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Owens v. Haas

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

September 21, 2017

Travis Quan Owens, Petitioner,
Randall Haas, [1] Respondent.

          Mag. Judge Anthony P. Patti


          Judith E. Levy United States District Judge


         Petitioner Travis Quan Owens, confined at the Macomb Correctional Facility in New Haven, Michigan, has filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Dkt. 1.) In his application, Petitioner challenges his conviction of armed robbery, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.529, on six grounds.

         For the reasons set forth below, the petition for a writ of habeas corpus is denied.

         I. Background

         Petitioner was convicted of armed robbery following a jury trial in the Oakland County Circuit Court, and sentenced as a habitual offender, fourth offense, to a term of twenty to forty years. People v. Owens, No. 29-7315, 2011 WL 2464193, at *1 (Mich. Ct. App. June 21, 2011). This Court relies on the facts recited by the trial court, which are presumed correct pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1):[2]

At trial, Defendant admitted to having committed the store robbery and only denied that he was armed. The store was equipped with multi-angle cameras that captured the entire event on video. Thought it is clear from this Court's videotaped proceedings that the video was shown to the jury, the security video image is not visible on this Court's video. The prosecutor took the victims through the video in a narrative fashion and stopped at times to zoom in on the images.
The evidence showed that, on April 9, 2009, Defendant entered the Advance America cash advance store in Pontiac, Michigan to inquire about his account. He told the assistant manager, Cynthia Miles, that his last name was “Owens” and he recited eight of the nine digits of his social security number. His account could not be located on the computer, yet he remained in the store. The store manager, Shelly Hall, eventually asked Defendant to leave, but he stayed.
After other customers left the store, Defendant grabbed Ms. Hall by the shirt with his left hand, pulled her close to him and put a knife that he was holding in his right hand to the left side of her throat. Ms. Hall testified that she saw the blade of the knife as Defendant brought it up to her throat and felt it on her neck. Defendant ordered Ms. Miles to give him the store's cash and when she hesitated, Defendant threatened to cut Ms. Hall “real bad.” When Ms. Miles put the money on a table, Defendant shifted his grip and held both Ms. Hall's shirt and the knife with his right hand while he reached down for the money with his left hand, all the while keeping the blade to Ms. Hall's throat. When he dropped some of the money, Ms. Hall leaned down with him because he still held the knife to her throat. Though she could not describe the handle of the knife, Ms. Hall indicated the length of the blade with her hands. She testified that she had no doubt in her mind that the object Defendant held to her neck was a knife. She also stated that Defendant told them that he had seen their faces and threatened to kill the women if they called the police. Ms. Miles testified that she believed Defendant reached out and grabbed Ms. Hall's shirt with his left hand. Defendant also ordered Ms. Miles to give him the cash or he would cut Ms. Hall. Though she observed Defendant's hand at Ms. Hall's throat, Ms. Miles did not observe a weapon because Ms. Hall's hair was hanging down over her neck. Ms. Miles testified that she gave Defendant the money because she did not want Ms. Hall to be injured and that, based on the look on Ms. Hall's face, she did not want to take a chance. Ms. Miles also testified that Defendant threatened to come back and kill the women if they called the police. The testimony further showed that, after Defendant left the store, the women called the police and gave their witness statements. While the police were present, the women checked the files in a filing cabinet and looked under the name “Owens.” They discovered a photocopy of Defendant's driver's license and his full social security number, which matched the numbers Defendant had given them. Defendant was arrested on a warrant and bound over for trial. The jury verdict form listed the option of finding Defendant guilty of the lesser offense of unarmed robbery.

(Opinion and Order, Oakland Cty. Cir. Ct. (Mar. 8, 2013).)

         Petitioner's conviction was affirmed on appeal. Owens, 2011 WL 2464193. The Michigan Supreme Court denied his application for leave to appeal. People v. Owens, 490 Mich. 913 (2011). Petitioner then filed a post-conviction motion for relief from judgment pursuant to Mich. Ct. R. 6.500, which was denied. People v. Owens, No. 09-226671-FC (Oakland Cty. Cir. Ct. Mar. 8, 2013). The Michigan appellate courts denied Petitioner leave to appeal. People v. Owens, No. 318067 (Mich. Ct. App. Mar. 14, 2014); lv. den. 497 Mich. 902 (2014); reconsideration den. 497 Mich. 956 (2015).

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

I. Defense trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective in failing to object to the prosecutor vouching for the complainant's credibility and making an improper civic duty argument.
II. Defendant-Appellant was denied his Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of appellate counsel and his Fourteenth Amendment due process right to a full and fair appeal of right where appellate counsel failed to raise significant and obvious issues on his appeal of right.
III. Defendant-Appellant was denied his Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of trial counsel and his Sixth Amendment right to present a defense where the trial court failed to obtain an expert witness to enhance the digital video footage of the robbery, which, if investigated would have shown that the defendant-appellant was carrying a money bag.
IV. The failure of trial counsel to investigate defendant's competence and medication use at the time of trial denied defendant effective assistance.
V. Defendant's rights to trial by jury, due process and the effective assistance of counsel were violated by the inadequate responses of the trial court and defense counsel to a juror who was apparently asleep during trial.
VI. The trial court violated defendant-appellant's due process rights by failing to fully and properly administer the jury oath in accordance with the governing statute and court rule.

(Dkt. 1 at 10.)

         II. Legal Standard

         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 state court's decision is ‘contrary to' . . . clearly established law if it ‘applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases' or if it ‘confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme] Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [this] precedent.'” Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 15-16 (2003) (per curiam) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)). An unreasonable application occurs when the state court's decision is “more than incorrect or erroneous”; “the state court's application must have been ‘objectively unreasonable.'” White v. Woodall, U.S., 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014) (citing Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003)).

         “AEDPA [] 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); see also Renico, 559 U.S. at 773 n.1 (noting that the Supreme Court has historically viewed AEDPA's standard for reviewing state court decisions as “deferential”). Thus, pursuant to section 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. Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011). “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.” Woods v. Etherton, U.S., 136 S.Ct. 1149, 1151 (2016) (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). Finally, habeas relief is not appropriate “unless each ground that supported the state court's decision is examined and found to be unreasonable under the AEDPA.” Wetzel v. Lambert, 565 U.S. 520, 525 (2012) (emphasis in original).

         III. Analysis

         A. Statute of Limitations

         Respondent argues that this petition is barred by the statute of limitations because it was not filed within the one-year statute of limitations period imposed by 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1). Further, Respondent argues that Petitioner is not entitled to equitable tolling because his state-court collateral attack was filed after the one-year statute of limitations expired. (Dkt. 5 at 31-38.) Respondent also argues that Petitioner has defaulted his third, fourth, and fifth claims because he failed to raise the claims on direct appeal. (Dkt. 5 at 39.)

         Although the issue of whether a claim is procedurally barred should ordinarily be resolved first, “judicial economy might counsel giving the [merits] question priority, ” such as where the merits issue is “easily resolvable” and the procedural bar involves “complicated issues of state law.” Lambrix v. Singletary, 520 U.S. 518, 525 (1997); Bales v. Bell, 788 F.3d 568, 573 (6th Cir. 2015). And because the statute of limitations is not a jurisdictional bar to habeas review, a federal court may, in the interest of judicial economy, proceed to the merits of a habeas petition. LaMar v. Houk, 798 F.3d 405, 415 (6th Cir. 2015).

         Here, the petition is resolvable against Petitioner on the merits regardless of the timeliness of the petition. Accordingly, the Court will assume the petition was timely and proceed to the other procedural default and merits arguments. See Ahart v. Bradshaw, 122 F. App'x 188, 192 (6th Cir. 2005).

         B. Ineffective ...

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