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Gonser v. Brewer

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

June 11, 2019

CRAIG HAMILTON GONSER, Petitioner,
v.
SHAWN BREWER, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS AND DENYING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY

          GERSHWIN A. DRAIN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         Petitioner, Craig Hamilton Gonser, has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner is incarcerated at the Parnall Correctional Facility in Jackson, Michigan. Through counsel, he challenges his convictions for one count of attempted gross indecency, Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 750.92 and 750.338b, and one count of indecent exposure, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.335a. Respondent, through the Attorney General's Office, has filed an answer in opposition to the petition. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies the petition and denies a certificate of appealability.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Petitioner's convictions stem from a 2004 incident involving his young daughter. The Michigan Court of Appeals described the underlying facts, which are presumed to be correct on habeas review, see 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 413 (6th Cir. 2009), as follows:

Defendant's ex-wife testified that she came home from work early to discover defendant sitting at the computer with their twenty-month old daughter standing next to him and looking directly at him. She testified that the computer screen displayed a picture of a fully nude woman. Upon hearing her gasp, defendant stood up and turned around, allowing her to observe that he was naked from the waist down. Defendant said, “I'm playing with it, do you mind?” A bottle of personal lubricant was on the desk. She testified that defendant had previously used this brand of lubricant to masturbate.

People v. Gonser, No. 298252, 2012 WL 1697338, at *1 (Mich. Ct. App. May 15, 2012). Following a one-day trial, the jury acquitted Petitioner of gross indecency and convicted him on one count of attempted gross indecency and one count of indecent exposure. Prior to sentencing, Petitioner entered a plea of no contest to the sentence enhancement of being a sexually delinquent person, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.10a. On April 15, 2010, the Court sentenced Petitioner to 365 days for the attempted gross indecency conviction and a term of 10 to 25 years for the indecent exposure conviction and sexually delinquent person plea.

         Thereafter, Petitioner filed an appeal of right in the Michigan Court of Appeals, raising the following claims:

i. The trial court denied him a fair trial where it allowed impermissible hearsay;
ii. The conviction for gross indecency should be vacated because of insufficient evidence and because the statute is unconstitutionally vague as applied; and
iii. The trial court impermissibly deviated from the sentencing guidelines on the basis of inaccurate information.

         The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction. Gonser, 2012 WL 1697338. Petitioner filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court, raising the same claims raised in the Michigan Court of Appeals. The Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal. People v. Gonser, 493 Mich. 901 (2012). Petitioner then filed a motion for relief from judgment, raising the following claims:

i. Petitioner's plea was invalid because it was induced upon an illusory bargain;
ii. He was denied due process because of prosecutorial misconduct during the plea and sentencing proceedings;
iii. Trial counsel was ineffective; and
iv. Appellate counsel was ineffective.

         The trial court denied the motion. (ECF No. 5-26.)

         Petitioner next filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals, which the Court denied for failure to establish entitlement to relief under Michigan Court Rule 6.508(D). (ECF No. 5-31.) The Michigan Supreme Court likewise denied relief. People v. Gonser, 499 Mich. 854 (2016). Petitioner then filed the instant petition for habeas relief, raising the following claims:

i. Petitioner was denied due process because there was insufficient evidence to convict and an improper jury instruction;
ii. Petitioner was convicted under an unconstitutionally vague statute;
iii. The trial court applied improper standards of review and abused its discretion with unreasonable application of established law;
iv. Appellate counsel was constitutionally ineffective;
v. Petitioner's plea was invalid because it was induced upon an illusory bargain;
vi. Petitioner was denied due process because of prosecutorial misconduct during the plea and sentencing proceedings; and
vii. Trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective.

         The Court will address each claim of error in turn.

         II. STANDARD

         The petitioner's claims are reviewed against the standards established by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (“AEDPA”). The AEDPA provides:

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 proceedings.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

         “A state court's decision is ‘contrary to' . . . clearly established law if it ‘applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court cases]' or if it ‘confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme] Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [this] precedent.'” Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 15-16 (2003) (per curiam) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)). “[T]he ‘unreasonable application' prong of the statute permits a federal habeas court to ‘grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts' of petitioner's case.” Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520 (2003) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 413). However, “[i]n order for a federal court find a state court's application of [Supreme Court] precedent ‘unreasonable,' the state court's decision must have been more than incorrect or erroneous. The state court's application must have been ‘objectively unreasonable.'” Wiggins, 539 U.S. at 520-21 (citations omitted); see also Williams, 529 U.S. at 409. “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), quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004). Put another way,

Section 2254(d) reflects the view that habeas corpus is a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal . . . . As a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an ...

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