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Villeneuve v. Chapman

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

January 31, 2018




         John 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.

         I. Background

         Petitioner 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.

         In 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).

         On 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).

         Petitioner's 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 Court.[1]

         On January 24, 2014, petitioner filed his application for writ of habeas corpus.

         Petitioner 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).

         Petitioner 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 (2017).

         On August 31, 2017, this Court lifted the stay of proceedings and permitted petitioner to amend his habeas petition a second time.

         In his 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 counsel.

         II. Standard of Review

         28 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:

         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.

         A 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. at 410-11.

         The 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.

         Petitioner 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).

         Petitioner 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 (2017).

         The 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.

         The 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.

         I. ...

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