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Matthews v. Jackson

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

April 30, 2018

FREDERICK A. MATTHEWS, Petitioner,
v.
SHANE JACKSON, [1] Respondent,

          OPINION AND ORDER (1) GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART THE PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS, AND (2) DECLINING TO ISSUE A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY

          TERRENCE G. BERG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Frederick Matthews, (“Petitioner”), confined at the Carson City Correctional Facility in Carson City, Michigan, seeks the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In his pro se application, Petitioner challenges his conviction for first-degree home invasion, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.110a(2), and possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony [felony-firearm], Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b.

         The Court finds that there was insufficient evidence to sustain Petitioner's convictions for first-degree home invasion and felony-firearm. The Court grants the writ in part, vacates Petitioner's felony-firearm conviction and remands the case to the state court to vacate Petitioner's first degree home invasion conviction and enter a judgment of guilt on the lesser included offense of second-degree home invasion and re-sentence Petitioner on this offense. The petition is DENIED with respect to Petitioner's remaining claims.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Petitioner was convicted following a jury trial in the Allegan County Circuit Court. This Court recites verbatim the relevant facts regarding Petitioner's conviction from the Michigan Court of Appeals' opinion affirming his conviction, 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):

The record supports that defendant and his accomplice were involved in a home invasion in the late morning of June 29, 2011. The homeowner returned home during the home invasion and noticed an unfamiliar Chevy Impala parked in his driveway with the engine running but nobody inside the vehicle. As the homeowner was investigating the Impala, he saw defendant's accomplice walk out of the garage that was attached to the house. The homeowner confronted the accomplice and told him to wait for the police to arrive. About five minutes after confronting the accomplice, the homeowner saw defendant run through his backyard away from his house. Defendant ran into the cornfield that was located beyond the homeowner's backyard. Employees at an industrial gravel pit bordering the cornfield saw defendant emerge from the cornfield soon after he fled the house. The police apprehended defendant at the gravel pit and brought him to the homeowner's house, where he identified defendant with 85 percent certainty as the man who fled through his backyard. Meanwhile, the police apprehended defendant's accomplice who had fled in the Impala. The police recovered items from the Impala that belonged to the homeowner and also found a pair of gloves outside the house next to a crowbar or chisel.
At trial, the homeowner testified that he was “positive” that defendant was the man who fled through his backyard on the day in question. A DNA expert testified that she tested the gloves found at the house and determined that the DNA recovered from the gloves matched defendant's DNA. The homeowner and his wife each testified that they did not give anyone permission to enter their house on the day in question. They further testified that when they searched their house after the home invasion, they observed that the sliding door that opened to the backyard had been unlocked and left open. The homeowners also testified that several items were missing and other items were relocated within the house. A camera, iPod, and laptop computer had been gathered into a beach bag and moved into the closet of their guest bedroom. The bag was found on top of a handgun that had been in the master bedroom.

People v. Matthews, No. 313021, 2014 WL 129327, at * 1 (Mich. Ct. App. Jan. 14, 2014).

         Petitioner's conviction was affirmed on appeal. Id., lv. den. 496 Mich. 865, 849 N.W.2d 358 (2014).

         Petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, which was held in abeyance to permit Petitioner to return to the state courts to exhaust additional claims. Matthews v. Winn, No. 15-12264, 2016 WL 3213458, at *1 (E.D. Mich. June 10, 2016).

         Petitioner filed a post-conviction motion for relief from judgment, which was denied. People v. Matthews, No. 11-17298-FH (Allegan Cty.Cir.Ct., Apr. 30, 2015). The Michigan appellate courts denied Petitioner leave to appeal. People v. Matthews, No. 329994 (Mich.Ct.App. Jan. 6, 2016); lv. den. 500 Mich. 895, 887 N.W.2d 204 (2016).

         This Court subsequently reopened the case to the Court's active docket and permitted Petitioner to amend his habeas petition. Petitioner seeks habeas relief on the following claims: (1) the evidence was insufficient to convict, (2) Petitioner was denied his right to counsel of his choice, (3) Petitioner was denied his right to enter into a sentence agreement with the trial court pursuant to People v. Cobbs, (4) prosecutorial misconduct denied Petitioner a fair trial, (5) Petitioner was denied a fair trial because of defective jury instructions; trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object, (6) Petitioner was denied a jury drawn from a fair cross-section of the community; trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object, and (7) ineffective assistance of appellate counsel.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) provides that:

An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim-
(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.

         A decision of a state court is “contrary to” clearly established federal law if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by the Supreme Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than the Supreme Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000). An “unreasonable application” occurs when “a state court decision unreasonably applies the law of [the Supreme Court] to the facts of a prisoner's case.” Id. at 409. 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.” Id. at 410-11. “[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) (citing Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Claim # 1. There was insufficient evidence to convict Petitioner of first-degree home invasion and felony-firearm but there was sufficient evidence to convict Petitioner of the lesser offense of second-degree home invasion either as a principal or as an accessory.

         Petitioner first contends that there was insufficient evidence to convict him. The Court agrees in part.

         This Court notes that “the Due Process Clause protects the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which he is charged.” In Re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364 (1970). But the crucial question when reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence to support a criminal conviction is, “whether the record evidence could reasonably support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318 (1979). This inquiry, however, does not require a court to “ask itself whether it believes that the evidence at the trial established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” Instead, the relevant question is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. at 318-19 (internal citation and footnote omitted) (emphasis in the original).

         When considering a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence to convict, the reviewing court must give circumstantial evidence the same weight as direct evidence. See United States v. Farley, 2 F.3d 645, 650 (6th Cir. 1993). “Circumstantial evidence alone is sufficient to sustain a conviction and such evidence need not remove every reasonable hypothesis except that of guilt.” United States v. Kelley, 461 F.3d 817, 825 (6th Cir. 2006) (internal quotation omitted); See also Saxton v. Sheets, 547 F.3d 597, 606 (6th Cir. 2008) (“A conviction may be sustained based on nothing more than circumstantial evidence.”).

         A federal habeas court may not overturn a state court decision that rejects a sufficiency of the evidence claim merely because the federal court disagrees with the state court's resolution of that claim. Instead, a federal court may grant habeas relief only if the state court decision was an objectively unreasonable application of the Jackson standard, that is, “whether the record evidence could reasonably support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318 (1979); see also Cavazos v. Smith, 565 U.S. 1, 2 (2011).

         Petitioner initially contends that there was insufficient evidence to prove that he participated in the home invasion, either as a principal or as an aider and abettor. The Michigan Court of Appeals rejected Petitioner's claim:

Here, the evidence, when viewed in a light most favorable to the prosecution, supports the reasonable inference that defendant helped procure the vehicle used for the home invasion and that he and his accomplice drove to the house and entered it without permission with the intent to steal items of value. The prosecution presented evidence that defendant's girlfriend rented the Impala two days before the crime; the Impala was left in the driveway with its engine running during the home invasion; gloves containing defendant's DNA were found outside the house next to break-in tools; items of value were relocated within the house or taken from the house, and both defendant and his accomplice fled the scene after the homeowner arrived home unexpectedly. The evidence also established that the back sliding door was left ajar after the home invasion; and the homeowner who interrupted the home invasion testified that defendant ran through the backyard away from the house soon after his accomplice exited the garage door on the side of the house. This evidence, viewed in a light most favorable to the prosecution and making all reasonable inferences in favor of the jury verdict, supports that defendant entered the house without permission and with the intent to commit larceny therein or intentionally and knowingly assisted another to commit those acts.

People v. Matthews, 2014 WL 129327, at *2 (Mich. Ct. App. Jan. 14, 2014).

         Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.110a(2) states that:

A person who breaks and enters a dwelling with intent to commit a felony or a larceny in the dwelling or a person who enters a dwelling without permission with intent to commit a felony or a larceny in the dwelling is guilty of home invasion in the first degree if at any time while the person is entering, ...

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