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King v. Stewart

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

March 20, 2017

Renee King, Petitioner,
Anthony Stewart, Respondent.

          Mona K. Majzoub United States Magistrate Judge



         Renee Marie King (“Petitioner”), filed for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In her application, filed pro se, Petitioner challenges her conviction for first-degree felony murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.316(1)(b), first degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC), Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.520b(1)(a), and first-degree child abuse, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.136b(2). The trial court sentenced Petitioner to mandatory life imprisonment for the murder conviction and to concurrent prison terms of 30 to 50 years for the first-degree CSC conviction and 86 to 180 months for the first-degree child abuse conviction. For the reasons stated below, the petition for a writ of habeas corpus is DENIED.

         I. Background

         Petitioner was convicted following a jury trial in the Macomb 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):

The jury found that defendant killed her two-year-old stepdaughter, LFW. Defendant was home alone with LFW. A few hours later, after a 911 call, emergency personnel arrived at defendant's house and discovered that the child was dead. Medical evidence indicated that the child had multiple contusions about her body, including at least 20 different areas of bruising to the head. She also had a serious injury to her vagina and perineum. The medical examiner determined that the child died from cardiorespiratory arrest as a result of the head injuries and classified the death as a homicide. Defendant claimed that the child's injuries were inflicted accidentally when defendant was holding her and dropped her, or when defendant fell while holding her, or both.

People v. King, No. 309974, 2014 WL 1320155, *1 (Mich. Ct. App. Apr. 1, 2014). Petitioner's conviction was affirmed on appeal. Id., lv. den. 497 Mich. 903, 856 N.W.2d 45 (2014).

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

I. The trial court violated appellant's due process rights by allowing the prosecutor to introduce unfairly prejudicial evidence of an alleged incident involving the decedent, not tending to show motive, intent, or absence of accident.
II. The police violated appellant's due process rights by failing to scrupulously honor appellant's demand for a lawyer and to stop the custodial interrogation at the hospital; alternatively, defense trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective in failing to call one of appellant's treating doctors to establish that appellant was in custody and not free to leave the hospital at the time of questioning.
III. The trial court was required to score and consider the sentencing guidelines for first-degree criminal sexual conduct and first-degree child abuse, which were the highest crime class felony convictions because there is no crime class for first-degree felony murder.

Dkt. No. 1, pp. 14-19 (Pg. ID 14-19).

         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 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.” Id. 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).

         III. Discussion

         A. Claim # 1: The other acts evidence claim.

         Petitioner alleges that her due process rights were violated when the trial court allowed the prosecutor to introduce prejudicial evidence of an alleged incident involving the victim that did not tend to show motive, intent, or the absence of accident. Dkt. No. 1, pp. 14-15 (Pg. ID 14-15).

         It is “not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determinations on state-court questions.” Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991). A federal court is limited in federal habeas review to deciding whether a state court conviction violates the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. Id. Errors in the application of state law, especially rulings regarding the admissibility of evidence, are usually not questioned by a federal habeas court. Seymour v. Walker, 224 F.3d 542, 552 (6th Cir. 2000); see also Regan v. Hoffner, 209 F.Supp.2d 703, 714 (E.D. Mich. 2002).

         Petitioner's claim that the state court violated Michigan Rule of Evidence 404(b) or any other provision of state law by admitting evidence of her prior acts of child abuse against the victim is non-cognizable on habeas review. See Bey v. Bagley, 500 F.3d 514, 519 (6th Cir. 2007); Estelle, 502 U.S. at 72 (“Nor do our habeas powers allow us to reverse [Petitioner's] conviction based on a belief that the trial judge incorrectly interpreted the [State] Evidence Code in ruling that the prior injury evidence was admissible as bad acts evidence in this case.”).

         The admission of this “prior bad acts” or “other acts” evidence against Petitioner at her state trial does not entitle her to habeas relief, because there is no clearly established Supreme Court precedent holding that a state violates a habeas petitioner's due process rights by admitting propensity evidence in the form of “prior bad acts” evidence. See Bugh v. ...

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