United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS
M. LAWSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Ralph Stegall was convicted by a Wayne County, Michigan jury
of kidnapping and first-degree criminal sexual conduct, and
he was sentenced to prison terms of at least 29 years. After
his state appellate and post-judgment proceedings yielded him
no relief, he filed the present pro se petition for
a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. He has
raised several challenges to the validity of his convictions
and sentences, but because none has merit, the Court will
deny the petition.
Michigan Court of Appeals summarized the basic facts of the
case as follows:
Defendant's convictions stem from his protracted assault
of the victim. Defendant kidnapped the victim at gunpoint and
drove her to a house. With the assistance of a woman present
in the home, defendant proceeded to sexually assault the
victim for approximately 4-1/2 hours. Defendant eventually
instructed the victim to clean herself in the bathroom; the
victim pretended to do so and put on her clothes. Although
defendant offered to drop the victim off somewhere, she fled
when he went to the driver's side door of his truck.
People v. Stegall, No. 288703, 2010 WL 395751, at *1
(Mich. Ct. App. Feb. 4, 2010).
state prosecutor charged the petitioner with one count each
of kidnapping and armed robbery, and six counts of
first-degree criminal sexual conduct, even though there were
only two discrete acts of sexual penetration. The State
contended that each act of penetration supported three ways
of violating the criminal statute. The jury convicted the
petitioner of kidnapping and all six counts, and he was
sentenced to concurrent prison terms of 29 to 50.
direct appeal, the court of appeals vacated four of the
criminal conduct convictions, on the ground that convicting
the petitioner six times under three alternate theories for
two counts of sexual penetration violated the Double Jeopardy
Clause. Stegall, 2010 WL 395751, at *2-3. Otherwise,
the convictions and sentences were affirmed. Ibid.
The Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal. People
v. Stegall, 486 Mich. 1048, 783 N.W.2d 366 (2010)
petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus, which
was held in abeyance so that the petitioner could return to
the state courts to exhaust additional claims. He filed a
post-conviction motion for relief from judgment in the trial
court, which was denied. He then filed a motion for
reconsideration and “articulation, ” which the
judge construed as a successive motion for relief from
judgment and denied under Michigan Court Rule 6.502(G), which
bars filing successive motions for relief from judgment in
the absence of newly discovered evidence or a retroactive
change in the law. People v. Stegall, No.
08-008387-01 (Third Jud. Cir. Ct. Aug. 2, 2013).
Michigan appellate courts denied the petitioner leave to
appeal from the denial of his post-conviction motions.
People v. Stegall, No. 318249 (Mich. Ct. App. Mar.
17, 2014); lv. den. 497 Mich. 902, 856 N.W.2d 14
(2014) (table); recon. den. 497 Mich. 985, 861
N.W.2d 18 (2015) (table). The petitioner filed another
post-conviction motion for relief from judgment, which was
denied. People v. Stegall, No. 08-008387-01 (Third
Jud. Cir. Ct. Mar. 25, 2015).
9, 2015, this Court reopened the case, denied the
petitioner's motion for another stay, and permitted him
to file an amended habeas petition. In his original (claims I
through III) and amended (claims IV through VII) habeas
petitions, the petitioner seeks relief on the following
I. Abuse of discretion. The trial court reversibly erred in
overruling a timely defense objection to Sergeant Decker
being allowed to state his personal opinion to the jury that
appellant lied about the cause of his injury.
II. Violation of the protection against double jeopardy.
III. Legal sufficiency of the evidence.
IV. Whether the Court of Appeals' ruling of Sgt.
Decker's hearsay opinion testimony assisted the jury in
determining a fact in issue, that [Stegall] had a gun in the
time frame [the victim] alleged she was kidnapped and
assaulted was unreasonable and rose to the level of a
V. [Stegall] did not receive the effective assistance of
trial counsel when counsel chose a defense supported by
minimal quality of evidence while ignoring a defense that
could have been supported by a substantial amount of
VI. Whether the trial court erred by admitting evidence of
prior bad acts, and whether the prosecutor abused her
discretion in overcharging petitioner in violation of the
Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.
VII. Whether [the] trial court abused its discretion by
denying [Stegall's] motions for relief from judgment, and
ruling that [Stegall's] separate motions were successive
motions under MCR 6.502(G).
Pet. at 4, 6, 7; amend. pet. at 1, 3, 13, 15.
respondent filed an answer to the petition raising the
defenses of procedural default and untimeliness. The
“procedural default” argument is a reference to
the rule that the petitioner did not preserve properly some
of his claims in state court, and the state court's
ruling on that basis is an adequate and independent ground
for the denial of relief. Coleman v. Thompson, 501
U.S. 722, 750 (1991). The untimeliness argument references
the requirement that a habeas petitioner must bring his
claims within one year of the date his conviction becomes
final. See 28 U.S.C. 2244(d)(1). In this case,
although the petition was stayed in this Court, the
petitioner was late with his post- conviction motion filing
in state court after the stay was issued. The Court finds it
unnecessary to address these procedural questions. They are
not a jurisdictional bar to review of the merits, Howard
v. Bouchard, 405 F.3d 459, 476 (6th Cir. 2005)
(procedural default); Smith v. State of Ohio Dept. of
Rehabilitation, 463 F.3d 426, 429, n.2 (6th Cir. 2006)
(statute of limitations), and “federal courts are not
required to address a procedural-default issue before
deciding against the petitioner on the merits, ”
Hudson v. Jones, 351 F.3d 212, 215 (6th Cir. 2003)
(citing Lambrix v. Singletary, 520 U.S. 518, 525
(1997)). These procedural defenses will not affect the
outcome of this case, and it is more efficient to proceed
directly to the merits.
provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty
Act of 1996 (AEDPA), Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214
(Apr. 24, 1996), which govern this case,
“circumscribe[d]” the standard of review federal
courts must apply when considering an application for a writ
of habeas corpus raising constitutional claims, including
claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. See Wiggins
v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520 (2003). Because Stegall
filed his petition after the AEDPA's effective date, its
standard of review applies. Under that statute, if a claim
was adjudicated on the merits in state court, a federal court
may grant relief only if the state court's adjudication
“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 if the adjudication “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.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)-(2).
“Clearly established Federal law for purposes of §
2254(d)(1) includes only the holdings, as opposed to the
dicta, of [the Supreme] Court's
decisions.” White v. Woodall, 572 U.S. 415,
---, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014) (internal quotation marks
and citations omitted). “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 v. Richter, 562 U.S.
86, 103 (2011).
distinction between mere error and an objectively
unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent creates a
substantially higher threshold for obtaining relief than
de novo review. The AEDPA thus imposes a highly
deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, and
demands that state-court decisions be “given the
benefit of the doubt.” Renico v. Lett, 559
U.S. 766, 773 (2010) (finding that the state court's
rapid declaration of a mistrial on grounds of jury deadlock
was not unreasonable even where “the jury only
deliberated for four hours, its notes were arguably
ambiguous, the trial judge's initial question to the
foreperson was imprecise, and the judge neither asked for
elaboration of the foreperson's answers nor took any
other measures to confirm the foreperson's prediction
that a unanimous verdict would not be reached”
(internal quotation marks and citations omitted)); see
also Leonard v. Warden, Ohio State Penitentiary, 846
F.3d 832, 841 (6th Cir. 2017); Dewald v.
Wriggelsworth, 748 F.3d 295, 298-99 (6th Cir. 2014);
Bray v. Andrews, 640 F.3d 731, 737-39 (6th Cir.
2011); Phillips v. Bradshaw, ...