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Jones v. Burt

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

April 30, 2018

TROY JONES, Petitioner,
v.
S.L. BURT[1], Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER (1) DENYING AMENDED PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS [#16], (2) DENYING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY, AND (3) DENYING PERMISSION TO APPEAL IN FORMA PAUPERIS

          GERSHWIN A. DRAIN, United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         This is a habeas case brought by a Michigan prisoner under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Troy Jones, (“Petitioner”), was convicted after a jury trial in the Allegan Circuit Court of assault with intent to do great bodily harm, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.84, and witness tampering. Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.122(7)(b). Petitioner was sentenced as a fourth-time habitual felony offender to consecutive terms of 10 to 20 years for the assault conviction and 28 months to 6 years for the witness tampering conviction.

         The amended petition asserts three grounds for relief: (1) Petitioner's right to counsel was violated when jail authorities intercepted, copied, and disbursed to the prosecutor legal mail sent to and received by Petitioner in jail, (2) Petitioner's trial testimony was erroneously impeached with the use of prior convictions obtained when Petitioner was not represented by counsel, and (3) Petitioner was denied the effective assistance of counsel when his counsel failed to challenge the prosecutor's use of the prior uncounseled convictions. Dkt. No. 20.

         The Court finds that Petitioner's claims are without merit. Therefore, the petition will be denied. The Court will also deny Petitioner a certificate of appealability and deny permission to appeal in forma pauperis.

         II. Background

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

Defendant was convicted of assaulting Tanya Rogers during the early morning hours of October 11, 2008, at defendant's house. Defendant was acquitted of a separate assault charge involving his sister, Debra Jones. The witness tampering conviction arose from defendant's offer to pay Rogers $1, 000 for either refusing to testify or for testifying in a specified manner.

People v. Jones, No. 292793 & 292794, 2011 WL 4467686, at *1 (Mich. Ct. App. Sept. 27, 2011).

         The procedural history of the case is lengthy and convoluted. Petitioner first filed a claim of appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals. His brief on appeal filed by appointed appellate counsel raised three claims: (1) Petitioner's right to counsel was violated when jail authorities intercepted, copied, and disbursed to the prosecutor legal mail sent from him from jail, (2) Petitioner was denied the effective assistance of counsel, and (3) the sentencing guidelines were scored incorrectly. Petitioner also filed a supplemental pro se brief that raised six additional claims: (4) Petitioner's trial testimony was erroneously impeached with the use of prior convictions obtained when Petitioner was not represented by counsel, (5) the trial court erred in failing to adjourn trial and order Petitioner to undergo a forensic examination, (6) Petitioner was denied the effective assistance of counsel, (7) Petitioner was charged under the wrong statute, (8) the prosecutor and trial court erroneously amended the statutory language to fit the facts of the offense, and (9) the sentencing guidelines were incorrectly scored.

         The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's convictions, but it remanded the case to the trial court for resentencing. Jones, 2011 WL 4467686.

         While Petitioner was awaiting resentencing in the trial court, he filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court raising the same claims that he raised in the Michigan Court of Appeals. The Michigan Supreme Court denied the application by form order. People v. Jones, 801 N.W.2d 583 (Mich. 2012).

         The trial court resentenced Petitioner on November 26, 2012. Petitioner filed a claim of appeal from his new sentence, raising claims challenging his sentence as well as new claims challenging his conviction.

         Meanwhile, Petitioner filed the present case on September 11, 2013, raising the three claims eventually raised in his amended petition. Dkt. No. 1. On December 26, 2013, Respondent filed an answer, arguing in part that the petition was filed prematurely as Petitioner was still pursuing appellate relief in the state courts. Dkt. No. 8. In response, Petitioner filed a motion to stay his habeas case while he completed state court review on February 13, 2014. Dkt. No. 11. The Court granted the motion on April 22, 2014, and ordered that the case be stayed and held in abeyance while Petitioner completed state appellate review. Dkt. No. 14.

         On July 31, 2012, Petitioner filed a pro se motion for relief from judgment in the trial court and several supplemental pleadings, apparently re-raising what now form his three habeas claims. Dkt. Nos. 24-2 through 24-6. The trial court denied the motions and supplemental pleadings in orders dated December 1, 2014, and February 18, 2015. Dkt. 24-7, 24-8.

         Petitioner filed a delayed application for leave to appeal with the Michigan Court of Appeals, appealing the denial of his motion for relief from judgment. On August 20, 2015, the Michigan Court of Appeals denied the application with citation to Michigan Court Rule 6.508(D). People v. Jones, No. 327288 (Mich. Ct. App. Aug. 20, 2015). Petitioner filed an application for leave to appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court, but it was also denied under Rule 6.508(D). People v. Jones, 876 N.W.2d 884 (Mich. 2016).

         Meanwhile, the Michigan Court of Appeals had affirmed Petitioner's appeal from his resentencing while his motion for relief from judgment was still pending. People v. Jones, Mich. Ct. App. No. 315582 & 315713, 2014 WL 4723595, at *1 (Mich. Ct. App. Sept. 23, 2014). Petitioner filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court, and the court remanded the case back to the trial court for a second resentencing. People v. Jones, 876 N.W.2d 532 (Mich. 2016). Petitioner was resentenced on June 20, 2016. Dkt. No. 30-18.

         On April 18, 2016, Petitioner moved to reopen this case, and he filed an amended petition for writ of habeas corpus that raised the same three claims he raised in his initial petition. Dkt. Nos. 18, 20. On May 2, 2016, the Court ordered the case to be reopened. Dkt. No. 21. On August 1, 2016, Respondent filed the relevant part of the state court record. Dkt. Nos. 24, 30. On August 26, 2016 Petitioner filed a Motion to Extend the Filing Deadline to file his reply brief, with his reply brief attached. Dkt. No. 25. The Court granted Petitioner's Motion to Extend on September 12, 2016. Dkt. No. 26. The matter is now ready for review.

         III. Standard of Review

         28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) curtails a federal court's review of constitutional claims raised by a state prisoner in a habeas action if the claims were adjudicated 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) (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).

         “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 lacking in justification ...


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