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Washington v. Trierweiler

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

March 28, 2018

FELIX LAVELL WASHINGTON, Petitioner,
v.
TONY TRIERWEILER, Respondent.

          OPINION

          Janet T. Neff United States District Judge

         This is a habeas corpus action brought by a state prisoner under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Promptly after the filing of a petition for habeas corpus, the Court must undertake a preliminary review of the petition to determine whether “it plainly appears from the face of the petition and any exhibits annexed to it that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court.” Rule 4, Rules Governing § 2254 Cases; see 28 U.S.C. § 2243. If so, the petition must be summarily dismissed. Rule 4; see Allen v. Perini, 424 F.2d 134, 141 (6th Cir. 1970) (district court has the duty to “screen out” petitions that lack merit on their face). A dismissal under Rule 4 includes those petitions which raise legally frivolous claims, as well as those containing factual allegations that are palpably incredible or false. Carson v. Burke, 178 F.3d 434, 436-37 (6th Cir. 1999). After undertaking the review required by Rule 4, the Court concludes that the petition must be dismissed because it fails to raise a meritorious federal claim.

         Discussion

         I. Factual allegations

         Petitioner Felix Lavell Washington is incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections at the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility (IBC) in Ionia, Michigan. On November 10, 2014, a Oakland County Circuit Court judge took Petitioner's plea of nolo contendere to charges of assault with intent to do great bodily harm, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.84, felon in possession of a firearm, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.224f, and two counts of felony firearm, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b. On December 15, 2014, the court sentenced Petitioner as a habitual offender-third offense, Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.11, to terms of imprisonment as follows: 7 years, 1 month to 20 years for assault concurrent to 3 years, 7 months to 10 years for felon in possession of a firearm. Those sentences are to be served consecutively to concurrent sentences of 2 years on each felony firearm count.

         Petitioner filed a post-judgment motion to withdraw his plea. After the motion, as amended, was denied, he filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals raising the same issues he raises in this habeas petition. By order entered November 30, 2016, the court of appeals denied Petitioner's application “for lack of merit in the grounds presented.” (Mich. Ct. App. Order, ECF No. 1-1, PageID.18.) Petitioner then filed an application for leave to appeal the court of appeals' denial in the Michigan Supreme Court. By order entered June 21, 2017, that court remanded the case to the Oakland County Circuit Court for a determination regarding the trial court's inclination to impose a different sentence, armed with the knowledge that the sentencing guidelines are discretionary instead of mandatory under People v. Lockridge. (Mich. Order, ECF No. 1-1, PageID.17.) In all other respects, the Michigan Supreme Court declined to consider the issues raised by Petitioner. (Id.)

         On February 27, 2018, Petitioner timely filed his habeas corpus petition. The petition raises 2 grounds for relief, paraphrased as follows:

I. Petitioner was deprived of his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights when Offense Variable 3 was improperly scored.
II. Petitioner was deprived of his Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights when his trial counsel failed to employ an expert to demonstrate that the injuries to the victim did not fall within Offense Variable 3.

(Pet., ECF No.1, PageID.5, 9.)

         II. AEDPA Standard

         This action is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub. L. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (AEDPA). The AEDPA “prevents federal habeas ‘retrials'” and ensures that state court convictions are given effect to the extent possible under the law. Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693-94 (2002). An application for writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person who is incarcerated pursuant to a state conviction cannot be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the adjudication: “(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 upon an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). This standard is “intentionally difficult to meet.” Woods v. Donald, 575 U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 1372');">135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015) (internal quotation omitted).

         The AEDPA limits the source of law to cases decided by the United States Supreme Court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). This Court may consider only the “clearly established” holdings, and not the dicta, of the Supreme Court. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000); Bailey v. Mitchell, 271 F.3d 652, 655 (6th Cir. 2001). In determining whether federal law is clearly established, the Court may not consider the decisions of lower federal courts. Lopez v. Smith, 135 S.Ct. 1, 3 (2014); Bailey, 271 F.3d at 655. Moreover, “clearly established Federal law” does not include decisions of the Supreme Court announced after the last adjudication of the merits in state court. Greene v. Fisher, 565 U.S. 34 (2011). Thus, the inquiry is limited to an examination of the legal landscape as it would have appeared to the Michigan state courts in light of Supreme Court precedent at the time of the state-court adjudication on the merits. Miller v. Stovall, 742 F.3d 642, 644 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Greene, 565 U.S. at 38).

         A federal habeas court may issue the writ under the “contrary to” clause if the state court applies a rule different from the governing law set forth in the Supreme Court's cases, or if it decides a case differently than the Supreme Court has done on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Bell, 535 U.S. at 694 (citing Williams, 529 U.S. at 405-06). “To satisfy this high bar, a habeas petitioner is required to ‘show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.'” Woods, 135 S.Ct. at 1376 (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011)). In other words, “[w]here the precise contours of the right remain unclear, state courts enjoy broad discretion in their adjudication of a prisoner's claims.” White v. Woodall, 572 U.S. __, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1705 (2014) (internal quotations omitted).

         The AEDPA requires heightened respect for state factual findings. Herbert v. Billy, 160 F.3d 1131, 1134 (6th Cir. 1998). A determination of a factual issue made by a state court is presumed to be correct, and the petitioner has the burden of rebutting the presumption by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Lancaster v. Adams, 324 F.3d 423, 429 (6th Cir. 2003); Bailey, 271 F.3d at 656. This presumption of correctness is accorded to findings of state appellate ...


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