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Lott v. Haas

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

November 9, 2017

RANDALL HAAS, Respondent,



         Petitioner Ventron Vaneke Lott (“Petitioner”), 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. Petitioner challenges his sentence following a guilty plea in 2015 for one count of armed robbery and one count of carjacking in violation of Michigan Compiled Laws §§ 750.29 and 750.529a, respectively. For the reasons that follow, the Court is summarily denying Petitioner's request for habeas relief.

         I. Background

         Petitioner pleaded guilty to the above offenses in the Circuit Court for Kent County, Michigan. The state trial judge sentenced Petitioner to terms of imprisonment of eight to thirty years on the armed robbery conviction and six to twenty five years on the carjacking conviction.

         Petitioner filed a motion to correct an invalid sentence in the trial court, which the court denied. People v. Lott, No. 15-06780 (Kent Cty. Cir. Ct. Aug. 12, 2016). On direct appeal, the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's sentence and the Michigan Supreme Court denied Petitioner leave to appeal. People v. Lott, No. 334622 (Mich. Ct. App. Oct. 25, 2016); lv den. 893 N.W.2d 619 (Mich. 2017).

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

I. The trial court erred in sentencing petitioner under the restrictions of OV-1 and OV-2 [of the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines] in violation of his constitutional right under the Sixth Amendment, where the record does not support the scoring by a preponderance of the evidence. People v. Lockridge, 2015 MICH LEXIS 1774.
II. Petitioner Lott was denied his constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment where defense counsel failed to object to the scoring under OV-1 and OV-2, resulting in an inaccurate sentence requiring re-sentencing.

         II. Discussion

         A petition for a writ of habeas corpus must set forth facts that give rise to a cause of action under federal law or it may summarily be dismissed. See Perez v. Hemingway, 157 F.Supp.2d 790, 796 (E.D. Mich. 2001). Federal courts are authorized to dismiss any habeas petition that appears legally insufficient on its face. McFarland v. Scott, 512 U.S. 849, 856 (1994). If it plainly appears from the face of the petition or the exhibits attached thereto that the petitioner is not entitled to federal habeas relief, a federal habeas court may summarily dismiss the petition. See Carson v. Burke, 178 F.3d 434, 436 (6th Cir. 1999); Rules Governing § 2254 Cases, Rule 4, 28 U.S.C. foll. § 2254. The Sixth Circuit, in fact, long ago disapproved of “the practice of issuing a show cause order [to the respondent] until after the District Court first has made a careful examination of the petition.” Allen v. Perini, 424 F.2d 134, 140 (6th Cir. 1970). A district court therefore has the duty to screen out any habeas corpus petition lacking merit on its face. Id. at 141. No response to a habeas petition is necessary when the petition is frivolous, or obviously lacks merit, or where the necessary facts can be determined from the petition itself without consideration of a return by the state. Id. The present petition is one requiring summary dismissal.

         First, Petitioner's claim that the state trial court incorrectly scored his sentencing guidelines range under the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines is not cognizable on habeas review. Tironi v. Birkett, 252 F. App'x 724, 725 (6th Cir. 2007); Howard v. White, 76 F. App'x 52, 53 (6th Cir. 2003); see also Swarthout v. Cooke, 562 U.S. 216, 219 (2011) (habeas corpus relief does not lie for errors of state law) (quoting Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67 (1991)). Errors in the application of state sentencing guidelines cannot independently support habeas relief. See Kissner v. Palmer, 826 F.3d 898, 904 (6th Cir. 2016). Petitioner's claim that the state trial court improperly departed above the correct sentencing guidelines range would thus not entitle him to habeas relief, because such a departure did not violate any of Petitioner's federal due process rights. Austin v. Jackson, 213 F.3d 298, 301 (6th Cir. 2000). Petitioner also argues, however, that the state trial court violated his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial by using factors not submitted to a jury and proven beyond a reasonable doubt or admitted by Petitioner when scoring these guidelines variables under the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines. Yet, this argument also fails to set forth a basis for granting Petitioner's request for habeas relief.

         The United States Supreme Court has held that any fact that increases the mandatory minimum sentence for a crime is an element of the criminal offense that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. See Alleyne v. United States, 133 S.Ct. 2151, 2155 (2013). Alleyne is an extension of the Supreme Court's holdings in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), and Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004), where the Supreme Court held that any fact that enhances a penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum for the offense must be submitted to the jury and proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The Supreme Court in Alleyne overruled Harris v. United States, 536 U.S. 545 (2002), in which the Court had held that only factors increasing the maximum, as opposed to the minimum, sentence must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to a fact finder. Alleyne, 133 S.Ct. at 2157-58. The Alleyne Court emphasized that its ruling did not require that every fact influencing judicial discretion in sentencing must be proven to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. at 2163.

         Alleyne does not apply to Petitioner's claim because the Supreme Court's holding in “Alleyne dealt with judge-found facts that raised the mandatory minimum sentence under a statute, not judge-found facts that trigger an increased guidelines range, ” which is what happened in Petitioner's case. See United States v. Cooper, 739 F.3d 873, 884 (6th Cir. 2014); United States v. James, 575 F. App'x 588, 595 (6th Cir. 2014) (collecting cases and noting that at least four post-Alleyne unanimous panels of the Sixth Circuit have “taken for granted that the rule of Alleyne applies only to mandatory minimum sentences.”); Saccoccia v. Farley, 573 F. App'x 483, 485 (6th Cir. 2014) (“But Alleyne held only that ‘facts that increase a mandatory statutory minimum [are] part of the substantive offense.' ... It said nothing about guidelines sentencing factors....”). The Sixth Circuit in fact has ruled that Alleyne did not decide the question whether judicial fact-finding under Michigan's indeterminate sentencing scheme violates the Sixth Amendment. See Kittka v. Franks, 539 F. App'x 668, 673 (6th Cir. 2013).

         The Michigan Supreme Court did rely on Alleyne in holding that Michigan's Sentencing Guidelines scheme violates the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. See People v. Lockridge, 498 Mich. 358 (2015). Nevertheless, Lockridge does not provide a basis for federal habeas relief for Petitioner. The AEDPA standard of review found in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) prohibits the use of anything but United States Supreme Court precedent when determining whether the state court's decision is contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law. See Miller v. Straub, 299 F.3d 570, 578-579 (6th Cir. 2002) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000); Harris v. Stovall, 212 F.3d 940, 944 (6th Cir. 2000)). “The Michigan Supreme Court's decision in Lockridge does not render the result ‘clearly established' for purposes of habeas review.” Haller v. Campbell, No. 1:16-cv-206, 2016 WL 1068744, at *5 (W.D. Mich. Mar. 18, 2016). The fact that the Sixth Circuit ruled that Alleyne does not apply to sentencing guidelines factors is significant for purposes of ยง 2254(d) review, as it means there is no clearly established Supreme Court precedent ...

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