United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING THE PETITION FOR WRIT OF
HABEAS CORPUS, DECLINING TO ISSUE A CERTIFICATE OF
APPEALABILITY, AND GRANTING LEAVE TO APPEAL IN FORMA
V. PARKER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Robert Eugene Hardesty (“Petitioner”) has applied
for the writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254.
The habeas petition challenges Petitioner's Wayne County,
Michigan convictions for three counts of first-degree
criminal sexual conduct (“CSC”), Mich. Comp. Laws
§ 750.520b, two counts of second-degree CSC, Mich. Comp.
Laws § 750.520c, two counts of distributing sexually
explicit material to a minor, Mich. Comp. Laws §
722.675, one count of furnishing alcohol to a minor, Mich.
Comp. Laws § 436.1701, and one count of third-degree
child abuse, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.136(b)(5).
Petitioner alleges as grounds for relief that (1) prejudicial
other “bad acts” evidence was introduced at his
trial, (2) there was insufficient evidence to support his
convictions for CSC, and (3) his trial attorney was
argues in an answer to the petition that: Petitioner's
first claim is not cognizable on habeas review, is meritless,
and was reasonably adjudicated by the Michigan Court of
Appeals; there was sufficient evidence to support
Petitioner's CSC convictions, and the state appellate
court's decision was objectively reasonable; Petitioner
cannot demonstrate the factual predicate for his third claim
or that counsel's performance prejudiced his defense, and
the state court's decision was not an unreasonable
application of clearly established federal law. The Court
agrees that Petitioner's claims do not warrant habeas
corpus relief. Accordingly, the Court is denying the
initially was charged with ten counts of first-degree CSC,
three counts of second-degree CSC, two counts of distributing
sexually explicit material, one count of furnishing alcohol
to a minor, and one count of third-degree child abuse. The
charges arose from allegations that Petitioner sexually
abused two girls (LF and DW) and physically abused one boy
(KW) while he was living with the youngsters and their
grandmother, who was his fiancée at the time.
waived his right to a jury trial and was tried before a Wayne
County Circuit Court judge in 2014. The three complainants,
their grandmother, and the officer in charge of the case
testified for the prosecution.
did not testify or present any witnesses. His defense was
that the prosecution had not proved its case and that, at
most, he was guilty of assault and battery as a
lesser-included offense to the child-abuse charge. Defense
counsel implied during his closing argument that the
complainants were not credible because there were
inconsistencies in their testimonies and because they delayed
disclosing the abuse even though they had multiple
opportunities to reveal the abuse to people they could trust.
close of the proofs, the prosecution dismissed two counts of
first-degree CSC because the trial testimony did not support
those counts. The trial court then found Petitioner not
guilty of an additional five counts of first-degree CSC and
one count of second-degree CSC. The court found Petitioner
guilty, as charged, of the remaining three counts of
first-degree CSC, two counts of second-degree CSC, two counts
of distributing sexually explicit material, one count of
furnishing alcohol to a minor, and one count of third-degree
child abuse. On February 21, 2014, the trial court sentenced
Petitioner to prison as follows:
one to two years for each distributing obscene material
conviction, 18 to 40 years for the first two CSC-I
convictions, 25 to 40 years for the remaining CSC-I
conviction, 18 to 40 years for one CSC-II conviction, 1 to 15
years for the other CSC-II conviction, one to two years for
the furnishing alcohol to a minor conviction, and three to
five years for the third-degree child abuse conviction.
People v. Hardesty, No. 320627, 2015 WL 3649049, at
*1 (Mich. Ct. App. June 11, 2015).
appealed as of right, raising the same claims that he has
presented to this Court in his habeas petition. The Michigan
Court of Appeals affirmed his convictions, see id.,
and on March 8, 2016, the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave
to appeal because it was not persuaded to review the issues.
See People v. Hardesty, 875 N.W.2d 217 (Mich. 2016).
filed his pro se habeas corpus petition on October
6, 2016. As noted above, Respondent urges the Court to deny
Standard of Review
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
requires federal habeas petitioners who challenge a matter
“adjudicated on the merits in State court” to
show that the relevant state court “decision” (1)
“was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable
application of, clearly established Federal law, ” or
(2) “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). Deciding whether
a state court's decision “involved” an
unreasonable application of federal law or “was based
on” an unreasonable determination of fact requires the
federal habeas court to “train its attention on the
particular reasons-both legal and factual- why state courts
rejected a state prisoner's federal claims, ”
Hittson v. Chatman, 576 U.S. __, __, 135 S.Ct. 2126,
2126, 192 L.Ed.2d 887 (2015) (GINSBURG, J., concurring in
denial of certiorari), and to give appropriate deference to
that decision, Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86,
101-102, 131 S.Ct. 770, 178 L.Ed.2d 624 (2011).
Wilson v. Sellers, 138 S.Ct. 1188, 1191-92 (2018).
When, as in this case, the last state court to decide a
prisoner's federal claim explains its decision on the
merits in a reasoned opinion, “a federal habeas court
simply reviews the specific reasons given by the state court
and defers to those reasons if they are reasonable.”
Id. at 1192.
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. Rather, that
application must also be unreasonable.” Williams v.
Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 411 (2000).
thus imposes a ‘highly deferential standard for
evaluating state-court rulings,' Lindh v.
Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 333, n. 7 (1997), and
‘demands that state-court decisions be given the
benefit of the doubt,' Woodford v. Visciotti,
537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (per curiam).”
Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010). In fact,
“[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.”
Richter, 562 U.S. at 101 (quoting Yarborough v.
Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). To obtain a writ of
habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must
show that the state court's ruling on his or her 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.
under § 2254(d)(1) is limited to the record that was
before the state court that adjudicated the claim on the
merits.” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170,
181 (2011). “Furthermore, state findings of fact are
presumed to be correct unless the defendant can rebut the
presumption by clear and convincing evidence.” Baze
v. Parker, 371 F.3d 310, 318 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing 28
U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1)).
“Bad Acts” Evidence
alleges that the trial court deprived him of due process and
a fair trial when it permitted the prosecution to elicit
testimony about his other acts of domestic violence and anger
toward the complainants, especially the two female
complainants. This issue was raised at a pretrial hearing
where the prosecutor indicated that she wanted to introduce
evidence that Petitioner used a homemade electrical weapon on
the children and also hit them with closed fists, open hands,
and a belt. (1/10/14 Mot. Hr'g Tr. at 5-6.) The trial
court ruled that the evidence was appropriate and admissible
to explain the complainants' delay in reporting
Petitioner's abuse. Id. at 18.
contends that the evidence also was admitted for other
purposes, such as showing that he was a bad person and had a
propensity for violence. Petitioner also contends that there
was no need for additional evidence of his violence and that
the prejudicial nature of the “bad acts” evidence
outweighed its probative value.
Michigan Court of Appeals concluded on review of
Petitioner's claim that the trial court did not abuse its
discretion by allowing the prosecutor to elicit evidence of
Petitioner's other acts of domestic violence. The court
of appeals stated that the evidence was appropriate and
admissible under Mich. Comp. Laws §
768.27b to show why the children were afraid of
Petitioner and did not report his abusive behavior at an
earlier time. The Michigan Court of Appeals also stated that
the evidence gave the trial court a full and complete picture
of Petitioner's behavioral history so that the court
could view the facts in context. Finally, the court of
appeals stated that the probative value of the evidence was
not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair
Court finds no merit in Petitioner's claim because
“[t]here is no clearly established Supreme Court
precedent which holds that a state violates due process by
permitting propensity evidence in the form of other bad acts
evidence.” Bugh v. Mitchell, 329 F.3d 496, 512
(6th Cir. 2003). Although “the Supreme Court has
addressed whether prior acts testimony is permissible under
the Federal Rules of Evidence, it has not explicitly
addressed the issue in constitutional terms.”
Id. at 513 (internal citations omitted). Thus,
“there is no Supreme Court precedent that the trial
court's decision could be deemed ‘contrary to'
under AEDPA.” Id.
the contention that the evidence was inadmissible under state
law is not a basis for federal habeas corpus relief. The
Supreme Court has made clear that
it is not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine
state-court determinations on state-law questions. In
conducting habeas review, a federal court is limited to
deciding whether a conviction violated the Constitution,
laws, or treaties of the United States.
Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991).
course, “[i]f a ruling is especially egregious and
‘results in a denial of fundamental fairness, it may
violate due process and thus warrant habeas
relief.'” Wilson v. Sheldon, 874 F.3d 470,
475 (6th Cir. 2017) (citations omitted). But state-court
evidentiary rulings do not rise to the level of a due process
violation unless they offend a fundamental principle of
justice. Id. at 475-76. ...