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Wheeler v. Stephenson

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

July 26, 2019

DANIEL WHEELER, Petitioner,
v.
GEORGE STEPHENSON, Respondent.

          OPINION & ORDER (1) DISMISSING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS WITHOUT PREJUDICE (DKT. 1), (2) DENYING A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABLITY, AND (3) GRANTING LEAVE TO PROCEED ON APPEAL IN FORMA PAUPERIS

          MARK A. GOLDSMITH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Daniel Wheeler, a prisoner currently in the custody of the Michigan Department of Corrections, was granted authorization by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to file a successive habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. See In re Daniel W. Wheeler, No. 16-2527 (6th Cir. May 30, 2017). The Sixth Circuit limited this authorization to Petitioner's claim that his life sentence without parole is unconstitutional in light of Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012). Id. at 3.

         On June 27, 2017, Petitioner filed a habeas corpus petition. Respondent filed an answer in opposition, arguing that the petition should be dismissed because Petitioner has not yet exhausted his state court remedies and, alternatively, that the Court should dismiss the petition based upon the Younger abstention doctrine. Also before the Court is Petitioner's motion for final judgment and/or motion to amend (Dkt. 11). The Court holds that Petitioner has not exhausted his state court remedies and dismisses the petition without prejudice.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In 1971, Petitioner was convicted by a Shiawassee County Circuit Court jury of first-degree premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. See People v. Wheeler, No. 126769, 1995 WL 18241408 (Mich. Ct. App. Jan. 9, 1995). Petitioner states that he was seventeen years old at the time of the crime.

         Petitioner did not file a direct appeal. See Wheeler v. Jones, 226 F.3d 656, 657 (6th Cir. 2000). In 1997, he filed a § 2254 petition raising four claims, including a challenge to the trial court's jury instruction. Id. at 658. The district court denied relief, but granted a certificate of appealability on the jury-instruction claim. Id. at 658-659. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district courts denial of habeas corpus relief. Id. at 657.

         Petitioner later sought authorization in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to file a second or successive habeas corpus petition raising these claims: (1) the state circuit court did not have jurisdiction over his case when there was no hearing in the juvenile court to determine whether he should be tried as an adult; (2) his trial counsel and the trial court failed to notify him of his right to appeal his conviction; and (3) he was sentenced to life without parole for a crime committed as a juvenile. See In re Wheeler, No. 16-2527 at 1. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals granted Petitioner's motion for authorization to file a second or successive § 2254 petition only for his third claim - that his life sentence without parole is unconstitutional in light of Miller. Id. at 3.

         Petitioner then filed the pending petition raising the same three claims for which he sought authorization to file a second or successive habeas petition. The Sixth Circuit authorized the filing of a successive petition only for Petitioner's Miller-related claim. This Court lacks jurisdiction over Petitioner's first two claims - that the state court did not have jurisdiction over his case and that the trial court and counsel failed to notify him of his right to appeal the conviction. Burton v. Stewart, 549 U.S. 147, 153 (2007) (where a petitioner does not receive authorization to file a successive habeas petition, a district court lacks jurisdiction to entertain it). These claims are dismissed.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Title 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214, imposes the following standard of review for habeas cases:

         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 proceeding.

         A decision of a state court is “contrary to” clearly established federal law if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by the Supreme Court on a question of law, or if the state court decides a case differently than the Supreme Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-406 (2000). An “unreasonable application” occurs when “a state-court decision unreasonably applies the law of [the Supreme Court] to the facts of a prisoner's case.” Id. at 409. A federal habeas court may not “issue the writ simply because ...


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