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Sanders v. Stoddard

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

March 2, 2018


          R. Steven Whalen Magistrate Judge.



         Hollis Sanders was convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct after he pled no contest to the charge. He was sentenced to 40 to 70 years. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, Sanders now seeks a writ of habeas corpus from this Court. The petition raises two claims: (1) ineffective assistance of trial counsel based upon erroneous advice on the sentencing guidelines and (2) an improper upward departure from the sentencing guideline range. Neither claim warrants habeas corpus relief.


         On March 25, 2009, Sanders went into Jackson High School in Jackson, Michigan.[1] (R. 18-1, PID 426.) While there, a female student left class to use the restroom. (Id.) As the young woman left the bathroom stall, Sanders pushed her into a stall and locked the door. (Id.) He threw her against the wall, unbuttoned her pants, and digitally penetrated her. (R. 18-1, PID 425-426.) The young woman screamed and Sanders slapped her saying, “Bitch shut up before I kill you. I have a gun in my pocket.” (R. 18-1, PID 428.) He pushed her to the floor, but the young woman was able to slide into the adjacent stall and run back to her classroom, screaming for help. (R. 18-1, PID 428-29.) Her teacher chased Sanders out into the parking lot and eventually wrestled him to the ground and returned him to the school, where the young woman identified him as the perpetrator. (R. 18-1, PID 419.)

         In a written statement, Sanders admitted to digitally penetrating the female student. (R. 18-1, PID 425.)

         Sanders was charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.520b, and fourth-offense habitual offender, Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.12. Sanders entered into an agreement to plead “no contest” to one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in exchange for the prosecutor dropping the fourth-offense habitual offender charge (R. 19-1).

         On November 25, 2009, the state trial court held a plea hearing. (Id.) During the hearing, the judge asked whether Sanders understood that the statutory maximum for first-degree criminal sexual conduct was life in prison. (R. 19-1, PID 441.) Sanders responded that he understood. (Id.) The judge then asked Sanders' counsel, Wendell Jacobs, for Sanders' sentencing guideline range. (R. 19-1, PID 442.) Jacobs responded that the guideline range for his minimum sentence was 135 to 225 months (11.25 to 18.75 years). (Id.) Neither the judge nor the prosecutor contested that range nor mentioned that it may change. (Id.) Before asking for his plea, the judge confirmed Sanders' understanding that “there's been absolutely no agreement by the court, and in terms of limiting its sentence that it could impose within the proper limits of the law.” (R. 19-1, PID 444.) Sanders then pled no contest. (R. 19-1, PID 445.)

         Sanders was sentenced on January 7, 2010. (R. 14-3.) The presentence report recommended a guideline range twice as high as the one discussed at sentencing: 270 to 450 months (22.5 to 37.5 years) for a minimum sentence. Jacobs did not object to the body of the presentence report, but did object to the scoring of several of the offense variables. (R. 14-3, PID 116-23.) The trial court overruled all of Jacobs' objections. (Id.) During allocution, Sanders stated that he did not rape the victim, and that a recently-obtained DNA test failed to show the presence of any of his genetic material. (R. 14-3, PID 126-29.) He stated that if he had known about this evidence earlier, he would not have pled guilty. (R. 14-3, PID 126.)

         The court decided to exceed the top of the guideline range of 37.5 years for a minimum sentence and imposed a 40-year minimum and 70-year maximum sentence. (R. 14-3, PID 145- 46.) In discussing the basis for the upward departure, the court recounted Sanders' long criminal history-five prior felony convictions, 12 misdemeanor convictions, “extensive assaultive criminal history, ” and a “pattern of assaultive behavior, especially toward women.” (R. 14-3, PID 141.) The court also recounted the facts of the case, the psychological effects the attack had on the victim, and Sanders' statement that he would have killed the victim had he raped her. (R. 14-3, PID 141-44.) Judgment was entered on January 7, 2010. (R. 14-1, PID 59-60.)

         A week later, Sanders sought and was granted appointment of appellate counsel. (R. 14-1, PID 60.) His appellate counsel filed a motion to withdraw Sanders' plea on the grounds that his trial counsel (Jacobs) was ineffective for misadvising him about the sentencing guidelines. (See R. 14-4.) The trial court held an evidentiary hearing on the claim. (R. 14-5.) At the hearing, Jacobs testified that his calculations led to a guideline minimum sentence between 135 and 225 months (11.25 to 18.75 years) and that he did not believe the facts warranted the offense variable scores that Sanders received. (R. 14-5, PID 164.) He further stated that he never advised Sanders that a different range might be calculated at the sentencing hearing. (R. 14-5, PID 170.)

         Sanders confirmed Jacobs' account. He testified that Jacobs told him that if he accepted his plea offer, his guideline range would be anywhere from 135 to 225 months. (R. 14-5, PID 180.) Sanders stated that Jacobs never said the guideline range might be higher. (R. 14-5, PID 180-81.) Sanders testified that had he known the guideline range would end up being so high, he would not have pled and instead would have gone to trial. (Id.)

         Yet on cross-examination, Sanders testified that he knew that a trial court could exceed the sentencing guidelines. (R. 14-5, PID 187.) Sanders further confirmed that he had sent several letters during pretrial proceedings requesting a plea bargain and in one of the letters, indicated that he did not wish to put the young victim through a trial. (R. 14-5, PID 189-95.)

         The trial court denied Sanders' motion to withdraw his plea, finding that Jacobs did not perform deficiently and, in any event, that Sanders was not prejudiced by any deficient performance. (R. 14-5, PID 232-34.)

         Sanders filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals alleging ineffective assistance of counsel, improper upward departure, and erroneous scoring of offense variables. (R. 14-6.) The Michigan Court of Appeals denied Sanders' ...

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