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Frame v. Brewer

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

December 17, 2019

BRET FRAME, # 839392, Petitioner,
SHAWN BREWER, Respondent.



         Petitioner Bret Frame, a Michigan prisoner, was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.317, and two counts of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated causing death, Mich. Comp. Laws § 257.625(4)(a).[1] He is before this Court seeking a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the following reasons, the petition will be denied.


         Frame's convictions arise from a car accident that resulted in the deaths of two young men, Justin Bailey and Mark Angelocci. The Michigan Court of Appeals set forth the facts as follows:

This case arises out of an incident of drunk driving by defendant in Texas Township on June 23, 2011, that resulted in the tragic deaths of Justin Bailey and Mark Angelocci in an automobile accident. The evidence at trial established that defendant is, by his own admission, “an extreme alcoholic” who began abusing alcohol when he was 15 years old. In August 2010, defendant was convicted of operating while impaired by intoxicating liquor. He was also kicked out of his parents' home because his drinking made him, according to his mother, “verbally obnoxious” and “hard to live with.” Although defendant attempted to turn his life around by going back to school and purportedly remaining sober for eight months, he decided to consume alcohol on June 23, 2011. Defendant's recollection of that day is incomplete. Testimony at trial established that defendant recalled driving around drinking alcohol during the day, visiting a friend, and leaving the friend's home between 2:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. Although defendant's next cognizant memory was waking up in jail, numerous witnesses at trial testified about what happened next.
Defendant-while highly intoxicated-drove his pickup truck in Texas Township and the immediate vicinity in a reckless, dangerous, and alarming manner that included illegally passing and almost hitting other motorists and driving at speeds estimated as high as 100 mph on roads with speed limits of 45 and 55 mph. At about 3:30 p.m., defendant rear-ended Bailey's vehicle while both vehicles were heading south on South Sixth Street, causing Bailey's vehicle to spin and ultimately vault into a tree on the other side of the street. Defendant did not stop but, instead, continued driving until he reached his home, where sheriff's deputies, after witnesses provided information implicating defendant, found him at 4:40 p.m. sitting slumped in the driver's seat of his truck with his eyes closed. When the deputies ordered defendant out of his truck, he smelled of intoxicants and exhibited physical signs of intoxication, including glassy eyes, slurred speech, and unsteady balance. Defendant became defiant and violent when the deputies attempted to handcuff him, and a deputy had to use a taser to subdue him. During transport to a hospital, defendant continued to act belligerently, threatening to kill and eat the face of the deputy who was driving the patrol car and repeatedly hitting his own head against the car's Plexiglas partition. At the hospital, defendant's blood was drawn at 6:58 p.m. despite his continued unruly behavior. Testing established that defendant's blood-alcohol level was 0.25 grams per 100 milliliters of alcohol in blood.

People v. Frame, No. 310591, 2013 WL 6244695, *1 (Mich. Ct. App. Dec. 3, 2013).

         Frame was convicted by a jury in Kalamazoo County Circuit Court. On May 14, 2012, he was sentenced to concurrent sentences of 30 to 75 years for the murder convictions and 7 to 15 years for the operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing death convictions. He filed an appeal of right in the Michigan Court of Appeals raising five claims: (i) the district court erred in binding Frame over on two counts of second-degree murder and the trial court erred in denying the motion to quash; (ii) insufficient evidence supported the second-degree murder convictions; (iii) the trial court improperly refused to instruct the jury on lesser included offenses; (iv) the trial court improperly refused to instruct the jury on subjective intent; and (v) the trial court improperly refused to instruct the jury or allow an expert to testify regarding the statistical likelihood that an alcohol-related crash in Kalamazoo would result in fatalities. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Frame's convictions. People v. Frame, No. 310591, 2013 WL 6244695, *1 (Mich. Ct. App. Dec. 3, 2013). The Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal. People v. Frame, 495 Mich. 1006 (May 27, 2014).

         Frame then filed a motion for relief from judgment in the trial court, raising these five claims: (i) the trial court's evidentiary rulings violated due process; (ii) the trial court's refusal to instruct on lesser included offenses violated Frame's right to present a defense; (iii) insufficient evidence was presented to show Frame's state of mind; (iv) the sentence violated the Eighth Amendment; and (v) the prosecution failed to preserve material exculpatory evidence. The trial court denied the motion. See 7/27/2015 Order (ECF No. 12-16). Both state appellate courts denied leave to appeal the trial court's decision. See People v. Frame, No. 329774 (Mich. Ct. App. Dec. 30, 2015 (ECF No. 12-18); People v. Frame, 500 Mich. 864 (2016).

I. Petitioner's convictions of second-degree murder violate due process because there is insufficient evidence of “malice/intent” to sustain his conviction.
II. Petitioner's right to a fair trial and to a properly instructed jury was violated when the trial court refused to instruct the jury on the lesser included offenses of reckless death and moving violation causing death.
III. The trial court violated the Petitioner's right to a fair trial and improperly instructed jury by denying Petitioner's request for a jury instruction on “subjective intent” for second degree murder.
IV. & V. The trial court abused its discretion in refusing to instruct the jury or allow expert witness testimony regarding the statistical likelihood that an alcohol-related crash in Kalamazoo would result in fatalities or injuries.
VI. Petitioner's ability to present a defense was impaired because the trial court did not allow expert witness testimony about statistics related to the “natural tendency” of drunk driving to cause death. The court also admitted prejudicial evidence about the arrest, which occurred over an hour after the accident.
VII. The court failed to instruct the jury on lesser included offenses.
VIII. There was no showing of the state of mind for second-degree murder.
IX. The Eighth Amendment forbids extreme sentences that are “grossly disproportionate” to the crime.
X. The government violates a defendant's due process right where it fails to preserve material exculpatory evidence regardless of lack of bad faith.


         Title 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214, imposes the following standard of review for habeas cases:

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 Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

         A decision of a state court is “contrary to” clearly established federal law if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by the Supreme Court on a question of law, or if the state court decides a case differently than the Supreme Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-406 (2000). 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.” Id. at 411.

         The AEDPA “imposes a highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, ” and “demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.” Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010) (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 v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011) (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). The Supreme Court has emphasized “that even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable.” Id. at 102. Pursuant to section 2254(d), “a habeas court must determine what arguments or theories supported or . . . could have supported, the state court's decision; and then it must ask whether it is possible fairminded jurists could disagree that those arguments or theories are ...

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