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Dantzler v. Rewerts

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

January 13, 2020

SAMUEL DANTZLER, Petitioner,
v.
RANDEE REWERTS, [1] Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PETITIONER'S MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION [29] AND MOTION TO EXPAND THE CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY [30] AND GRANTING PETITION FOR APPOINTMENT OF COUNSEL [31]

          LAURIE J. MICHELSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Samuel Dantzler came before this Court seeking habeas corpus relief from his Michigan state court conviction for first-degree murder. The Court carefully considered each of Dantzler's 10 claims, but ultimately denied habeas corpus relief. (See ECF No. 27.) The Court did grant a certificate of appealability for Dantzler's fifth and eighth habeas claims relating to ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to secure independent DNA testing or a DNA expert to testify at trial. (ECF No. 27, PageID.2242-2243.) Dantzler now asks the Court to reconsider its denial of his fifth and eighth habeas claims. (ECF No. 29.) Separately, Dantzler also asks the Court to expand the certificate of appealability to include claims two and seven (ECF No. 30) and to appoint appellate counsel (ECF No. 31). For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Dantzler's motion for reconsideration and motion to expand the certificate of appealability. The Court will grant Dantzler's petition for appointment of counsel.

         I.

         Dantzler was convicted of first-degree murder by a jury in Michigan state court.

         During the trial, the key piece of evidence against Dantzler was a black knit cap found at the crime scene. Testing identified Dantzler's DNA on the hat, as well as additional DNA samples that could not be positively identified. (ECF No. 7-14, PageID.772-773, 775-778, 785.) Dantzler's trial counsel requested and was granted funds to hire an independent expert to analyze the DNA evidence, but he failed to actually obtain additional testing or an expert for trial. (ECF No. 7-18, PageID.1159.) There was some other limited evidence linking Dantzler to the crime, including testimony from the victim's mother, Janet Burt, that a gold car seen outside her home before the murder was Dantzler's car and speculation that Dantzler had a motive to commit the crime because the woman beaten by the victim was his niece. (ECF No. 7-13, PageID.598-599; ECF No. 7-15, PageID.969.) Additionally, the jury heard testimony from Dantzler himself as well as Dantzler's alibi witness. (ECF No. 7-15, PageID.977-980, 930-932.)

         Dantzler appealed his conviction and later filed a motion for relief from judgment in state court. All were denied.

         Dantzler filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in this Court. (ECF No. 1.) The Court stayed the case so that Dantzler could return to state court to exhaust his ineffective assistance of counsel claims. (ECF No. 10.) After those claims were denied, Dantzler returned to this Court and filed a supplemental brief raising a total of 10 claims for relief. (ECF No. 11.) Ultimately, the Court denied Dantzler's habeas petition on the merits, but granted him a certificate of appealability on two claims. (ECF No. 27.) Dantzler now seeks reconsideration of the Court's denial of his habeas petition. In the alternative, Dantzler requests that the Court expand the certificate of appealability to include two additional claims and appoint counsel for his appeal.

         II.

         A.

         Local Rule 7.1 permits a party to move for “rehearing or reconsideration . . . within 14 days after entry of the judgment or order.” E.D. Mich. L.R. 7.1(h)(1). The moving party must “demonstrate a palpable defect by which the court and the parties and other persons entitled to be heard on the motion have been misled” and then “show that correcting the defect will result in a different disposition of the case.” E.D. Mich. L.R. 7.1(h)(3).

         B.

         To try to demonstrate there was a palpable defect that affected the Court's opinion, Dantzler points to a portion of his trial transcript in which a forensic biologist for the Detroit Police Department testified that the hat could not be retested because it had been handled. (ECF No. 29, PageID.2256.) Dantzler suggests that this fact was overlooked by the Court and led to a palpable defect in the Court's analysis of his ineffective assistance of counsel claim. But whether the hat can ever be retested does not-and cannot-change the Court's conclusion.

         The Court denied Dantzler's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel related to DNA testing of the hat for multiple reasons. First, the Court held that the state court's rejection of the claim, which held that the trial counsel's performance was not deficient, was not unreasonable under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”). Second, the Court found that even if counsel's performance were found to be deficient, Dantzler could not establish prejudice, as required under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 694 (1984). The Court found that the benefits an independent DNA expert could have provided were too speculative to establish prejudice.

         Dantzler argues here that he is forever prejudiced because the hat was tainted during the trial and it can never be retested for other DNA matches. But this unfortunate truth is not enough to meet the legal definition of prejudice: “there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional ...


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