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Wooten v. Trierweiler

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

April 17, 2019

JOHN WOOTEN, Petitioner,
v.
TONY TRIERWEILER, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING THE PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS, GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY, AND GRANTING LEAVE TO APPEAL IN FORMA PAUPERIS

          TERRENCE G. BERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         John Wooten, (“petitioner”), confined at the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia, Michigan, seeks the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In his application, filed both pro se and with the assistance of counsel, Benton C. Martin of the Federal Defender's Office, petitioner challenges his conviction for second-degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.317, assault with intent to commit murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.83, one count of felony-firearm, second offense, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b, and one count of felon in possession of a firearm, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.224f. For the reasons stated below, the application for a writ of habeas corpus is DENIED WITH PREJUDICE.

         I. Factual Background

         On August 5, 2011, there was a shooting at a nightclub in Detroit, Michigan. One employee of the club, Alfonso Thomas, was killed, and another, Omar Madison, was shot in the back and injured. Four months later, Petitioner was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, assault with intent to commit murder, and two firearms offenses in connection with the shooting. Petitioner's first trial took place in July, 2012, and ended in a mistrial, which is the subject of petitioner's first claim. Petitioner was convicted at re-trial of the lesser included offense of second-degree murder and guilty as charged on the remaining offenses.

         Petitioner's conviction was affirmed on appeal. People v. Wooten, No. 314315, 2014 WL 2931934 (Mich. Ct. App. June 26, 2014); lv. den. 870 N.W.2d 924 (Mich. 2015) (unpublished table decision).

         Petitioner seeks habeas relief on the following grounds:

I. The state [court's] decision was an objectionably unreasonable application of clearly established federal law where they held that there was no issue in the claim that Judge Callahan correctly ordered a mistrial after the prosecutor [asked] a key witness about the defendant's silence but erred by not finding that the prosecutorial misconduct was intentional and that the mistrial should have been granted with prejudice, barring retrial as the defendant's retrial violated the bar against Double Jeopardy.
II. The state [court's] decision was an objectionably unreasonable application of clearly established law where they held that there was no issue in the claim that the jury verdicts of second-degree murder and assault with intent to murder are based on insufficient evidence and must be overturned.
III. The state [court's] decision was an objectionably unreasonable application of clearly established federal law where they held that there was no issue in the claim that the prosecutor committed misconduct when, during closing argument, he argued that the defendant must be guilty since he did not turn himself in or provide information to law enforcement about his involvement in the crime.
IV. The state [court's] decision was an objectionably unreasonable application of clearly established federal law where they held that there was no issue in the claim that the trial court erred by not granting a mistrial with prejudice, in light of the prosecutor's actions during Defendant Wooten's first trial.
(A) The prosecution is prohibited in its case in chief … from eliciting testimony from a police witness regarding the defendant's pre-arrest silence and/or failure to come forward to explain a claim of self-defense.
(B) Prearrest silence is inadmissible as substantive evidence of guilt and should be disallowed as evidence in the prosecution's proof[s] in mere anticipation of a self-defense claim.
(C) Judge Callahan correctly ordered a mistrial after the prosecutor asked a key witness about the defendant's silence, but erred by not finding that the prosecutorial misconduct was intentional and that the mistrial should have been granted with prejudice, barring retrial as defendant's retrial violated the bar against double jeopardy.

         II. Legal Standard

         Title 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214, imposes the following standard of review for habeas cases:

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 state court decision 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 411.

         A “federal court's collateral review of a state-court decision must be consistent with the respect due state courts in our federal system.” Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003). Thus, the AEDPA “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). 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).

         The Supreme Court has emphasized “that even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable.” Id. at 102. Furthermore, pursuant to section 2254(d), “a habeas court must determine what arguments or theories supported or . . . could have supported, the state court's decision; and then it must ask whether it is possible fairminded jurists could disagree that those arguments or theories are inconsistent with the holding in a prior decision” of the Supreme Court. Id. Habeas relief is not appropriate unless each ground that supported the state-court's decision is examined and found to be unreasonable under the AEDPA. See Wetzel v. Lambert, 565 U.S. 520, 525 (2012). “If this standard is difficult to meet, that is because it was meant to be.” Harrington, 562 U.S. at 102.

         Although 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), as amended by the AEDPA, does not completely bar federal courts from re-litigating claims that have previously been rejected in the state courts, it preserves the authority for a federal court to grant habeas relief only “in cases where there is no possibility fairminded jurists could disagree that the state court's decision conflicts with” the Supreme Court's precedents. Id. Indeed, 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.” Id. at 102-03. A “readiness to attribute error [to a state court] is inconsistent with the presumption that state courts know and follow the law.” Woodford v. Viscotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002). Therefore, to obtain habeas relief in federal court, a state prisoner is required to show that the state-court's rejection of his claim “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.

         A state court's factual determinations are presumed correct on federal habeas review. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). A habeas petitioner may rebut this presumption of correctness only with clear and convincing evidence. Id. Moreover, for claims that were adjudicated on the merits in state court, habeas review is “limited to the record that was before the state court.” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011).

         The Court notes that the Michigan Court of Appeals reviewed and rejected petitioner's first and third claims under a plain error standard on the ground that petitioner failed to preserve the issues as a constitutional claim at the trial court level. The AEDPA deference applies to any underlying plain-error analysis of a procedurally defaulted claim. See Stewart v. Trierweiler, 867 F.3d 633, 638 (6th Cir. 2017).

         III. Discussion

         a. Procedural Default

          Respondent contends that petitioner's first and third claims are procedurally defaulted because he failed to preserve the issues by objecting at the trial court level.

         With regard to petitioner's first claim, defense counsel moved for the court to dismiss the case with prejudice based on the prosecutor's alleged misconduct at the time he moved for a mistrial. Before petitioner's second trial began, defense counsel again asked ...


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