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Walker v. Winn

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

December 21, 2017

LAMAR L. WALKER, II, Petitioner,
v.
THOMAS WINN, Respondent.

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

          TERRENCE G. BERG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is a habeas case brought by a Michigan prisoner under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner Lamar L. Walker, II was convicted after a bench trial in the Wayne Circuit Court of second-degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.317, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b, and interfering with a police investigation, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.483a(3)(b). He was sentenced to 25 to 40 years for the murder conviction, 2 years for the firearm conviction, and 2 to 10 years for the interfering with an investigation conviction.

         The petition raises two claims: (1) Petitioner was denied the effective assistance of counsel and (2) insufficient evidence was presented to disprove that Petitioner acted in self-defense. The Court will deny the petition because Petitioner's claims are 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

         This Court recites verbatim the relevant facts relied upon by the Michigan Court of Appeals, which are presumed correct on habeas review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). See Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 413 (6th Cir. 2009):

Defendant's convictions arise from the shooting death of defendant's uncle, Jeffrey Perry, in the early morning hours of July 5, 2013. Specifically, on July 4, 2013, Jeffrey and defendant attended a fireworks display with Briana Noland (Jeffrey's girlfriend), Noland's two small children, Chantel Tatum (defendant's girlfriend), and Terrell Perry (the victim's son). Defendant took an AK-47 automatic rifle with him to the show, planning to shoot it after the fireworks. Later that evening, they dropped Noland and her children at their home, and then continued driving in the white van that they had driven to the fireworks. A fight then ensued between Jeffrey and Terrell, after which Terrell was left on the side of the road. Defendant and Jeffrey then exchanged heated words, and defendant fired on Jeffrey at close range with the AK-47. Tatum, who was still in the van, witnessed the shooting. Terrell, who was still nearby, heard the shots and saw the van “lighting up” with gunfire. Defendant then pushed Jeffrey's body out of the van and ordered Terrell back inside. The van was later set on fire and left to burn. After the shooting, defendant left the state. He later confessed to Tony Wright, a friend of Jeffrey's, that he had shot Jeffrey, but defendant claimed he had done so to protect Terrell. Defendant was arrested when he returned to Michigan and, in a statement to police, he denied any involvement with the shooting.

People v. Walker, No. 322810, 2016 WL 453455, at *1 (Mich. Ct. App. Feb. 4, 2016).

         Following his conviction and sentence as indicated above, Petitioner filed a claim of appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals. His brief on appeal raised the following claims:

I. Repeated errors and acts on the part of defense counsel denied the defendant of his state and federal constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel and the right to a fair trial pursuant to U.S. Const. Amds. VI, XIV; Const. 1963 Art. I, secs. 17, 20.
II. Due Process requires reversal where the defendant's convictions were obtained on the basis of legally insufficient evidence pursuant to U.S. Const. Amds. V, VI, XIV; Const. 1963 Art. I, secs. 17, 20.

         The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's convictions in an unpublished opinion. Id. Petitioner subsequently filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court that raised the same claims. The Michigan Supreme Court denied the application because it was not persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed by the Court. See People v. Walker, 885 N.W.2d 469 (Mich. 2016) (table).

         II. Standard of Review

         28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) curtails a federal court's review of constitutional claims raised by a state prisoner in a habeas corpus action if the claims were rejected on the merits by the state courts. Relief is bared under this section unless the state court adjudication was “contrary to” or resulted in an “unreasonable application of” clearly established Supreme Court law.

         “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.

         Demonstrating that a state court unreasonably applied clearly established Supreme Court law is no easy task because “[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). “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.” Harrington, 562 U.S. at 103 (internal quotation omitted).

         III. Analysis

         A. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         Petitioner's first claim asserts that he was denied the effective assistance of trial counsel. Petitioner argues that his attorney performed deficiently by advising him to waive his right to a jury trial because counsel had a close relationship with the trial judge and could have a private conversation with him about the case. Petitioner also asserts that his counsel was ineffective for dismissing his desire to testify in his own defense. Finally, Petitioner asserts that his counsel was ineffective for failing to move to suppress the admission of the firearm admitted at trial.

         To establish ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant must show both that: (1) counsel's performance was deficient, i.e., “that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness”; and (2) the deficient performance resulted in prejudice to the defense. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-88 (1984). “[A] court must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance; that is, the defendant must overcome the presumption that, under the circumstances, the challenged action ‘might be considered sound trial strategy.'” Id. at 689 (quoting Michel v. Louisiana, 350 U.S. 91, 101 (1955)). The test for prejudice is whether “there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Id. at 694.

         After reciting the controlling standard, the Michigan Court of Appeals found that Petitioner failed to demonstrate that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel with respect to any of his three allegations. Walker, 2016 WL 453455, at *2-5. The decision of the state appellate court did not result in an unreasonable application of the Strickland standard.

         First, Petitioner asserts that his counsel coerced him into waiving his right to a jury trial based on a relationship he had with the trial court. The trial record belies the claim:

THE COURT: Okay. Today is the day set for a jury trial. And we've had a chance to talk about some scheduling issues off the record. It's my understanding the defendant now wishes to waive his right to trial by jury. And I have before me what appears to be a signed waiver ...

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