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Martin v. Rewerts

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

July 12, 2019




         Petitioner Jonathon Lee Martin carjacked a 2005 Pontiac Grand Prix from a mother and her four-year-old son in Detroit on April 10, 2013. He was apprehended that same day and ultimately brought to trial, where a jury convicted him of the offenses. He challenges those convictions in a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, alleging a variety of grounds relating to the identification evidence, an alibi witness, and his lawyer's performance. Finding no merit to his claims, the Court will deny the petition.


         The facts were summarized by the Michigan Court of Appeals in its opinion on direct appeal as follows:

Defendant carjacked a mother and her four-year-old son in the middle of the afternoon outside a dollar store in Detroit. As she returned to her car, which was parked on a side street, the victim saw defendant, who was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, emerge from a nearby vacant building. Defendant then approached defendant (sic), told her “B, you know what it is, ” entered her car, and sat in the driver's seat. The victim handed her money to defendant through the passenger side window, and he ordered her to give him her car keys, which she did. In the process of so doing, the victim was face-to-face with defendant, and saw that he had a black handgun in the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt.
Soon after he committed the carjacking, the police saw defendant - still wearing a black hooded sweatshirt - driving the victim's stolen car, with two passengers. After police attempted to stop the vehicle, defendant and the passengers fled on foot. The police apprehended defendant 10 minutes later, and found a black handgun near the garage where defendant was hiding.

People v. Martin, No. 320937, 2015 WL 4465190, at *1 (Mich. Ct. App. July 21, 2015).

         Two witnesses testified at Martin's trial: the victim and the petitioner himself. The victim identified Martin at a pretrial lineup and in the courtroom. Many facts were furnished by stipulation.

         The Wayne County, Michigan circuit court sitting without a jury found Martin guilty of carjacking, unlawful driving away an automobile, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, and he was sentenced to prison, where he remains.

         The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the petitioner's convictions, ibid., and the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal, People v. Martin, 499 Mich. 857, 873 N.W.2d 584 (2016). The court of appeals reviewed some of Martin's claims under a plain error standard because he failed to preserve the issues as constitutional claims at the trial court level. AEDPA deference applies to those claims here. See Stewart v. Trierweiler, 867 F.3d 633, 638 (6th Cir. 2017).

         The petitioner filed a timely petition in this Court for a writ of habeas corpus, in which he raised the following issues:

I. Mr. Martin was denied his state and federal constitutional right to a fair trial and impartial trial due to the inherent fallibility of the eyewitness identification evidence presented at his trial.
II. Mr. Martin's case was unduly prejudiced by the prosecutor's questioning as to the absence of his alibi witness.
III. There was insufficient evidence for the trier of fact to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant committed [the] crime of car jacking, unlawful driving away of a motor vehicle and felony-firearm due to the fact that because of a actually erroneous stipulation by the parties that the arrest occurred on April 11, 2013 (when in fact according to police reports it actually occurred on April 10, 2013, the same day as the crime) there was thus no prosecution evidence on the record to support the prosecution's claim concerning the factual circumstances of Mr. Martin's arrest.
IV. Defendant's pre-trial line-up was unconstitutional where the totality of circumstances including the victim being allowed to see the video at the scene of the crime, and the fact that a detective called the victim and told her that they had caught the person who robbed-carjacked her, established that the line-up was impermissibly suggestive in violation of defendant's due process rights.
V. Defendant was denied his state and federal constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel under the [S]ixth [A]mendment where (1) counsel failed to object to the identification line-up; and (2) for counsel failing to file a notice of alibi witness or call interview alibi witness.

Pet. at 8, 10, 12, 14, 20, ECF No. 1, PageID.8, 10, 12, 14, 20.

         The respondent filed an answer to the petition arguing that some of Martin's claims are subject to the defense of procedural default. The “procedural default” argument is a reference to the rule that the petitioner did not preserve properly some of his claims in state court, and the state court's ruling on that basis is an adequate and independent ground for the denial of relief. Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750 (1991). The Court finds it unnecessary 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 defense 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 Martin 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 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 error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011).

         The distinction between mere error and an objectively unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent creates a substantially higher threshold for obtaining relief than de novo review. The AEDPA thus imposes a highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, and demands that state-court decisions be “given the benefit of the doubt.” Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010) (finding that the state court's rapid declaration of a mistrial on grounds of jury deadlock was not unreasonable even where “the jury only deliberated for four hours, its notes were arguably ambiguous, the trial judge's initial question to the foreperson was imprecise, and the judge neither asked for elaboration of the foreperson's answers nor took any other measures to confirm the foreperson's prediction that a unanimous verdict would not be reached”) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see also Leonard v. Warden Ohio State Penitentiary, 846 F.3d 832, 841 (6th Cir. 2017); Dewald v. Wriggelsworth, 748 F.3d 295, 298-99 (6th Cir. 2014); Bray v. Andrews, 640 F.3d 731, 737-39 (6th Cir. 2011); Phillips v. Bradshaw, ...

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