898 F.3d 693 (6th Cir. 2018), 16-2301, Thomas v. Stephenson

Docket Nº:16-2301
Citation:898 F.3d 693
Opinion Judge:ALICE M. BATCHELDER, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:Jamal THOMAS, Petitioner-Appellant, v. George STEPHENSON, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.
Attorney:Emmett E. Robinson, JONES DAY, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellant. Jared D. Schultz, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF MICHIGAN, Lansing, Michigan, for Appellee. Emmett E. Robinson, JONES DAY, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellant. Andrea M. Christensen-Brown, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF MICHIGAN, Lan...
Judge Panel:Before: BATCHELDER, GILMAN, and ROGERS, Circuit Judges. BATCHELDER, J., delivered the opinion of the court in which ROGERS, J., joined. GILMAN, J. (pp. 11-23), delivered a separate dissenting opinion. RONALD LEE GILMAN, Circuit Judge, dissenting.
Case Date:August 06, 2018
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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Page 693

898 F.3d 693 (6th Cir. 2018)

Jamal THOMAS, Petitioner-Appellant,

v.

George STEPHENSON, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.

No. 16-2301

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

August 6, 2018

Argued: January 24, 2018

Rehearing En Banc Denied September 24, 2018 [*]

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Detroit. No. 2:09-cv-12958— Stephen J. Murphy, III, District Judge.

ARGUED:

Emmett E. Robinson, JONES DAY, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellant.

Jared D. Schultz, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF MICHIGAN, Lansing, Michigan, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Emmett E. Robinson, JONES DAY, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellant.

Andrea M. Christensen-Brown, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF MICHIGAN, Lansing, Michigan, for Appellee.

Before: BATCHELDER, GILMAN, and ROGERS, Circuit Judges.

BATCHELDER, J., delivered the opinion of the court in which ROGERS, J., joined. GILMAN, J. (pp. 11-23), delivered a separate dissenting opinion.

OPINION

ALICE M. BATCHELDER, Circuit Judge.

Petitioner Jamal Thomas is a Michigan state prisoner who was convicted of several crimes, including assault with intent to commit murder, after he participated in a violent home invasion. Thomas unsuccessfully challenged in state court his conviction for assault with intent to commit murder, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support that conviction. He then filed a federal habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, which the district court denied. We AFFIRM.

I.

On habeas review, we presume correct the factual findings of the Michigan state courts. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 413 (6th Cir. 2009). Our statement of the facts below includes both the facts stated by the Michigan Court of Appeals and additional facts from witness testimony at trial which Thomas has not disputed here.

In April 2005, Thomas held Rodney Harrison hostage in his own home for several hours while another man, Larry Davidson, searched Harrison’s home for a large sum of money that Thomas and Davidson believed was hidden in the home. See

People v. Thomas, No. 270679, 2007 WL 4355431, at *1 (Mich.Ct.App. Dec. 13, 2007). Davidson first gained entry into Harrison’s home by trickery, and then held Harrison at gunpoint while calling Thomas on the phone, telling Thomas that he was "in," and instructing Thomas to come to the side door of Harrison’s home. Id. Once Thomas was inside, Davidson told Thomas to keep his eyes on Harrison and to shoot Harrison if he made a sound. Id. Thomas then told Harrison to sit on the sofa with his hands underneath his thighs, and threatened to kill Harrison if he moved or made a sound. Id.

For the next two-and-a-half hours, Thomas held a gun to Harrison’s head while Davidson ransacked the home. Id. At the end of this time, Davidson had still not found the money. A third man arrived and told Thomas and Davidson to "[t]ie [Harrison] up, execution-style." Before they tied him up, Davidson told Harrison that "I’m about to shoot your motherf***ing ass,"

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"You’re about to die," and "I’m going to shoot you with your own f***ing gun. Naw[,] I’m going to shoot you with [my] gun." The men then put Harrison on his stomach, handcuffed him, blindfolded him, tied his feet, and tied his legs together. As he lay on the floor, Harrison thought that the men were going to shoot him.

Davidson then attacked Harrison, kicking him several times in the kidney and pistol-whipping his head. Harrison later suffered from a malfunctioning kidney as a result of the kicks. Thomas himself did not kick or pistol-whip Harrison.

After this attack, Davidson made a phone call within earshot of Harrison, during which he said, "We cannot find the money or the dope. We’ve got to put four bullets in this mother****er because he’s a big guy, and we’ve got to put two into his wife."

Harrison’s wife returned home from work towards the end of the home invasion, but quickly left once she realized what was happening. Upon seeing her, Thomas said "Damn, she’s here. She’s getting away," and chased her. Harrison’s wife escaped to a neighbor’s home and called the police, but the men had left the Harrisons’ home by the time the police arrived.

A Michigan jury convicted Thomas of assault with intent to commit murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.83, among other crimes committed during the home invasion. Id. Thomas received a sentence of 50-to-100 years’ imprisonment as a result of the assault-with-intent-to-commit-murder conviction. Id. On appeal, Thomas argued that the state did not present sufficient evidence to convict him of assault with intent to commit murder, but the Michigan Court of Appeals disagreed and affirmed Thomas’s sentence. Id. at *1-3. The Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal. See People v. Thomas, 480 Mich. 1188, 747 N.W.2d 286 (2008).

In 2009, Thomas initiated federal habeas corpus proceedings under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The district court held those proceedings in abeyance while Thomas exhausted his state-court remedies for a different claim. When the district court reopened the proceedings, Thomas argued among other things that his "conviction for assault with intent to commit murder [was] not supported by sufficient evidence." The district court denied relief on that claim, and we granted a certificate of appealability for that claim only.

II.

A.

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") provides the standard of review in this case. Federal courts may grant a writ of habeas corpus to a state prisoner on a claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court proceedings only where the state court proceeding "(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). We granted Thomas a certificate of appealability "solely as to [his] claim regarding sufficiency of the evidence for assault with intent to commit murder," so a writ of habeas corpus may issue only if he can show that his Michigan state court proceeding "resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceedings." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2).

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Criminal defendants have a due-process right not to be convicted of a crime "except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which [they are] charged." In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970). But under AEDPA, our review of a state-court conviction for sufficiency of the evidence is very limited.

See Brown v. Konteh, 567 F.3d 191, 204 (6th Cir. 2009). We give two layers of deference to state-court convictions.

First, as in other sufficiency-of-the-evidence challenges, we determine "whether, viewing the trial testimony and exhibits in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. at 205 (citing Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979) ). We do not "reweigh the evidence, re-evaluate the credibility of witnesses, or substitute our judgment for that of the jury." Id. This means that "even though we might have not voted to convict a defendant had we participated in jury deliberations, we must uphold the jury verdict if any rational trier of fact could have found the defendant guilty after resolving all disputes in favor of the prosecution." Id.

Second, "even were we to conclude that a rational trier of fact could not have found a petitioner guilty beyond a reasonable doubt ... we must still defer to the state appellate court’s sufficiency determination as long as it is not unreasonable." Id. (emphases omitted) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2) ).

"[T]his standard is difficult to meet," no doubt, but "that is because it was meant to be." Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102, 131 S.Ct. 770, 178 L.Ed.2d 624 (2011). "[H]abeas corpus is a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal." Id. at 102-03, 131 S.Ct. 770 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

B.

"In Michigan, the crime of assault with intent to commit murder requires proof of three elements:(1) an assault, (2)...

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