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Stocks v. Nagy

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

October 16, 2019

STEPHEN A. STOCKS, Petitioner,
v.
NOAH NAGY, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS AND DECLINING TO ISSUE A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY

          AVERN COHN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         This is a habeas case under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner Stephen A. Stocks, proceeding pro se, challenges his sentence of fifteen to thirty years for one count of unarmed robbery, M.C.L. § 750.530. Petitioner contends that the trial court relied on inaccurate information and engaged in judicial fact-finding at his sentencing and that his trial attorney was ineffective for failing to object to the scoring of two offense variables. Respondent contends that the petition should be denied because the scoring of state sentencing guidelines is a non-cognizable question of state law and because Petitioner was not prejudiced by any constitutional error. For the reasons that follow, the petition will be denied.

         II. Background

         The charge against Petitioner arose from an incident in St. Clair County, Michigan on August 25, 2013. Petitioner approached a 91-year-old woman in the parking lot of a supermarket and grabbed the woman's purse. In the process, both Petitioner and the victim fell down. The victim broke her hip; Petitioner was able to jump up and run away. The police were called and one of Petitioner's acquaintances identified Petitioner as the suspect. Petitioner was arrested the next day and acknowledged his guilt to the police in a written statement.

         On November 12, 2013, Petitioner pleaded guilty as charged to unarmed robbery. There was no plea agreement. The trial court sentenced Petitioner as a fourth habitual offender to a term of fifteen to thirty years in prison.

         Petitioner subsequently filed a motion to correct an invalid sentence and for re-sentencing on the basis that offense variables 10 and 13 of the state sentencing guidelines were improperly scored. The prosecutor conceded that offense variable 13 was improperly scored, and, following an evidentiary hearing, the trial court ruled that it had properly scored 10 points for offense variable 10.

         Petitioner then challenged his sentence in an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals. He argued there, as he does here, that: (1) he was sentenced on the basis of inaccurate information in violation of his constitutional right to due process, and his trial attorney was ineffective for failing to object to the scoring of offense variables 10 and 13; and (2) his constitutional rights were violated by judicial fact-finding, which increased the floor of the permissible sentence, in violation of Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. 99 (2013). The Michigan Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal for lack of merit. See People v. Stocks, No. 324513 (Mich. Ct. App. Dec. 15, 2014) (unpublished).

         Petitioner raised the same claims in the Michigan Supreme Court, which initially held his case in abeyance, pending a decision in the case of People v. Lockridge, Docket No. 149073. See People v. Stocks, 863 N.W.2d 74 (Mich. 2015). On July 29, 2015, the Michigan Supreme Court issued its decision in Lockridge. It held that Michigan's sentencing guidelines violate a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial to the extent the guidelines require judicial fact-finding beyond facts admitted by the defendant or found by the jury to score offense variables that mandatorily increase the floor of the guidelines minimum sentence range. See People v. Lockridge, 870 N.W.2d 502, 506 (2015).

         The Michigan Supreme Court then reconsidered Petitioner's application for leave to appeal and, in lieu of granting leave to appeal, it remanded Petitioner's case to the trial court for a determination of whether the trial court would have imposed a materially different sentence under the sentencing procedure described in Lockridge. The Supreme Court denied leave to appeal in all other respects because it was not persuaded to review the remaining issue. See People v. Stocks, 870 N.W.2d 720 (Mich. 2015).

         On remand, the trial court issued an order which stated that, after reviewing Petitioner's post-remand motion for re-sentencing, and after considering the totality of the facts and circumstances in the case, the court had determined that it would not have imposed a materially different sentence but for the Lockridge error. Consequently, the court denied Petitioner's motion for re-sentencing. See People v. Stocks, No. 13-002432-FH (St. Clair Cty. Cir. Ct. Apr. 21, 2016).

         Petitioner appealed the trial court's decision on the basis that his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated by judicial fact-finding that increased the floor of the permissible sentence in violation of Alleyne. The Michigan Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal for lack of merit. See People v. Stocks, No. 335352 (Mich. Ct. App. Dec. 1, 2016). On May 31, 2017, the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal because it was not persuaded to review the issue. See People v. Stocks, 895 N.W.2d 178 (Mich. 2017). On October 3, 2017, the Michigan Supreme Court denied Petitioner's motion for reconsideration. See People v. Stocks, 901 N.W.2d 598 (Mich. 2017).

         Petitioner then filed the instant petition. He raises the following claims, which have been presented to the Michigan Court of Appeals and to the Michigan Supreme:

I. Petitioner was sentenced on the basis of inaccurate information in violation of his Fifth Amendment right to due process where offense variables 3, 10 and 13 were incorrectly scored and trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the scoring of offense variables 10 and 13.
II. Petitioner's Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated by judicial fact finding which increased the floor of the permissible sentence in violation of Alleyne v. United States, 133 S.Ct. 2151 (2013), as defined in Michigan by People v. Lockridge, 498 Mich. 358 (2015).

         III. Standard of Review

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), as codified at 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), provides:

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 ...

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