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Smith v. Smith

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

September 26, 2019

JOHN EDWARD SMITH, Petitioner,
v.
WILLIE O. SMITH, Respondent.

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

          VICTORIA A. ROBERTS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Petitioner John Edward Smith, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, seeks a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner challenges two larceny convictions on grounds that (1) the trial court abused its discretion by denying his motion to have his arrest declared illegal, (2) his arraignment was unnecessarily delayed, (3) the preliminary examination was untimely, and (4) the prosecutor violated discovery rules, stand-by attorney contributed to the evidentiary error, and the trial court abused its discretion when the evidentiary issue arose. The State filed an answer to the petition in which it urges the Court to deny the petition on grounds that Petitioner’s claims are barred from review or meritless. For the reasons that follow, the Court denies the habeas corpus petition and closes this case.

         I. Background

         A. The Charges, Conviction, Sentence, and Direct Appeal

         In 2013, the Wayne County Prosecutor charged Petitioner with larceny from a person, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.357, and larceny in a building, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.360. The charges arose from allegations that Petitioner brushed against a sixty-seven-year-old man at a casino in Detroit, Michigan, removed a winning slot-machine ticket or voucher from the man’s pocket, cashed the ticket for $450, and left the casino. The victim was playing the slot machines at the time, and he did not realize that the winning ticket had been removed from his shirt pocket until he was ready to leave the casino. He then notified a security officer, and law enforcement authorities were informed of the incident.

         On the following day, Detroit police officer Jeffrey Robert reviewed video surveillance tapes maintained by the casino. He was able to identify Petitioner in the videotape because he was familiar with Petitioner. Officer Robert or his partner subsequently notified Petitioner’s parole officer, who asked Petitioner to report to her office. Petitioner was arrested when he appeared at the parole agent’s office.

         Petitioner represented himself, with the help of standby counsel, at his jury trial in Wayne County Circuit Court. The prosecution witnesses were the victim, Officer Robert, and a video surveillance officer from the casino.

         The victim identified Petitioner at trial as the person who approached him and brushed against him at the casino while he was playing the slot machines on the day in question. Although he did not see Petitioner take the slot machine ticket from his pocket, he claimed that no one else was near him at the time and that he did not leave the machines from the time he put the winning ticket in his shirt pocket until he noticed that it was missing. Officer Robert testified about his role in the investigation, and the casino employee explained how the casino’s surveillance videotape and machine records implicated Petitioner in the larcenies.

         The only defense witness was Petitioner’s former parole officer who testified that her office arrested Petitioner after a police officer called and informed her that Petitioner had engaged in felony behavior. The parole officer admitted that the victim’s age may have been incorrectly reported to her as ninety, but she did not think that the police provided false information. She pointed out that the victim was, in fact, a senior citizen, and even though the police report showed the date of the incident as July 27, the probation-violation-violation report was not necessarily incorrect, because it stated that the incident occurred “on or about July 29th.”

         Petitioner’s defense was that the prosecution had no evidence and that its case was “smoke and mirrors.” He also stated to the jury during closing arguments that his arraignment and preliminary examination were not held in a timely manner and that he was initially accused of intimidating a ninety-year-old man on July 29, but he was actually talking to counselors in the Veterans’ Hospital at the time. The jury deliberated the case for less than thirty minutes and found Petitioner guilty, as charged, of larceny from a person and larceny in a building.

         On March 14, 2014, the trial court sentenced Petitioner as a habitual offender, fourth offense, to concurrent terms of nine to twenty years in prison for the larceny from a person and one to four years in prison for the larceny in a building. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner’s convictions and sentence, see People v. Smith, No. 321099, 2015 WL 4635015 (Mich. Ct. App. Aug. 4, 2015), and on June 28, 2016, the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal. See People v. Smith, 499 Mich. 967; 880 N.W.2d 580 (2016).

         B. The Habeas Petition and the State’s Answer to the Petition

         On January 31, 2017, Petitioner filed his habeas petition. As noted above, the State argues in an answer to the petition that Petitioner’s claims are barred from substantive review or meritless.

         In the habeas context, a procedural default is “a critical failure to comply with state procedural law.” Trest v. Cain, 522 U.S. 87, 89 (1997). Under the doctrine of procedural default, “a federal court will not review the merits of [a state prisoner’s] claims, including constitutional claims, that a state court declined to hear because the prisoner failed to abide by a state procedural rule.” Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1, 9 (2012).

         A procedural default is not a jurisdictional bar to review of the merits of a claim, 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)). Because Petitioner’s claims do not warrant habeas relief, the Court bypasses the procedural-default analysis and proceeds directly to the merits of Petitioner’s claims, using the following standard of review.

         II. Standard of Review

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”) requires habeas petitioners who challenge “a matter ‘adjudicated on the merits in State court’ to show that the relevant state court ‘decision’ (1) ‘was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, ’ or (2) ‘was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceedings.’ ” Wilson v. Sellers, 138 S.Ct. 1188, 1192 (2018) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)). “[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. Rather, that application must also be unreasonable.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 411 (2000). “AEDPA thus imposes a ‘highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, ’ Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 333, n. 7 (1997), and ‘demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt, ’ Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (per curiam).” Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010).

         “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 a writ of habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court’s ruling on his or her 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. Thus, “[o]nly an ‘objectively unreasonable’ mistake, [White v. Woodall, 572 U.S. 415, 419 (2014)], one ‘so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement, ’ slips through the needle’s eye of § 2254.” Saulsberry v. Lee, __ F.3d __,, No. 17-6157, 2019 WL 4126667, at *2 (6th Cir. Aug. 30, 2019) (quoting Richter, 562 U.S. at 103). A state-court’s factual determinations, moreover, are presumed correct on federal habeas review, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1), and review is “limited to the record that was before the state court.” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011).

         III. Analysis

         A. Petitioner’s State-Court Motion to Declare his Arrest Illegal

         Petitioner’s first claim alleges that the state trial court abused its discretion and violated his constitutional rights by failing to examine evidence that he presented to the court in a pretrial motion to declare his arrest illegal. Petitioner argued at a hearing on his motion that the Detroit Police Department provided his parole officer with erroneous information that the Department had probable cause to arrest Petitioner.

         According to Petitioner, Officer Robert falsely informed Petitioner’s parole officer that Petitioner intimidated an elderly man and took money from the man without the man’s permission on July 29, 2013. The police arrest report, however, states that Petitioner was arrested for a larceny that occurred at a casino on July 27, 2013. Petitioner maintained at the hearing on his pretrial motion that, after he informed his parole officer he had an alibi for July 29, 2013, the prosecution modified the charging document to state that the larcenies occurred on July 27, 2013. See 2/14/14 Mot. Tr. at 3-6. The trial court denied Petitioner’s motion to declare his arrest illegal because Petitioner’s alibi argument and the legitimacy of the charges were matters for the jury to decide. Id. at 5-6.

         Petitioner contends in his habeas petition that the trial court failed to conduct an objective review of the evidence at the motion hearing, and if the trial court had reviewed the evidence, it would have noticed that Officer Jeffrey Robert made false statements to his probation officer to establish probable cause to arrest Petitioner without a warrant. The Michigan Court of Appeals found no merit in Petitioner’s argument because, in its opinion, Officer Robert had probable cause to arrest Petitioner.

         1. Clearly Established Federal Law

         “The Supreme Court has made clear that the Fourth Amendment requires probable cause to arrest, ” Evans v. Etowah, Tenn., 312 F. App’x 767, 771 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 91 (1964)), but a state prisoner is not entitled to review of a Fourth Amendment claim if he had an opportunity for “full and fair consideration” or “full and fair litigation” of his claim in state court. Stone v. Powell, 428 U.S. 465, 489, 494 (1976). “[T]he Powell “opportunity for full and fair consideration” means an available avenue for the prisoner to present his claim to the state courts, not an inquiry into the adequacy of the procedure actually used to resolve that particular claim.” Good v. Berghuis, 729 F.3d 636, 639 (6th Cir. 2013).

         Petitioner raised his Fourth Amendment claim in a state-court motion to declare his arrest illegal and to suppress evidence. See Defendant’s Mot. to Have Arrest Declared Illegal and Evidence Suppressed (ECF No. 1, PageID. 147). Petitioner also raised his Fourth Amendment claim on appeal. The presentation of his claim to the state courts “suffices to preclude review of the claim through a habeas corpus petition under Stone v. Powell.” Good, 729 F.3d at 640; see also Rashad v. Lafler, 675 F.3d 564, 570 (6th Cir. 2012) ...


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