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Venegas v. Jackson

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

May 14, 2018

LEON VENEGAS JR., Petitioner,
SHANE JACKSON, Respondent.



         The Court has reviewed Magistrate Judge Kent's Report and Recommendation in this matter (ECF No. 16) and Petitioner's Objection to it (ECF No. 18). Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, where, as here, a party has objected to portions of a Report and Recommendation, “[t]he district judge . . . has a duty to reject the magistrate judge's recommendation unless, on de novo reconsideration, he or she finds it justified.” 12 Wright, Miller & Marcus, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3070.2, at 451 (3d ed. 2014). Specifically, the Rules provide that:

The district judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to. The district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.

Fed R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3). De novo review in these circumstances requires at least a review of the evidence before the Magistrate Judge. Hill v. Duriron Co., 656 F.2d 1208, 1215 (6th Cir. 1981). The Court has reviewed de novo the claims and evidence presented to the Magistrate Judge; the Report and Recommendation itself; and Petitioner's Objections. After its review, the Court finds that Magistrate Judge Kent's Report and Recommendation is factually sound and legally correct and accordingly adopts its conclusion that Petitioner is not entitled to habeas corpus relief.


         The Michigan Court of Appeals summarized the facts underlying Petitioner's convictions in this case as follows:

Defendant was charged with domestic violence (third offense), unlawful imprisonment, and witness retaliation, MCL 750.122(8), arising out of a physical altercation with his then girlfriend, Angela Baker. On the date of the altercation, Baker drove defendant to a park. Defendant was drinking alcohol and argued with Baker about leaving the park. According to Baker, defendant grabbed her keys, her keyring broke, and she sustained a cut finger. Roughly two hours later, she and defendant drove to the hospital, where Baker received two stitches for the laceration on her finger. She went to the police department the next day and reported the incident.
During the course of the proceedings below, Baker's testimony about the altercation changed in several respects. At the preliminary examination, Baker denied that defendant put his hands on her during the altercation. She also denied that defendant had threatened her or attempted to influence her testimony in any way. But Baker later admitted that her testimony at the preliminary examination was untruthful. Contrary to her prior testimony, she indicated that defendant had physically assaulted her at the park, threatened her, and prevented her from leaving for several hours, only permitting her to drive to the hospital after she promised she would not call the police. As a result, the prosecution entered an immunity agreement with Baker under MCL 780.701. In exchange for her promise to testify truthfully at trial, Baker was granted immunity regarding her perjurious testimony at the preliminary examination.
At an early pretrial conference, the prosecution informed the trial court that defendant had attempted to use other jail inmates' calling cards to contact Baker, in direct contravention of the district court's order that defendant have neither phone privilege nor any form of contact with Baker. The prosecution played a recording of a phone call between another inmate and the mother of defendant's child; its purpose was to induce the mother to relay information to Baker. As a result, the trial court revoked defendant's bond and phone privileges.
Defendant was represented by three different appointed attorneys in the trial court, and he made several requests to represent himself. At a bond hearing, defendant asked to represent himself after the trial court denied his request to appoint new counsel. He repeatedly interrupted the trial court and continued to press his arguments after the trial judge had announced her ruling. After ignoring the trial court's instruction for him to remain silent, defendant was held in contempt. While he was being removed from the courtroom, defendant went on a profanity ridden tirade. He cast aspersions at the court and its officers, accused them of racism, and referred to the trial judge as “bitch.” Before trial, the defense sought to subpoena recordings of certain prison telephone conversations between defendant and Baker that took place while defendant was incarcerated in the Ottawa County jail on unrelated charges. At a bond hearing, defendant's appointed counsel informed the court that he was having difficulty serving the subpoena. Defendant requested substitute counsel, contending that his new counsel had done nothing for him and had lied to his family. The trial court denied defendant's request, reasoning that defendant had not shown a breakdown in the attorney-client relationship.
Defendant proceeded to trial twice. At the outset of defendant's first trial, defendant pointed out that counsel had still not obtained the phone calls from Ottawa County. The trial court noted that the parties had discussed the matter and that defense counsel had decided against using the calls on the ground that their content would be prejudicial to defendant. Counsel stated that he understood that in one call Baker stated that the charges in this case were “payback” for defendant's act of wrecking her truck. Counsel acknowledged that such evidence could be viewed as exculpatory, but he contended that other exculpatory evidence existed and stated that evidence that defendant had been incarcerated for other charges would be prejudicial to defendant. Defendant again requested the appointment of substitute counsel. The trial court denied the request. Thereafter, defendant briefly considered representing himself, but he ultimately decided to proceed with counsel.
Following deliberations after the first trial, the jury acquitted defendant of witness retaliation but was unable to reach a verdict on the remaining charges. At the conclusion of the second trial, a jury convicted him of the remaining charges.

(6/16/16 Mich. Ct. App. Opinion (MCOA Op.), ECF No. 9-19, PageID.703-704). Petitioner was sentenced on December 8, 2014, to 12 to 30 years on the lawful imprisonment conviction, concurrent with 5 to 16 years, 8 months on the domestic violence conviction. (ECF No. 9-18).

         Petitioner unsuccessfully appealed his convictions through the state courts. On February 21, 2017, Petitioner filed his habeas petition ...

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