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Wright v. Rivard

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

January 13, 2020

NIGEL WRIGHT, Petitioner,
STEVEN RIVARD, Respondent.



         This habeas case is before the Court on remand from the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. On May 28, 2015, the Court issued an Opinion and Order Conditionally Granting Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus based upon violations of the Confrontation Clause and the right to effective assistance of counsel. Wright v. Rivard, 2015 WL 3441154 (E.D. Mich. May 28, 2015). Respondent appealed the Court's Opinion and Order. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated this Court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its Amended Opinion.[1] Wright v. Burt, 665 Fed.Appx. 403 (6th Cir. 2016), cert. den. 137 S.Ct. 2166 (May 22, 2017).

         The Court now denies relief on Wright's remaining claims.

         I. Background

         Wright was convicted by a jury in Wayne County Circuit Court of first-degree murder and carrying a concealed weapon. He is serving a term of life imprisonment for the murder conviction and 2 to 5 years' imprisonment for the fiream conviction.

         Wright's convictions arise from the shooting death of Travis Goodwin on December 29, 2007. Goodwin was shot while sitting in a parked van outside his mother's home on Kimberly Street in Detroit. Wright was convicted as an aider and abettor. It was the prosecution's theory that Wright drove the gunmen, Patrick Pickett (“Worm”) and Shondell Dalton (“Black”), to the scene and, after the gunmen shot Goodwin, drove them away from the scene. Wright maintained that it was a case of mistaken identity.

         The prosecution's key witness was Dawayne Currie. Currie testified that, at approximately 2:00 a.m. on the night of the shooting, he was playing video games with his daughter. He saw Goodwin pull up and park his mother's van. About 20 minutes later, Currie heard gunshots. After taking his daughter to a back room, he returned to look out the front window. Currie saw Black backing away from the van while firing an AK47 assault rifle. He also saw Worm getting into the passenger side of Wright's black Charger holding a handgun. Currie identified Wright as the driver of the Charger. Black and Worm wore ski masks, but Currie nevertheless identified them based upon Black's distinctive walk and Worm's body type. Wright was not wearing a ski mask and Currie was able to see Wright's face and braided hair.

         Currie admitted that, a few weeks before the murder, Wright paid him $100 to burn down Worm's drug house. Currie knew Wright was going to tell Worm that Goodwin had set the fire. After Wright's arrest, Currie's father and girlfriend conveyed to Currie an offer by Wright to pay Currie not to come to court.

         Alice Smiley, Goodwin's mother, testified that she was awakened by gunshots during the early morning hours of December 29, 2007. Her neighbor, Dawayne Currie, knocked on her door to tell her that Goodwin had been shot. Goodwin was taken to the hospital and died on January 10, 2008, without ever regaining consciousness. Smiley then provided hearsay testimony, over defense counsel's objection, about Goodwin's reaction to the burning down of a drug house located on the adjacent street. Smiley testified that Goodwin told her that the destroyed house was Worm's and that Goodwin was concerned that “they gonna think I did it.” Wright, 2010 WL 5373811 at *2.

         Detroit police Officer Alfred G. Thomas also testified about Goodwin's out-of-court statements over defense counsel's objection. Less than one month before the shooting, Goodwin flagged down Thomas when Thomas was patrolling Goodwin's neighborhood. Goodwin told Thomas that he had received threats from Wright, Damien Bell, and Tommy Dickey, who were expanding the territory of their drug business.

         Wright's habeas petition raised these claims:

I. The trial court violated due process by admitting the hearsay statements of the deceased victim to his mother and to Officer Thomas. Moreover, the trial court committed plain error by failing to give a limiting jury instruction on the use of the same.
II. The admission of out-of-court statements violated Petitioner's right to confrontation.
III. The trial court committed plain error in failing to instruct the jury that it should view Mr. Currie's testimony with caution as he was an accomplice to the crime.
IV. Prosecutorial misconduct denied Petitioner his right to a fair trial.
V. Petitioner was denied the effective assistance of counsel by his counsel's failure to object to the out-of-court statements on constitutional grounds, failure to request limiting instructions, failure to request accomplice instruction, and failure to object to the prosecutor's closing argument.
VI. The principal witness, Dawayne Currie, committed palpable perjury and therefore there is constitutionally insufficient evidence to support the verdict.

         Wright's claims that his right to confrontation was violated when the trial court admitted Goodwin's statements to Officer Thomas and that defense counsel was ineffective in failing to object to this violation have been addressed on the merits. On remand, the Court addresses Wright's remaining claims.

         II. Standard

         This habeas petition is reviewed under the exacting standards set forth in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), Pub.L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (Apr. 24, 1996). Under AEDPA, a federal court cannot grant habeas relief with respect to any claim adjudicated on the merits in a state-court proceeding unless the state adjudication of the claim either:

(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.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), (2).

         “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 [this] precedent.'” Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 15-16 (2003) (per curiam), quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000). “[T]he ‘unreasonable application' prong of the statute permits a federal habeas court to ‘grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts' of petitioner's case.” Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520 (2003) quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 413. “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). “Section 2254(d) reflects the view that habeas corpus is a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal. . . . As a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court 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 786-87 (internal quotation omitted). To obtain relief under § 2254(d)(2), a petitioner must show an unreasonable determination of fact and that the resulting state court decision was “based on” that unreasonable determination. Rice v. White, 660 F.3d 242, 250 (6th Cir. 2012).

         Lastly, a federal habeas court must presume the correctness of state court factual determinations. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). A petitioner may rebut this presumption only with clear and convincing evidence. Warren v. Smith, 161 F.3d 358, 360-61 (6th Cir. 1998).

         III. ...

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