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Jones v. Macauley

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

June 4, 2019

JERMAINE LEON JONES, Petitioner,
v.
MATT MACAULEY, Respondent.

          OPINION

          Paul L. Maloney, United States District Judge.

         This is a habeas corpus action brought by a state prisoner under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Promptly after the filing of a petition for habeas corpus, the Court must undertake a preliminary review of the petition to determine whether “it plainly appears from the face of the petition and any exhibits annexed to it that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court.” Rule 4, Rules Governing § 2254 Cases; see 28 U.S.C. § 2243. If so, the petition must be summarily dismissed. Rule 4; see Allen v. Perini, 424 F.2d 134, 141 (6th Cir. 1970) (district court has the duty to “screen out” petitions that lack merit on their face). A dismissal under Rule 4 includes those petitions which raise legally frivolous claims, as well as those containing factual allegations that are palpably incredible or false. Carson v. Burke, 178 F.3d 434, 436-37 (6th Cir. 1999). After undertaking the review required by Rule 4, the Court concludes that the petition must be dismissed because it fails to raise a meritorious federal claim.

         Discussion

         I. Factual allegations

         Petitioner Jermaine Leon Jones is incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections at the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility (IBC) in Ionia, Ionia County, Michigan. Following a jury trial in the Calhoun County Circuit Court, Petitioner was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.316. On July 7, 2016, the court sentenced Petitioner to life imprisonment.

         On April 29, 2019, Petitioner filed his habeas corpus petition. Under Sixth Circuit precedent, the application is deemed filed when handed to prison authorities for mailing to the federal court. Cook v. Stegall, 295 F.3d 517, 521 (6th Cir. 2002). Petitioner signed his application on April 29, 2019. (Pet., ECF No. 1, PageID.14.) The petition was received by the Court on May 2, 2019. The petition raises three grounds for relief, as follows:

I. Insufficient evidence
II. Impartial Jury
III. Ineffective assistance [of] counsel

(Pet., ECF No. 1, PageID.5, 7, 8.)

         The following facts are taken from the introductory section of the Michigan Court of Appeals' opinion denying Petitioner's direct appeal:

Defendant was convicted for the August 9, 2015, shooting of Breon Williams in the Park Hill neighborhood of Battle Creek. On August 8, 2015, defendant went with Jlin Cannon, Dezmen Jones, and Kyle Epps to a local nightclub, where he had a short, unfriendly interaction with Williams. The atmosphere made Epps uncomfortable, and Epps left. Defendant later left the nightclub with Dezmen and Cannon and drove his Chevy Tahoe to Epps's apartment, where he asked Epps if he could borrow Epps's tan Bonneville so that the men could search for Williams unrecognized. Defendant told Epps that he had a gun1 and stated that “it would be one of theirs before it's one of his family members.” Epps allowed defendant to borrow his car, and Cannon drove the four men to the Park Hill neighborhood. Initially, the search for Williams was unsuccessful, so Cannon parked the car and the men sat in the car for 10 to 15 minutes. During this time, defendant said, “If we can't find Breon, we find somebody that's close to him.” When the men resumed their search, Cannon spotted Williams near the sidewalk, leaning over a car and speaking through the passenger-side window. Cannon pulled up to Williams's location, and Dezmen fired five or six shots at Williams from the rear passenger side of Epps's car. Williams died from a single gunshot wound to the chest.
1 Epps testified that defendant told him that he “had a gun” and later stated that “he had a gun in the car . . . .”

People v. Jones, No. 333919, 2017 WL 4699751 (Oct. 19, 2017).

         On appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals, Petitioner raised the same three claims as he presents in his habeas petition. In its unpublished opinion issued on October 19, 2017, the court of appeals denied all appellate grounds and affirmed the conviction. Petitioner sought leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, again raising the claims presented on habeas review. The supreme court denied leave to appeal on May 1, 2018.

         II. AEDPA standard

         This action is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub. L. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (AEDPA). The AEDPA “prevents federal habeas ‘retrials'” and ensures that state court convictions are given effect to the extent possible under the law. Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693-94 (2002). An application for writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person who is incarcerated pursuant to a state conviction cannot be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the adjudication: “(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 upon an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). This standard is “intentionally difficult to meet.” Woods v. Donald, 575 U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015) (internal quotation omitted).

         The AEDPA limits the source of law to cases decided by the United States Supreme Court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). This Court may consider only the holdings, and not the dicta, of the Supreme Court. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000); Bailey v. Mitchell, 271 F.3d 652, 655 (6th Cir. 2001). In determining whether federal law is clearly established, the Court may not consider the decisions of lower federal courts. Lopez v. Smith, 574 U.S. 1, 4 (2014); Marshall v Rodgers, 569 U.S. 58, 64 (2013); Parker v Matthews, 567 U.S. 37, 48-49 (2012); Williams, 529 U.S. at 381-82; Miller v. Straub, 299 F.3d 570, 578-79 (6th Cir. 2002). Moreover, “clearly established Federal law” does not include decisions of the Supreme Court announced after the last adjudication of the merits in state court. Greene v. Fisher, 565 U.S. 34, 37-38 (2011). Thus, the inquiry is limited to an examination of the legal landscape as it would have appeared to the Michigan state courts in light of Supreme Court precedent at the time of the state-court adjudication on the merits. Miller v. Stovall, 742 F.3d 642, 644 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Greene, 565 U.S. at 38).

         A federal habeas court may issue the writ under the “contrary to” clause if the state court applies a rule different from the governing law set forth in the Supreme Court's cases, or if it decides a case differently than the Supreme Court has done on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Bell, 535 U.S. at 694 (citing Williams, 529 U.S. at 405-06). “To satisfy this high bar, a habeas petitioner is required to ‘show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.'” Woods, 135 S.Ct. at 1376 (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011)). In other words, “[w]here the precise contours of the right remain unclear, state courts enjoy broad discretion in their adjudication of a prisoner's claims.” White v. Woodall, 572 U.S. 415, 424 (2014) (internal quotations omitted).

         The AEDPA requires heightened respect for state factual findings. Herbert v. Billy, 160 F.3d 1131, 1134 (6th Cir. 1998). A determination of a factual issue made by a state court is presumed to be correct, and the petitioner has the burden of rebutting the presumption by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Lancaster v. Adams, 324 F.3d 423, 429 (6th Cir. 2003); Bailey, 271 F.3d at 656. This presumption of correctness is accorded to findings of state appellate courts, as well as the trial court. See Sumner v. Mata, 449 U.S. 539, 546 (1981); Smith v. Jago, 888 F.2d 399, 407 n.4 (6th Cir. 1989).

         III. Ground I: Sufficiency of the Evidence

         In his first ground for relief, Petitioner argues that the evidence was insufficient to convict him of first-degree murder. A § 2254 challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence is governed by the standard set forth by the Supreme Court in Jackson v. Virginia,443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979), which is “whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” This standard of review recognizes the trier of fact's responsibility to resolve reasonable conflicts in testimony, to weigh the evidence, and to draw reasonable inferences from basic facts to ultimate facts. Id. Issues of credibility may not be reviewed by the habeas court under this standard. See Herrera v. Collins,506 U.S. 390, 401-02 (1993). Rather, the habeas court is required to examine the evidence supporting ...


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