United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING HABEAS PETITION ,
DENYING A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY, AND DENYING LEAVE TO
PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS ON APPEAL
STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III United States District Judge
Witherspoon ("Petitioner"), a Michigan Department
of Corrections prisoner, filed a petition for a writ of
habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. ECF 1. A
jury found Petitioner guilty of assault with intent to commit
murder in violation of Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.83. ECF
8-4, PgID 332. Petitioner was sentenced as a fourth-time
habitual felony offender to a term of 25-to-50-years'
imprisonment. ECF 8-5, PgID 349. Petitioner argues that: (1)
his mandatory 25-year minimum sentence violates the
separation of powers by eliminating judicial sentencing
discretion, and (2) his sentence is cruel and unusual in
violation of the Eighth Amendment. ECF 1, PgID 7–8. For
the reasons below, the Court will deny the petition and will
also deny Petitioner a certificate of appealability.
was charged with assault with intent to commit murder. At
trial, Michael Smith testified that on New Year's Eve,
2015, he went to an apartment in Pontiac, Michigan to watch
football with Petitioner and other individuals. ECF 8-4, PgID
211–15. When Petitioner arrived, Smith asked Petitioner
for the ten dollars that Petitioner owed Smith. Id.
the evening Petitioner and Smith smoked crack cocaine
together in the apartment. Id. at 218–19. A
few minutes later, Petitioner pulled a knife from a kitchen
knife block and attacked Smith. Id. at 223–24.
Petitioner stabbed Smith fourteen times in his hand, wrist,
shoulder, abdomen, chin, and above his eye. Id. at
224–226. Smith testified that he thought Petitioner was
trying to kill him during the attack. Id. at 229. Smith
managed to fight back and was able to restrain Petitioner by
wrapping his legs around Petitioner's neck. Id.
at 227–28. Smith spent three days in the hospital
because of his injuries. Id. at 253.
County Sheriff Deputy Charles Piotrowski testified that he
was dispatched to the crime scene. Id. at
276–77. When he arrived, he saw Smith on the floor with
his legs locked around Petitioner. Id. at 278. After
separating Petitioner from Smith, Piotrowski transported
Petitioner to the hospital for medical treatment, and then to
jail. Id. at 280.
Dana Busch, the trauma surgeon who treated Smith, testified
that Smith had multiple stab wounds to his chest, face, back,
and arms. Id. at 287–88. Dr. Busch also
testified that one of the knife wounds penetrated Smith
between his ribs- causing his lung to partially collapse-and
that Smith's heart was directly underneath the wound.
Id. at 289–91.
on the evidence, a jury convicted Petitioner of assault with
intent to commit murder. Id. at 332. The trial court
subsequently sentenced him to 25-to-50 years'
imprisonment. ECF 8-5, PgID 349. Because Petitioner was a
fourth-time habitual felony offender, the trial court was
required to sentence him to a mandatory 25-year minimum term.
his conviction and sentence, Petitioner appealed to the
Michigan Court of Appeals. Petitioner did not challenge his
conviction but raised the same two claims that he presented
in his habeas petition. See People v. Witherspoon, No.
334081, 2018 WL 442216 at *1–2 (Mich. App. Jan. 16,
2018). The court of appeals affirmed his conviction. See
generally, Id. He then appealed to the Michigan
Supreme Court, which denied his application for leave to
appeal. See People v. Witherspoon, 502 Mich. 904 (2018).
Court may not grant habeas relief to a state prisoner unless
his claims were adjudicated in state court on their merits
and the adjudication was "contrary to" or resulted
in an "unreasonable application of" clearly
established Supreme Court law. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1).
[a] state court's decision is "contrary to" . .
. clearly established law if it "applies a rule that
contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court
cases]" or if it "confronts a set of facts that are
materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme]
Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from
Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 15–16 (2003)
(quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362,
court unreasonably applies Supreme Court precedent when its
application of precedent is "objectively
unreasonable." Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510,
520–21 (2003) (internal citations omitted). "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 ...