d 486, 494 (6th Cir. 2012) (applying Harrington and holding that a summary denial of leave to appeal by a Michigan appellate court is considered a decision on the merits entitled to AEDPA deference). The presumption, however, is not irrebuttable. Johnson, 133 S.Ct. at 1096. Where other circumstances indicate that the state court has not addressed the merits of a claim, the court conducts de novo review. See Id. (recognizing that, among other things, if the state court only decided the issue based on a state standard different from the federal standard, the presumption arguably might be overcome); see also Harrington, 562 U.S. at 99-100 (noting that the presumption that the state-court's decision ...


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