United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
JONESAFER L. BLANCH, JR., Petitioner,
CATHLEEN STODDARD, Respondent.
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS
M. LAWSON, United States District Judge
County, Michigan jury convicted state prisoner Jonesafer L.
Blanch, Jr. of using a firearm to rob a Detroit bus driver.
Blanch now challenges those robbery and firearm convictions
and ensuing prison sentences in a pro se petition
for a writ of habeas corpus. He contends that there was a
breakdown in the relationship with his trial attorney, his
trial and appellate attorneys were ineffective, and the
prosecutor committed misconduct by arguing facts not in
evidence. Warden Cathleen Stoddard responds that the
petitioner did not preserve some of those claims for federal
review and the state courts' decisions did not contravene
federal constitutional law. The state court record
demonstrates that the petitioner's claims do not warrant
habeas relief. Therefore, the Court will deny the petition
for writ of habeas corpus.
criminal information charged the petitioner with armed
robbery, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and
possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony.
Bloodworth (“Bloodworth”) was a bus driver for
the City of Detroit Department of Transportation. At trial,
he testified that about midnight on November 24, 2009, going
into November 25, 2009, he stepped off his bus on Varjo
Street to smoke a cigarette. The petitioner and another young
black man approached him and asked him a question. The
petitioner was wearing a dark blue jacket with light blue
young men walked away after making small talk, but they came
back while Bloodworth was still smoking his cigarette outside
the door of the bus. The petitioner then pulled out a gun,
pointed the gun at Bloodworth, and said, “You know what
time it is cuz.” That meant to give up everything.
Bloodworth responded by putting up his hands, but the
petitioner told him to put his hands down, and he told the
other young man to reach in Bloodworth's pockets. The
other man complied and pulled out Bloodworth's wallet,
which contained $425. The two men then walked away. They
looked back and started running when Bloodworth activated a
“call police” sign on his bus.
police arrived within approximately five minutes. Bloodworth
described the young men's clothing to the police and the
black semi-automatic High Point gun that the petitioner had
pointed at him. He also told the police that the petitioner
was 18 to 22 years of age, 5'8” tall, and 175
pounds. At some point, he went to the police station and
identified someone other than the petitioner and his
accomplice in a group of pictures. He said he intentionally
misidentified the suspects so that the young men who robbed
him would get out of jail that night and he “could take
justice in [his] own hands.” At trial, he had no doubt
that the petitioner was the man who robbed him and was
wearing the blue coat with light blue sleeves on November 25,
police officer Howard W. Sweeney, III, testified that, about
midnight on November 24, 2009, going into November 25, 2009,
he and another officer were conducting an investigation at
7478 Varjo Street in Detroit. As a result of some information
he received, he was dispatched to the corner of Van Dyke and
Varjo Streets where he spoke with Bloodworth, the bus driver.
He acquired some information and descriptions from Bloodworth
and then went westbound on Varjo Street to School Street and
an alley where the suspects had fled. He entered the backyard
at 7478 Varjo Street because there was an open privacy fence
there, and he figured that the suspects might have doubled
back there. He retrieved a loaded .45 caliber black High
Point handgun from underneath the back porch at that address.
The petitioner's mother subsequently admitted the
officers at the front of the house. The petitioner and his
co-defendant, Mark Taylor, were inside the house and taken
into custody. In his police report, Officer Sweeney described
the petitioner as a black male about twenty-two years old,
5'11” tall, 200 pounds, with black braided hair.
Ryan Lovier of the Detroit Police Department testified that,
on November 25, 2009, he and Sergeant Robert LaLone went to
7478 Varjo Street to search for evidence related to a robbery
that had occurred earlier that morning. The officers received
consent to search the home, and in one of the bedrooms,
Lovier observed a dark blue jacket with light blue sleeves.
The jacket matched the description of a jacket worn by the
perpetrator of the armed robbery that occurred the previous
Robert LaLone testified that he spoke with the petitioner in
a detention area on November 25, 2009. After notifying the
petitioner of his constitutional rights, he asked the
petitioner about the robbery of the bus driver at Varjo and
Van Dyke on November 25, 2009. The petitioner told him that
someone named Nez had called him and Mark and asked them
whether they wanted to get some money. They said,
“Yeah, ” and Mark confirmed that he had a gun.
Later, Nez arrived at the petitioner's house with
“John John.” The petitioner, Mark, Nez and John
John got in Nez's car and went to Nevada Street. When a
bus turned the corner and the driver got out of the bus, he
and Mark approached the bus driver and asked the driver a
question. Then they walked away, but Mark encouraged him to
take the gun and “do it.” He did not want to do
it and told Mark to give the gun to John John, who walked up
to the bus driver with Mark. Mark then grabbed the gun from
John John and took some things from the man. He met up with
Mark and John John on School Street where Nez had parked.
John John got in the car, and Mark handed the wallet to Nez.
The petitioner and Mark ran to the petitioner's house at
7478 Varjo where Mark put the gun under the porch. The police
arrived about fifteen minutes later.
petitioner told Sergeant LaLone that he thought some money
was taken from the bus driver, but that he had not wanted to
be a part of the robbery. He claimed that he had merely stood
at the Van Dyke bus stop or walked slowly down Van Dyke.
parties stipulated that the petitioner had previously been
convicted of a specified felony and was ineligible to use or
possess a firearm on November 25, 2009. The petitioner did
not testify or present any witnesses. His defense was that
the victim's description of him did not fit him and that,
at most, he was merely present at the time of the robbery.
jury convicted the petitioner of all three charges. He was
sentenced to prison terms of six to fifteen years for armed
robbery, a concurrent term of one to five years for being a
felon in possession of a firearm, and a consecutive term of
five years for possessing a firearm during the commission of
a felony, second offense.
direct appeal, the petitioner argued that he was entitled to
a new trial because there was a breakdown in the relationship
with his trial attorney and because the trial judge did not
conduct an adequate inquiry into the breakdown. The Michigan
Court of Appeals found no merit in this claim and affirmed
the petitioner's convictions. People v. Blanch,
No. 300508 (Mich. Ct. App. Mar. 13, 2012). The state supreme
court denied leave to appeal. People v. Blanch, 492
Mich. 857, 817 N.W.2d 69 (2012).
petitioner raised the same claim in a motion for relief from
judgment. His post-judgment motion also alleged that trial
counsel was ineffective because he did not secure the
presence of two witnesses, that the prosecutor violated his
right to due process by arguing facts not in evidence, and
that trial counsel was ineffective by not objecting to the
prosecutor's comments. The petitioner also asserted that
appellate counsel was ineffective by not raising all his
claims on direct appeal. The trial court rejected the
petitioner's claims because the claims lacked merit and
because the petitioner previously raised, or could have
raised, his claims on direct review. People v.
Blanch, No. 09-031216-01-FC (Wayne Cty. Cir. Ct. July 2,
2013). On appeal from the trial court's decision, the
petitioner raised only the issues about the prosecutor and
the old claim about the breakdown in the relationship between
the petitioner and his trial attorney. The Michigan Court of
Appeals denied leave to appeal on the basis that the
petitioner failed to meet the burden of establishing
entitlement to relief under Michigan Court Rule 6.508(D),
People v. Blanch, No. 319189 (Mich. Ct. App. Jan.
16, 2014), and the state supreme court denied leave to appeal
for the same reason, People v. Blanch, 497 Mich.
867, 853 N.W.2d 366 (2014).
October 22, 2014, the petitioner commenced this action,
raising the claims that he presented to the state court on
direct appeal and in his motion for relief from judgment. As
noted above, Warden Stoddard contends in her response to the
petition that two of the petitioner's claims are
procedurally defaulted, meaning that he did not raise them
properly in the state courts so as to preserve them for
review on the merits by a federal court.
“procedural default” argument is a reference to
the rule that the petitioner did not raise all his claims on
direct review, and the state trial court's denial of
those claims on that basis is an adequate and independent
ground for the denial of relief under state law, which is not
reviewable here. Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722,
750 (1991). The Court finds it unnecessary to address this
procedural question. It “is not a jurisdictional bar to
review of the merits, ” Howard v. Bouchard,
405 F.3d 459, 476 (6th Cir. 2005), and “federal courts
are not required to address a procedural-default issue before
deciding against the petitioner on the merits, ”
Hudson v. Jones, 351 F.3d 212, 215 (6th Cir. 2003)
(citing Lambrix v. Singletary, 520 U.S. 518, 525
(1997)). The procedural default will not affect the outcome
of this case, and it is more efficient to proceed directly to
provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty
Act of 1996 (AEDPA), Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214
(Apr. 24, 1996), which govern this case,
“circumscribe[d]” the standard of review federal
courts must apply when considering an application for a writ
of habeas corpus raising constitutional claims, including
claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. See Wiggins
v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520 (2003). Because Blanch filed
his petition after the AEDPA's effective date, its
standard of review applies. Under that statute, if a claim
was adjudicated on the merits in state court, a federal court
may grant relief only if the state court's adjudication
“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 if the adjudication “resulted in a
decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of
the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State
court proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)-(2).
“Clearly established Federal law for purposes of §
2254(d)(1) includes only the holdings, as opposed to the
dicta, of [the Supreme] Court's
decisions.” White v. Woodall, ___ U.S. ___,
134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014) (internal quotation marks and
citations omitted). “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 v. Richter, 562 U.S.
86, 103 (2011).
distinction between mere error and an objectively
unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent creates a
substantially higher threshold for obtaining relief than
de novo review. The AEDPA thus imposes a highly
deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, and
demands that state-court decisions be “given the
benefit of the doubt.” Renico v. Lett, 559
U.S. 766, 773 (2010) (finding that the state court's
rapid declaration of a mistrial on grounds of jury deadlock
was not unreasonable even where “the jury only
deliberated for four hours, its notes were arguably
ambiguous, the trial judge's initial question to the
foreperson was imprecise, and the judge neither asked for
elaboration of the foreperson's answers nor took any
other measures to confirm the foreperson's prediction
that a unanimous verdict would not be reached”
(internal quotation marks and citations omitted)); see
also Leonard v. Warden, Ohio State Penitentiary, 846
F.3d 832, 841 (6th Cir. 2017); Dewald v.
Wriggelsworth, 748 F.3d 295, 298-99 (6th Cir. 2014);
Bray v. Andrews, 640 F.3d 731, 737-39 (6th Cir.
2011); Phillips v. Bradshaw, ...