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Pozniak v. Harry

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan

May 15, 2018

PAUL POZNIAK, Petitioner,
SHIRLEE HARRY, [1] Respondent.


          THOMAS L. LUDINGTON United States District Judge

         On July 7, 2014, Michigan Department of Corrections Inmate Paul Pozniak filed this petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. ECF No. 1. Petitioner Pozniak, was convicted after a jury trial in the Macomb Circuit Court of first-degree murder. Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.316. Petitioner was sentenced to life imprisonment.

         In the petition, Pozniak asserts eight grounds for relief: (1) insufficient evidence was presented at Petitioner's trial to establish his identity as the perpetrator, (2) Petitioner's counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the admission of testimony, (3) Petitioner was denied his right to counsel at a photographic line-up identification procedure, (4) the police and prosecutor committed misconduct by misrepresenting the physical evidence, (5) the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to try Petitioner, (6) Petitioner was abandoned by his trial counsel for failing to raise a jurisdictional challenge, (7) Petitioner was denied the effective assistance of appellate counsel, and (8) the prosecutor failed to protect Petitioner's constitutional rights by proceeding to trial in a court without jurisdiction. Petitioner's claims are without merit or barred by procedural defaults which occurred in state court. Therefore, the petition will be denied. For similar reasons, Petitioner's request for a certificate of appealability, permission to appeal in forma pauperis, and motion for discovery will be denied.


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

Defendant's conviction arises from the February 23, 2010, strangulation of 84-year-old Charles Taylor in his home in Warren, Michigan. The prosecution's theory was that defendant, the estranged son of Taylor's long-time friend, knew that Taylor had money, attacked him in his home, ransacked his home looking for valuables, and stole his wallet. Defendant's DNA was discovered on Taylor's left and right hands, as well as the inside of Taylor's right rear pants pocket, where Taylor kept his wallet. At trial, the defense argued that defendant's DNA was on Taylor's hands because Taylor shook defendant's hand and hugged him during a prior visit, and that a secondary transfer from that contact caused the presence of defendant's DNA inside Taylor's pants pocket. The defense presented an alibi defense, and defendant and his girlfriend both testified that they were together on the day of Taylor's death.

People v. Pozniak, No. 306405, 2013 WL 331564, at *1 (Mich. Ct. App. Jan. 29, 2013).

         Following his conviction, Petitioner filed an appeal of right. His appointed appellate counsel filed a brief on appeal raising the following two claims:

I. Defendant's conviction for first-degree murder should be reversed because the prosecution failed to present constitutionally sufficient evidence to sustain his conviction, where the only credible evidence in the case seeking to identify Mr. Pozniak as the offender was the circumstantial evidence of the presence of his skin cells at the scene, and the prosecution did not prove that those cells could only have been left at the house during the alleged commission of the homicide.
II. Paul Pozniak received constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel when his trial counsel did not timely object to inadmissible testimony, under Michigan Rules of Evidence 701 and 801, concerning Alphonse Pozniak's reaction to his son's arrest in connection with the death of Charles Taylor, testimony which should have resulted in multiple objections and a request for a curative jury instruction.

         The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's conviction in an unpublished opinion. Id. Petitioner then filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court, raising the same two claims that he raised in the Michigan Court of Appeals. The Michigan Supreme Court denied the application because it was “not persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed.” People v. Pozniak, 833 N.W.2d 918 (Mich. 2013) (Table).

         Petitioner initiated the present action by filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus raising the two claims he presented to the state courts in his direct appeal. Petitioner also filed a motion to stay the case so that he could return to the state courts and pursue relief with respect to what now form his third through eighth habeas claims. The Court granted the motion, ECF No. 6, and Petitioner filed a motion for relief from judgment in the state trial court, raising his new claims. The trial court denied the motion for relief from judgment, finding that each of the new claims lacked merit. ECF No. 18, Ex. 13.

         Petitioner then filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals which raised the same claims. The Michigan Court of Appeals denied the delayed application for leave to appeal, finding that

defendant has failed to meet the burden of establishing entitlement to relief under MCR 6.508(D). The defendant alleges grounds for relief that could have been raised previously and he has failed to establish both good cause for failing to previously raise the issues and actual prejudice from the irregularities alleged, and ha[d] not established that good cause should be waived. MCR 6.508(D)(3)(a) and (b).

ECF No. 18, Ex. 14 at 1.

         Petitioner filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court, but it was denied with citation to Rule 6.508(D). People v. Pozniak, 884 N.W.2d 790 (Mich. 2016) (Table).

         Petitioner then returned to this Court and filed an amended petition, raising his third through eighth claims, along with a motion to lift the stay and reopen the case. The motion was granted. ECF No. 12. Respondent subsequently filed a responsive pleading, and Petitioner filed a reply brief indicating that he wished to raise both the claims presented on direct appeal and on state post-conviction review in this proceeding. Petitioner also filed a motion for discovery, ECF No. 21, seeking information to support his claim that the prosecutor misrepresented the physical evidence.


         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)). “Section 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 that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” Harrington, 562 U.S. at 103 (internal quotation omitted).



         Petitioner's first claim challenges the sufficiency of the evidence presented at trial to sustain his conviction. He asserts that there was insufficient evidence admitted at trial to prove beyond a ...

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