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Layne v. Stewart

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

March 9, 2017

SANDRA LAYNE, Petitioner,



         Sandra Layne, (“Petitioner”), confined at the Huron Women's Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti, Michigan, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, through counsel Christopher J. McGrath, in which she challenges her conviction for second-degree murder, M.C.L.A. 750.317; and possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony (felony-firearm), M.C.L.A. 750.227b. For the reasons that follow, the petition for writ of habeas corpus is DENIED.

         I. Background

         Petitioner was charged with first-degree murder and felony-firearm. Petitioner was convicted of the lesser included offense of second-degree murder and guilty of the felony-firearm charge following a jury trial in the Oakland 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):

Defendant shot her grandson, Jonathon Hoffman, to death. Jonathon lived with defendant and her husband. In March 2012, Jonathan was charged with marijuana possession and sentenced to probation that included drug testing. In April 2012, defendant purchased a handgun, a speed loader, and a box of ammunition. She took two lessons related to gun use, which included firing the gun at a gun range. Her husband did not know about the gun purchase or the lessons. On the morning of May 18, 2012, defendant took Jonathon to his scheduled drug test. Because he tested positive for “spice, ” also known as “K2, ” he had to return later in the day and he was angry. He and defendant argued. Defendant took Jonathon to his afternoon drug test and, after his return to the vehicle, they argued. When defendant and Jonathon arrived home at some time after 4:30 p.m., defendant asked her husband to take the dog for a walk. While defendant's husband was out walking the dog, at some time before 5:27 p.m., the shooting occurred. Defendant fired numerous gunshots, in several areas of the house. Jonathon was shot six times and died. Toxicology tests revealed no drugs in his blood, but a synthetic drug metabolite in his urine, i.e., K2. The medical examiner testified that drugs found in urine have exited a person's system and do not affect the person. Defendant was arrested and taken to a hospital. No injuries were identified. At trial, defendant asserted that she shot Jonathon in self-defense.

         People v. Layne, No. 316059, 2014 WL 5164652, at *1 (Mich. Ct. App. Oct. 14, 2014).

Petitioner's conviction was affirmed on appeal. Id., lv. den. 497 Mich. 1028 (2015).
Petitioner seeks habeas relief on the following grounds:
I. The trial court denied petitioner her right to present a defense when it precluded her from offering evidence about the decedent's state of mind and intent[.]
II. The trial court violated the Eighth Amendment when it sentenced petitioner to 20-40 years imprisonment with a consecutive mandatory two-year term[.]

         II. Standard of Review

         28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), 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 or her claim “was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” Harrington, 562 U.S. at 103. A habeas petitioner should be denied relief as long as it is within the “realm of possibility” that fairminded jurists could find the state court decision to be reasonable. See Woods v. Etherton, 136 S.Ct. 1149, 1152 (2016).

         The Michigan Court of Appeals reviewed and rejected petitioner's claims under a plain error standard because petitioner failed to preserve the issues at the trial court level. In Fleming v. Metrish,556 F.3d 520, 532 (6th Cir. 2009), a panel of the Sixth Circuit held that the AEDPA deference applies to any underlying plain-error analysis of a procedurally defaulted claim. In a subsequent decision, the Sixth Circuit held that that plain-error review is not equivalent to adjudication on the merits, so as to trigger AEDPA deference. See Frazier v. Jenkins, 770 F.3d 485, 496 n. 5 (6th Cir. 2014). The Sixth Circuit noted that “the approaches of Fleming and Frazier are in direct conflict.” Trimble v. Bobby, 804 F.3d 767, 777 (6th Cir. 2015). When confronted by conflicting holdings of the Sixth Circuit, this Court must follow the earlier panel's holding until it is overruled by the United States Supreme Court or by the ...

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