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Sullivan v. Steward

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

November 7, 2017

Tewana Sullivan Petitioner,
v.
Anthony Steward, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER (1) DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS, (2) DENYING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY, AND (3) DENYING PERMISSION TO FILE APPEAL IN FORMA PAUPERIS

          GERSHWIN A. DRAIN UNITED STATES DISTRICTJUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This is a habeas case filed by a Michigan prisoner under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner Tewana Sullivan was convicted after she pled guilty but mentally ill in the Wayne Circuit Court to second-degree murder. Dkt. No. 8-9, pg. 8 (Pg. ID 232). Under the terms of the plea agreement, the court sentenced Petitioner to 23 to 50 years in prison. Id. The petition raises a single claim: the trial court erred in failing to allow Petitioner to withdraw her guilty plea prior to sentencing where she did not understand the sentencing consequences of her plea. Dkt. No. 1, pg. 2 (Pg. ID 2). The Court finds that Petitioner's claim is without merit. Therefore, the Court will deny her petition. The Court will also deny Petitioner a certificate of appealability and deny her leave to appeal in forma pauperis.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Petitioner was charged with first-degree murder after she killed 66-year-old Cheryl Livy by hitting her in the head numerous times with a crock pot. Dkt. 8-9 pg. 10 (Pg. ID 234).

         On May 28, 2015, Petitioner pled guilty but mentally ill to the lesser charge of second-degree murder, with a sentence agreement of 23 to 50 years in prison. Id. at 7-8 (Pg. ID 231-32).

         At the plea hearing the prosecutor stated the terms of the agreement, including the sentence Petitioner would receive. Id. at 3 (Pg. ID 227). Defense counsel indicated that he agreed with the statement, and he indicated: “I believe it's the understanding of my client's offer, since I did present that to her not only this morning, but I've been talking with her personally at the jail on several occasions since the offer was made.” Id. at 4 (Pg. ID 228). Petitioner indicated her desire to enter into the plea agreement. See id.

         The trial court indicated that it had read the Forensic Center report on Petitioner's competency and criminal responsibility, stating:

Ms. Sullivan was given an opportunity for what is called an independent psychological evaluation or psychiatric evaluation. Both examiners, both the People's examiner and the defense examiner found that Ms. Sullivan could not be found not guilty by reason of insanity. That is to say that she did not meet the statutory threshold for legal insanity. However, the defense examiner found based on his review of medical records and history that Ms. Sullivan had a number of psychiatric issues problems or diagnoses over a period of time. Some of which may have been related to neurological incidents, and that she is mentally ill. And I, I find, that's Dr. Miller, by a preponderance of the evidence Dr. Miller's findings to have been persuasive on the issue of mental illness.
Okay. And, and I should also mention that, that by all accounts Ms. Sullivan is competent. Competent to stand trial and competent to plea.

Id. at 5, 7 (Pg. ID 229, 231).

         The Court then reiterated the terms of the plea agreement:

And that by accepting this offer that you plead guilty but mentally ill to murder in the second degree, you are agreeing to the sentence agreement of 23 year to 50 years with the Michigan Department of Corrections. Your commitment will stipulate that you are to receive all requisite psychiatric or other mental health care during your term of incarceration. But it is a guilty plea and results in a murder in the second degree conviction which is a life offense. You understand that?

Id. at 8 (Pg. ID 232).

         Petitioner indicated her understanding. See Id. The court asked Petitioner whether anyone had promised her anything other than what was placed on the record, or whether she was threatened to obtain her plea, and she answered, “No, sir.” Id. at 9 (Pg. ID 233).

         The court then advised Petitioner of all the trial rights she would be waiving by entering her plea, and Petitioner indicated that she understood and wished to enter the plea. Id. at 8-11 (Pg. ID ...


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