Harris v. Barrett

Decision Date19 June 2014
Docket NumberCASE NO. 2:13-CV-14647
PartiesFREDERICK JOSEPH HARRIS, Petitioner, v. JOE BARRETT, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Michigan



Frederick Joseph Harris, ("petitioner"), confined at the Parnall Correctional Facility in Jackson, Michigan, seeks the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In his pro se application, petitioner challenges his conviction for two counts of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, M.CL.A. 750.84; one count of felon in possession of a firearm, M.C.L.A. 750.224f; and one count of possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony, M.C.L.A. 750.227b. For the reasons stated below, the petition for writ of habeas corpus is DENIED.

I. Background

Petitioner was convicted of the above offenses following a jury trial in the Allegan County Circuit Court. This Court recites verbatim the relevant facts relied upon by the Michigan Court of Appeals, which are presumed correct on habeas review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). See Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 413 (6th Cir. 2009):

Bobby Jo Felty and Brandon Beardsley testified at trial that when they repossessed defendant's 2008 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck, defendantcame out of his house with a long gun and threatened to kill them. As they towed the truck away, Felty and Beardsley saw the white Pontiac Bonneville in defendant's driveway start up and later saw it come toward the tow truck. Felty and Beardsley could not see who was driving the white Bonneville, but neither man had seen anyone but defendant at defendant's house.
The Bonneville sped toward the tow truck, and Felty and Beardsley heard a gunshot. While Beardsley called 911, Felty swerved across the road to prevent the Bonneville from coming alongside, and there was another gunshot. Felty testified that the gunshots sounded similar to those from a .22-caliber rifle, while Beardsley testified that the gunshots sounded like rifle shots. At the next intersection, Felty turned, and the Bonneville turned around and left the scene.
Shortly thereafter police officers came to defendant's home and he gave them permission to search his property. The officers found a shotgun and .22-caliber rifle in the bed of a dump truck. Though the truck was covered in a layer of dew, the guns were dry and the rifle smelled as though it had been fired recently.
Defendant testified at trial that two Mexicans stole his truck, and that he tried to follow them in his Bonneville but could not find them. He then called 911 to report the theft of his truck and went home. He testified that the guns belonged to his brother, and that he had put them in the dump truck because he was afraid that the police might shoot him if they found the guns.
A jury convicted defendant of two counts of assault with intent to commit great bodily harm less than murder, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, and felon in possession of a firearm. He was acquitted of two charges of assault with intent to murder.

People v. Harris, No. 304521, * 1-2 (Mich.Ct.App. October 23, 2012).

Petitioner's conviction was affirmed on appeal. Id.; lv. den. 493 Mich. 968, 829 N.W.2d 209 (2013).

Petitioner seeks a writ of habeas corpus on the following grounds:

I. Harris was deprived of witnesses and 911 information.
II. The jury's verdict was improperly threatened [judicial misconduct].
III. Harris was not tried within 180 days.
IV. Harris was not provided an evidentiary hearing.
II. Standard of Review

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), as amended by The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), 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, 40506 (2000). An "unreasonable application" occurs when "a state court decision unreasonably applies the law of [the Supreme Court] to the facts of a prisoner's case." Id. at 409. 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 410-11.

The Supreme Court has explained that "[A] federal court's collateral review of a state-court decision must be consistent with the respect due state courts in our federalsystem." Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003). The "AEDPA thus 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)((quoting Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 333, n. 7 (1997); Woodford v. Viscotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002)(per curiam)). "[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, 131 S. Ct. 770, 786 (2011)(citing 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. (citing Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003)). Furthermore, pursuant to § 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 inconsistent with the holding in a prior decision" of the Supreme Court. Id. Habeas relief is not appropriate unless each ground which supported the state court's decision is examined and found to be unreasonable under the AEDPA. See Wetzel v. Lambert, 132 S. Ct. 1195, 1199 (2012).

"[I]f this standard is difficult to meet, that is because it was meant to be." Harrington, 131 S. Ct. at 786. Although 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), as amended by the AEDPA, does not completely bar federal courts from relitigating claims that have previously been rejected in the state courts, it preserves the authority for a federal court to grant habeas relief only "in cases where there is no possibility fairminded jurists could disagree that the state court's decision conflicts with" the Supreme Court's precedents.Id. Indeed, "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." Id. (citing Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 332, n. 5 (1979))(Stevens, J., concurring in judgment)). Thus, a "readiness to attribute error [to a state court] is inconsistent with the presumption that state courts know and follow the law." Woodford, 537 U.S. at 24. Therefore, in order to obtain habeas relief in federal court, a state prisoner is required to show that the state court's rejection of his claim "was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement." Harrington, 131 S. Ct. at 786-87.

III. Discussion

A. Claim # 1. The ineffective assistance of counsel claims.

In his first claim, petitioner appears to argue that his trial counsel was ineffective.1

To show that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel under federal constitutional standards, a defendant must satisfy a two prong test. First, the defendant must demonstrate that, considering all of the circumstances, counsel's performance was so deficient that the attorney was not functioning as the "counsel" guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). In so doing,the defendant must overcome a strong presumption that counsel's behavior lies within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance. Id. In other words, petitioner must overcome the presumption that, under the circumstances, the challenged action might be sound trial strategy. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689. Second, the defendant must show that such performance prejudiced his defense. Id. To demonstrate prejudice, the defendant must show that "there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. "Strickland's test for prejudice is a demanding one. 'The likelihood of a different result must be substantial, not just conceivable.'" Storey v. Vasbinder, 657 F.3d 372, 379 (6th Cir. 2011)(quoting Harrington, 131 S. Ct. at 792). The Supreme Court's holding in Strickland places the burden on the defendant who raises a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, and not the state, to show a reasonable probability that the result of the proceeding would have been different, but for counsel's allegedly deficient performance. See Wong v. Belmontes, 558 U.S. 15, 27 (2009).

More importantly, on habeas review, "the...

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