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Bonner v. Smith

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

December 21, 2017

DEONTE S. BONNER, Petitioner,
WILLIE SMITH, Respondent.



         This is a habeas case brought by a Michigan prisoner under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner Deonte S. Bonner was convicted after he pled guilty in the Wayne Circuit Court to second-degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws §750.317, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. Mich. Comp. Laws §750.227b. He was sentenced under the terms of his plea agreement to a term of 19 to 40 years imprisonment for the murder conviction and a consecutive 2 years for the firearm conviction. The petition raises a single claim: Petitioner's guilty plea was involuntarily entered because he was coerced into accepting the last-minute plea offer. The Court will deny the petition because Petitioner's claim is without merit. The Court will also deny Petitioner a certificate of appealability, and it will deny permission to proceed on appeal in forma pauperis.

         I. Background

         Petitioner was originally charged with first-degree murder and lesser offenses after he and accomplices attempted to rob individuals at a drug house in Detroit. During the robbery gunfire was exchanged. Petitioner was struck by a bullet, and one of the occupants of the house was shot and killed. Petitioner's DNA was recovered from blood stains at the scene, and he gave a false name when he was admitted at the hospital. See Dkt. 9-5, at 2-8.

         On the morning scheduled for trial, the parties indicated that the prosecutor made a plea offer for the reduced charge of second-degree murder with a sentencing agreement of 23 to 40 years plus 2 years for the firearm charge. Dkt. 9-8, at 3-4. This was a reduction from a previous offer made by the prosecution calling for a minimum sentence of 36 years. Id. Petitioner rejected the offer and indicated his intent to proceed to trial. Id., at 4.

         The jury venire was brought into the courtroom, the court read it preliminary instructions, and the court began the jury selection process. Id., at 6-24. After a lunch break, the prosecutor informed the court that family members of the victim “were amenable to mercy for this defendant so long as he took responsibility for what he did.” Id., at 25. The prosecutor then indicated that a new plea offer was being made that called for a sentence of 19 to 40 years for the murder plus 2 years for the firearm offense. Id., at 26.

         Petitioner was then placed under oath. Id., at 27. He indicated that his attorney had informed him of the terms of the new plea bargain. Id. He indicated that he understood the terms called for a sentence of 19 to 40 years imprisonment for second degree murder plus a consecutive 2 years for the firearm offense. Id.

         The court informed Petitioner of all the trial rights we would be waiving by pleading guilty. Id., at 28-30. Petitioner denied that anyone had made any threats or promises other than the terms of the plea agreement to elicit his guilty plea. Id., at 30. At no point did Petitioner complain that he was being rushed into making a decision whether to accept the plea bargain.

         Petitioner then testified that on February 25, 2013, he went to a house located in Detroit with the intent to rob individuals inside. Id., at 32. While inside, Petitioner exchanged gunfire with the occupants. Id. During the incident one of the occupants, Raynard Sebree, was shot and killed. Id. Petitioner denied that he acted in self-defense. Id. Petitioner then apologized to the family of the victim “for having the intention to commit this crime.” Id., at 33. The court accepted the plea. Id., at 32.

         Prior to sentencing, Petitioner moved to withdraw his guilty plea on the grounds that he was coerced into quickly agreeing to the plea bargain due to the imminence of trial. The trial court held two hearings on the motion. Dkts. 9-9 and 9-10. Petitioner testified at the second hearing, and he stated that he felt pressured by his attorney to accept the plea deal, and he was not given sufficient time to decide. Dkt. 9-10, at 11-13. The court denied the motion, making the following findings:

From what I'm understanding here the Defendant was not maintaining innocence or saying I don't want a plea or whatever might be. He just wanted the best offer that he could get, you know, and that's what plea offers are all about, you know, going back and forth. So to me that's not being coerced. It's, it's, there's a negotiation process is going, you know, back and forth. He wasn't put on the spot where he had to make a decision within a matter of a few minutes or something, you know, like that.
As indicated, there was an initial plea offer of 30 to 60 years from the initial offer then there came the supervisor in to see about getting something less than that. There was some things done with the family and apparently even with the Defendant. And what counsel has said, there was some back and forth talk between the, with the parties where things were being communicated and even getting on the record where the judge was able to hear some things and things were done then.
I don't see coercion or duress here. All I'm seeing here is somebody was trying to get the best offer that they could. It finally came down to you take the 19, I suppose, or we're going to trial, and this to me is not coercion. That's simply coming to your senses and saying, okay, that might be the best offer I can get and with the trial pending maybe I'd better just go ahead and take it, which to me, pardon the expression, seem to be a darn good offer based on how I see ...

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