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Wynn v. Campbell

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

November 5, 2019

EDWARD V. WYNN, Petitioner,


          SEAN F. COX, JUDGE

         This matter has come before the Court on petitioner Edward V. Wynn's pro se petition for the writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The habeas petition challenges Petitioner's convictions for one count of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.520b(1)(c), and one count of unlawful imprisonment, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.349b(1)(c).

         Petitioner argues as grounds for relief that certain evidence was improperly admitted at his trial, that there was insufficient evidence at trial to support his convictions, that the prosecutor withheld evidence, and that his trial and appellate attorneys were ineffective. Respondent Sherman Campbell argues in an answer to the petition that Petitioner's claim about his trial attorney is procedurally defaulted and that Petitioner's other claims are not cognizable on habeas review or they were reasonably decided by the state court. Petitioner argues in a reply brief that the state courts' rulings were unreasonable and that "Respondent got it wrong" in his answer to the petition.

         The Court agrees with the State that Petitioner's claims do not warrant habeas corpus relief. Accordingly, the Court is denying the petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

         I. Background

         The charges against Petitioner arose from an incident that occurred in Flint, Michigan on April 28, 2009. The state court briefly summarized the facts as follows:

Defendant and the victim were involved in a romantic relationship over a number of years. The relationship was volatile and at one point the victim had a personal protection order against defendant. On the night of the assault, the victim and a friend were at a bar when they encountered defendant. All three had been drinking and smoking marijuana. Although the victim asked defendant to leave them alone, he refused and got into the victim's car with them when they attempted to leave. At one point, the victim and her friend both jumped out of the car and began to run. Defendant caught the victim, dragged her back to the vehicle, drove her to his apartment complex, dragged her to his apartment, and sexually assaulted her.

People v. Wynn, No. 297373, 2011 WL 4467678, at *1 (Mich. Ct. App. Sept. 27, 2011) (unpublished).

         Petitioner was tried before a jury in Genesee County Circuit Court. He testified that the complainant consented to the sexual encounter, and his attorney argued to the jury that the prosecution had failed to prove its case. The trial court instructed the jury on third-degree criminal sexual conduct as a lesser offense of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, but on January 22, 2010, the jury found Petitioner guilty, as charged, of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and unlawful imprisonment.[1] On March 10, 2010, the trial court sentenced Petitioner as a fourth habitual offender to two concurrent terms of twenty to forty years in prison with credit for 208 days already served.

         Petitioner appealed his convictions on grounds that: (1) the trial court abused its discretion and deprived him of his right to due process when it permitted the prosecutor to introduce evidence of Petitioner's medications; (2) the trial court erred reversibly and violated his right to due process by allowing the prosecutor to admit evidence of Petitioner's prior criminal conduct; and (3) there was insufficient evidence of an element in both crimes. These arguments form the basis for Petitioner's first three habeas claims.

         Petitioner moved to postpone oral argument in his appellate case or to supplement his appellate brief with new information that the complainant was arrested four days before the incident that led to the charges against Petitioner. The Michigan Court of Appeals, however, denied Petitioner's motion to file a supplemental brief and affirmed Petitioner's convictions in an unpublished, per curiam opinion. See People v. Wynn, No. 297373 (Mich. Ct. App. Sept. 8, 2011, and Sept. 27, 2011) (unpublished). On September 4, 2012, the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal because it was not persuaded to review the issues. See People v. Wynn, 492 Mich. 864; 819 N.W.2d 880 (2012).[2]

         In 2013, Petitioner filed a motion for relief from judgment in the state trial court. He argued that his trial and appellate attorneys were ineffective. The trial court denied Petitioner's post-conviction motion because the claims lacked merit and because Petitioner had failed to show "cause" for his failure to raise his arguments on direct appeal. See People v. Wynn, No. 09-24999-FC (Genesee Cty. Cir. Ct. Dec. 30, 2015), ECF No. 9-21.

         Petitioner appealed the trial court's decision on grounds that: (1) the prosecutor withheld material impeachment evidence from him and allowed false testimony to go uncorrected at trial; (2) his trial attorney failed to investigate, obtain information, and call exculpatory defense witnesses; and (3) his appellate attorney was ineffective for failing to raise obvious and significant issues on direct appeal. These arguments comprise Petitioner's fourth, fifth, and sixth habeas claims.

         The Michigan Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal because Petitioner had failed to establish that the trial court erred in denying his post-conviction motion. See People v. Wynn, No. 331918 (Mich. Ct. App. July 25, 2016) (unpublished). On January 5, 2017, the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal because Petitioner failed to establish entitlement to relief under Michigan Court Rule 6.508(D). See People v. Wynn, 500 Mich. 925; 888 N.W.2d 99 (2017).

         On January 16, 2017, Petitioner signed and dated his habeas corpus petition, and on January 20, 2017, the Clerk of Court filed the petition. See ECF No. 1. Respondent initially moved to dismiss the petition on the basis that Petitioner did not comply with the one-year statute of limitations. See ECF No. 5. The Court denied Respondent's motion, ECF No. 7, and on April 11, 2018, Respondent filed an answer to the habeas petition, ECF No. 8. Petitioner filed a reply brief, ECF No. 10, and the case is now ready to be adjudicated.

         II. Standard of Review

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") requires prisoners 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 proceeding.'" Wilson v. Sellers, 138 S.Ct. 1188, 1191 (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, 117 S.Ct. 2059, 138 L.Ed.2d 481 (1997), and 'demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt,' Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24, 123 S.Ct. 357, 154 L.Ed.2d 279 (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, 937 F.3d 644, 648 (6th Cir. 2019) (quoting Richter, 562 U.S. at 103), cert. denied, __ S.Ct.__, No. 19-419, 2019 WL 5301304 (U.S. Oct. 21, 2019). 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 that adjudicated the claim on the merits." Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011).

         III. Analysis

         A. Evidence of Petitioner's Prescription Medications

         Petitioner alleges first that the trial court abused its discretion and deprived him of due process when it permitted the prosecutor to introduce evidence of Petitioner's prescription medications and Petitioner's failure to take most of the medications. Petitioner contends that the evidence was not relevant to the charges because there was no testimony regarding any connection between the medications and his perceptions on the night of the crimes.

         Petitioner also contends that the evidence was prejudicial because one of the medications (Methadone) is commonly known as a treatment for an addiction to heroin, and some of the other medications treat mental illness. Petitioner concludes that evidence of his medications painted him as unstable, mentally ill, and a recovering drug addict. Petitioner also contends that the jury could have assumed he was unpredictable and violent when he did not take his medications.

         The Michigan Court of Appeals agreed with Petitioner that evidence of his medications was irrelevant and that the trial court abused its discretion by admitting the evidence. The Court of Appeals, nevertheless, concluded that the error was harmless because it was unlikely that the jury gave any weight to the evidence.

         1. Clearly Established Federal Law

         Errors in the application of state law, especially rulings on the admission or exclusion of evidence, usually are not questioned in a federal habeas corpus proceeding. Cooper v. Sowders, 837 F.2d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1988). "[S]tate courts are the ultimate expositors of state law," and federal courts generally are bound by their constructions of state law. Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684, 691 (1975). Moreover, "federal habeas corpus relief does not lie for errors of state law." Lewis v. Jeffers, 497 U.S. 764, 780 (1990). "In conducting habeas review, a federal court is limited to deciding whether a conviction violated the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 68 (1991).

         "[S]tates have wide latitude with regard to evidentiary matters under the Due Process Clause," and generally, state-court evidentiary rulings do not rise to the level of a due process violation unless the rulings offend some fundamental principle of justice. Wilson v. Sheldon, 874 F.3d 470, 475-76 (6th Cir. 2017). Therefore, to prevail on his claim, Petitioner must show that the error rendered his trial "so fundamentally unfair as to deprive [him] of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment." McAdoo v. Elo, 365 F.3d 487, 494 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing McGuire, 502 U.S. at 69-70).

         Furthermore, on habeas review, an error is harmless unless it had a "substantial and injurious effect or influence" on the jury's verdict. Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 623 (1993) (quoting Kotteakos v. United States, 328 U.S. 750, 776 (1946)). As recently explained by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals,

the federal court will not grant habeas relief unless the state error "resulted in 'actual prejudice.'" [Davis v. Ayala, 135 S.Ct. 2187, 2197 (2015)] (quoting Brecht, 507 U.S. at 637, 113 S.Ct. 1710). This means that in order to grant habeas relief, the court must have at least "grave doubt about whether a trial error of federal law had 'substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict.'" O'Neal v. McAninch, 513 U.S. 432, 436, 115 S.Ct. 992, 130 L.Ed.2d 947 (1995) (quoting Brecht, 507 U.S. at 627, 113 S.Ct. 1710). "[G]rave doubt" about whether the error was harmless means that "the matter is so evenly balanced that [the court] feels [it]self in virtual equipoise as to the harmlessness of the error." Id. at 435, 115 S.Ct. 992.

O'Neal v. Balcarcel, 933 F.3d 618, 624 (6th Cir. 2019) (first alteration added, second and third alterations in original). Furthermore, "[s]tate courts' harmless-error determinations are adjudications on the merits, and therefore federal courts may grant habeas relief only where those determinations are objectively unreasonable." Id. (citing Ayala, 135 S.Ct. at 2198-99).

         2. Application

         Testimony about Petitioner's medications occurred a few times at trial. First, Sergeant Norman Hoydic testified that Petitioner asked for his medication at the time of his arrest. Sergeant Hoydic explained that, in response to Petitioner's request, he collected numerous medications and put them with Petitioner's personal property at the police station. See 1/8/10 Trial Tr. at 143-146, ECF No. 9-10, PageID. 711.

         An identification technician for the Flint Police Department later testified that she found a prescription for two medications in the trunk of Petitioner's truck. The prescriptions had Petitioner's name on them. See 1/13/10 Trial Tr. at 200-201, ECF No. 9-12, PageID 836. Sergeant Jeff Fray also mentioned the prescription found in Petitioner's truck. See 1/14/10 Trial Tr. at 8, ECF No. 9-13, PageID. 868.

         Later, in the jury's absence, the prosecutor informed the trial court that he intended to ask Petitioner about the medications he was taking. The prosecutor stated that the medications were relevant to Petitioner's ability to perceive what was happening on the night in question. When defense counsel stated that he had no idea whether Petitioner was knowledgeable about the effects of the medication and what the medication was supposed to accomplish, the trial court said, "We'll see. It sounds like the door's been opened, so [the prosecutor] can go there." 1/20/10 Trial Tr. at 88, ECF No. 9-14, PageID. 924.

         The prosecutor subsequently asked Petitioner on cross-examination whether he had asked Sergeant Hoydic at his arrest to bring his medication to the police station. When Petitioner answered, "Yes," the prosecutor asked Petitioner whether he was taking a medication for cholesterol, another medication called Gabapentin, and an antidepressant called Amitriptyline. Petitioner responded that the only medication he was taking at the time of the incident was Methadone and that he was taking Methadone for chronic pain in his arm. He explained that he had a lot of other pills in the house, including Triavil, which was used to treat depression, but he took Triavil only one time because he did not like the way it made him feel. He repeated that he did not take any of the other medications and that the only one he was taking at the time was Methadone. Id. at 44-46, PageID. 927.

         During a bench conference, defense counsel objected to the prosecutor's questions on the basis that the prosecutor was testifying when he indicated what the medications were intended to treat. The trial court, however, overruled the objection, and the prosecutor was permitted to resume questioning Petitioner about his medications, which included antibiotics, Penicillin, a cholesterol medicine, and prescriptions for Triavil and Restoril. Petitioner explained that Triavil was used for depression and that Restoril was a sleeping pill, but that he was not taking those medications at the time; he was only taking Methadone. Id. at 46-48, Page Id. 927-28.

         The final reference to the medications occurred during the prosecutor's closing argument. He stated that Sergeant Fray had asked Officer Hoydic to collect Petitioner's medications and bring them to Petitioner and that Officer Hoydic had records of the medications. Id. at 161, PageID. 956.

         The prosecutor's mention of the medications during closing arguments was brief. Most of the testimony about the medications also was brief. Although Petitioner's testimony on the topic was more extensive, he was adept at handling the prosecutor's questions. He provided explanations for his use of Methadone and his failure to take the other medications. Testimony about the medications did not necessarily lead to the conclusion that Petitioner was unstable, mentally ill, a recovering addict, or violent when not taking medication.

         The Court concludes that testimony about Petitioner's medications was harmless because the evidence could not have had a substantial and injurious effect or influence on the jury's verdict. Additionally, the state appellate court's conclusion - that the evidentiary error was harmless because it was unlikely that the jury gave any weight to the evidence when deciding the critical facts - was objectively reasonable. Petitioner is not entitled to relief on his claim.

         B. Evidence of Petitioner's Prior Criminal Conduct

         Petitioner alleges next that the trial court erred reversibly and violated his right to due process by admitting evidence of his prior criminal conduct. The evidence included testimony that Petitioner: harassed, followed, and stalked the complainant (1/6/10 Trial Tr. at 130-31, ECF No. 9-8, PageID. 586-87; 1/7/10 Trial Tr. at 150, 155, ECF No. 9-9, PageID. 641, 643; 1/12/10 Trial Tr. at 119, ECF No. 9-11, PageID. 759); broke into the complainant's home and sometimes stole things from her (1/7/10 Trial Tr. at 92-102, ECF No. 9-9, PageID. 627-629); drove by the complainant's home, yelled threats, and gestured as though he had a weapon (1/8/10 Trial Tr. at 79, 125-126, ECF No. 9-10, PageID. 695, 706); stole the complainant's car (1/7/10 Trial Tr. at 25, 35, ECF No. 9-9, PageID. 610, 613); attacked or beat the complainant on a previous occasion and chased her and her child in a car on another occasion (1/7/10 Trial Tr. at 49, ECF No. 9-9, PageID. 616; 1/8/10 Trial Tr. at 61, 63, 72-74, 115-18, ECF No. 9-10, PageID. 690-691, 693, 704); cut the telephone cables at the home of the complainant's sister and stole her sister's car tires (1/8/10 Trial Tr. at 76, 119-124, ECF No. 9-10, PageID. 694, 705-706); stole medication prescribed for the complainant's child (1/7/10 Trial Tr. at 89-92, 100-101, ECF No. 9-9, PageID. 626-627, 629); sexually assaulted the complainant on a prior occasion (1/7/10 Trial Tr. at 83, 129-30, ECF No. 9-9, PageID. 625, 636); and assaulted the complainant after a wedding (1/8/10 Trial Tr. at 48-50, ECF No. 9-10, PageID. 687). There was additional evidence that the complainant acquired personal protection orders against Petitioner, although the orders may not have been in effect when Petitioner committed the crimes for which he was on trial. See 1/7/10 Trial Tr. at 146-48, ECF No. 9-9, PageID. 640-41; 1/8/10 Trial. Tr. at 14, 52-53, ECF No. 9-10, PageID. 678, 688; and 1/14/10 Trial Tr. at 5, ECF No. 9-13, PageID. 867.

         Petitioner contends that this evidence should have been excluded due to the sheer volume of the testimony and because the prior episodes of stalking and violence had little or no connection to the charged crimes. Petitioner also contends that unfair prejudice outweighed any probative value of the evidence.

         The Michigan Court of Appeals adjudicated Petitioner's claim on the merits and held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it allowed the prosecutor to admit the disputed evidence. The Court of Appeals stated that admitting evidence of Petitioner's prior bad acts was proper because the evidence was relevant evidence and any prejudicial effect did not substantially outweigh the probative value of the evidence.

         1. Clearly Established Federal Law

         As noted above in the discussion on Petitioner's first claim, errors in the application of state law, especially rulings in the admission or exclusion of evidence, usually are not questioned in a federal habeas corpus proceeding. Seymour v. Walker, 224 F.3d 542, 552 (6th Cir. 2000) (quoting Cooper, 837 F.2d at 286). Further, to the extent Petitioner is asserting that the "other acts" evidence was improper propensity evidence, his claim lacks merit because "[t]here is no clearly established Supreme Court precedent which holds that a state violates due process by permitting propensity evidence in the form of other bad acts evidence." Bugh v. Mitchell, 329 F.3d 496, 512 (6th Cir. 2003). Consequently, "there is no Supreme Court precedent ...

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