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Chism v. Woods

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

September 25, 2017

RODNEY CHISM, Petitioner,
JEFFREY WOODS, Respondent.


          Nancy G. Edmunds United States District Judge.

         Rodney Chism (“Petitioner”), has filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner is incarcerated at the Chippewa Correctional Facility in Kincheloe, Michigan. He challenges his convictions for three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, asserting that the trial court violated his due process rights in two ways: (1) by denying a motion to suppress his confession; and (2) by denying a motion for mistrial. Respondent, through the Attorney General's Office, has filed an answer in opposition to the petition, arguing that Petitioner's claims are meritless and, as to the mistrial claim, procedurally defaulted. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies the petition and denies a certificate of appealability.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Petitioner's convictions arise from his sexual conduct with a female piano student who was between 11 and 13 years of age.

         The Michigan Court of Appeals summarized the facts in this case as follows:

Defendant was employed as a piano instructor and the victim began taking piano lessons from him when she was eleven years old and stopped the lessons when she was under the age of 13. She testified that a couple of months after the start of the lessons defendant began putting his hand on her knee and then continued moving it higher up her leg. Later, defendant began to use his left hand to reach inside her pants, push away her underwear, and move his finger in between the lips of her vagina. She further testified that defendant touched her breasts on one occasion. The victim never protested the touching due to being afraid of getting hurt by defendant. She also did not mention the sexual assaults to her parents, but later on told a couple of her friends, who contacted the high school counselor and an investigation began.

People v. Chism, No. 313580, 2014 WL 667524, at *1 (Mich. Ct. App. Feb. 18, 2014).

         During the investigation, Detective Sergeant Michael Crum of the Berkley Police Department called Petitioner, asking him to come to the station to talk about an unspecified allegation. Petitioner, who was around 50 years old at the time, drove himself to the Berkley Police Station and met with Sergeant Crum in an interview room. The entire interview was videotaped. Within 28 minutes, Petitioner confessed to sexually assaulting the victim. The entire interview lasted under an hour. When questioning Petitioner, Sergeant Crum stated the following:

Do we charge [you] with, you know, 20 different felonies that have 200 years in prison time, and I hate to talk about a thing like that, or do we charge [you] with a misdemeanor?

(Dkt. 10-3 at 8.) Sergeant Crum also indicated that he was doing his best to keep the situation off of Fox 2 news, and that Petitioner would be facing a “freight train” if he continued to ignore the matter. (Id. at 9 and 13-14.)

         The Oakland County Circuit Court held a Walker hearing on August 15, 2012, to determine the admissibility of the videotaped confession.[1] The Court concluded that, under the totality of the circumstances, Petitioner's confession was voluntary and the confession was admissible.

         During the trial, Petitioner's counsel again argued that the videotaped confession should be suppressed. When the Court made it clear that the confession could be played for the jury and asked whether there were certain parts that should be kept out, Petitioner's counsel stated: “if you're going to play it, play the whole thing.” (Dkt.10-6 at 2.) The prosecutor played the video for the jury, muting only one section that referred to a polygraph. After seeing the video, Petitioner's counsel moved for a mistrial because Sergeant Crum indicated during the interview that he believed the victim. The Court denied the motion, but agreed to a limiting instruction.

         Following the three-day trial, the jury convicted Petitioner of three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct (victim under 12 years old, defendant 17 or older). The Court sentenced him to concurrent sentences of 25 to 50 years' imprisonment for his three convictions.

         Petitioner filed an appeal of right in the Michigan Court of Appeals, arguing that (i) his confession was not voluntary and the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress and (2) that the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion for mistrial. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction. Chism, 2014 WL 667524. Petitioner filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court, raising the same claims raised in the Michigan Court of Appeals. The Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal. People v. Chism, 497 Mich. 854 (2014).

         Petitioner then filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus, which this Court sua sponte dismissed without prejudice because the petition contained unexhausted claims, giving him 30 days to move to re-open the case to proceed on only his exhausted claims. Chism v. Woods, No. 15-cv-13237, 2015 WL 5590473 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 23, 2015). Instead, Petitioner filed the instant petition for habeas relief, raising only the following exhausted claims:

I. The trial court violated Petitioner's due process rights by denying the motion to suppress his confession; and
II. The trial court violated his due process rights and right to a fair trial by denying his motion for mistrial.

         II. STANDARD

         The petitioner's claims are reviewed against the standards established by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (“AEDPA”). The AEDPA provides:

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 ...

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