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Wright v. Woods

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

March 16, 2017

KENNETH R. WRIGHT, Petitioner,
v.
JEFFREY WOODS, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER (1) DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS, (2) DENYING A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY, AND (3) DENYING PERMISSION TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS ON APPEAL

          John Corbett O'Meara United States District Judge.

         This is a habeas corpus action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 brought by a prisoner incarcerated at a Michigan correctional facility. Petitioner is serving a term of 39 to 99 years' imprisonment resulting from his Oakland Circuit Court conviction of delivery of a controlled substance causing death. Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.317(a). The petition raises a single claim: the prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the heroin supplied by Petitioner was the but-for cause of the victim's death as required by Burrage v. United States, 134 S.Ct. 881 (2014). 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

         Evidence was presented at Petitioner's trial that he sold heroin and cocaine to a prostitute, Wendy Delozier, on the afternoon of February 23, 2010. Delozier then went to a motel with another prostitute, Starr Thompson, where they met up with two men, Robert Gotshaw and Robert Wilcox. Thompson injected some of the heroin into Wilcox, and Wilcox immediately fell to the ground unconscious. Thompson unsuccessfully tried to revive Wilcox by blowing crack-cocaine smoke in his face and splashing water onto him.

         Wilcox was then placed in the backseat of Gotshaw's car, and Gotshaw and Delozier drove to Wilcox's trailer. Thompson remained behind at the motel. Gotshaw and Delozier went inside the trailer and used heroin. They left Wilcox outside in the car. Delozier checked on Wilcox a few times, but he never regained consciousness. Gotshaw finally called 9-1-1 sometime after 11:00 p.m.

         When paramedics arrived at 11:52 pm, Wilcox had no vital signs. The medical examiner arrived soon thereafter and pronouned the victim dead. The victim's body temperature was 40 degrees, and the outside air temperature was 21 degrees. After an autopsy, the cause of death was determined to be drug abuse. Toxicology analysis revealed a potentially lethal dose of morphine in the victim's blood.[1] Based on this evidence, the jury found Petitioner guilty of delivery of a controlled substance causing death.

         Following his conviction and sentence, Petitioner filed an appeal of right. His appellate attorney filed a brief on appeal raising four claims not presented in the current action. Petitioner also filed a pro se supplemental brief that raised an additional five claims, including a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence that Petitioner's actions caused the victim's death. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's conviction and sentence. People v. Wright, No. 308765, 2013 WL 6692747 (Mich. Ct App Dec 19, 2013).

         Petitioner appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, but his application for leave to appeal was denied by standard order. People v. Wright, 846 N.W.2d 567 (Mich. 2014) (table). Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration, citing Burrage as providing additional support for his sufficiency-of-the-evidence claim. The motion was denied, but the court stated that the denial of relief was “without prejudice to the defendant seeking relief under MCR Subchapter 6.500 based on Burrage.” People v. Wright, 854 N.W.2d 728 (Mich. 2014) (table).

         Petitioner then filed a motion for relief from judgment in the trial court renewing his sufficiency-of-the-evidence claim in light of the Michigan Supreme Court's order. The trial court denied the motion for failure to show a retroactive change in the law applicable to his case and for his failure to show actual prejudice. See Dkt. 8-10, at 8-16.

         Petitioner filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals, but it was denied on the same grounds. People v. Wright, No. 327181 (Mich. Ct. App. June 15, 2015). Petitioner appealed in the Michigan Supreme Court, but his application for leave to appeal was denied by form order. People v. Wright, 878 N.W.2d 837 (Mich. 2016) (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), 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 ...


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