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Starks v. Burt

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

December 12, 2017

DESHAWN STARKS, Petitioner,
v.
SHERRY BURT, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING THE PETITION FOR A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS, DENYING A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY, AND DENYING LEAVE TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS ON APPEAL.

          STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Michigan prisoner Deshawn Starks seeks a writ of habeas corpus on the grounds that he is being held in violation of his constitutional rights. He pleaded no contest to three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in the Wayne County Circuit Court and in 2014 he was sentenced to concurrent terms of 45 to 90 years imprisonment. In his petition, he challenges the voluntariness of his plea and the effectiveness of trial counsel. For the reasons below, the Court will deny the petition for a writ of habeas corpus, deny a certificate of appealability, and deny leave to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         Starks's convictions arise from his sexual assaults upon three different women in Detroit, Michigan in 2003. DNA evidence linked Starks to all three crimes. He was charged with multiple offenses arising from the incidents, as well as a fourth incident, and the case was assigned to Wayne County Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny. During a pre-trial conference before Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Michael Hathaway on February 18, 2014, the prosecution offered Starks a plea bargain: he would plead guilty to three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in exchange for the dismissal of the other charges and a sentencing agreement of 28 to 50 years imprisonment. Starks declined the offer and confirmed his decision on the record. See 2/18/14 Pre-Trial Hrg. Tr., pp. 4-6 (ECF 10-6, PgID 114-16). Defense counsel stated on the record that Starks had previously declined a plea bargain before Judge Kenny in which he would plead guilty to three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in exchange for dismissal of the other charges and a sentencing agreement of 30 to 50 years imprisonment. Id. at 6 (PgID 116). On February 19, 2014, the day set for trial, Starks pleaded no contest to three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in exchange for the dismissal of the other charges, but with no sentencing agreement. See 2/19/14 Plea Hrg. Tr., pp. 3-17 (ECF 10-7, PgID 120-134). During those proceedings, the trial court advised Starks that the first-degree criminal sexual conduct convictions could result in a life sentence and that he was subject to a habitual-offender enhancement which might increase the guideline range for his minimum sentence. Id. at 5 (PgID 122). The trial court advised Starks about the details of the plea agreement. Starks confirmed that he understood the terms of the agreement and that no other promises had been made to him. Id. at 6-8 (PgID 123-25). Starks acknowledged that it was his decision to tender the plea and that no one had coerced him into doing so. Id. at 10-11 (PgID 127-28).

         On March 10, 2014, the trial court conducted a sentencing hearing. At that hearing, the trial court determined that the minimum sentence guideline range was 270 to 675 months for one count and 270 to 900 months for the other two counts. See 3/10/14 Sent. Hrg. Tr., pp. 13-14, 16 (ECF 10-8, PgID 150-51, 153). The prosecution requested a minimum sentence at the top of the guideline range (75 years). Id. at 17-18 (PgID 154-55). Defense counsel requested a minimum sentence near the bottom of the guideline range (30 years). Id. at 20 (PgID 157). Starks had the opportunity to speak on his own behalf, but declined to do so. Id. The trial court then sentenced Starks to concurrent terms of 45 to 90 years imprisonment. Id. at 22-23 (PgID 159-60). No objections were made.

         Six months later, Starks moved for re-sentencing and an evidentiary hearing asking, in relevant part, that he be given the 28-year minimum sentence that he had rejected and asserting that defense counsel was ineffective for advising him to reject that offer. The trial court denied the motions as to this claim finding that Starks had rejected the plea offers with the sentencing agreements, that he had stated under oath that he understood the terms of his actual plea agreement, and that he had confirmed that no other promises or threats had induced him to tender his plea. See 10/3/14 Motion Hrg. Tr., pp. 18-20 (ECF 10-9, PgID 179-81).[1]

         Starks filed a delayed application for leave to appeal with the Michigan Court of Appeals, which was denied for lack of merit in the grounds presented as to his habeas claim. People v. Starks, No. 324220 (Mich. Ct. App. March 19, 2015) (unpublished). Starks also filed an application for leave to appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court, which the court denied as to his habeas claim. People v. Starks, 499 Mich. 878, 876 N.W.2d 536 (2016).

         Starks thereafter filed his federal habeas petition. He raises the following claim:

Due process requires reinstating a favorable plea offer with a 28 to 50-year sentencing agreement where defense counsel advised him that he would receive a better deal in front of the assigned trial judge; he rejected the offer and pleaded no contest the following day before the trial judge, and thereafter received a 45 to 90-year sentence.

         ECF 1, PgID 5-6. Respondent has filed an answer to the petition contending that it should be denied for lack of merit. ECF 9.

         II. Standard of Review

         Federal law 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 ...

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