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Ward v. Sprader

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

June 14, 2019

SCOTT SPRADER, Respondent.



         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 will dismiss the petition without prejudice for failure to exhaust available state-court remedies.


         I. Factual allegations

         Petitioner James Virgil Ward, III, is incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections at the Alger Correctional Facility (LMF) in Munising, Michigan. On July 12, 2016, Petitioner pleaded nolo contendere in the Ingham County Circuit Court to altering, forging, or falsifying a certificate of title, registration certificate, or registration plate in violation of Mich. Comp. Laws § 257.257. The vehicle at issue was a pickup truck that belonged to Petitioner's deceased father and the forgeries came to light through a probate dispute between Petitioner, on one side, and Petitioner's sister and stepbrother, on the other.

         The Ingham County Circuit Court sentenced Petitioner on August 3, 2016, to 365 days in the Ingham County Jail. (8/3/2016 J. of Sentence, ECF No. 1-1, PageID.79.) Petitioner was credited for the 76 days he was housed in the jail awaiting criminal proceedings. The balance of his sentence was held in abeyance pending completion of 36 months of probation. Petitioner's sentence was bargained for as part of the plea agreement. (MDOC Presentence Investigation Report, ECF No. 1-1, PageID.104.) The parties apparently agreed that Petitioner would serve no jail time going forward, so long as he successfully completed the period of probation.

         In the few weeks following his sentence hearing, Petitioner violated the terms of his probation several times. (MDOC Probation Violation Report, ECF No. 1-1, PageID.116-121.) He continued to have contact with and threaten his stepbrother, he failed to attend required meetings, and he failed to pay assessments as required. On November 14, 2016, the court found Petitioner guilty of contacting his stepbrother, and Petitioner entered a plea of guilty to the other violations. (Probation Violation Hr'g Tr., ECF No. 1-1, PageID.127-143.) The court then sentenced Petitioner to an indeterminate term of imprisonment of 26 to 60 months. (Id., PageID.141-142; 11/14/2016 J. of Sentence, ECF No. 1-1, PageID.77.)

         Petitioner sought resentencing and to withdraw his plea. The trial court denied relief. Petitioner sought leave to appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals and then the Michigan Supreme Court, arguing that the trial court could not impose that sentence based on judge-found facts and that the upward departure from the guidelines maximum minimum-from 17 months to 26 months-resulted in a sentence that violated the principle of proportionality. The Michigan Court of Appeals denied relief on July 7, 2017, for lack of merit in the grounds presented. (Mich. Ct. App. Order, ECF No. 1-1, PageID.183.) The Supreme Court denied relief by order entered January 3, 2018. (Mich. Order, ECF No. 1-1, PageID.185.)

         Before the end of January 2018, Petitioner returned to the trial court. He filed motions collaterally attacking the validity of his plea and sentence. Petitioner's counsel withdrew and the trial court appointed new counsel. The court denied Petitioner's initial collateral attack. Petitioner filed additional motions. In the meantime, Petitioner's new counsel and the prosecutor stipulated to a reissuance of the initial judgment to permit Petitioner to timely present claims challenging his initial nolo contendere plea in the Michigan appellate courts. The trial court reissued the judgment on March 22, 2019. (3/22/2019 J. of Sentence, ECF No. 6-1, PageID.265.)

         Petitioner's counsel has informed Petitioner that she will prepare his new application for leave to appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals within the six-month period permitted under the Michigan Court Rules. (3/22/2019 Corr., ECF No. 6-1, PageID.264.) Nonetheless, on April 2, 2019, Petitioner filed his habeas corpus petition. The petition raises one ground for relief: the trial court judge violated Petitioner's Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights when she used facts neither admitted by Petitioner nor proven beyond a reasonable doubt to enhance Petitioner's sentence. (Pet., ECF No. 1, PageID.6.)

         Petitioner also attached to his petition many of the motions and other documents he filed in the trial court as part of his collateral attacks on his plea and sentence. Those documents raise many additional issues.

         Along with his petition, Petitioner filed a motion to stay these proceedings and hold them in abeyance. To assess the propriety of that relief, the Court ordered Petitioner to amend his petition to state all of the issues he wants to raise in his habeas petition. (Order, ECF No. 5.) In response, Petitioner has sought an extension of the time to file his amendment. (Mot., ECF No. 6.) Petitioner seeks an extension to permit him to exhaust his as yet unidentified claims in the state court first. Thus, Petitioner's motion for an extension is, effectively, a reiteration of his request for a stay.

         II. Exhaustion of State Court Remedies

         Before the Court may grant habeas relief to a state prisoner, the prisoner must exhaust remedies available in the state courts. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1); O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 842 (1999). Exhaustion requires a petitioner to “fairly present” federal claims so that state courts have a “fair opportunity” to apply controlling legal principles to the facts bearing upon a petitioner's constitutional claim. Id. at 844, 848; see also Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275-77 (1971); Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364, 365 (1995); Anderson v. Harless, 459 U.S. 4, 6 (1982). To fulfill the exhaustion requirement, a petitioner must have fairly presented his federal claims to all levels of the state appellate system, including the state's highest court. O'Sullivan, 526 U.S. at 845; Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 414 (6th Cir. 2009); Hafley v. Sowders, 902 F.2d 480, 483 (6th Cir. 1990). The district court can ...

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