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Watkins v. Napel

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

May 16, 2017

NAPOLEAN DERRON WATKINS, Petitioner,
v.
ROBERT NEPEL, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING THE PETITION FOR A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS AND DECLINING TO ISSUE A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY OR LEAVE TO APPEAL IN FORMA PAUPERIS

          Sean F. Cox U.S. District Judge

         Napolean Derron Watkins, (“petitioner”), presently incarcerated at the Marquette Branch Prison in Marquette, Michigan, has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In his pro se application, petitioner challenges his conviction for assault with intent to murder (AWIM), Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.83; carrying a concealed weapon (CCW), Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227; possession of a firearm by a felon (felon-in-possession), Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.224f; and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (felony-firearm), Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b. Defendant was sentenced as a second habitual offender, Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.10, to concurrent prison terms of 25 to 50 years for the AWIM conviction, 1 to 7 ½ years for the CCW conviction, and 1 to 7 ½ years for the felon-in-possession conviction. He was also sentenced to a mandatory two-year prison term for the felony-firearm conviction. For the reasons stated below, the petition for a writ of habeas corpus is DENIED WITH PREJUDICE.

         I. Background

         Petitioner was convicted of the above offenses following a jury trial in the Wayne County Circuit Court. This Court recites verbatim the relevant facts regarding petitioner's conviction from the Michigan Court of Appeals' opinion affirming his conviction, 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 was arrested and charged following his alleged involvement in a non-fatal shooting at a Coney Island restaurant on Detroit's west side. The evidence established that, in the early morning hours of December 19, 2008, after an evening of socializing and drinking alcohol, defendant and two friends drove to a Coney Island restaurant at the intersection of Livernois Avenue and Tireman Street. While inside the restaurant, defendant attempted to speak to some female customers, but they ridiculed and rebuffed him. Instead, the female customers chose to speak to defendant's friend, victim Leonardrow Smith. Defendant became angry with Smith and produced a semi-automatic handgun that he had been carrying in his pocket or waistband. Smith testified that defendant began “playing with [the gun] behind [Smith's] head.” Smith turned around and confronted defendant, knocking the firearm out of defendant's hand. Defendant's other friend then intervened and broke up the fight between defendant and Smith. At that point, defendant retrieved his gun and Smith believed that the disagreement had been resolved.
Smith picked up his food from the counter, turned, and began walking toward the front door of the restaurant. Defendant followed Smith. As Smith walked out the door of the Coney Island restaurant, defendant shot him once in the back of the head, just behind the right ear. Smith became dazed, stumbled, and fell. Smith then looked up and saw defendant leaving the restaurant. According to Smith, defendant “jumped in the car” and drove away. When police later arrived on the scene, one spent shell casing was recovered from the area of the restaurant's front entrance.
Smith was transported to Henry Ford Hospital, where he gave a statement to Investigator Robert Lee of the Detroit Police Department. Smith did not specifically recall what he had told Lee at the hospital. However, according to Lee, Smith identified defendant as his assailant. Smith ultimately recovered from his injury.
Smith testified that defendant called him on the telephone approximately one month after the shooting. During the telephone conversation, defendant apparently threatened “to finish the job” and “let bullets fly” if he ever met Smith again.
After providing defendant with written and verbal information concerning his constitutional rights, Detroit Police Officers Terence Sims and Richard Firsdon conducted a video-recorded interview with defendant in March 2009. After waiving his Miranda[1] rights, defendant initially admitted that he had shot Smith at the Coney Island restaurant on December 19, 2008. Defendant also initially told the police that he would have killed Smith if he had had more than one bullet in his gun. At the end of the interview, however, defendant recanted, telling the police that he had not shot Smith and that he had not even been at the Coney Island restaurant in question.
At trial, Smith identified defendant as his assailant. The prosecution displayed footage taken from the surveillance cameras at the Coney Island restaurant. The surveillance camera footage showed two men arguing inside the Coney Island restaurant and one man later being shot in the back of the head as he attempted to exit the restaurant through the front door. The prosecution also played the video recording of defendant's interview with the police. The recording, itself, was admitted into evidence as an exhibit over defense counsel's objection.
After playing the video recording of defendant's police interview, the prosecution questioned Officer Firsdon regarding some of the specific exchanges that he had with defendant during the interview. The sound quality of the video was poor, and the prosecution therefore asked Officer Firsdon to highlight and recap the more inculpatory admissions made by defendant during the interview. Firsdon responded to the prosecution's questions by explaining or summarizing certain of his exchanges with defendant as the prosecution simultaneously showed the corresponding portions of the video recording.
Defendant's primary defense at trial was that he had been in Las Vegas, Nevada, with his fiancée at the time of the shooting. Defendant admitted that he knew Smith from the neighborhood, but denied that he had shot Smith. Defendant testified that, during his interview with the police, he had “just played around most of the time” and had told the police whatever he “thought they wanted [to hear].” Defendant also presented the testimony of Akeem Holmes, who had allegedly spoken to Smith while Smith was in jail on charges stemming from an unrelated incident. According the Holmes, while in jail Smith told him that “he didn't know who shot him.”

People v. Watkins, No. 294812, 2010 WL 5093392, at *1-2 (Mich.Ct.App. Dec. 14, 2010); lv. den., 489 Mich. 935, 797 N.W.2d 633 (2011).

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

I. The trial court committed reversible error and denied Petitioner his state and federal constitutional rights and due process of law under the Sixth and Fourteenth amendments and const 1963, art 1 sec 17, and 20, by allowing a police witness to paraphrase what Petitioner said during an interview.
II. Trial court erred at sentencing by imposing an upward departure minimum sentence of twenty-five years, where no valid substantial and compelling reasons supported the departure. Re-sentencing is required.
III. Petitioner was denied his constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel by trial counsel failure to advocate for his client unaffected by conflicting consideration, conduct basic pre-trial investigation, file pre-trial motions to suppress, request competency evaluation in the face of continued erratic behavior, present a defense witness, object to inadmissible evidence, object to prosecutor's misconduct and other mistakes and omissions.
IV. Petitioner's Sixth Amendment constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel, on his direct appeal was violated when appellate counsel failed to raise issues which were meritorious, significant and obvious.

         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.

         The Supreme Court has explained that “[A] federal court's collateral review of a state-court decision must be consistent with the respect due state courts in our federal system.” Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003). The “AEDPA thus imposes a ‘highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, 'and ‘demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.'” Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010) (quoting Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 333, n. 7 (1997); Woodford v. Viscotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002)(per curiam)). “[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 Supreme Court has emphasized “that even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable.” Id. at 102 (citing Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003)). Furthermore, pursuant to § 2254(d), “a habeas court must determine what arguments or theories supported or...could have supported, the state court's decision; and then it must ask whether it is possible fairminded jurists could disagree that those arguments or theories are inconsistent with the holding in a prior decision” of the Supreme Court. Id. Habeas relief is not appropriate unless each ground which supported the state court's decision is examined and found to be unreasonable under the AEDPA. See Wetzel v. Lambert, 132 S.Ct. 1195, 1199 (2012).

         “[I]f this standard is difficult to meet, that is because it was meant to be.” Harrington, 562 U.S. at 102. Although 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), as amended by the AEDPA, does not completely bar federal courts from relitigating claims that have previously been rejected in the state courts, it preserves the authority for a federal court to grant habeas relief only “in cases where there is no possibility fairminded jurists could disagree that the state court's decision conflicts with” the Supreme Court's precedents. Id. “Section 2254(d) reflects the view that habeas corpus is a ‘guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, ' not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal.” Id. at 102-03 (citing Jackson v. Virginia,443 U.S. 307, 332, n. 5 (1979) (Stevens, J., concurring in judgment)). Thus, a “readiness to attribute error [to a state court] is inconsistent with the presumption that state courts know and follow the law.” Woodford, 537 U.S. at 24. In order to obtain habeas relief in federal court, a state prisoner is required to show that the state court's rejection of his claim “was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended ...


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