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Stephens v. Winn

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

March 7, 2017

WILLIAM CHANCE STEPHENS, Petitioner,
v.
THOMAS WINN, Respondent.

          OPINION

          ROBERT J. JONKER CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is a habeas corpus action brought by a state prisoner under 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 will dismiss the petition without prejudice for failure to exhaust available state-court remedies.

         Discussion

         I. Factual allegations

         Petitioner William Chance Stephens is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections at the Oaks Correctional Facility in Manistee, Michigan. Petitioner is serving a sentence of 11 years, 10 months to 22 years, 6 months following his Van Buren County Circuit Court conviction on one count of manslaughter, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.321. Petitioner was sentenced as a habitual offender-second offense, Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.10.

         Petitioner, with the assistance of counsel, directly appealed his conviction and sentence to the Michigan Court of Appeals. Petitioner raised the following issues:

I. Mr. Stephens was denied the effective assistance of counsel guaranteed by the federal and state constitutions where trial counsel failed to investigate the deceased's character history of drug dealing, carrying a concealed weapon and assaulting a police officer when it would have been significant corroboration of Mr. Stephens's theory of self defense; where trial counsel failed to investigate the hotel room for evidence demonstrating why there was no sign of a struggle; and where trial counsel failed to object to the trial court's denial of the jury[']s request to view the crime scene.
II. The trial court erred and violated Mr. Stephens's substantial constitutional right to due process when it denied the jury's request to visit the crime scene after deliberations had begun and further erred when it made its denial without the presence or waiver of the Mr. Stephens.
III. The trial court reversibly erred when it permitted the prosecution to introduce a gruesome video of the victim running, bleeding, panicking and dying because its probative value was greatly outweighed by its unfairly prejudicial effect and likelihood to confuse the issues and mislead the jury and should have been excluded under MRE 403.
IV. Mr. Stephens's conviction for manslaughter must be reversed because the evidence presented was legally insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Stephens did not defend himself.

(Appellant's Br., ECF No. 1, PageID.98.) In Petitioner's Standard 4 brief he “re-raised” the sufficiency issue and raised one additional issue:

V. Mr. Stephens was denied the effective assistance of counsel guaranteed by the Federal and State constitutions where trial counsel failed to familiarize himself with applicable case law, failed to object to improper jury instructions and jury charge, failed to object to prosecution's cumulative instances of misconduct of denigrating defendant, shifting of the burden of proof, misrepresenting evidence, misstating evidence, constant inference and speculation, unsupported by the evidence. Defense counsel also failed to object to use of immaterial and irrelevant evidence that was only introduced to induce sympathy, passion and prejudice in the jury. When the objection to these many instances would have protected defendant's right to due process and prohibited the jury from having to consider and weigh matters outside of the issue in dispute and given the defendant a fair trial.

         Appellant's Supplemental Br., ECF No. 1-1, PageID.137-138.) The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's conviction and sentence by unpublished opinion entered December 10, 2015. People v. Stephens, No. 322721 2015 WL 8538751 (Mich. Ct. App. Dec. 10, 2015).

         Petitioner filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court raising all of the issues he had raised in ...


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