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Porter v. Woods

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

December 5, 2017

JEFFREY WOODS, Respondent.



         I. Introduction

         This is a habeas case under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner, Mark Anthony Porter, through counsel, challenges his jury convictions for two counts of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, first-degree home invasion, larceny in a building, possession of a firearm by a felon, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. Respondent, through the Attorney General's Office, contends that Petitioner's claims are defaulted or lack merit. For the reasons that follow, the petition will be denied.

         II. Background


         Petitioner's convictions arise from an October 28, 2006 shooting, which resulted in the death of David Gibson. A co-defendant, Jo Ann Caldwell, testified at Petitioner's trial that she and Petitioner went to Gibson's trailer park to kill him, and that Petitioner shot Gibson while she was in her car. Petitioner testified that he was intoxicated in Caldwell's car while Caldwell shot Gibson.

         As will be explained, the trial court required that Petitioner wear shackles during the trial, but took steps to ensure that the jury did not see the restraints. However, as will also be explained, two years after the trial, on April 13, 2012, the trial court held an evidentiary hearing on Petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claim, at which a juror testified that he had seen Petitioner's shackles.

         Petitioner was sentenced as follows: concurrent terms of life imprisonment for each of the premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit murder convictions; 160 months to 20 years for the first-degree home invasion conviction; 32 months to 4 years for the larceny in a building conviction; and 40 months to 5 years for the possession of a firearm by a felon conviction. All sentences were to be served consecutive to a 2-year term for the felony firearm conviction.

         Petitioner timely filed an appeal of right in the Michigan Court of Appeals, arguing that he was entitled to a new trial because (i) he was shackled during trial; (ii) the prosecution violated the rule announced in Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963); (iii) his trial counsel was ineffective; and (iv) the evidence produced at trial was insufficient to support his convictions. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction. People v. Porter, No. 298474, 2012 WL 5233606 (Mich. Ct. App. Oct. 23, 2012).

         Petitioner filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court, raising the same claims as in the Michigan Court of Appeals. In lieu of granting leave to appeal, the Michigan Supreme Court remanded the issue of whether Petitioner was denied effective assistance of counsel to the court of appeals. People v. Porter, 493 Mich. 972 (2013). On remand, the Michigan Court of Appeals again affirmed the conviction. People v. Porter, No. 298474, 2013 WL 5495555 (Mich. Ct. App. Oct. 3, 2013). The Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal on May 27, 2014. People v. Porter, 495 Mich. 1005 (2015). Petitioner then filed the instant petition for habeas relief, asserting the following claims:

I. His due process rights were violated because he was improperly shackled during trial;
II. His trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the shackling; and
III. His trial counsel was ineffective because he elicited testimony about petitioner's criminal past.

         III. Standard of Review

         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 proceedings.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

         “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)). “[T]he ‘unreasonable application' prong of the statute permits a federal habeas court to ‘grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts' of petitioner's case.” Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520 (2003) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 413). However, “[i]n order for a federal court find a state court's application of [Supreme Court] precedent ‘unreasonable, ' the state court's decision must have been more than incorrect or erroneous. The state court's application must have been ‘objectively unreasonable.'” Wiggins, 539 U.S. at 520-21 (citations omitted); see also Williams, 529 U.S. at 409. “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), quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004). Put another way,

Section 2254(d) reflects the view that habeas corpus is a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal . . . . As a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.

Id. at 786-87 (internal quotation omitted).

         Section 2254(d)(1) limits a federal habeas court's review to a determination of whether the state court's decision comports with clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court at the time the state court renders its decision. See Williams, 529 U.S. at 412. Section 2254(d) “does not require citation of [Supreme Court] cases - indeed, it does not even require awareness of [Supreme Court] cases, so long as neither the reasoning nor the result of the state-court decision contradicts them.” Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002). “[W]hile the principles of “clearly established law” are to be determined solely by resort to Supreme Court rulings, the decisions of lower federal courts may be instructive in assessing the reasonableness of a state court's resolution of an issue.” Stewart v. Erwin, 503 F.3d 488, 493 (6th Cir. 2007), citing Williams v. Bowersox, 340 F.3d 667, 671 (8th Cir. 2003); Dickens v. Jones, 203 F.Supp.2d 354, 359 (E.D. Mich. 2002).

         Lastly, a federal habeas court must presume the correctness of state court factual determinations. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). A petitioner may rebut this presumption only with clear and convincing evidence. Warren v. Smith, 161 F.3d 358, 360-61 (6th Cir. 1998).

         IV. Analysis

         A. Shackling

         Petitioner first argues that he is entitled to habeas relief because he was improperly shackled during the trial. He says that because the jury had to weigh his credibility against Caldwell's testimony during trial, the shackles may have made him less credible to the one juror who testified to seeing them. Respondent says that the claim is procedurally defaulted because Petitioner's counsel did not object to the decision to shackle him. Respondent further says that the claim lacks merit because Petitioner suffered no prejudice as a result of the shackling because of the weight of the evidence against him and because he testified to the fact that he was imprisoned during the trial.

         Petitioner says that that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the shackling, thus excusing any default. Ineffective assistance of counsel may establish cause for procedural default if it is “so ineffective as to violate the Federal Constitution.” Edwards v. Carpenter, 529 U.S. 446, 451 (2000). Given that the cause and prejudice inquiry for the procedural default issue merges with an analysis of the merits of Petitioner's defaulted claim, it is better to consider the merits of the claim. Moreover, Petitioner could not have procedurally defaulted his ineffective assistance of counsel claim because the Michigan Court of Appeals explicitly ruled on that claim. Porter, 2013 WL 549555. Thus, the Court will consider Petitioner's claim on the merits.

         The Constitution prohibits the use of visible shackles during the guilt or penalty phases of a trial “unless that use is ‘justified by an essential state interest'-such as the interest in courtroom security-specific to the defendant on trial.” Deck v. Missouri, 544 U.S. 622, 624 (2005) (quoting Holbrook v. Flynn, 475 U.S. 560, 568-569 (1986)). In the instant matter, after explaining that Petitioner “failed to preserve the issue because he did not object to the trial court's decision to shackle him at trial, ” the Michigan Court of Appeals described the shackling issue as follows:

Here, defendant wore leg shackles at trial, but his legs were covered by the desk at which he sat. He was brought into the courtroom before the jury was seated in order to prevent jurors from inadvertently seeing his shackles. Nevertheless, one of the jurors in the case testified at an evidentiary hearing that he observed defendant's shackles a “couple times” during the trial. At the evidentiary hearing, the trial court judge sat in the seat where the juror sat during trial and looked at defendant, who was seated where he had been seated at trial, and noted on the record that it could not see defendant's shackles. The trial court concluded that the juror likely did not see defendant's shackles, and that the juror's recollection of shackles was likely influenced by being asked whether he remembered seeing shackles at trial. The trial court also concluded that because defendant's shackles were not visible, it did not need to provide a justification for shackling defendant.

Porter, 2012 WL 5233606 at *1. The Michigan Court of Appeals went on to conclude that the trial court “abused its discretion in having defendant shackled during trial without record evidence that the same was necessary, ” but that there was no evidence that Petitioner suffered any prejudice as the result of the shackling. Id.

         Petitioner asserts that the court of appeals applied the wrong standard when analyzing this issue, and should have required the state to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the shackling error did not contribute to the verdict. It is well settled that:

[W]here a court, without adequate justification, orders the defendant to wear shackles that will be seen by the jury, the defendant need not demonstrate actual prejudice to make out a due process violation. The State must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt that the [shackling] ...

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