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Caston v. Braman

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

May 2, 2019

MELINDA K. BRAMAN, Respondent.



         This matter has come before the Court on petitioner Samuel Dreall Caston's petition for the writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The pro se petition challenges petitioner's convictions for felonious assault, Mich. Comp. Laws §750.82, possession of marijuana, second offense, Mich. Comp. Laws, § 333.7403(2)(d); Mich. Comp. Laws § 333.7413(2), and domestic violence, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.812. The convictions arose from an altercation between petitioner and his former girlfriend, LaShawna Hubbard, in 2014. Petitioner's sole ground for habeas relief is that the trial court erred when it ruled that Hubbard was unavailable at trial and that the prosecutor could admit in evidence Hubbard's testimony from petitioner's preliminary examination.

         The State asserts in an answer to the petition that petitioner's claim is procedurally defaulted and that most of his claim is not cognizable on habeas review. The State also contends that the state appellate court's decision was reasonable and not contrary to Supreme Court precedent.

         The Court agrees that petitioner's claim does not warrant habeas corpus relief. Accordingly, the petition will be denied.

         I. Background

         Petitioner waived his right to a jury and was tried before a circuit court judge in Oakland County, Michigan on March 23, 2015. The Michigan Court of Appeals summarized the trial proceedings and facts as follows:

This appeal arises from an incident which occurred between defendant and his then girlfriend, LaShawna Hubbard, at an apartment complex in Oak Park, Michigan. At 9:00 p.m. that evening, a resident of the apartment complex heard an altercation between a man and a woman outside of her apartment, prompting the resident to telephone the police. When Oak Park Public Safety officer Anthony Carignan first arrived at the apartment complex he heard Hubbard screaming, “[h]e just assaulted me.” Hubbard was seen running from a silver Mercedes, and as the vehicle attempted to drive out of the parking lot of the apartment building, Officer Carignan positioned his police vehicle at a slant so the Mercedes could not leave the parking lot. When ordered by Officer Carignan to keep his hands on the steering wheel of the Mercedes, defendant screamed out, “[m]y hands are right here mother f* * * * * * n* * * *.”[1] Describing defendant as “belligerent and argumentative and yelling [, ]” Officer Carignan also noted that Hubbard was “very upset and distraught and screaming.” When Oak Park Public Safety officer Donald Hoffman arrived at the apartment complex, Hubbard told him that she and defendant had had an altercation, and according to Officer Hoffman, Hubbard gave the following recitation of the relevant events:
She told me that [defendant] came over to [his] sister's house-his sister's house to pick her up. [Defendant] was carrying a baseball bat with him, a miniature baseball bat and she didn't want to go with him. Instead of getting assaulted she decided that she would just go with [defendant] and she told me that she got in the car, they drove around to one of the side parking lots, he hit her with an open-hand, so slapped her in the face, and then after that she told me that she-he specifically told her he was going in to the parking lot to fight her. So, they pulled into a parking lot nearby where he struck her again with a closed fist this time and then he open-hand- slapped her again actually, there was a couple times where he hit her and then he got out of the car, exited the car with the baseball in-bat in hand, and when he went up to swing at her she said that she lifted her right leg up like to kind of block the strike of the baseball bat and he hit her twice with the baseball bat in her right leg. Then [defendant]-I guess he saw the police lights and sirens and threw the baseball bat. She exited the car and he got in the car and took off and that's when she ran into the field and that's when I arrived.
Officers retrieved Hubbard's cellphone that defendant had taken from her as well as the baseball bat defendant allegedly wielded during the assault. Photographs of Hubbard and more specifically, her knee, were admitted into evidence at trial with testimony from Officer Hoffman noting that Hubbard incurred “slight bruising” to her knee but that he did not see any “obvious injuries[ ]” to her face. Officer Hoffman also recalled that Hubbard told him that she was scared for her life and that she had not wanted to go anywhere with defendant.
When Officer Carignan performed a consent search of defendant's vehicle following defendant's arrest, the search yielded two bags of suspected marijuana which subsequent testing confirmed to be marijuana. Defendant told Officer Carignan that he and Hubbard had argued, but defendant denied assaulting Hubbard. In a later statement to police, defendant reiterated that he did not assault Hubbard, denied possessing the baseball bat, but he did admit to possessing marijuana. At the close of the prosecution's case, the prosecutor requested that the trial court admit Hubbard's preliminary examination testimony pursuant to MRE 804(b)(1) and MRE 804(b)(6) as Hubbard was an unavailable witness as contemplated by MRE 804(a)(5). Following defense counsel's responding arguments, the trial court ultimately determined that Hubbard's preliminary examination testimony would be admitted into evidence.

         Following the close of proofs, the trial court issued a ruling from the bench holding, in pertinent part:

The Court has-recognizes and finds beyond a reasonable doubt that the victim and the defendant had a dating relationship or a romantic relationship. And, the Court finds from the testimony of the victim that there was a fight going on between the two of them over a phone, over suspected cheating, and that the defendant did put the victim in fear. She felt threatened. Whether he actually pulled her into the car or she walked on her own, it was clear that the defendant's sister did not want them to remain. And, it was clear from the victim's testimony that she didn't want to have a scene out front of the defendant's sister's home, so she did get into the car. And, then the Court did find based on the testimony of the victim and the officers that the defendant did pull over into a different spot, got out of the car, and with a bat intentionally struck the victim two times in the legs. And, yes the injury wasn't terribly serious but it could have been if the police had not been called.
The Court also finds very-it weighs heavily on the Court that the victim, the testimony was, that she was slightly over five feet. The Court takes judicial notice that the defendant is larger than five feet. So, she was in a vulnerable position to feel threatened by the size of the defendant and knowing that he had a bat....

People v. Caston, No. 327623, 2016 WL 6992179, at *1-*2 (Mich. Ct. App. Nov. 29, 2016) (alterations and footnote in original).

         Petitioner did not testify or present any witnesses. His defense was that he argued with Hubbard, but did not hit her. He also maintained that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over him and that he was not guilty of anything.

         The trial court found petitioner guilty, as charged, of felonious assault, possession of marijuana, and domestic violence. On April 29, 2015, the trial court sentenced petitioner as a fourth habitual offender to concurrent terms of two to fifteen years in prison for the felonious assault, 163 days in jail for possession of marijuana, second offense, and 93 days in jail for domestic violence, with jail credit of 163 days for each of the three offenses.[2]

         Petitioner raised his current claim in the Michigan Court of Appeals in an appeal as of right. The Court of Appeals affirmed his convictions and sentences, see Caston, 2016 WL 6992179, and on May 31, 2017, the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal because it was not persuaded to review the issue. See People v. Caston, 500 Mich. 1002; 895 N.W.2d 520 (2017). On August 16, 2017, petitioner filed his habeas corpus petition.

         II. Standard of Review

         “The statutory authority of federal courts to issue habeas corpus relief for persons in state custody is provided by 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA).” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 97 (2011). Pursuant to § 2254, the Court may not grant a state prisoner's application for the writ of habeas corpus unless the state court's adjudication of the prisoner's claims on the merits

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the ...

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