United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER DIRECTING THE CLERK TO AMEND THE
DOCKET, DENYING PETITIONER'S HABEAS PETITIONS [1, 12],
DENYING A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY, AND DENYING LEAVE TO
APPEAL IN FORMA PAUPERIS
STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Anthony Pritchett is confined in a Michigan prison and
petitions the Court for a writ of habeas corpus under 28
U.S.C. § 2254. Pritchett's imprisonment stems from
convictions for second degree murder, in violation of Mich.
Comp. Laws § 750.317; assault with intent to commit
murder, in violation of Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.83; and
possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony
("felony firearm"), in violation of Mich. Comp.
Laws § 750.227b.
initial habeas petition presented four grounds for relief:
(1) there was insufficient evidence to support his
convictions; (2) admission of a witness's prior record
testimony was error; (3) the prosecutor's
cross-examination of Pritchett regarding other, uncharged bad
acts and his argument that Pritchett had an obligation to
present witnesses were prejudicial and required a new trial;
and (4) trial counsel provided ineffective assistance at
sentencing by failing to object when the trial court
sentenced Pritchett to a minimum sentence that was more than
two-thirds of the maximum sentence. See ECF 1.
amended habeas petition presented five additional grounds of
relief: (1) the trial court abused its discretion by denying
his post-conviction motion for relief from judgment and for
an evidentiary hearing; (2) newly-discovered evidence creates
a viable self-defense claim; (3) he was denied effective
assistance of trial counsel; (4) the trial court abused its
discretion and violated Pritchett's confrontation rights
by admitting a witness's prior record testimony; and (5)
he was denied effective assistance of appellate counsel
because counsel failed to raise certain claims in
Pritchett's post-conviction state proceedings. See ECF
claims are procedurally defaulted, not cognizable on habeas
review, or meritless. And the state courts reasonably
adjudicated the merits of some of Pritchett's claims. The
Court will therefore deny Pritchett's habeas petition.
waived his right to a jury trial and instead proceed with a
bench trial in state trial court. People v.
Pritchell,  No. 311052, 2014 WL 688560, at *1 (Mich.
Ct. App. Feb. 20, 2014). The state appellate court summarized
the facts of Pritchett's case. Between August 12 and
August 13, 2011, "five people were shot in the backyard
of a Detroit home." Id. A gunshot to the chest
killed one victim, Tramaine Matlock. Id. The other
four victims-including Devonta Washington-were not fatally
Nine, .45-caliber casings were found in a straight line along
the fence in the backyard. According to testimony at trial,
this evidence supported that there was one shooter, who stood
in one place while firing a .45- caliber gun. [Pritchett],
who was a member of a gang called The Take Over (TTO), was
later arrested and charged with first-degree murder,
second-degree murder, four counts of assault with intent to
murder, a gang membership felony, and felony-firearm. Three
of the assault with intent to murder charges were dismissed
before trial. Washington testified at [Pritchett's]
preliminary examination. However, he did not appear at trial.
Detroit Police Detective Theopolis Williams testified that
police officers were unable to locate Washington to serve him
with a subpoena.
At trial, [Pritchett] raised a claim of self-defense. He
testified that, while he was at a party in August of 2011, a
group of men arrived. Of the men in the group, [Pritchett]
recognized Washington and a man named "Vonte," who
was a member of a rival gang. [Pritchett] testified that he
and the group of men were 10 to 12 feet away from one another
in the backyard when he saw Vonte displaying a rival gang
sign and Washington holding a clip in his hand and reaching
for his pocket. [Pritchett] testified that he believed that
Washington was reaching for a gun, and so he fired his
.45-caliber pistol four times in the direction of Washington.
[Pritchett] was convicted by the trial court of second-degree
murder for the death of Matlock, assault with intent to
murder with respect to Washington, and felony-firearm.
Id. The trial court sentenced Pritchett to the
following terms of imprisonment: (1) eighteen years and nine
months to twenty-five years for the murder conviction; (2) a
concurrent term of ten years and six months to fifteen years
for the assault conviction; and (3) a consecutive term of two
years for the felony-firearm conviction. Id.
counsel, Pritchett appealed his convictions and argued that
(1) the prosecution failed to present sufficient evidence to
sustain his convictions; (2) Washington's testimony from
the preliminary examination was erroneously admitted in
evidence; and (3) the prosecutor committed misconduct by (a)
eliciting evidence of Pritchett's other "bad
acts" and (b) arguing that Pritchett had an obligation
to present witnesses. In a pro se supplemental brief,
Pritchett argued that his trial attorney should have objected
to his minimum sentence for second-degree murder and that the
admission of Washington's testimony from the preliminary
examination violated his right of confrontation. The Michigan
Court of Appeals affirmed Pritchett's convictions in a
per curiam opinion. See Id. And the Michigan Supreme
Court denied leave to appeal. People v. Pritchell,
497 Mich. 868 (2014).
filed his habeas petition on September 14, 2015 and raised
the four claims that he presented to the state courts on
direct review. See ECF 1. He then moved to hold his petition
in abeyance so that he could pursue additional state remedies
for claims not included in his habeas petition. ECF 6. On
November 13, 2015, the Court granted Pritchett's motion,
held his petition in abeyance to allow him to initiate
post-conviction, state-court proceedings, and
administratively closed the case. ECF 7.
subsequently filed a motion for relief from judgment in the
state trial court. He argued that: (1) he was entitled to a
new trial because newly-discovered evidence gave rise to a
viable claim of self-defense; (2) he was denied effective
assistance of counsel by trial counsel's failure to (a)
investigate, locate, and subpoena res gestae witnesses, (b)
request an expert witness on fingerprints and firearms or
ballistics, and (c) object to the prosecution's failure
to provide the defense with potentially exculpatory evidence
from Devonta Washington's Metro PCS account; (3) the
trial court abused its discretion and violated his right of
confrontation when it allowed Washington's testimony from
the preliminary examination to be read into the record; and
(4) appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise
his other claims on appeal. The trial court denied
Pritchett's motion in a reasoned decision. See ECF 15-7
(opinion on Pritchett's motion for relief from judgment
in Wayne County Circuit Court, People v. Pritchell,
appealed the trial court's decision, but the Michigan
Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal for failure to show
that the trial court erred in denying his motion for relief
from judgment. People v. Pritchell, No. 333222
(Mich. Ct. App. Aug. 18, 2016). On May 2, 2017, the Michigan
Supreme Court denied leave to appeal because Pritchett failed
to establish "entitlement to relief under [Michigan
Court Rule] 6.508(D)." People v. Pritchell, 500
Mich. 981 (2017).
18, 2017, Pritchett filed a motion to lift the Court's
stay and an amended petition. ECF 11, 12. The amended
petition raises the four claims that Pritchett presented
during the post-conviction state court proceedings and an
additional claim that the trial court erred by denying his
motion for relief from judgment and his request for an
evidentiary hearing. See ECF 12.
Court reopened the case and directed Respondent to file a
responsive pleading. ECF 13. Respondent filed a response and
argued that Pritchett's claims lack merit, are
procedurally defaulted, are not cognizable on habeas review,
or were rejected by the state courts on reasonable grounds.
ECF 14, PgID 138-40.
Court may not grant habeas relief to a state prisoner unless
his claims were adjudicated on the merits and the state court
adjudication was "contrary to" or resulted in an
"unreasonable application of" clearly established
Supreme Court law. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1).
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) (quoting Williams v. Taylor,
529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)).
state court unreasonably applies Supreme Court precedent not
when its application of precedent is merely "incorrect
or erroneous" but when its application of precedent is
"objectively unreasonable." Wiggins v.
Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520-21 (2003) (internal citations
omitted). "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, 654
federal court reviews only whether a state court's
decision comports with clearly established federal law as
determined by the Supreme Court at the time the state court
renders its decision. Greene v. Fisher, 565 U.S. 34,
38 (2011). A state court need not cite to or be aware of
Supreme Court cases, "so long as neither the reasoning
nor the result of the state-court decision contradicts
them." Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002).
Decisions by lower federal courts "may be instructive in
assessing the reasonableness of a state court's
resolution of an issue." Stewart v. Erwin, 503
F.3d 488, 493 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Williams v.
Bowersox, 340 F.3d 667, 671 (8th Cir. 2003)).
a federal habeas court presumes the correctness of state
court factual determinations. See 28 U.S.C. §
2254(e)(1). A petitioner may successfully rebut the
presumption only by clear and convincing evidence.
Claim One: Insufficient Evidence
first alleges that the prosecution failed to present
sufficient evidence to sustain his convictions. ECF 1, PgID
4. More specifically, Pritchett claims that there was
insufficient evidence to rebut his claim of self-defense. He
contends that the trial court merely relied on the physical
evidence and failed to consider whether he was provoked into
committing the crime, acted in hot blood, or acted in defense
of himself and others. Id. The Michigan Court of
Appeals determined on review of Pritchett's claim that
the evidence was sufficient to establish that Pritchett did
not act in self-defense, that the prosecution met its burden
of proof, and that Pritchett was not entitled to relief on
his claim. ECF 15-10, PgID 606-07.
Clearly Established Federal Law.
Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United
States Constitution "protects the accused against
conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of
every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which he is
charged." In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364
(1970). Accordingly, the Court considers "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." Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307,
318-19 (1979) (emphasis in original) (citation omitted).
"the standard must be applied with explicit reference to
the substantive elements of the criminal offense as defined
by state law." Id. at 324 n.16. Here, Pritchett
does not deny committing the crimes for which he is
incarcerated, however, and he has not alleged that the
prosecution failed to prove the elements of the charged
offenses. Rather, the issue is whether the prosecution
adequately rebutted Pritchett's defense of self-defense.
defendant carries the burden of proving an affirmative
defense; the Government need not prove "the nonexistence
of all affirmative defenses." Smith v. United
States, 568 U.S. 106, 110 (2013) (quoting Patterson
v. New York, 432 U.S. 197, 210 (1977)). The Government
may not shift the burden of proof when an affirmative defense
negates an element of the crime, however. Id. But,
the Government need not overcome an affirmative defense
beyond a reasonable doubt when the proffered defense
"excuses conduct that would otherwise be punishable, but
does not controvert the elements of the offense itself."
Id. (citation and internal marks omitted).
Pritchett seeks to excuse conduct that would otherwise be
punishable- shooting another person. He wants to excuse the
shooting by asserting that he acted in self-defense or
defense of others. His self-defense argument does not warrant
federal habeas relief because,
[a]lthough Michigan law places the burden on prosecutors to
disprove claims of self-defense, see People v.
Dupree, [486 Mich. 693');">486 Mich. 693, 709-10] (Mich. 2010), the
Constitution does not, see Patterson v. New York,
432 U.S. 197, 209-10 (1972); Caldwell v. Russell,
181 F.3d 731, 740 (6th Cir. 1999), abrogated on other
grounds, Mackey v. Dutton, 217 F.3d 399, 406 (6th
Cir. 2000). Accordingly, the prosecution's alleged
failure to prove that [Pritchett] did not act in self-defense
cannot form the basis for the grant of habeas relief. See
Caldwell, 181 F.3d at 740.
Arcaute v. Jackson, No. 18-2308, 2019 WL 2056675, at
*2 (6th Cir. Feb. 12, 2019). In other words,
the due process "sufficient evidence" guarantee
does not implicate affirmative defenses, because proof
supportive of an affirmative defense cannot detract from
proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused had
committed the requisite elements of the crime. See Allen
v. Redman, 858 F.2d 1194, 1196-98 (6th Cir.1988).
Caldwell, 181 F.3d at 740. Pritchett's claim therefore
fails to raise a federal constitutional issue and is not
cognizable on habeas review. See Duffy v. Foltz, 804
F.2d 50, 54 (6th Cir. 1986) (stating that, because the
petitioner's sanity was not an element of the crime under
Michigan law, the petitioner's claim that there was
insufficient proof of sanity did not raise a federal
Pritchett's claim were cognizable here, claims of
insufficient evidence "are subject to two layers of
judicial deference." Coleman v. Johnson, 566
U.S. 650, 651 (2012) (per curiam). First, "it is the
responsibility of the jury-not the court-to decide what
conclusions should be drawn from the evidence admitted at
trial." Id. (quoting Cavazos v. Smith,
565 U.S. 1, 2 (2011) (per curiam)). "And second, on
habeas review, 'a federal court may not overturn a state
court decision rejecting a sufficiency of the evidence
challenge simply because the federal court disagrees with the
state court. The federal court instead may do so only if the
state court decision was ‘objectively
unreasonable.'" Id. (quoting Cavazos, 565
U.S. at 2).
Michigan Court of Appeals concluded on review of
Pritchett's claim that there was sufficient evidence from
which a reasonable fact finder could find that Pritchett did
not act in self-defense. Pritchell, 2014 WL 688560, at *2.
The Court of Appeals pointed out that, under Michigan law,
once a defendant produces some evidence that he acted in
self-defense, "the prosecution bears the burden of
proving that a killing was not done in self-defense."
Id. at *1 (citing Dupree, 486 Mich. at 709- 10). The
Court of Appeals also pointed out that, "to justify the
use of 'deadly force,' a defendant must 'have an
honest and reasonable belief that there is a danger of
[imminent] death' or imminent 'great bodily harm'
and that it is necessary to exercise deadly force to prevent
such harm." Id. (quoting People v.
Guajardo, 300 Mich.App. 26, 35-36 (2013)).
testified at trial that he was scared and feared for his life
when someone named Vonte displayed a rival gang signal and
Washington put his hand in his pocket while holding an
extended clip for a gun in his other hand. ECF 15-4, PgID
448-51. Pritchett further testified that Washington was
affiliated with a gang that did not like Pritchett's
gang. See Id. at 447, 453. The Michigan Court of
Appeals determined that Washington's act of holding a
clip and reaching in his pocket was not sufficient to show
that Pritchett was in imminent danger. Pritchell, 2014 WL
688560, at *2. The Court of Appeals noted that Pritchett did
not see Washington with a gun, the clip was not inside a gun,
and Washington's movements were not accompanied by a
verbal threat. Id. The Court of Appeals opined that
Pritchett could not "manufacture a self-defense theory
from the innocent act of placing a hand in a pocket."
Id. (quoting People v. Squire, 123
Mich.App. 700, 708-709 (1983)).
Court of Appeals went on to say that Pritchett's trial
testimony "was inconsistent with his August 23, 2011,
statement to Detective Theopolis Williams that someone named
'Vonte,' not Washington, held the clip and reached in
his pocket." Id. The Court of Appeals declined
to interfere with the trial court's finding that
Pritchett was not credible. Id. The Court of Appeals
also noted that Pritchett's defense was not consistent
with the physical evidence, which "established that the
shooter stood in one place and fired nine rounds."
Id. Further, "[a]fter the shooting, defendant
fled the scene, discarded the weapon, and did not report the
incident to the police." Id. The Court of
Appeals opined that "the physical evidence and
[Pritchett's] behavior after the shooting [were]
inconsistent with his assertion that he acted in self-defense
based on an honest belief that he was in imminent
danger." Id. (citing People v. Yost,
278 Mich.App. 341, 357 (2008)). The Court of Appeals
concluded that the prosecution carried its burden of proof
and that Pritchett was not entitled to relief. Id.
the reasons given by the state court, a rational trier of
fact could have concluded from the evidence that Pritchett
did not act in self-defense. The state appellate court's
conclusion-that the prosecution met its burden of disproving
Pritchett's defense of self-defense-was ...