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Bowman v. Winn

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

May 3, 2019

THOMAS WINN, Respondent.


          Hon. Gershwin A. Drain United States District Court Judge.

         Jess William Bowman, (“petitioner”), confined at the Saginaw Correctional Facility in Freeland, Michigan, filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, in which he challenges his conviction for second-degree murder, MCL 750.317, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (felony-firearm), MCL 750.227b. For the reasons that follow, the petition for a writ of habeas corpus is DENIED.

         I. Background

         Petitioner was convicted following a jury trial in the St. Clair County Circuit Court. This Court recites verbatim the relevant facts regarding petitioner's conviction from the Michigan Court of Appeals' opinion, which are presumed correct on habeas review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). See, e.g., Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 413 (6th Cir. 2009):

This case arises out of the murder of Timothy Belisle in front of defendant's mobile home. The dispute arose over glass that broke on the road in front of defendant's mobile home when Belisle was moving an old refrigerator. Defendant's girlfriend, Sarah Gelushia, and Belisle's girlfriend, Jessica Thomas, were also present during the homicide. Defendant's defense at trial was that he shot Belisle in self-defense or in defense of Gelushia.

People v. Bowman, No. 327596, 2016 WL 6127703, at *1 (Mich. Ct. App. Oct. 18, 2016).

         Petitioner's conviction was affirmed on appeal. Id., lv. den. 500 Mich. 983, 893 N.W.2d 630 (2017).

         Petitioner seeks habeas relief on the following grounds:

I. The trial court erred in repeatedly excluding relevant evidence regarding Sarah Gelushia's physical condition and her fear of injury at the hands of Tim Belisle and in doing so violated defendant's right to present a defense.
II. Mr. Bowman was denied his Sixth Amendment right to a fair and impartial trial when the trial judge interfered with the presentation of evidence, questioned Mr. Bowman with hostility and incredulity, belittled defense counsel, and displayed bias through her tone and demeanor.

         II. Standard of Review

         28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), 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 decision of a state court 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 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) (citing Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). 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.” Id. at 103. A habeas petitioner should be denied relief as long as it is within the “realm of possibility” that fairminded jurists could find the state court decision to be reasonable. See Woods v. Etherton, 136 S.Ct. 1149, 1152 (2016).

         The Michigan Court of Appeals reviewed and rejected a portion of petitioner's judicial bias claim under a plain error standard because petitioner failed to preserve a portion of his claim as a constitutional issue at the trial court level. AEDPA deference still applies to any underlying plain-error analysis of a procedurally defaulted claim. See Stewart v. Trierweiler, 867 F.3d 633, 638 (6th Cir. 2017); cert. den. 138 S.Ct. 1998 (2018).[1]

         III. ...

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