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Robinson v. Winn

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

March 28, 2018

THOMAS WINN, Respondent.



         This is a habeas case brought by a Michigan prisoner under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner Marcus Robinson was convicted after a jury trial in the Kalamazoo Circuit Court of second-degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws 750.317, assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, Mich. Comp. Laws 750.84, three counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, Mich. Comp. Laws 750.227b, felon in possession of a firearm, Mich. Comp. Laws 750.224f, and carrying a concealed weapon, Mich. Comp. Laws 750.227. He was sentenced to 45 to 75 years for the murder conviction, consecutive two-year terms for the felony-firearm convictions, and lesser concurrent terms for the other convictions.

         The petition raises two claims: (1) Petitioner was denied the effective assistance of counsel when his trial attorney failed to request a jury instruction regarding the defense of accident, and (2) the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury on the lesser offense of involuntary manslaughter. The Court will deny the petition because Petitioner's claims are without merit. The Court will, however, grant Petitioner a certificate of appealability with respect to his first claim, and it will grant him permission to proceed on appeal in forma pauperis. Petitioner will be denied a certificate of appealability with respect to his second claim. Finally, Petitioner's counsel's motion to withdraw (Dkt. 7) will be granted.

         I. Background

         This Court recites verbatim the relevant facts relied upon by the Michigan Court of Appeals, which are presumed correct on habeas review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). See Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 413 (6th Cir. 2009):

Defendant and his friend, Cortez Howard, met the victims, Jared Boothe and Brian Tolson, in an apartment complex parking lot to talk about a situation involving Howard, Boothe's younger brother, and a female friend. Prior to the meeting, Howard told defendant that he was friends with the victims and that he did not expect any violence at the meeting. Howard also told defendant that neither of them needed to bring a gun to the parking lot meeting.
Nevertheless, defendant had heard that Boothe and Tolson were looking for him and that one of them might have had a gun. Defendant and Howard arrived with two other friends, who stayed in a nearby car. Defendant and Howard approached Boothe and Tolson, and defendant pulled out his gun and flashed it at Boothe during the encounter.
Boothe began to walk away from the parking lot, and defendant followed him. Tolson then told defendant not to “creep up” on his brother. Tolson then asked defendant, “what are you going to do, shoot me[?]” Defendant responded, “I will, but don't make me have to.” Tolson thereafter jumped and grabbed defendant. During the altercation, defendant shot Tolson in the chest, causing his death. Defendant claimed that prior to his discharge of the gun, Tolson picked him up and slammed him into the ground.
Boothe then punched the defendant in the head several times and attempted to pick him up and slam him on the ground. The defendant ended up landing on top of Boothe. The gun fired again, hitting Boothe in the chest, but not killing him. After the shootings, defendant got back in the car and drove away while flashing his gun at the victims.

People v. Robinson, No. 314906, 2014 WL 4930702 WL, at *1 (Mich. Ct. App. Oct. 2, 2014).

         Following his conviction Petitioner filed a claim of appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals. His appellate brief combined his two habeas claims into a single claim:

I. The trial court reversibly erred in denying the defense request for an instruction on involuntary manslaughter, as that is a necessarily included lesser offense of first degree murder, the defense presented sufficient evidence putting the issue of Mr. Robinson's intent and state of mind into issue, and the jury may well have convicted Mr. Robinson only of involuntary manslaughter as they had a reasonable doubt as to the charged offense of premeditated murder. In addition, Mr. Robinson was denied a fair trial where the trial judge failed to sua sponte instruct the jury on the law of accident, as that was a crucial issue in the homicide charge, or, in the alternative, he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel due to his trial attorney's failure to request an accident instruction.

         The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's convictions in a 2-1 unpublished opinion. Robinson, 2014 WL 4930702. The dissenting judge found that the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury on involuntary manslaughter and accident.

         Petitioner subsequently filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court, raising the same claims. The Michigan Supreme Court denied the application because it was not persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed. People v. Robinson, 862 N.W.2d 652 (Mich. 2015) (Table).

         II. Standard of Review

         28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) curtails a federal court's review of constitutional claims raised by a state prisoner in a habeas corpus action if the claims were rejected on the merits by the state courts. Relief is barred under this section unless the state court adjudication was “contrary to” or resulted in an “unreasonable application of” clearly established Supreme Court law.

         “A state court's decision is ‘contrary to' . . . clearly established law if it ‘applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court cases]' or if it ‘confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme] Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [this] precedent.'” Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 15-16 (2003) (per curiam), quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000).

         “[T]he ‘unreasonable application' prong of the statute permits a federal habeas court to ‘grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts' of petitioner's case.” Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520 (2003) quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 413.

         Demonstrating that a state court unreasonably applied clearly established Supreme Court law is no easy task because “[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), quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004). ‚ÄúSection 2254(d) reflects the view that habeas corpus is a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal. . . . As a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so ...

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