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Yancey v. Woods

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

June 1, 2017

MARK YANCEY, Petitioner,
v.
JEFFREY WOODS, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING THE PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS AND DECLINING TO ISSUE A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY

          NANCY G. EDMUNDS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter has come before the Court on petitioner Mark Yancey's habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner is challenging his state convictions for first-degree, premeditated murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.316(1)(a), and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (“felony firearm”), Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b. He maintains that (1) there was insufficient evidence to sustain his convictions, (2) he was denied a fair trial by the admission of hearsay, (3) the prosecutor's remarks deprived him of a fair trial, (4) he was denied the assistance of counsel for several months, and (5) he was denied effective assistance of trial counsel. Respondent Jeffrey Woods urges the Court to deny the petition on grounds that Petitioner procedurally defaulted part of his third claim and the state courts' decisions were not contrary to federal law, unreasonable applications of federal law, or unreasonable determinations of the facts. The Court agrees that the state courts' decisions were objectively reasonable. Therefore, Petitioner is not entitled to relief, and the Court will deny the petition.

         I. Background

         A. The Trial and Sentence

         The charges against Petitioner were based on allegations that he shot and killed a teenage boy in Detroit, Michigan on May 20, 2009. Petitioner and his co-defendant, Duane Sain (“Sain”), were tried together, but before separate juries, in Wayne County Circuit Court.

         The victim's mother, Paula Holliman, testified that her son was sixteen years old when he was killed and that everyone loved him. Dr. Francisco Diaz performed the autopsy on the victim and testified that the victim was shot in the back and on the right knee. The cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds, and the manner of death was homicide.

         Detroit police officer Robert Skender was dispatched to the scene of the shooting. He testified that, although there was a street light at the site, it was a little darker than the area where he found the victim. After EMS took the victim to the hospital, he secured the area.

         Michael Porter testified that, about 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. on May 20, 2009, he and his friends (Daniel Hines (“Hines”), someone named “C.J.”, and the victim) were “hanging out” on Stout Street near Wadsworth Avenue. An argument broke out between the Vaughn Street group, which included Petitioner and Sain, and the Stout Street group, which included C.J. and Hines. The argument pertained to someone named “Jock” or “Young Jock” who had stolen some drugs from C.J.'s friend. Everyone scattered when someone other than the defendants fired a gun into the air.

         Later that same day before 11:00 p.m., he (Porter), Hines, C.J., and the victim walked back to the area of Stout and Wadsworth Streets. A burgundy Caprice car with a black hood and a damaged front end drove up behind them. Hines said, “There they go right there.” He (Porter) then turned and noticed that Sain was driving the car, and Petitioner was seated on the passenger side of the car with a gun. He could see the driver because the car drove slowly under a street light, which lit up the car. He heard about ten gunshots come from the car, and, as he and his friends ran away, the victim said that he was hit and fell down. Someone in the car then yelled “Black Point, ” which was the name of a gang associated with the boys from Vaughn Street.

         After the shooting, some older people arrived and appeared to assist the victim. He and Hines ran to his house where he told his mother and sister what had happened; they called the 911 operator. Then he and Hines went to C.J.'s house, and all three of them returned to where the victim had been shot. The police arrived, but he did not speak with any officers at the scene, and the EMS crew took the victim away on a stretcher. He learned the next day that the victim had died. On June 6, 2009, he spoke with Sergeant Diaz and told him what had happened. He also viewed two photo lineups. He identified Petitioner as the shooter and Sain as the driver of the car that drove by him and his friends immediately before the shooting. He knew the defendants from the neighborhood, and, at the time, he thought that Petitioner's name was Monte.

         Hines corroborated much of Porter's testimony about the incidents that occurred on May 20, 2009. He stated that Petitioner and Sain were his friends and that he saw them during the argument on the afternoon of May 20, 2009. Later that night, he saw someone shooting from the front passenger seat of a brown Caprice, which had a hood of a different color. He had previously seen Sain driving the car, but he did not see who was driving the car on May 20, 2009. He also did not see who was shooting from the car, and he did not tell Sergeant Diaz that the car belonged to Sain.

         Detroit police officer Eugene Fitzhugh testified that he responded to the homicide scene and took photographs. He collected a baseball cap, a tee shirt, a cell phone, and approximately sixteen casings, all of which were nine millimeter casings. He had to use a flashlight because there was no street lighting and it was extremely dark there.

         Sergeant Michael Martell of the Detroit Police Department also responded to the scene. He told the evidence technician what to document, photograph, and collect. There were some street lights on, but the area was not well lit.

         Detective Lieutenant David Vroman of the Michigan State Police testified that he examined seventeen fired cartridge casings and determined that ten of them came from one gun and the other seven came from another gun. He also examined two fired bullets, but he had no gun with which to compare the bullets, and one of the bullets appeared to be unrelated to the case.

         Sergeant Gary Diaz was the officer in charge of the case. He explained that he learned about Porter and Hines from tips and from officers who worked in the area. He interviewed Porter, who identified Petitioner and Sain in photographs and stated that they were the individuals whom he saw during the shooting. Hines, on the other hand, initially was uncooperative, but he “came clean” and told Diaz what he saw after Diaz showed him Porter's statement. Both Hines and Petitioner told him that the Caprice they saw at the shooting was Sain's car. He investigated other witnesses, including someone named Monte, but he never learned the identity of “C.J., ” and he was unable to determine who fired the gunshots on the afternoon of May 20, 2009. He also did not recover a weapon.

         Petitioner did not testify or present any witnesses. His defense was that there were holes in the prosecution's case. Defense counsel pointed out to the jury that the lighting was poor at the scene of the shooting and that the only witness to implicate Petitioner was Porter, who could not have seen Petitioner in the car at the time of the shooting. Defense counsel also pointed out that Porter had identified Petitioner as Monte during the pretrial proceedings and that Monte was someone else. Counsel concluded her closing argument by stating that the prosecution had not met its burden of proof and that, if the jurors doubted whether Petitioner pulled the trigger, the only proper verdict was a “not guilty” verdict.

         The trial court instructed the jury on second-degree murder as a lesser-included offense of first-degree murder, but on March 3, 2010, Petitioner's jury found him guilty, as charged, of first-degree murder and felony firearm.[1] On March 18, 2010, the trial court sentenced Petitioner to a mandatory term of two years in prison for the felony-firearm conviction and to a consecutive term of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for the murder conviction.

         B. The Direct Appeal and Post-Conviction Proceedings

         On direct appeal, Petitioner challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his murder conviction, the use of hearsay, the prosecutor's conduct, the photographic identification, and the verdict form. The Michigan Court of Appeals rejected Petitioner's arguments and affirmed his convictions. See People v. Yancey, No. 297815, 2011 WL 3518212 (Mich. Ct. App. Aug. 11, 2011.) The Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal because it was not persuaded to review the issues. See People v. Yancey, 490 Mich. 974; 806 N.W.2d 738 (2011) (table).

         In a subsequent motion for relief from judgment, Petitioner argued that he was denied counsel for several months during the pretrial investigative stage and that trial counsel deprived him of effective assistance. The trial court denied Petitioner's motion in a reasoned opinion. See People v. Yancey, No. 09-024170-02-FC (Wayne Cty. Cir. Ct. July 9, 2013). The trial court also denied Petitioner's motion for reconsideration. See People v. Yancey, No. 09-024170-02-FC (Wayne Cty. Cir. Ct. Aug. 19, 2013).

         Petitioner appealed the trial court's decision, but both the Michigan Court of Appeals and the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal for failure to establish entitlement to relief under Michigan Court Rule 6.508(D). See People v. Yancey, No. 319355 (Mich. Ct. App. Jan. 10, 2014); People v. Yancey, 496 Mich. 864; 849 N.W.2d 385 (2014). The Michigan Supreme Court denied Petitioner's motion for reconsideration on September 29, 2014. See People v. Yancey, 497 Mich. 872; 853 N.W.2d 375 (2014) (table).

         C. The Habeas Petition and Responsive Pleading

         On October 3, 2014, Petitioner filed his habeas corpus petition through counsel. As noted above, he argues that (1) he was convicted on insufficient evidence, (2) he was denied a fair trial by the admission of hearsay, (3) the prosecutor committed misconduct, (4) he was denied the assistance of counsel for several months during the pretrial stage, and (5) he was denied effective assistance of trial counsel. Respondent argues, among other things, that the portion of Petitioner's third claim which challenges the prosecutor's opening statement and her direct examination of the victim's mother is procedurally defaulted.

         A procedural default is “a critical failure to comply with state procedural law.” Trest v. Cain, 522 U.S. 87, 89 (1997). It “is not a jurisdictional matter, ” id., and to obtain habeas relief on procedurally defaulted claims, a petitioner “must establish cause and prejudice for the defaults” and “also show that the claims are meritorious.” Babick v. Berghuis, 620 F.3d 571, 576 (6th Cir. 2010) (internal citation omitted).

         Petitioner's claims lack merit for the reasons given below. And because “federal courts are not required to address a procedural-default issue before deciding against the petitioner on the merits, ” Hudson v. Jones, 351 F.3d 212, 215 (6th Cir. 2003), the Court “cut[s] to the merits here, since the cause-and-prejudice analysis adds nothing but complexity to the case.” Babick, 620 F.3d at 576.

         II. Standard of Review

         “The statutory authority of federal courts to issue habeas corpus relief for persons in state custody is provided by 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA).” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 97 (2011). “AEDPA sharply limits the circumstances in which a federal court may issue a writ of habeas corpus to a state prisoner whose claim was ‘adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings.' ” Johnson v. Williams, 568 U.S. 289, __, 133 S.Ct. 1088, 1094 (2013) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)). The Court may not grant a state prisoner's application for the writ of habeas corpus unless the state court's adjudication of the prisoner's claims on the merits

(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.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

Under the “contrary to” clause [of § 2254(d)(1)], a federal habeas court may grant the writ 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. Under the “unreasonable application” clause [of § 2254(d)(1)], a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.

Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000) (O'Connor, J., opinion of the Court for Part II). “[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. Rather, that application must also be unreasonable.” Id. at 411.

         “AEDPA thus imposes a ‘highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, ' Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 333, n. 7 (1997), and ‘demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt, ' Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (per curiam).” Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010). “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.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 101 (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). To obtain a writ of habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on 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.” Id. at 103.

         Further, “ ‘[i]n a proceeding instituted by an application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court, a determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct, ' unless rebutted by ‘clear and convincing evidence.' ” Holland v. Rivard, 800 F.3d 224, 242 (6th Cir. 2015) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1)), cert. denied, 136 S.Ct. 1384 (2016). Finally, “review under § 2254(d)(1) is limited to the record that was before the state court that adjudicated the claim on the merits.” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011).

         III. Analysis

         A. The Sufficiency of the Evidence

         The first habeas claim alleges that Petitioner was convicted on the basis of insufficient evidence in violation of his right to due process. Petitioner contends that the testimony of the main prosecution witness was totally inconsistent with his statement to the police and that the investigating detective may have told the witness what to say and whom to identify as the perpetrators of the crime. Petitioner further alleges that the prosecutor failed to establish his intent.

         The Michigan Court of Appeals adjudicated Petitioner's claim on direct appeal and opined that there was sufficient evidence from which a rational trier of fact could conclude that Petitioner was the shooter and that he premeditated the shooting. Petitioner maintains that the state court failed to provide a reasonable or thoughtful analysis of the issue and, instead, used boilerplate language to resolve the issue.

         1. Legal Framework

         The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution “protects the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which he is charged.” In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364 (1970). Following Winship, the critical inquiry on review of a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence supporting a criminal conviction is

whether the record evidence could reasonably support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. But this inquiry does not require a court to “ask itself whether it believes that the evidence at the trial established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” Instead, the relevant question is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. This familiar standard gives full play to the responsibility of the trier of fact fairly to resolve conflicts in the testimony, to weigh the evidence, and to draw reasonable inferences from basic facts to ultimate facts.

Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318-19 (1979) (internal citations and footnote omitted) (emphases in original).

         The Supreme Court, moreover, has “never questioned the sufficiency of circumstantial evidence in support of a criminal conviction, even though proof beyond a reasonable doubt is required.” Desert Palace, Inc. v. Costa, 539 U.S. 90, 100 (2003). Circumstantial evidence in criminal cases is “intrinsically no different from testimonial evidence, ” Holland v. United States, 348 U.S. 121, 140 (1954), and the prosecution has no affirmative duty to rule out every hypothesis except that of guilt, Jackson, 443 U.S. at 326.

         “Jackson claims face a high bar in federal habeas proceedings because they are subject to two layers of judicial deference.” Coleman v. Johnson, 566 U.S. 650, __, 132 S.Ct. 2060, 2062 (2012) (per curiam). First, “ ‘it is the responsibility of the jury . . . to decide what conclusions should be drawn from evidence admitted at trial.' ” Id. (quoting Cavazos v. Smith, 565 U.S. 1, 2 (2011) (per curiam)).

And second, on habeas review, “a federal court may not overturn a state court decision rejecting a sufficiency of the evidence challenge simply because the federal court disagrees with the state court. The federal court instead may do so only if the state ...

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