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Pryor v. Trierweiler

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

January 30, 2018

JAMES M. PRYOR, Petitioner,


          Honorable Paul D. Borman United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Michigan prisoner James M. Pryor (“Petitioner”) has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 alleging that he is being held in violation of his constitutional rights. Petitioner was convicted of assault with intent to commit murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.83, three counts of unlawful imprisonment, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.349b, two counts of felonious assault, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.82, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b, following a jury trial in the Wayne County Circuit Court. He was sentenced to 25 to 50 years imprisonment on the assault with intent to commit murder conviction, concurrent terms of five to 15 years imprisonment on the unlawful imprisonment convictions, concurrent terms of two to four years imprisonment on the felonious assault convictions, and a consecutive term of two years imprisonment on the felony firearm conviction. In his pleadings, Petitioner raises claims concerning the conduct of the prosecutor, the effectiveness of trial counsel, and cumulative error. For the reasons that follow, the Court denies with prejudice the habeas petition. The Court also denies a certificate of appealability and denies leave to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal.

         II. Facts and Procedural History

         Petitioner's convictions arise from a shooting incident at a residence in Detroit, Michigan on January 29, 2012. The Michigan Court of Appeals described the relevant facts, which are presumed correct on habeas review, see 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 413 (6th Cir. 2009), as follows:

Defendant's convictions arose out of a shooting that occurred in the early morning hours at a home in the city of Detroit. Earlier in the evening, Marlon Raines attended a nightclub in Livonia. While there, he saw defendant and the two exchanged greetings and shook hands. Raines left the nightclub at around 1:40 a.m. and headed to his home in Detroit, where an acquaintance of his, Michael Baker, was staying. When Raines arrived home, he called Kateisha Mason over, and shortly after she arrived, they went to sleep in Raines's bedroom. Defendant and Albert Hughes arrived unannounced at Raines's home. Raines and Mason were asleep in Raines's bed when Baker came into the bedroom calling Raines's name. When Raines awoke, he saw defendant and Hughes standing at the doorway of his bedroom.
Hughes was holding a gun and defendant would not allow Baker or Raines to leave the bedroom. Raines and defendant began conversing about an incident involving Raines and Raines's brother. Raines pled with defendant and begged for his life. There was a knock at the front door, and defendant went to answer it while Hughes continued to hold Raines, Mason and Baker at gunpoint. When defendant returned, he told Hughes, “Come on man, we got to go. Do this nigger.” Hughes then told Raines to sit on the bed and look the other way so that Raines would not see Hughes shoot him. Raines sat on the bed and defendant repeatedly told Hughes to “go on and do it.” Hughes hesitated and defendant told him, “give me the gun I'll do it.” Hughes then shot Raines in the back of the neck.
After being shot, Raines was able to get up and attack Hughes, and they tussled for the gun out into the hallway. When Raines and Hughes fell to the floor while wrestling for the gun, defendant and Baker both bolted for the front door. Raines was able to grab the gun while they were wrestling and fired three shots. The first shot struck his own wrist and the second two shots struck Hughes in the chest. After being shot in the chest twice, Hughes got up off the floor and ran towards the front door. Raines chased him and beat him in the back of the head with the pistol. Hughes fell into the corner of the living room up against the television and eventually died. Mason called the police and tended to Raines's wounds. The police eventually found defendant lying in the backseat of a car located approximately a mile away from the home.

People v. Pryor, No. 313118, 2014 WL 1118023, *1 (Mich. Ct. App. March 20, 2014) (unpublished).

         Following his convictions and sentencing, Petitioner filed an appeal of right with the Michigan Court of Appeals raising several claims, including those raised on habeas review. The court denied relief on those claims and affirmed his convictions. Id. at *2-11. Petitioner then filed an application for leave to appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court, which was denied in a standard order. People v. Pryor, 497 Mich. 869, 853 N.W.2d 374 (2014).

         Petitioner, through counsel, thereafter filed his federal habeas petition raising the following claims:

I. His Fifth Amendment rights to a fair trial and due process of law were violated due to prosecutorial misconduct when the prosecutor improperly made multiple references before the jury of an alleged criminal incident involving the alleged rape by the victim's brother of Petitioner's daughter when the trial court had previously determined that the details of the incident (which Petitioner contends did not occur) were more prejudicial than probative and had ruled that any details were inadmissible.
II. His Sixth Amendment rights to effective counsel were violated as trial counsel failed to ensure that the jury was properly sworn, failed to object to the prosecution's attempt to improperly shift the burden of proof, failed to sufficiently challenge the prosecution's theory of the case, and failed to request necessary jury instructions.

         Respondent has filed an answer to the petition contending that it should be denied because the prosecutorial misconduct claims are barred by procedural default and all of the claims lack merit. Petitioner has filed a reply to that answer.

         III. Standard of Review

         The provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), codified at 28 U.S.C. § 2241 et seq., govern this case because Petitioner filed his habeas petition after the AEDPA's effective date. Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 336 (1997). The AEDPA provides:

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 proceeding.

         28 U.S.C. §2254(d) (1996).

         “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 [that] precedent.'” Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 15-16 (2003) (per curiam) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)); see also Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 694 (2002).

         “[T]he ‘unreasonable application' prong of § 2254(d)(1) 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); see also Bell, 535 U.S. at 694. However, “[i]n order for a federal court to 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. “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) (quoting Lindh, 521 U.S. at 333, n. 7; Woodford v. Viscotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (per curiam)).

         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) (citing Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). The Supreme Court has emphasized “that even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable.” Id. (citing Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003)). Pursuant to § 2254(d), “a habeas court must determine what arguments or theories supported or ... could have supported, the state court's decision; and then it must ask whether it is possible fairminded jurists could disagree that those arguments or theories are inconsistent with the holding in a prior decision” of the Supreme Court. Id. Thus, in order to obtain habeas relief in federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's rejection of his claim “was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” Id.; see also White v. Woodall, U.S., 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014). Federal judges “are required to afford state courts due respect by overturning their decisions only when there could be no reasonable dispute that they were wrong.” Woods v. Donald, U.S., 135 S.Ct. 1372');">135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015). A habeas petitioner cannot prevail as long as it is within the “realm of possibility” that fairminded jurists could find the state court decision to be reasonable. Woods v. Etherton, U.S., 136 S.Ct. 1149, 1152 (2016).

         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. Williams, 529 U.S. at 412; see also Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, 122 (2009) (noting that the Supreme Court “has held on numerous occasions that it is not ‘an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law' for a state court to decline to apply a specific legal rule that has not been squarely established by this Court”) (quoting Wright v. Van Patten, 552 U.S. 120, 125-26 (2008) (per curiam)); Lockyer, 538 U.S. at 71-72. Section 2254(d) “does not require a state court to give reasons before its decision can be deemed to have been ‘adjudicated on the merits.'” Harrington, 562 U.S. at 100. Furthermore, it “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); see also Mitchell, 540 U.S. at 16.

         The requirements of clearly established law are to be determined solely by Supreme Court precedent. Thus, “circuit precedent does not constitute ‘clearly established Federal law as determined by the Supreme Court'” and it cannot provide the basis for federal habeas relief. Parker v. Matthews, 567 U.S. 37, 48-49 (2012) (per curiam); see also Lopez v. Smith, U.S. 135 S.Ct. 1, 2 (2014) (per curiam). The decisions of lower federal courts, however, may be useful in assessing the reasonableness of the 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. 354, 359 (E.D. Mich. 2002).

         A state court's factual determinations are presumed correct on federal habeas review. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). A petitioner may rebut this presumption with clear and convincing evidence. Warren v. Smith, 161 F.3d 358, 360-61 (6th Cir. 1998). Lastly, habeas review is “limited to the record that was before the state court.” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011).

         IV. ...

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