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Williams v. Jackson

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

April 26, 2017

SHANE JACKSON, Respondent,



         Johnny L. Williams, (“Petitioner”), incarcerated at the Brooks Correctional Facility in Muskegon Heights, Michigan, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his convictions for second-degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.317; and felony-firearm, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b. For the reasons that follow, the petition for writ of habeas corpus is DENIED.

         I. Background

         Petitioner was originally charged with first-degree murder and felony-firearm. Petitioner was convicted by a jury in the Wayne County Circuit Court of the lesser offense of second-degree murder and guilty as charged of felony-firearm. 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's convictions arose from the fatal shooting of Henry Morgan at a motorcycle club in Detroit. Morgan, defendant, and defendant's fiancée, Tiffany Pritchett, had gathered with several others for an event at the club. Testimony indicated that defendant and Morgan were involved in an altercation, and that club members separated the two men. Later the same night the men had another argument, and defendant shot Morgan once in the abdomen. Following the shooting, defendant left the scene with Pritchett. Defendant turned himself in to the police 15 days later. The defense theory at trial was that defendant acted in self-defense. Defendant testified that immediately before the shooting, Morgan pursued him and reached for a gun. Pritchett corroborated defendant's testimony to the extent that she claimed to observe Morgan reach toward his back or waist-area before defendant shot him.
Here, there was trial testimony that defendant left the scene by jumping in Pritchett's van and driving away with her. When the police arrived soon after the shooting, there was no gun on the premises and both defendant and Pritchett had left. Although defendant did not directly flee from police at the scene, he admittedly left the scene and did not contact the police for 15 days, even though he was aware that he was wanted in connection with the shooting.

People v. Williams, No. 299484, 2012 WL 164094, at * 1, 4 (Mich. Ct. App. Jan. 19, 2012).

         Petitioner's conviction was affirmed on appeal. Id.

         Petitioner filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court. The Michigan Supreme Court granted leave to appeal limited to the issue whether Offense Variable 19 of the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines had been misscored. People v. Williams, 493 Mich. 876, 821 N.W.2d 570 (2012). After oral argument the Supreme Court vacated its earlier order and denied leave to appeal because it was no longer persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed. People v. Williams, 493 Mich. 965, 828 N.W.2d 684 (2013).

         Petitioner filed a post-conviction motion for relief from judgment, which was denied. People v. Williams, No. 09-031564-01-FC (Wayne Cir. Ct. Sept. 22, 2014). The Michigan appellate courts denied petitioner leave to appeal. People v. Williams, No. 324906 (Mich. Ct. App. May 19, 2015); lv. den. 499 Mich. 914, 877 N.W.2d 900 (2016).

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

I. Mr. Williams was denied his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to a fair trial and due process of law through the prosecutor's misconduct, including shifting the burden of proof and improper questioning and argument.
II. The trial court's assessment of five points for PRV 2 [prior low severity conviction] were error resulting in a higher guidelines' range than was supported by the record, and the sentence imposed thus was an unreasonable departure necessitating reversal and re-sentencing.
III. Defendant Williams is entitled to relief from judgment where defense counsel failed to specifically raise the issue of self-defense under the 2006 Self-Defense Act, (“SDA”) MCL 780.971 et. seq., relying instead on the common law which not only deprived defendant [of] the opportunity to put on a substantial and effective defense, but so prejudiced him as to deny his right to a fair trial and the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel.
IV. Defendant Williams is entitled to relief from judgment where defense counsel's failure to call a known favorable eyewitness to the shooting supporting the defense of self-defense, denied defendant not only his Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel, and a fair trial, but also his vested due process rights under the compulsory process of the Sixth Amendment to present his own witnesses to establish a meaningful defense.
V. Defendant Williams is entitled to relief from judgment where the prosecution failed to present sufficient evidence to disprove defendant's claim of self-defense.
VI. Defendant Williams is entitled to relief from judgment where the prosecution failed to present sufficient evidence to support defendant's second-degree murder conviction.
VII. Defendant is entitled to relief from judgment where the prosecutor knowingly used false testimony to obtain a tainted conviction, and failed to correct the false and misleading facts known to the jury, all in violation of defendant's Fourteenth Amendment rights under the federal and state constitutions.
VIII. Defendant Williams is entitled to relief from judgment where his conviction is against the great weight of the evidence.
IX. Defendant Williams is entitled to relief from judgment because his vested right to a fair and impartial trial was violated where the trial court erroneously instructed the jury to consider whether defendant could have safely retreated prior to using deadly force.
X. Defendant Williams is entitled to relief from judgment where the trial court abused its discretion when it denied defendant's motion for directed verdict on the charge of first-degree premeditated murder as the prosecution failed to present sufficient evidence of premeditation.
XI. Defendant Williams is entitled to relief from judgment where appellate counsel's performance violated his Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel on direct appeal as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.
XII. Petitioner was denied his fundamental protections to a fair trial by and through the cumulative effect of error that took place at the hands of the trial court, the prosecution, defense counsel and appellate counsel.

         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)).

         The Court is aware that petitioner raised his third through twelfth claims in his post-conviction motion for relief from judgment. The judge denied these claims in part because petitioner failed to show cause and prejudice, as required by M.C.R. 6.508(D)(3), for not raising these claims on his appeal of right. Although the state judge court judge mentioned M.C.R. 6.508(D)(3), the AEDPA's deferential standard of review would nonetheless apply to the judge's opinion because he alternatively rejected the claims on the merits. See Moritz v. Lafler, 525 F. App'x. 277, 284 (6th Cir. 2013).[1]

         III. Discussion

         A. Claim # 1. The prosecutorial misconduct claims.

         Petitioner argues that he was denied a fair trial because of prosecutorial misconduct.

         “Claims of prosecutorial misconduct are reviewed deferentially on habeas review.” Millender v. Adams, 376 F.3d 520, 528 (6th Cir. 2004)(citing Bowling v. Parker, 344 F.3d 487, 512 (6th Cir. 2003)). A prosecutor's improper comments will be held to violate a criminal defendant's constitutional rights only if they “‘so infected the trial with unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due process.'” Darden v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 168, 181 (1986)(quoting Donnelly v. DeChristoforo, 416 U.S. 637, 643 (1974)). Prosecutorial misconduct will thus form the basis for habeas relief only if the conduct was so egregious as to render the entire trial fundamentally unfair based on the totality of the circumstances. Donnelly v. DeChristoforo, 416 U.S. at 643-45. In order to obtain habeas relief on a prosecutorial misconduct claim, a habeas petitioner must show that the state court's rejection of his prosecutorial misconduct claim “was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” Parker v. Matthews, 132 S.Ct. 2148, 2155 (2012)(quoting Harrington, 562 U.S. at 103).

         Petitioner first contends that the prosecutor committed misconduct by asking Ms. Pritchett whether petitioner had a “jealous heart.”

         The Michigan Court of Appeals rejected this claim:

“[A] prosecutor's good-faith effort to admit evidence does not constitute misconduct.” Here, defendant has not shown that the prosecutor acted in bad faith. Defendant's demeanor was a matter of concern to both parties in light of the defense theory that defendant acted in self-defense. Defense counsel noted during opening statement that defendant was calm on the evening in question. Defense counsel asserted that in contrast to defendant's calm demeanor, Morgan was aggressive, drunk, and furious, and had a “gun mentality.” Given the parties' theories, defendant has not demonstrated that the questions concerning his temper and jealousy on the night in question were improper. Viewed in context, the challenged questions were not intended to inject improper character evidence, but rather sought information that was both relevant and responsive to the defense theory. Regardless, Pritchett denied that defendant had a jealous heart or a violent temper, so reversal is not warranted on this issue.

People v. Williams, No. 299484, 2012 WL 164094, at * 1 (internal citation omitted).

         Although petitioner framed his claim as a prosecutorial-misconduct challenge, “it amounts in the end to a challenge to the trial court's decision to allow the introduction of this evidence.” Webb v. Mitchell, 586 F.3d 383, 397 (6th Cir. 2009). “A prosecutor may rely in good faith on evidentiary rulings made by the state trial judge and make arguments in reliance on those rulings.” Cristini v. McKee, 526 F.3d 888, 900 (6th Cir. 2008). For a prosecutor's cross-examination of a witness to rise to the level of prosecutorial misconduct, a defendant is required to show intentional misconduct or reckless disregard for the truth on the part of the prosecutor. See U.S. v. Sexton, 119 F. App'x. 735, 750 (6th Cir. 2005); vacated in part on other grds, 2005 WL 6011238 (6th Cir. Apr. 4, 2005). The questions posed by the prosecutor to Ms. Pritchett about petitioner's temper and possible jealousy were relevant to challenging the defense theory that petitioner was calm and passive on the night of the shooting, so as to rebut his self-defense claim. A prosecutor does not commit misconduct by asking witnesses relevant questions. See Slagle v. Bagley, 457 F.3d 501, 518 (6th Cir. 2006). Petitioner's claim is without merit.

         Petitioner next argues that the prosecutor improperly sought to elicit irrelevant character evidence that petitioner manipulated people, when she asked petitioner if he ...

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