Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Pittman v. Rivard

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

February 6, 2018

COLLIN D. PITTMAN, Petitioner,
STEVE RIVARD, Respondent.


          Linda V. Parker U.S. District Court Judge.


         Michigan prisoner Collin D. Pittman (“Petitioner”) has filed a pro se habeas corpus petition challenging his Oakland County convictions for two counts of criminal sexual conduct. Petitioner raises twelve claims regarding probable cause to arrest him, a state deadline for trying him, the admission of certain evidence at trial, the prosecutor's conduct, the trial court's rulings and jury instructions, the assistance provided by trial and appellate counsel, his sentence, and newly discovered evidence. The State urges the Court to deny the petition on grounds that Petitioner's claims are procedurally defaulted, are not cognizable on habeas review, or are meritless. Additionally, the State contends that the state courts' rejection of Petitioner claims was objectively reasonable. The Court agrees that Petitioner's claims do not warrant relief. Accordingly, the petition will be denied.


         Petitioner's convictions arose from criminal sexual conduct involving his niece, the victim, when she was about fourteen years old.

         At Petitioner's jury trial in Oakland County Circuit Court, sixteen-year-old MJ[1] testified that she was living in a residential center for juvenile delinquents. She previously lived at Children's Village in Pontiac, where she and the victim became friends. At some point during the girls' stay at Children's Village, the victim confided in her about something. MJ advised the victim to tell a counselor about the matter, and the victim took her advice. MJ admitted that she was rewarded for good behavior while confined as a juvenile delinquent and that she would prefer living in the community, but she denied being promised anything for her testimony.

         Yolanda Stafford testified that she was a youth specialist at Oakland County Children's Village where she met MJ and the victim. According to Stafford, one night at bedtime, the victim informed her of something that Ms. Stafford had to report. The victim did not provide any details or a name, but she did mention that the person was related to her. Ms. Stafford's supervisor completed a form about the matter, and the matter was recorded on a log.

         The victim testified that her date of birth was October 21, 1990, and that she was almost nineteen years old. She explained that, when she was about fourteen years old, she and her brother stayed at her grandfather's house while her mother was in the process of moving. Petitioner was her uncle, and he was also living at her grandfather's house at the time. One night, her grandfather was sleeping upstairs, and her brother was asleep in a back room. She was sleeping on a couch in the living room of the house when her uncle approached her and laid on top of her. He used his private part to touch her “butt, ” and he used his hand to touch both her “butt” and her private part. Then he took off her underpants and inserted his penis in her vagina. Afterward, he got up and went upstairs. She went to the bathroom and noticed blood on her underwear and nightgown. She spent the rest of the night in her brother's room with the door locked.

         The victim did not disclose the incident to her grandfather or brother because she did not think they would believe her, and she did not tell her mother because her uncle was her mother's brother, and her mother would have been hurt by the information. She ultimately revealed the incident to MJ at the Children's Village when MJ informed her about what had happened to her. She went back to her grandfather's house many times after the incident with her uncle, but her uncle would act as though nothing had happened.

         On cross-examination, the victim expressed some uncertainty about the date of the crimes. She also admitted that, when Petitioner got locked up, she used to write letters to him, and in one letter she wrote that she loved him and missed him. The victim explained that her mother pressured her to write to Petitioner and that she had not wanted her mother to know what Petitioner had done to her.

         The victim's mother, Eugenia Pittman, testified that Petitioner and the victim were very close at one time. Their relationship deteriorated at some point, and in 2007, the victim disclosed something to Ms. Pittman. Regarding Petitioner, Ms. Pittman testified that he could be good at times and bad at times. One time in 2005, he became violent with a person in the victim's presence. He beat one of his cousins and threatened to kill someone.

         Sarah Killips testified as an expert in forensic interviewing and the characteristics of child sexual assault victims. She interviewed the victim on January 23, 2008, when the victim was seventeen years old. The victim made an allegation of sexual abuse by an uncle. Ms. Killips opined that it was common for children to delay disclosure of sexual abuse.

         Petitioner chose not to testify, but he presented Detective Paul McDougal and his brother Anthony Pittman as defense witnesses. Detective McDougal testified that he wrote in his incident report that the crimes occurred between the months of October and November 2005. He admitted that he did not go in the house where the crimes supposedly occurred and that he did not interview the victim or the victim's mother, brother, or grandfather. He also did not know whether Petitioner was in custody on October 4, 2005.

         Petitioner's brother, Anthony Pittman, testified that he was living with his father and nephew in 2004 and 2005 and that the victim may have spent a night or two there when she did not have a ride. Anthony denied hearing any commotion that would suggest the victim had been assaulted, and he did not see any signs that anything inappropriate had occurred at the house. Anthony described Petitioner as a nice guy who was helpful. He admitted that Petitioner had gone to prison more than once for drugs, but he did not think that Petitioner had a drug problem. He was unaware of a conviction for assault and battery, and he did not think Petitioner had a history of violent behavior. He also did not see a violent outburst between Petitioner and one of his nephews.

         The parties stipulated that Petitioner was in custody from July 13, 2004 to December 29, 2004, from August 19, 2005 to September 7, 2005, and from October 4, 2005 to the present. They further stipulated that Petitioner was not in custody from December 29, 2004 to August 10, 2005 and from September 7, 2005 to October 4, 2005.

         On October 16, 2009, the jury found Petitioner guilty, as charged, of one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in violation of Michigan Compiled Laws § 750.520b(1)(b)(ii), and one count of second-degree criminal sexual conduct in violation of Michigan Compiled Laws § 750.520c(1)(b)(ii). The trial court sentenced Petitioner as a habitual offender to concurrent terms of imprisonment of twenty-two years, nine months to forty years.

         On appeal from his convictions, Petitioner argued: (1) he was denied a fair trial by extensive evidence that he had been in prison; (2) he was denied due process and a fair trial by evidence that he had engaged in violent behavior, the prosecutor's statement that Petitioner had been convicted of assault and battery, evidence that he had gone to prison for a drug offense, and the prosecutor's argument regarding illegal drugs; (3) the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions beyond a reasonable doubt; (4) the time limits of Michigan Compiled Laws § 780.131(1) were violated; (5) offense variable four of the Michigan sentencing guidelines was improperly scored at ten points; and, (6) defense counsel deprived him of effective assistance by failing to make proper objections and a record. These six claims form Petitioner's first six grounds for federal habeas relief.

         The Michigan Court of Appeals rejected Petitioner's claims and affirmed his convictions in an unpublished, per curiam decision. People v. Pittman, No. 297391, 2011 WL 2555389 (Mich. Ct. App. June 28, 2011). On November 21, 2011, the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal because it was not persuaded to review the issues. People v. Pittman, 805 N.W.2d 202 (Mich. 2011).

         In June 2012, Petitioner filed a motion for relief from judgment in the state trial court in which he raised the following arguments: (1) the trial court abused its discretion and deprived him of a fair trial by failing to dismiss his case for a violation of the State's 180-day rule, failing to appoint substitute counsel despite a conflict of interest, improperly instructing the jury on “mental anguish, ” failing to grant a directed verdict of acquittal, and exceeding the sentencing guidelines without substantial and compelling reasons; (2) the prosecutor deprived him of a fair trial by coaching and intimidating witnesses, using perjured testimony, and shielding the victim from him; (3) the police lacked probable cause to arrest him; and, (4) trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate witnesses and consult Petitioner. These claims form the basis for Petitioner's seventh through tenth habeas claims. The trial court denied Petitioner's motion because he previously raised, or could have raised, the claims on appeal and because Petitioner had not met his burden of proving entitlement to relief under Michigan Court Rule 6.508(D). See People v. Pittman, No. 09-226631-FC, Op. and Order (Oakland Cty. Cir. Ct. Nov. 21, 2013).

         Petitioner appealed the trial court's decision, but the Michigan Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal for the reasons given by the trial court: Petitioner had alleged grounds for relief which were previously decided against him or could have been raised on appeal and because he failed to establish entitlement to relief under 6.508(D). People v. Pittman, No. 320131 (Mich. Ct. App. Apr. 18, 2014). Petitioner did not appeal the Michigan Court of Appeals' decision. See Affidavit of Larry Royster, Clerk of the Michigan Supreme Court, ECF No. 8-14.

         In a post-conviction motion for an evidentiary hearing, Petitioner purported to have newly discovered impeachment evidence. He also alleged that he was denied the effective assistance of appellate counsel. These arguments comprise Petitioner's eleventh and twelfth habeas claims. The trial court treated Petitioner's motion as a successive motion for relief from judgment and denied the motion. People v. Pittman, No. 2009-226631-FC, Order (Oakland Cty. Cir. Ct. Feb. 27, 2014). Petitioner raised the same two issues in the Michigan Court of Appeals, which dismissed Petitioner's appeal under Michigan Court Rule 7.203(F)(1), because Petitioner was attempting to appeal the denial of a successive motion for relief from judgment. People v. Pittman, No. 322425 (Mich. Ct. App. July 21, 2014).

         Petitioner appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, which denied leave to appeal because Petitioner's motion was prohibited by Michigan Court Rule 6.502(G), the rule governing second or successive motions for relief from judgment. People v. Pittman, 861 N.W.2d 899 (Mich. 2015). On September 9, 2015, the Michigan Supreme Court denied Petitioner's motion for reconsideration. People v. Pittman, 868 N.W.2d 471 (Mich. 2015).

         Finally, on November 17, 2014, Petitioner filed his habeas corpus petition. Although the State argues in an answer to the habeas petition that some of Petitioner's claims are procedurally defaulted, a procedural default is not a jurisdictional matter. Trest v. Cain, 522 U.S. 87, 89 (1997). Additionally, to prevail on procedurally defaulted claims, a petitioner “must establish cause and prejudice for the defaults” and “also show that the claims are meritorious.” Babick v. Berghuis, 620 F.3d 571, 576 (6th Cir. 2010). In the interest of efficiency, the Court will bypass the alleged procedural defaults and go directly to the merits of Petitioner's claims, as the claims lack substantive merit, and “the cause-and-prejudice analysis adds nothing but complexity to the case.” Id.


         “The statutory authority of federal courts to issue habeas corpus relief for persons in state custody is provided by 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA).” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 97 (2011). Pursuant to § 2254, the Court may not grant a state prisoner's application for the writ of habeas corpus unless the state court's adjudication of the prisoner's claims on the merits

(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).

         “[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. Rather, that application must also be unreasonable.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 411 (2000). “AEDPA thus imposes a ‘highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, ' Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 333, n. 7 (1997), and ‘demands that state- court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt, ' Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (per curiam).” Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010).

         “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.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 101 (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). To obtain a writ of habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on 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.” Id. at 103.

         Furthermore, a state court's determination of a factual issue is presumed to be correct unless the petitioner rebuts the presumption of correctness with clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Holland v. Rivard, 800 F.3d 224, 242 (6th Cir. 2015), cert. denied, 136 S.Ct. 1384 (2016). In addition, “review under § 2254(d)(1) is limited to the record that was before the state court that adjudicated the claim on the merits.” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         A. Claim One: Inadmissible Evidence of Imprisonment

         Petitioner alleges in claim one that he was denied a fair trial by extensive evidence that he had been in prison. As examples of this, Petitioner points to: the prosecutor's comments during opening statements that the crimes occurred when Petitioner was home after being away (10/15/09 Trial Tr., Afternoon Session, at 14 and 18, ECF No. 8-5 at Pg ID 297, 301); defense counsel's reference to correspondence between Petitioner and the victim (id. at 25, Pg ID 308); the victim's testimony that, after the crime, Petitioner “was still out” and “still around” (id. at 119, Pg ID 402); the victim's testimony about her correspondence with Petitioner while Petitioner was in prison (id. at 124, Pg ID 407); defense counsel's question to Detective McDougal as to whether Petitioner was in custody on October 4, 2005 (10/16/09 Trial Tr. at 124-28, ECF No. 8-6 at Pg ID 541-45); and the prosecutor's closing argument that the range of dates when the crimes occurred was based on times when Petitioner was not in custody (id. at 145-46, Pg ID 562-63).

         The Michigan Court of Appeals determined that some of these references to Petitioner's incarceration were not prejudicial and that Petitioner opened the door to other comments about his prior incarceration. This Court agrees for the following reasons.

         First, as noted by the Michigan Court of Appeals, the jury would not necessarily have understood the comments and testimony about Petitioner being away, “still out, ” or “still around” to mean that Petitioner had been in prison. Second, it was defense counsel who elicited testimony that the victim had written to Petitioner in prison. It was also defense counsel who asked Detective McDougal whether Petitioner was in custody on October 4, 2005. Because defense counsel invited the claimed errors, Petitioner may not claim now that the errors deprived him of a fair trial. See Fields v. Bagley, 275 F.3d 478, 486 (6th Cir. 2001) (“When a petitioner invites an error in the trial court, he is precluded from seeking habeas corpus relief for that error.”)

         Finally, part of Petitioner's defense was that he could not have committed the crimes because he was in custody at the time. The Court, therefore, concludes that the references to Petitioner being in custody did not violate his right to a fair trial. The references were either too vague to be prejudicial or they were invited errors that were meant to support the defense theory.

         B. Claim Two: Prosecutorial Misconduct

         Petitioner alleges in claim two that he was denied due process and a fair trial when the prosecutor did the following: elicited Ms. Pittman's testimony that Petitioner previously engaged in violent behavior (10/16/05 Trial Tr. at 21-24, ECF No. 8-6 at Pg ID 438-39); asked Petitioner's brother whether Petitioner had been convicted of assault and battery and had gone to prison for a drug offense (id. at 113-14, Pg ID 530-31); and stated during her closing argument that Petitioner may have committed the crimes in question while he was under the influence of illegal drugs (id. at 124, Pg ID 541).

         1. Clearly Established Federal Law

         “Claims of prosecutorial misconduct are reviewed deferentially” in a habeas corpus proceeding. Millender v. Adams, 376 F.3d 520, 528 (6th Cir. 2004). “[T]he touchstone of due process analysis in cases of alleged prosecutorial misconduct is the fairness of the trial, not the culpability of the prosecutor.” Smith v. Phillips, 455 U.S. 209, 219 (1982). The relevant question is whether the prosecutor's conduct infected the trial with such unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due process. Darden v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 168, 181 (1986).

Because that standard is “a very general one, ” courts have considerable leeway in resolving such claims on a case-by-case basis. Parker v. Matthews, 567 U.S. 37, 48, 132 S.Ct. 2148, 183 L.Ed.2d 32 (2012) (per curiam). That leeway increases in assessing a state court's ruling under AEDPA. [Courts] “cannot set aside a state court's conclusion on a federal prosecutorial-misconduct claim unless a petitioner cites . . . other Supreme Court precedent that shows the state court's determination in a particular factual context was unreasonable.” Trimble [v. Bobby, 804 F.3d 767, 783 (6th Cir. 2015)].

Stewart v. Trierweiler, 867 F.3d 633, 638-39 (6th Cir. 2017).

         2. Application

         Testimony from the victim's mother that Petitioner had previously engaged in violent behavior was proper because it explained why the victim may have feared Petitioner and delayed disclosing what Petitioner had done to her. This was relevant evidence, and according to the Michigan Court of Appeals, it was offered for a proper purpose under the Michigan Rules of Evidence. Pittman, 2011 WL 2555389, at *2.

         Likewise, the prosecutor's questions about Petitioner's prior convictions for assault and battery and a drug offense were proper. Because Petitioner's brother initially vouched for Petitioner's character, the prosecutor was permitted to cross-examine him about Petitioner's specific acts of misconduct. According to the Michigan Court of Appeals, the testimony was admissible to rebut the brother's favorable character evidence and to test his knowledge and candor. The state court's interpretation of state law binds this Court sitting in habeas corpus, Bradshaw v. Richey, 546 U.S. 74, 76 (2005), because “it is not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determinations on state-law questions.” Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991).

         The prosecutor's comment during closing arguments that Petitioner may have committed the crimes in question while he was under the influence of illegal drugs was not improper for a different reason. The comment was a reasonable inference from the victim's testimony that Petitioner was not acting normally on the night in question (10/15/09 Trial Tr., Afternoon Session, at 91-92, ECF No. 8-5 at Pg ID 374-75) and that he had acted as though she was not his niece and did not care about what he was doing (id. at 83-84, Pg ID 366-67). Prosecutors may “forcefully assert inferences from the evidence.” Cristini v. McKee, 526 F.3d 888, 901 (6th Cir. 2008). Moreover, the Court cannot conclude that the prosecutor's conduct infected the trial with such unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of Petitioner's due process rights.

         To conclude, the disputed comments and questions did not deprive Petitioner of a fair trial, and the state appellate court's rejection of Petitioner's claim was not unreasonable. Furthermore, to the extent Petitioner is complaining that the trial court erred by permitting the prosecutor to introduce evidence of Petitioner's propensity to commit crime, his claim is not cognizable on habeas review. “There is no clearly established Supreme Court precedent which holds that a state violates due process by permitting propensity evidence in the form of other bad acts evidence.” Bugh v. Mitchell, 329 F.3d 496, 512 (6th Cir. 2003). Thus, “there is no Supreme Court precedent that the trial court's decision could be deemed ‘contrary to' under AEDPA.” Id. at 513. Petitioner has no right to relief on the basis of his prosecutorial-misconduct claims.

         C. Claim Three: Insufficient Evidence

         Petitioner alleges next that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions beyond a reasonable doubt. The Michigan Court of Appeals concluded on direct review of Petitioner's claim that his challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence failed.

         1. Clearly Established ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.