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Reeves v. Jackson

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

July 11, 2019

JAMES A. REEVES, Petitioner,
SHANE JACKSON, Respondent.



         James A. Reeves, a prisoner in the custody of the Michigan Department of Corrections, has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his assault and firearms convictions. The petitioner raises eight claims for relief, all of which were presented to the state court of appeals in direct review. The respondent argues that the petitioner procedurally defaulted the claims regarding jury instructions, prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel and that all of the claims lack merit. Because none of the claims merit the issuance of the writ, the Court will deny the petition.


         A Wayne County, Michigan jury convicted the petitioner for assault and firearms crimes arising from an argument between the petitioner and his cousin. The Michigan Court of Appeals summarized the facts on direct appeal as follows:

This case arises from a July 23, 2013 altercation between defendant and his cousin, Quintin Omar Thornton, at defendant's home in Detroit, Michigan. Thornton first visited defendant's house that morning in an attempt to either borrow or collect $200 from defendant. Defendant was drinking, and Thornton smoked some marijuana. Thornton left defendant's house after staying there for a short time.
Later that day, Thornton returned to defendant's home. Several other people were also present there. Defendant and Thornton continued to argue about the $200 and an allegation that Thornton had inappropriately touched defendant's 10- and 11-year-old stepdaughters. Ravorn Withers, a friend of defendant and Thornton, testified that Thornton was “looking distraught and stressed out” about the earlier argument, but that the situation was “calming down.” As time passed, the argument between defendant and Thornton escalated again. Thornton was “swelling up” and becoming visibly more upset. Defendant displayed a revolver, and Thornton backed down momentarily.[1]
In response to defendant showing him the gun, Thornton said, “You're going to have to use it, ” and told defendant that he was going to “beat his a**.” Defendant responded that he would not fight Thornton, but he would shoot him. Thornton took off one of his shirts in preparation for a fight and told defendant again, “I'm going to beat your a**.” Defendant then fired gunshots at Thornton. Thornton fled the home, and defendant followed him. During the incident, one of defendant's shots struck Deavonte Andrews, a 12-year-old boy who had been coloring with other children on defendant's porch.
Multiple witnesses identified defendant as the shooter and saw him holding a gun after he followed Thornton outside. Thornton failed to appear to testify at defendant's trial. However, the trial court allowed the prosecution to read Thornton's preliminary examination testimony into the record over defense counsel's objection.

People v. Reeves, No. 320218, 2015 WL 7365963, *1 (Mich. Ct. App. Nov. 19, 2015).

         The jury found Reeves guilty of two counts of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.84, intentionally discharging a firearm at a dwelling or potentially occupied structure, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.234b, felon in possession of a firearm, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.224f, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (felony firearm), Mich. Comp Laws § 750.227b. The trial court sentenced the petitioner as a second habitual offender and imposed concurrent prison terms totaling 6 to 15 years on all charges except the felony firearm charge, for which Reeves received a consecutive two-year sentence.

         The petitioner's convictions were affirmed on appeal. Reeves, 2015 WL 7365963, lv. den. 499 Mich. 917 (Mich. 2016).

         Between his appellate lawyer's brief and his own pro se filing, Reeves raised eight claims of error on appeal. He replicated those claims in his petition for habeas corpus as follows:

I. Did the prosecution fail to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that James Reeves did not act in self-defense?
II. Did the trial court err when it failed to instruct the jury sua sponte that Petitioner had no duty to retreat?
III. Did trial counsel perform ineffectively by failing to call a witness to impeach the complainant's credibility and support the self-defense theory and failing to request an instruction?
IV. Did the trial court abuse its discretion when it denied the motion for new trial when trial counsel performed ineffectively when he failed to call an available witness to impeach the complainant, failed to object to irrelevant testimony, and failed to request a jury instruction?
V. Was Petitioner denied his fundamental due process protections to a fair trial as guaranteed under both state and federal constitutions, when the trial court abused its discretion by and through the taking of Petitioner's liberty in a manner inconsistent with due process of law; the result of which resulted in a void judgment?
VI. Was Petitioner denied a fair trial as guaranteed under both federal and state constitutions, when the prosecution failed to insure that Petitioner's due process protections were secured?
VII. Was Petitioner denied a fair trial as guaranteed under both state and federal constitutions, when said counsel abandoned his duty to protect Petitioner's constitutional rights from the misconduct of both the trial court and the prosecution?
VIII. Was Petitioner denied his fundamental protections to a fair criminal proceeding by and through the cumulative effect of error that took place at the hands of the trial court, the prosecution, defense counsel and appellate counsel?

         The respondent opposes the petition on the merits, and also argues that the petitioner's second, third, and sixth claims are procedurally defaulted. The “procedural default” argument is a reference to the rule that the petitioner did not preserve all his claims in the trial court by timely objection, and the state court's denial of those claims on that basis is an adequate and independent ground for the denial of relief under state law, which is not reviewable here. Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750 (1991). It is not necessary to address this procedural question. It “is not a jurisdictional bar to review of the merits, ” Howard v. Bouchard, 405 F.3d 459, 476 (6th Cir. 2005), and “federal courts are not required to address a procedural-default issue before deciding against the petitioner on the merits, ” Hudson v. Jones, 351 F.3d 212, 215 (6th Cir. 2003) (citing Lambrix v. Singletary, 520 U.S. 518, 525 (1997)). The procedural default will not affect the outcome of this case, and it is more efficient to proceed directly to the merits.


         The provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (Apr. 24, 1996), which govern this case, “circumscribe[d]” the standard of review federal courts must apply when considering an application for a writ of habeas corpus raising constitutional claims, including claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. See Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520 (2003). Because the petitioner filed his petition after the AEDPA's effective date, its standard of review applies. Under that statute, if a claim was adjudicated on the merits in state court, a federal court may grant relief only if the state court's adjudication “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 if the adjudication “resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)-(2). “Clearly established Federal law for purposes of § 2254(d)(1) includes only the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme] Court's decisions.” White v. Woodall, 572 U.S. 415, 419 (2014) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). “As a condition for ...

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