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Noble v. Jackson

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

August 22, 2019

MARVIN NOBLE, Petitioner,
SHANE JACKSON, Respondent.



         On December 12, 2018, Petitioner Marvin Noble, a prisoner incarcerated in Earnest C. Brooks Correctional Facility in Muskegon Heights, Michigan, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. ECF 1. Petitioner challenges his conviction for first-degree murder, in violation of Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.316; carrying a concealed weapon, in violation of Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227; being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.224f; and felony firearm, in violation of Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b; and his sentence as a fourth-offense habitual offender, pursuant to Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.12. For the reasons below, the Court will deny the petition.


         Petitioner was convicted following a jury trial in the Wayne County Circuit Court. The Court adopts the relevant facts relied upon by the Michigan Court of Appeals, which are presumed correct on habeas review. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 413 (6th Cir. 2009). Petitioner's convictions were based on the August 5, 2013, "shooting death of Dennis Washington" in Detroit. People v. Noble, No. 324885, 2016 WL 7333323, at * 1 (Mich. Ct. App. Dec. 15, 2016). At trial, the Government presented evidence that Petitioner had previously sold drugs to Washington and that, on August 5, 2013, Petitioner's romantic partner, Joanna Smith, "dropped [Petitioner] off at a Rite Aid store in her black Impala," Petitioner beckoned Washington to an alley, Petitioner shot Washington point-blank in the head, and then Petitioner "called Smith for help to escape from the scene." Id. at *2. Petitioner was convicted, and his conviction was affirmed on direct appeal. Id.

         Petitioner filed a post-conviction motion for relief from judgment, which was denied. People v. Noble, No. 14-000744-01-FC (Third Jud. Cir. Ct., Oct. 19, 2017). The Michigan appellate courts denied Petitioner leave to appeal. People v. Noble, No. 341415 (Mich. Ct. App. Feb. 9, 2018); lv. den. 503 Mich. 879 (2018). Petitioner now seeks habeas relief on nine grounds.


         The Court cannot grant an application for a writ of habeas corpus on a claim "that was adjudicated on the merits" in a state court "unless" the state court proceeding resulted in a decision that was (1) "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States," or (2) "based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented" in state court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

         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 411.

         "A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as 'fairminded jurists could disagree' on the correctness of the state court's decision." Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011) (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). To obtain habeas relief in federal court, a state prisoner is therefore required to show that the state court's rejection of his claim "was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement." Id. at 103. A petition should be denied if it is within the "realm of possibility" that fairminded jurists could find the state court decision reasonable. See Woods v. Etherton, 136 S.Ct. 1149, 1152 (2016).


         I. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         Petitioner claims that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction. It is beyond question that "the Due Process Clause protects the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which he is charged." In Re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364 (1970). When reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence to support a criminal conviction, the Court must determine "whether the record evidence could reasonably support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318 (1979). "[T]he relevant question is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. at 318-19 (internal citation omitted) (emphasis in the original).

         When making its sufficiency determination, the Court must give circumstantial evidence the same weight as direct evidence. See United States v. Farley, 2 F.3d 645, 650 (6th Cir. 1993). "Circumstantial evidence alone is sufficient to sustain a conviction and such evidence need not remove every reasonable hypothesis except that of guilt." United States v. Kelley, 461 F.3d 817, 825 (6th Cir. 2006) (internal quotation omitted). Moreover, "[c]ircumstantial evidence is not only sufficient, but may also be more certain, satisfying and persuasive than direct evidence." Desert Palace, Inc. v. Costa, 539 U.S. 90, 100 (2003) (quoting Rogers v. Missouri Pacific R. Co., 352 U.S. 500, 508 n.17 (1957)).

         A federal habeas court "may not overturn a state court decision rejecting a sufficiency of the evidence challenge simply because the federal court disagrees with the state court[.]" Cavazos v. Smith, 565 U.S. 1, 2 (2011). Instead, a federal court may grant habeas relief "only if the state court decision was 'objectively unreasonable.'" Id. (citation omitted). Judges must therefore sometimes uphold "convictions that they believe to be mistaken." Id. Indeed, a federal habeas court may only overturn a state court's finding that the evidence was sufficient if the state court's finding was "so insupportable as to fall below the threshold of bare rationality." Coleman v. Johnson, 566 U.S. 650, 656 (2012). A state court's determination that the evidence does not fall below that threshold is entitled to "considerable deference under AEDPA." Id.

         Finally, on habeas review, a federal court does not reweigh the evidence or redetermine the credibility of the witnesses whose demeanor was observed at trial. Marshall v. Lonberger, 459 U.S. 422, 434 (1983). "It is the province of the factfinder . . . to weigh the probative value of the evidence and resolve any conflicts in the testimony." Neal v. Morris, 972 F.2d 675, 679 (6th Cir. 1992). A habeas court therefore must defer to the fact finder for its "assessment of the credibility of witnesses." Matthews v. Abramajtys, 319 F.3d 780, 788 (6th Cir. 2003).

         A. Premeditation

         Petitioner's primary claim is that there was insufficient evidence of premeditation and deliberation to sustain his first-degree murder conviction. The Michigan Court of Appeals rejected Petitioner's claim. See People v. Noble, 2016 WL 7333323, at *2.

         To convict a defendant of first-degree murder in Michigan, the state must prove that a defendant's intentional killing of another was deliberated and premeditated. See Scott v. Elo, 302 F.3d 598, 602 (6th Cir. 2002) (citing People v. Schollaert, 194 Mich.App. 158, 170 (1992)). "The elements of premeditation and deliberation may be inferred from the circumstances surrounding the killing. Premeditation may be established through evidence of the following factors:" (1) the parties' prior relationship, (2) "the defendant's actions before the killing," (3) the circumstances surrounding the killing, and (4) the defendant's actions after the killing. Johnson v. Hofbauer, 159 F.Supp.2d 582, 596 (E.D. Mich. 2001) (citing People v. Anderson, 209 Mich.App. 527, 537 (1995)).

         Although the minimum time required under Michigan law to premeditate "is incapable of exact determination, the interval between initial thought and ultimate action should be long enough to afford a reasonable man time to subject the nature of his response to a 'second look.'" Williams v. Jones, 231 F.Supp.2d 586, 594-95 (E.D. Mich. 2002) (quoting People v. Vail, 393 Mich. 460, 469 (1975), overruled on other grounds by People v. Graves, 458 Mich. 476 (1998)). "A few seconds between the antagonistic action between the defendant and the victim and the defendant's decision to murder the victim may be sufficient to create a jury question on the issue of premeditation." Alder v. Burt, 240 F.Supp.2d 651, 663 (E.D. Mich. 2003). "[A]n opportunity for a 'second look' may be merely seconds, minutes, or hours or more, depending upon the totality of the circumstances surrounding the killing." Johnson, 159 F.Supp.2d at 596 (quoting People v. Berthiaume, 59 Mich.App. 451, 456 (1975)). "Premeditation may be inferred from . . . the type of weapon used and the location of the wounds inflicted." People v. Berry, 198 Mich.App. 123, 128 (1993). For intent, the fact that a defendant used a lethal weapon "will support an inference of an intent to kill." Johnson, 159 F.Supp.2d at 596 (citing People v. Turner, 62 Mich.App. 467, 470 (1975)). Finally, both "premeditation and intent to kill may be inferred from circumstantial evidence." DeLisle v. Rivers, 161 F.3d 370, 389 (6th Cir. 1998).

         Here, there was sufficient evidence for a rational trier of fact to conclude that Petitioner acted with premeditation and deliberation when he shot the victim. The evidence demonstrated that Petitioner shot the victim in the head at close range. Under Michigan law, "deliberation and premeditation may logically be inferred from . . . wounds inflicted upon vital parts" the victim's body. See Lundberg v. Buchkoe, 338 F.2d 62, 69 (6th Cir. 1964). Evidence that the victim had been shot in the head at close range supports a finding of premeditation. See Thomas v. McKee, 571 Fed.Appx. 403, 407 (6th Cir. 2014).

         The Government presented evidence that Petitioner called the victim over to an alley and that he was "casing the area," which, as the Michigan Court of Appeals noted, provided Petitioner enough time to "take a second look." See People v. Noble, 2016 WL 7333323, at *2. And Petitioner fled the scene afterwards, which further supports a finding of premeditation. See, e.g., Moore v. Stewart, No. 15-cv-10613, 2017 WL 2984152 (E.D. Mich. 2017) (citing Marsack v. Howes, 300 F.Supp.2d 483, 492 (E.D. Mich. 2004)). The Michigan Court of Appeals's rejection of Petitioner's insufficiency of evidence claim did not result "in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of Jackson." Durr v. Mitchell, 487 F.3d 423, 448 (6th Cir. 2007). Petitioner is therefore not entitled to relief on his challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence regarding premeditation.

         B. Identity

         Petitioner also argues that there was insufficient evidence to establish his identity as the shooter.

         The "[i]dentity of a defendant can be inferred through circumstantial evidence." See Dell v. Straub,194 F.Supp.2d 629, 648 (E.D. Mich. 2002). Eyewitness identification is not ...

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