Stewart v. MaCauley, Case No. 1:20-cv-68

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District Michigan)
Writing for the CourtHonorable Robert J. Jonker
PartiesVALENTINO LAHRON STEWART, Petitioner, v. MATT MACAULEY, Respondent.
Decision Date07 April 2020
Docket NumberCase No. 1:20-cv-68

MATT MACAULEY, Respondent.

Case No. 1:20-cv-68


April 7, 2020

Honorable Robert J. Jonker


This is a habeas corpus action brought by a state prisoner under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Promptly after the filing of a petition for habeas corpus, the Court must undertake a preliminary review of the petition to determine whether "it plainly appears from the face of the petition and any exhibits annexed to it that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court." Rule 4, Rules Governing § 2254 Cases; see 28 U.S.C. § 2243. If so, the petition must be summarily dismissed. Rule 4; see Allen v. Perini, 424 F.2d 134, 141 (6th Cir. 1970) (district court has the duty to "screen out" petitions that lack merit on their face). A dismissal under Rule 4 includes those petitions which raise legally frivolous claims, as well as those containing factual allegations that are palpably incredible or false. Carson v. Burke, 178 F.3d 434, 436-37 (6th Cir. 1999). After undertaking the review required by Rule 4, the Court concludes that the petition must be dismissed because it fails to raise a meritorious federal claim.

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I. Factual allegations

Petitioner Valentino Lahron Stewart is incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections at the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility (IBC) in Ionia, Ionia County, Michigan. Following a jury trial in the Ingham County Circuit Court, Petitioner was convicted of second-degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.317, assault with intent to murder (AWIM), Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.83, carrying a concealed weapon (CCW), Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (felony firearm), Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b. On September 3, 2014, the court sentenced Petitioner to concurrent prison terms of 300 to 600 months on the murder conviction, 200 to 400 months on the AWIM conviction, and 24 to 60 months on the CCW conviction, to be served consecutively to a 2-year prison term for the felony-firearm conviction.

On January 21, 2020, Petitioner timely filed his habeas corpus petition. Under Sixth Circuit precedent, the application is deemed filed when handed to prison authorities for mailing to the federal court. Cook v. Stegall, 295 F.3d 517, 521 (6th Cir. 2002). Petitioner signed his application on January 21, 2020. (Pet., ECF No. 1, PageID.46.) The petition was received by the Court on January 27, 2020. For purposes of this opinion, the Court has given Petitioner the benefit of the earliest possible filing date. See Brand v. Motley, 526 F.3d 921, 925 (6th Cir. 2008) (holding that the date the prisoner signs the document is deemed under Sixth Circuit law to be the date of handing to officials) (citing Goins v. Saunders, 206 F. App'x 497, 498 n.1 (6th Cir. 2006)).

The petition raises three grounds for relief, as follows:



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(Pet., ECF No. 1, PageID.2, 6, 25, 30, 35.)

The facts underlying Petitioner's conviction, as taken from the Michigan Court of Appeals opinion, are as follows:

According to the evidence introduced at trial, on June 26, 2013, defendant participated in a shooting on North Pine Street in Lansing that resulted in the death of Anthony Kye. Kye's autopsy report showed that he had been shot three times, and that his wounds were consistent with those caused by a high-powered rifle. Although Kye lost his life in the shooting, it appears that he was not the intended victim. Rather, the shooters intended to kill someone known as "Fat Cat," who assaulted defendant several days prior to the shooting.

One of the principal witnesses at defendant's trial was Mark Williams, who lived with defendant and defendant's family, including defendant's brother, Jamon Hampton. Williams testified that on June 26, 2013, he agreed to defendant's request to drive defendant and Hampton to the store. Williams was new to the area, so Hampton provided directions; but it soon became clear that Hampton was not directing him to a store. During the drive, Williams heard Hampton ask defendant if "they were going to be doing this by their self [sic] or were we . . . meeting somebody over there." Hampton also asked defendant whether he had a "mag," and defendant responded that he had only three bullets. According to Williams, defendant owned a 9-millimeter pistol which he was carrying that night.

Williams testified that Hampton eventually directed him to a corner near the intersection of Lapeer and Pine streets. Williams offered Hampton the use of a firearm, which Williams had stored in the trunk of his car. In response, Hampton asked to use his AR-15 assault rifle, so Williams loaded the weapon and gave it to Hampton. Hampton and defendant then ran off into the night.

Williams and other witnesses testified that they heard repeated gunfire, and Williams testified that he recognized it as the sound of his assault rifle. Defendant and Hampton returned to Williams's car a few moments later, and he drove back to the apartment. Defendant called someone while they were driving, and told the person to avoid the north side of town because it was "hot," and to meet them at the apartment. When they returned to the apartment building, Jarvis Askew and Charles Mattox, who were friends of defendant and Hampton, were waiting in the parking lot. Mattox testified that defendant told them that he had seen Fat Cat and shot twice in the air. According to Williams, while they were discussing the shooting, they learned through phone calls that the "wrong person" had been killed.

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A jury convicted defendant of second-degree murder, assault with intent to commit murder, CCW, and felony firearm. The trial court sentenced defendant as noted above. Defendant now appeals as of right.

People v. Stewart (Stewart I), No. 323969, 2016 WL 683117, at *1-2 (Mich. Ct. App. Feb. 18, 2016). The court of appeals' summary is consistent with the evidence outlined in Petitioner's habeas application, though Petitioner's application contains additional details. (ECF No. 1, PageID.7-23.)

After hearing the evidence, the jury acquitted Petitioner of first-degree murder, but convicted him of second-degree murder, AWIM, CCW, and felony firearm. Petitioner appealed his convictions and sentences to the Michigan Court of Appeals, raising the same three issues he presents in his habeas petition, together with a claim raised in his pro per supplemental brief on appeal concerning the failure to give a voluntary-manslaughter instruction and a supplemental sentencing issue under People v. Lockridge, 870 N.W.2d 502. The court of appeals affirmed the convictions, but remanded the case to the trial court to determine whether the court's sentence based on judge-found facts would have been different if the guidelines were discretionary rather than mandatory and, if so, to resentence Petitioner. Stewart I, 2016 WL 682982, at *6-7.

Petitioner sought leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, raising the same issues presented to the court of appeals. In an order issued on January 31, 2017, the supreme court denied leave to appeal.

On remand, the trial court concluded that it would have imposed the same sentence in the absence of the unconstitutional restraint on its discretion. Petitioner appealed the trial court's refusal to resentence him to the Michigan Court of Appeals. The court of appeals affirmed his sentence in an unpublished opinion issued on May 8, 2018. People v. Stewart (Stewart II), No. 338726, 2018 WL 2121690 (Mich. Ct. App. May 8, 2018). Petitioner sought leave to appeal the

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denial of resentencing to the Michigan Supreme Court. The supreme court denied leave to appeal on October 30, 2018.

II. AEDPA standard

This action is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub. L. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (AEDPA). The AEDPA "prevents federal habeas 'retrials'" and ensures that state court convictions are given effect to the extent possible under the law. Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693-94 (2002). An application for writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person who is incarcerated pursuant to a state conviction cannot be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the adjudication: "(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 upon an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). This standard is "intentionally difficult to meet." Woods v. Donald, 575 U.S. 312, 316 (2015) (internal quotation omitted).

The AEDPA limits the source of law to cases decided by the United States Supreme Court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). This Court may consider only the holdings, and not the dicta, of the Supreme Court. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000); Bailey v. Mitchell, 271 F.3d 652, 655 (6th Cir. 2001). In determining whether federal law is clearly established, the Court may not consider the decisions of lower federal courts. Lopez v. Smith, 574 U.S. 1, 4 (2014); Marshall v. Rodgers, 569 U.S. 58, 64 (2013); Parker v. Matthews, 567 U.S. 37, 48-49 (2012); Williams, 529 U.S. at 381-82; Miller v. Straub, 299 F.3d 570, 578-79 (6th Cir. 2002). Moreover, "clearly established Federal law" does not include decisions of the Supreme Court announced after the last adjudication of the merits in state court....

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