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Stevens v. Campbell

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

May 15, 2019

Roland H. Stevens, Petitioner,
v.
Sherman Campbell, Respondent.

          Patricia T. Morris Mag. Judge

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS [1], DENYING A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY, AND DENYING LEAVE TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS ON APPEAL

          JUDITH E. LEVY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Petitioner Roland H. Stevens, a Michigan prisoner, filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. He challenges his state conviction and sentence of seven to twenty years for assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder (“AWIGBH”). He alleges as grounds for relief that (1) there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction for AWIGBH, (2) the prosecutor committed misconduct by bringing multiple charges against him for one criminal transaction, (3) the jury instruction on assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder was improper, and (4) trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request a jury instruction on aggravated assault.

         I. Background

         Stevens was charged with four counts: assault with intent to commit murder, AWIGBH, assault with a dangerous weapon (felonious assault), and first-degree home invasion. See People v. Stevens, 306 Mich.App. 620, 623 n.1 (2014). The Michigan Court of Appeals summarized the evidence at Stevens' jury trial:

Defendant's conviction arises from a stabbing that occurred on March 7, 2012. At the time of the stabbing, the victim, Luther Allbright, lived with two women, Maria Castillo and Sandra Williams. The evening before the stabbing, defendant and Williams went to defendant's apartment, approximately two blocks from Allbright's house. When Williams did not return to Allbright's house, Castillo became concerned, and she and Allbright went to defendant's apartment. After Castillo aggressively knocked on the apartment door, defendant opened the door and punched Castillo, at which time Allbright departed from the building without entering defendant's apartment. Sometime later, Castillo and Williams also departed; but defendant ran after the women and stopped them. Defendant frisked Williams, supposedly looking for possessions he claimed were missing from his apartment.
The following afternoon, defendant went to Allbright's home and a fight ensued. In particular, according to Allbright, defendant entered his home uninvited and asked, “Why did you bring all that drama to my house?” Defendant then punched Allbright in the face, after which defendant wrestled him to the ground. While the two rolled on the ground, defendant stabbed Allbright twice in the left side of his back, once in the right side of his back (puncturing Allbright's lung), and once in his left arm. He then pinned Allbright to the ground and told him, “I'm King Tut, bitch.” Afterward, defendant left Allbright's house, purchased beer at a party store, and returned to his apartment.
At trial, defendant conceded that he brought a knife to Allbright's home and that he stabbed Allbright, but he claimed that he acted in self-defense. According to defendant's version of events, he suffers from several medical conditions, including congestive heart failure. Defendant maintained that, during the fight, Allbright ended up on top of defendant while they were wrestling on the ground and, because of his medical conditions, defendant could not breathe, which prompted him to pull a knife and stab Allbright several times.
The trial court instructed the jury on the theory of self-defense; however, the jury convicted defendant of AWIGBH [Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.84]. The trial court sentenced defendant, as a fourth-offense habitual offender, MCL 769.12, to 7 to 20 years' imprisonment.

Id. at 622-23 (footnote omitted).

         In his direct appeal, Stevens' appointed appellate attorney argued that the trial court erroneously scored twenty points for prior record variable five and that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the score. (Dkt. 10-17 at 16.) Substitute appellate counsel filed a supplemental brief in which he argued that the guilty verdict for AWIGBH was based on insufficient evidence because the evidence did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Stevens did not act in self-defense. (Id. at 82.) The Michigan Court of Appeals addressed all three arguments and affirmed Stevens' conviction. Stevens, 306 Mich.App. at 627 n.5 (ineffective assistance of trial counsel), 627-28 (scoring), 628-31 (sufficiency of the evidence).

         Stevens raised the same three issues in his application for leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court. (Dkt. 10-18 at 3-5, 14.) He also challenged his status as a fourth habitual offender (id. at 6), claimed that he “perjured himself constantly while testifying at trial, ” but neither the trial attorney, judge, or prosecutor stopped him (id. at 15), and raised several new issues concerning his trial attorney, including his failure to object to the jury instruction on aggravated assault. (Id. at 7-15.) On May 28, 2015, the Michigan Supreme Court summarily denied leave to appeal. People v. Stevens, 497 Mich. 1027 (2015).

         Stevens subsequently filed a motion for relief from judgment with the state trial court, arguing that the evidence at trial was insufficient and against the great weight of the evidence to support his AWIGBH conviction and that the prosecutor committed misconduct by bringing multiple charges against him. (Dkt. 10-15 at 2, 4-9.) He asserted a variety of ineffective assistance of trial counsel claims, including the failure to request a jury instruction on the lesser-offense of aggravated assault. (Id. at 2, 10-12.) Finally, he argued that appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise these claims on direct appeal. (Id. at 11.)

         The trial court denied the motion, stating that it was precluded from reviewing his challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence and most of the ineffective assistance of counsel claims because the Court of Appeals had already ruled on those issues. (Dkt. 10-16 at 2-3.) The trial court found that he had not shown “good cause” or “actual prejudice” under Michigan Court Rule 6.508(D)(3) for not raising his ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim on his direct appeal, but it still addressed some of the merits of the ineffective assistance of counsel claim. (Id. at 3. (finding that trial counsel was not ineffective for failing to request the lesser-offense jury instruction because it would have been futile because Stevens was not entitled to such an instruction).) It rejected his ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claims under similar reasoning. (Id. at 3-4.) Stevens did not appeal the denial.

         On June 8, 2016, Stevens filed this habeas corpus petition. (Dkt. 1.) The Court understands his claims to be: (1) the jury's verdict for AWIGBH was against the weight of the evidence and the evidence was insufficient, (2) the prosecutor committed misconduct by bringing multiple charges stemming from one criminal transaction, (3) the jury instruction on AWIGBH was improper, and (4) trial counsel was ...


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