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Dale v. Balcarcel

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

August 6, 2019

DONALD DEJUAN DALE, Petitioner,
v.
ERICK BALCARCEL, Respondent,

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING THE PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS AND DECLINING TO ISSUE A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY OR LEAVE TO APPEAL IN FORMA PAUPERIS

          HON. NANCY G. EDMUNDS UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         Donald Dejuan Dale, ("Petitioner"), confined at the Brooks Correctional Facility in Muskegon Heights, Michigan, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In his pro se application, petitioner challenges his convictions for second-degree murder, M.C.L.A. 750.317, and possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony (felony-firearm), M.C.L.A. 750.227b. For the reasons that follow, the petition for writ of habeas corpus is DENIED.

         I. Background

         Petitioner was originally charged with first-degree murder and felony-firearm. On the day scheduled for trial, the prosecutor offered to let petitioner plead guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree murder and guilty as charged to the felony-firearm charge, in exchange for dismissal of the first-degree murder charge. The prosecutor also agreed that petitioner would receive a sentence of fifteen to thirty years on the second-degree murder charge. (Tr. 7/10/13, p. 6)(ECF 22-3, Pg ID 248). Defense counsel indicated that he had discussed the plea and sentence agreement several times with petitioner as well as the evidence against him. Counsel asked petitioner if he wanted to plead guilty. Petitioner initially stated: "No." The judge asked defense counsel if he had informed petitioner that the first-degree murder charge carries a sentence of life without parole. Petitioner acknowledged that counsel had informed him of the penalty. Defense counsel indicated on the record that he believed it was in petitioner's best interest to accept the plea. The judge stated that his courtroom deputy would permit petitioner to speak with his family about the plea offer. (Id., pp. 7-9)(ECF 22-3, Pg ID 249-51).

         After petitioner spoke with his family, he agreed to plead guilty. The terms of the plea and sentence agreement were placed on the record, (/of., pp. 9-10)(ECF 22-3, Pg ID 251-52). The judge questioned petitioner extensively. Petitioner admitted that he had reviewed and signed the guilty plea form. Petitioner indicated he discussed the matter with his counsel and was satisfied with his representation. Petitioner was advised of the penalties for the charges that he would be pleading guilty, as well as the rights he would be giving up by pleading guilty. (Id., pp. 11-15)(ECF 22-3, Pg ID 253-257). In response to a question from the judge, petitioner expressly denied that any threats or coercion had been used to induce his plea. Petitioner said it was his own free will to plead guilty. (Id., p. 15)(ECF 22-3, Pg ID 257). Petitioner admitted to shooting and killing the victim. (Id., pp. 16-17)(ECF 22-3, Pg ID 258-59).

         Petitioner was sentenced on August 5, 2013. Defense counsel asked that petitioner be sentenced in accordance with the sentence agreement, although he acknowledged that petitioner wished to address the court. (Tr. 8/5/13, p. 12)(ECF 22-4, Pg ID 273). Petitioner informed the judge that he wanted to withdraw his plea, informing her that it was never his intent to plead guilty and essentially claimed that his attorney had petitioner's family members pressure him into pleading guilty. Petitioner also claimed he had requested another lawyer from the court on June 25th, after petitioner complained about his counsel's representation, but that the judge denied his request for substitute counsel. (Id., pp. 13-15)(ECF 22-4, Pg ID 274-76). The judge denied petitioner's request to withdraw his plea. (Id., pp. 15-16)(ECF 22-4, Pg ID 276-77). The judge sentenced petitioner to fifteen to thirty years in prison on the second-degree murder charge and two years in prison on the felony-firearm conviction. (Id., pp. 18-19)(ECF 22-4, Pg ID 279-80).

         Petitioner's conviction was affirmed on appeal. People v. Dale, No. 319850 (Mich.Ct.App. March 11, 2014); Iv. den. 496 Mich. 867, 849 N.W.2d 349 (2014).

         Petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, which was held in abeyance to permit petitioner to return to the state courts to exhaust additional claims which had not yet been presented to the state courts.

         Petitioner filed a post-conviction motion for relief from judgment, which was denied. People v. Dale, No. 12-008766-01-FC (Wayne Cty.Cir.Ct., Nov. 15, 2016). The Michigan appellate courts denied petitioner leave to appeal. People v. Dale, No. 338383 (Mich. Ct. App. Sept. 15, 2017); Iv. den. 501 Mich. 1081, 911 N.W.2d 715 (2018).

         This Court subsequently permitted petitioner to reopen his case and to amend his habeas petition. Petitioner seeks habeas relief on the following grounds: (1) petitioner should have been permitted to withdraw his guilty plea because it was coerced by his lawyer and family and petitioner maintained his innocence, (2) petitioner was denied the effective assistance of trial counsel where his counsel failed to investigate the case or contact alibi witnesses, (3) petitioner was denied the effective assistance of appellate counsel, and (4) petitioner's sentencing guidelines were incorrectly scored; trial counsel was ineffective in failing to object.

         II. Standard of Review

         28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) provides that:

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- 06 (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 that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly." Id. at 410-11.

         III. Discussion

         A. Claim #1. The plea withdrawal claim.

         Petitioner first contends that he should have been permitted to withdraw his guilty plea because he was coerced into pleading guilty by his attorney and his family. Petitioner also claims that he should ...


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