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Brown v. Bauman

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

June 19, 2019

SALATHIEL REZAR BROWN, Petitioner,
v.
CATHERINE S. BAUMAN, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER DENYING THE HABEAS PETITION AND DECLINING TO ISSUE A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY

          AVERN COHN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. Introduction

         This is a habeas case under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner Salathiel Rezar Brown (“Petitioner”) challenges his convictions for second-degree murder, M.C.L. § 750.317, possession of a firearm by a felon, M.C.L. § 750.224f, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (“felony firearm”), M.C.L. § 750.227b. Petitioner claims that his right to due process was violated when a juror (“Juror # 2”) had a brief discussion at a social event with an assistant prosecutor-not on Petitioner's case-and the trial court failed to ask the other jurors about any discussions they may have had with Juror # 2. Petitioner also claims that his trial attorney provided ineffective assistance by not objecting to the trial court's failure to question the jurors regarding any impact the actions of Juror # 2 may have had on them.

         The State argues that Petitioner procedurally defaulted his due process claim and that the state appellate court's adjudication of Petitioner's claims was not contrary to federal law, an unreasonable application of federal law, or an unreasonable determination of the facts. For the reasons stated below, the Court agrees that Petitioner is not entitled to relief. Accordingly, the petition will be denied.

         II. Background

         Petitioner was charged with first-degree murder, felon in possession of a firearm, felony firearm, and two counts of felonious assault. A jury found him not guilty of felonious assault, but guilty of second-degree murder, as a lesser offense of first-degree murder, and guilty, as charged, of felon in possession of a firearm and felony firearm.

         The trial court sentenced Petitioner to a term of 100 years to life for the murder conviction, a concurrent term of three years, four months to five years for the felon-in-possession conviction, and a consecutive term of two years for the felony-firearm conviction. The trial court later modified the sentence for second-degree murder to 100 to 150 years in prison.

         Petitioner appealed as of right, arguing that the trial court violated his right to due process by failing to question the jurors about any taint caused by the actions of Juror # 2. Petitioner also claimed that defense counsel was ineffective for failing to request further questioning. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's convictions in an unpublished decision, see People v. Brown, No. 316648, 2014 WL 4495231 (Mich. Ct. App. Sept. 11, 2014). The Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal. See People v. Brown, 860 N.W.2d 636 (Mich. 2015) (table).

         Petitioner then filed a pro se habeas corpus petition, raising the following claim:

A juror at my trial discussed my case (on an evening during the trial) at a dinner party with a prosecutor (not the prosecutor at my trial). Though the trial court judge dismissed the juror, neither the judge, prosecutor, nor even my lawyer questioned the remaining jurors concerning possible impermissible/prejudicial discussions the ousted juror may have had with the other jury members prior to being ousted.

         Petitioner subsequently acquired counsel who filed an amended petition that added an ineffective assistance claim.

         III. Legal Standards

         A. Standard of Review

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) 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 § 2254(d)(1) permits a federal habeas court to ‘grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court's decisions 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).

         In simple terms, the Supreme Court has said that the standard of review is “difficult to meet” and is a “highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, which demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011) (quoting Harrington, 562 U.S. at 102, and Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (per curiam)). The Supreme Court has further said that a federal court must guard against “using federal habeas corpus review as a vehicle to second-guess the reasonable decisions of state courts.” Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 779 (2010).

         Finally, a federal habeas court must presume the correctness of state court factual determinations. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). A petitioner may rebut this presumption only with clear and convincing evidence. Warren v. Smith, 161 F.3d 358, 360-61 (6th Cir. 1998).

         B. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a habeas petitioner must show that “counsel's performance was deficient” and that “the deficient performance prejudiced the defense.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. The deficient-performance prong “requires showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the ‘counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment.” Id. “[T]he defendant must show that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. Id. at 688.

         The “prejudice” prong “requires showing that counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.” Id. at 687. A defendant must demonstrate “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.” Id. at 694.

In a habeas case, moreover, review of an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim
is “doubly deferential, ” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 190, 131 S.Ct. 1388, 179 L.Ed.2d 557 (2011), because counsel is “strongly presumed to have rendered adequate assistance and made all significant decisions in the exercise of reasonable professional judgment, ” Burt v. Titlow, 571 U.S. __, __, 134 S.Ct. 10, 17, 187 L.Ed.2d 348 (2013) (quoting Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 690, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984); internal quotation marks omitted). In such circumstances, federal courts are to afford “both the state court and the defense attorney the benefit of the doubt.” Burt, supra, supra, at __, 134 S.Ct., at 13.

Woods v. Etherton, 136 S.Ct. 1149, 1151 (2016) (per curiam).

         IV. Analysis

         A. Trial Court's Failure to ...


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