United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING THE PETITION FOR WRIT OF
HABEAS CORPUS, DECLINING TO ISSUE A CERTIFICATE OF
APPEALABILITY, AND GRANTING LEAVE TO APPEAL IN FORMA
HONORABLE DENISE PAGE HOOD, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT
Villeneuve, (“Petitioner”), confined at the Thumb
Correctional Facility in Lapeer, Michigan, filed a petition
for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.
In his application, filed pro se, petitioner
challenges his convictions for first-degree criminal sexual
conduct, M.C.L.A. 750.520(b). For the reasons that follow,
the petition for writ of habeas corpus is DENIED.
pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree criminal sexual
conduct in the Alpena County Circuit Court. Petitioner was
originally sentenced to life in prison.
2012, petitioner filed a post-conviction motion for relief
from judgment with the trial court, in which he raised
several claims related to his plea and sentencing. The trial
judge appointed counsel for petitioner. At the motion
hearing, petitioner's appellate counsel informed the
judge that petitioner no longer wished to withdraw his guilty
plea but proceed with re-sentencing. Counsel essentially
asked the trial court to treat petitioner's motion for
relief from judgment as a motion for re-sentencing.
Petitioner agreed on the record that he wished to proceed
simply with re-sentencing. The judge agreed to order a
re-sentencing, noting that he had mistakenly believed that
petitioner was subject to a mandatory minimum 25 year prison
term. (Tr. 1/4/13, pp. 3-8).
March 13, 2013, petitioner was re-sentenced to fifteen to
thirty years in prison. The judge advised petitioner that he
could file an application for leave to appeal from the
re-sentencing. (Tr. 3/13/13, pp. 50-51).
counsel appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals, raising a
single claim that the court violated petitioner's due
process rights by considering uncharged allegations made by
another victim that had been mentioned in the pre-sentence
investigation report, where petitioner denied the allegations
and the judge failed to make findings of fact with respect to
those allegations. The Michigan Court of Appeals denied the
appeal “for lack of merit in the grounds
presented.” People v. Villeneuve, No. 316173
(Mich.Ct.App. December 18, 2013). Petitioner did not seek
leave to appeal with the Michigan Supreme
January 24, 2014, petitioner filed his application for writ
of habeas corpus.
subsequently requested to file an amended or supplemental
habeas petition, seeking to raise additional issues. This
Court granted the motion to amend the petition and held the
petition in abeyance so that petitioner could return to the
state courts to properly exhaust these claims. The Court
administratively closed the case. Villeneuve v.
Romanowski, No. 2:14-CV-13768, 2015 WL 4429733 (E.D.
Mich. July 20, 2015).
filed a second motion for relief from judgment, which was
denied. People v. Villeneuve, Nos. 10-003487-FC,
10-003489-FC (Alpena Cty. Cir. Ct., Sept. 15, 2015). The
Michigan appellate courts denied petitioner leave to appeal.
People v. Villeneuve, No. 331464 (Mich.Ct.App. July
25, 2016); lv. den. 500 Mich. 1000, 895 N.W.2d 183
August 31, 2017, this Court lifted the stay of proceedings
and permitted petitioner to amend his habeas petition a
original and amended habeas petitions, petitioner seeks
habeas relief. Because petitioner's claims in his
original and amended petitions often overlap or are
duplicative, the Court will paraphrase the claims rather than
recite them verbatim. The Court will also address the claims
as they happened chronologically in petitioner's case and
not in the order that he presented them: (1) petitioner's
guilty plea should have been set aside because it was
involuntary and coerced, (2) trial counsel was ineffective,
(3) petitioner was sentenced based on inaccurate information,
(4) petitioner's original and amended pre-sentence
reports contained inaccurate information, and (5) petitioner
was denied the effective assistance of post-conviction
Standard of Review
U.S.C. § 2254(d), as amended by The Antiterrorism and
Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), imposes the
following standard of review for habeas cases:
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;
(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.
decision of a state court is “contrary to”
clearly established federal law if the state court arrives at
a conclusion opposite to that reached by the Supreme Court on
a question of law or if the state court decides a case
differently than the Supreme Court has on a set of materially
indistinguishable facts. Williams v. Taylor, 529
U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000). An “unreasonable
application” occurs when “a state court decision
unreasonably applies the law of [the Supreme Court] to the
facts of a prisoner's case.” Id. at 409. A
federal habeas court may not “issue the writ simply
because that court concludes in its independent judgment that
the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established
federal law erroneously or incorrectly.” Id.
Supreme Court has explained that “[A] federal
court's collateral review of a state-court decision must
be consistent with the respect due state courts in our
federal system.” Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537
U.S. 322, 340 (2003). 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)((quoting Lindh v.
Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 333, n. 7 (1997); 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)). In order to obtain habeas relief in federal
court, a state prisoner is required to show that the state
court's rejection of his or her claim “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.
raised his sentencing claims on the appeal from his
re-sentencing. The Michigan Court of Appeals denied
petitioner's application for leave to appeal on
petitioner's direct appeal in a form order “for
lack of merit in the grounds presented.” The AEDPA
deferential standard of review applies to petitioner's
claims where the Michigan Court of Appeals rejected
petitioner's appeal “for lack of merit in the
grounds presented, ” because this order amounted to a
decision on the merits. See Werth v. Bell, 692 F.3d
486, 492-94 (6th Cir. 2012).
raised his remaining claims in his second motion for relief
from judgment. The trial judge denied the claims, on the
ground that “No substantive argument has been offered
to demonstrate the defendant's counsel fell below an
objective standard of reasonableness or was otherwise
ineffective.” People v. Villeneuve, Nos.
10-003487-FC, 10-003489-FC, * 1 (Alpena Cty. Cir. Ct., Sept.
15, 2015). The judge found that petitioner's other claims
were without merit. Id., * 2. The Michigan Court of
Appeals denied petitioner's appeal, finding that
“defendant failed to establish that the trial court
erred in denying his motion for relief from judgment.”
People v. Villeneuve, No. 331464 (Mich.Ct.App. July
25, 2016). The Michigan Supreme Court denied petitioner's
post-conviction appeal pursuant to Mich.Ct.R 6.508(D).
People v. Villeneuve, 500 Mich. 1000, 895 N.W.2d 183
Sixth Circuit has held that the form order used by the
Michigan Supreme Court to deny leave to appeal in this case
is unexplained because the citation to Michigan Court Rule
6.508(D) is ambiguous as to whether it refers to a procedural
default or a rejection on the merits. See Guilmette v.
Howes, 624 F.3d 286, 291-92 (6th Cir.2010)(en banc).
Consequently, under Guilmette, the Court must
“look through” the unexplained order of the
Michigan Supreme Court's decision to determine the basis
for the denial of state post-conviction relief.
trial judge rejected petitioner's claims without citing
to Rule 6.508 or any other procedural bar when he denied the
motion for relief from judgment. This Court therefore
presumes that the trial court adjudicated these claims on the
merits for purposes of invoking the AEDPA's deferential
standard of review.