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Black v. Palmer

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

July 12, 2019

RICARDO BLACK, Petitioner,
CARMEN PALMER, Respondent.



         Petitioner Ricardo Black challenges his guilty-plea-based convictions for kidnapping, assault, and weapons offenses in a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. He says his lawyer overstated the benefits of his plea bargain, his sentence did not measure up to his expectations, and the state courts did not address his claims properly. The record, however, discloses no violations of federal law, so his petition will be denied.


         Black was charged with 15 felonies stemming from an errant drug transaction that occurred in Detroit, Michigan on January 8, 2014. According to the testimony developed at Black's preliminary examination, Sarah Chilcutt and Kelly Lucas went to Black's house on Flanders Street in Detroit and smoked both heroin and crack cocaine. Sarah and Kelly subsequently walked to a house on East Outer Drive where they waited for a friend named Jamie to pick them up. About 4:00 p.m., Black came to the house on East Outer Drive and said that money and drugs totaling $1, 000 were missing from his house. Black told Jamie to leave. Although they denied stealing anything, the petitioner left with Sarah, and Kelly remained at the house.

         Sarah testified that Black forced her to go back to his house on Flanders where he directed her to call someone to bring him $1, 000. She made a phone call but was unable to get the money. Black then tied her up in the basement of his house, hit her twice on the face with his fist, and struck her one time on the head with a pistol.

         Meanwhile, Black's sister brought Kelly to the house on Flanders. Kelly said she saw blood on Sarah's face and clothes. Black and his sister interrogated the two girls about the stolen items. When they professed ignorance, they were allowed to leave.

         At about the same time, Michael Roedding, Kelly's boyfriend, drove to the house on Flanders to pick her up. He was accompanied by his friend, Ed Phillips. When they got to the house, Phillips went to the door and asked for Kelly. Black then came out of the house with a gun in his hand and demanded $1, 000 in return for releasing the girls. When he said that he was there to pick up the girls and did not know anything about the money, Black pointed a gun at his head and followed him back to Roedding's truck. As the two of them reached the truck, Roedding said something from inside the truck, and Black fired his handgun through the passenger window of the truck. Roedding then started to drive away. Phillips caught up with Roedding and entered the truck. They drove off and called 911.

         When the police arrived, Sarah was taken to a hospital, where she was treated for her injuries.

         Aa a result of these events, Black was charged with one count of kidnaping, one count of unlawful imprisonment, two counts of assault with intent to commit murder, two counts of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, three counts of felonious assault, three counts of felon in possession of a firearm, and three counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (felony firearm). Following plea negotiations, on March 28, 2014, he pleaded guilty to one count of kidnaping, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.349, one count of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.84, two counts of felonious assault, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.82, and one count of felony firearm, second offense, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b. In exchange for the guilty pleas, the prosecution agreed to dismiss the remaining ten counts and a notice charging the petitioner with being a fourth habitual offender. In addition, the parties and the trial court agreed that the petitioner's sentence for kidnapping would be fifteen to forty years in prison and that the sentence for felony firearm, second offense, would be a consecutive term of five years. There was no sentencing agreement on the remaining counts.

         On April 15, 2014, the trial court sentenced Black as promised on the kidnapping and felony firearm charges. He received lesser concurrent sentences on the other charges. Six months later, he moved to withdraw his plea on grounds that his plea was involuntary and unknowing and his trial attorney was ineffective. He also alleged that the trial court had erred when it allowed the plea proceeding to continue without ordering substitute counsel or conducting an evidentiary hearing on his allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel. The trial court held oral arguments on Black's motion and denied it after concluding that Black knowingly and voluntarily accepted the plea offer and got exactly what was offered to him.

         Black applied for leave to appeal, arguing that the trial court erred when it denied his motion to withdraw his guilty plea on the basis that his plea was not voluntary and knowing because defense counsel misrepresented the value of the plea bargain; and the trial court erred when it denied his request for an evidentiary hearing and ruled that he had not received ineffective assistance of counsel. Black also moved to remand his case for an evidentiary hearing on his claim about trial counsel. The Michigan Court of Appeals denied the motion to remand and denied leave to appeal for lack of merit in the grounds presented. People v. Black, No. 324956 (Mich. Ct. App. Feb. 12, 2015). Black raised the same claims in the Michigan Supreme Court, which denied leave to appeal because it was not persuaded to review the questions presented to it. People v. Black, 498 Mich. 872; 868 N.W.2d 890 (2015) (table).

         On October 19, 2016, Black filed his habeas corpus petition. He alleges that: (1) the trial court erred when it denied his motion to withdraw his plea; (2) the trial court erred when it ruled that he received effective assistance of counsel; (3) he was entitled to an evidentiary hearing; and (4) he is entitled to a minimum sentence of 10-3/4 years for his kidnaping conviction, based on representations made by his lawyer. Although the respondent asserts that the petitioner did not exhaust state remedies for his fourth claim, none of Black's claims warrant habeas relief, and the Court may deny a petition despite a petitioner's failure to exhaust state remedies. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(2).


         Certain 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). 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) (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. Mere error by the state court will not justify issuance of the writ; rather, the state court's application of federal law “must have been objectively unreasonable.” Wiggins, 539 U.S. at 520-21 (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 409 (2000) (quotation marks omitted)). The AEDPA 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). Moreover, habeas review is “limited to the record that was before the state court.” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 180 (2011).

         The state appellate courts' decisions were rendered in summary orders, not reasoned opinions. Nonetheless, the deference required nby the AEDPA stall must be afforded. “Under [Harrington v. Richter], ‘[w]hen a federal claim has been presented to a state court and the state court has denied relief, it may be presumed that the state court adjudicated the claim on its merits in the absence of any indication or state-law procedural principles to the ...

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