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Grace v. Gidley

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

June 28, 2017

LORI GIDLEY, Respondent.



         Jaqavice Grace, (“Petitioner”), incarcerated at the Central Michigan Correctional Facility in St. Louis, Michigan, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In his application, filed pro se, petitioner challenges his conviction for unlawful imprisonment, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.349(b), and interference with electronic communications, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.540. For the reasons stated below, the petition for writ of habeas corpus is DENIED.

         I. Background

         Petitioner was convicted of unlawful imprisonment, felonious assault, and interference with electronic communications following a jury trial in the Saginaw County Circuit Court. The jury acquitted petitioner of kidnapping, first-degree criminal sexual conduct, and a second charge of felonious assault. 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 charges against defendant arose from an incident occurring in February 2014 involving two female high school students. Defendant was also a high school student at the time. Defendant and one of the alleged victims met on a social website. She, along with a friend, picked defendant up in Saginaw, Michigan and attended a house party. After leaving the party, the two victims, one driving and the other riding in the front passenger seat, began driving defendant to an address that he provided. On the way, defendant allegedly started fondling the victim in the passenger seat. The victims testified at trial that defendant brandished a gun, took the driver's cellphone, and forced the driver to pull over and the passenger to enter the backseat, where he sexually assaulted her. As previously stated, defendant was acquitted of the crimes allegedly committed against the passenger, but was convicted of the crimes committed against the driver.
At sentencing, defense counsel argued that because defendant possessed a starter pistol when convicted under MCL 750.82(1) and MCL 750.349(1)(a), a directed verdict should have been entered with respect to the felonious assault and unlawful imprisonment charges. The trial court stated that this issue should have been brought before the jury's deliberations, and nevertheless, a starter pistol can be used to strike someone, cause hearing damage, or physical harm due to the pistol spark. The trial court reasoned that the pistol, not having bullets, will not kill someone, but there are many different ways that it could be used as a weapon, and after hearing the proper instructions, the jury decided that the pistol was used in that manner. Defendant was sentenced as stated above. This appeal ensued.

People v. Grace, No. 322653, 2016 WL 196991, at * 1 (Mich. Ct. App. Jan. 14, 2016).

         The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed petitioner's conviction for felonious assault, on the ground that petitioner's starter pistol did not qualify as a dangerous weapon within the meaning of the felonious assault statute. Id., at * 4. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed petitioner's remaining two convictions. Id., at * 5-6. The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the sentencing guidelines had been scored correctly under a preponderance of evidence standard. Id., * 6-8. The Michigan Court of Appeals nonetheless remanded the matter back to the trial court in light of the Michigan Supreme Court's decision in People v. Lockridge, 498 Mich. 358; 870 N.W.2d 502 (Mich. 2015), because the jury did not find the facts to support the scoring of the sentencing guidelines beyond a reasonable doubt as they were not part of the elements of unlawful imprisonment and petitioner did not admit to these facts. Id., * 8-9. On remand, the trial judge was to determine whether he would have imposed a materially different sentence but for the constitutional error. Id.

         The Michigan Supreme Court denied petitioner leave to appeal. People v. Grace, 499 Mich. 929, 878 N.W.2d 861 (2016).

         On remand, the trial judge indicated that he would not have imposed a materially different sentence and affirmed the sentence imposed. People v. Grace, No. 14-039975-FC (Saginaw Cty. Cir.Ct., Nov. 3, 2016)(This Court's Dkt. # 8-12).

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

I. The prosecut1ion presented insufficient evidence to support a prosecution.
II. Due process requires dismissal of the charges due to an inconsistent verdict where the jury acquitted Grace of all sexual assault charges related to Hunter Roy, but convicted him of all charges related to Megan Bebee.
III. Grace is entitled to resentencing where the trial court misconstrued the sentencing guidelines and trial counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the scoring of offense values.

         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 his or her claim “was so lacking in justification that there was an error well ...

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