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Witherspoon v. Campbell

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

September 30, 2019



          STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III United States District Judge

         Shanon 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.


         Petitioner 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.

         During 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.[1] Id. at 224–226. Smith testified that he thought Petitioner was trying to kill him during the attack.[2] 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.

         Oakland 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.

         Dr. 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.

         Based 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. Id.

         Following 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).


         The 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). Further,

[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 [its] precedent."

Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 15–16 (2003) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405–06 (2000)).

         A state 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 ...

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