Williams v. Booker

Decision Date21 November 2014
Docket NumberCase No. 09-cv-12667
PartiesCHESTER WILLIAMS, # 134688, Petitioner, v. RAYMOND BOOKER, Respondent.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)

CHESTER WILLIAMS, # 134688, Petitioner,
v.
RAYMOND BOOKER, Respondent.

Case No. 09-cv-12667

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN NORTHERN DIVISION

November 21, 2014


Honorable Thomas L. Ludington

OPINION AND ORDER DENYING THE PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS, DECLINING TO GRANT A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY, BUT GRANTING LEAVE TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS ON APPEAL

Petitioner Chester Williams, a state prisoner at Muskegon Correctional Facility in Muskegon, Michigan, has filed a pro se habeas corpus petition challenging his 2005 convictions for second-degree murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (felony firearm). Petitioner is serving a sentence of two years in prison for the felony firearm conviction and a consecutive term of twenty-five to forty years for the murder conviction. He raises several issues regarding the jury instructions, the exclusion of certain evidence, his trial and appellate attorneys, the sufficiency of the evidence, and the prosecution's failure to preserve the deceased victim's shirt. Respondent Raymond Booker alleges through counsel that Petitioner's claims are procedurally defaulted, non-cognizable, meritless, or barred by the statute of limitations. Upon review of the pleadings and the record, habeas relief is not warranted. Accordingly, the petition will be denied.

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I.

Petitioner was charged in Wayne County, Michigan with first-degree (premeditated) murder and felony firearm. The testimony at his jury trial in Wayne County Circuit Court established that he

fatally shot Charles Franklin on July 19, 2005, in the home of his fiancé Lynette Sanderson. On the night of the shooting, [Petitioner] used cocaine with Sanderson, Sanderson's friend Nadine Cook, and Franklin in Sanderson's living room. [Petitioner] subsequently left the living room and entered Sanderson's bedroom. Franklin followed. Shortly thereafter, Sanderson and Cook heard a gunshot and saw Franklin stagger away from the bedroom. [Petitioner] left the scene immediately after the shooting. Police arrested [Petitioner] almost one month later.

People v. Williams, No. 267951, 2007 WL 4404824, at *1 (Mich. Ct. App. Dec. 18, 2007).

The trial court instructed the jury on first-degree murder and the lesser-included offense of second-degree murder, but denied Petitioner's request to instruct the jury on manslaughter. On December 20, 2005, the jury found Petitioner guilty of second-degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.317, and committing or attempting to commit a felony while carrying or possessing a firearm, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b. The trial court sentenced Petitioner to two years in prison for the felony firearm conviction and to a consecutive term of twenty-five to forty years for the murder conviction.

On appeal from his conviction, Petitioner argued through counsel that (1) the trial court erred in denying his motion for a directed verdict of acquittal on the first-degree murder charge, (2) the trial court erred in denying his request for a jury instruction on voluntary manslaughter, and (3) his trial attorney was ineffective for failing to call a firearm expert. In a pro se supplemental brief, Petitioner argued that: (1) the trial court deprived him of his right to present a defense when it suppressed evidence of the victim's reputation for violence, and, in the alternative, he was denied his right to effective assistance of counsel; (2) he was denied his right

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to present a defense when the prosecutor lost or destroyed exculpatory evidence, and trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request a jury instruction that the evidence would have been favorable to him; (3) his conviction for second-degree murder was not supported by sufficient evidence; (4) the prosecutor argued facts not in evidence; and (5) trial counsel was ineffective for failing to interview witnesses, investigate, move for discovery, and object to the prosecutor's conduct. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's convictions, but vacated the portion of the judgment of sentence that required Petitioner to pay attorney fees. See Williams, 2007 WL 4404824.

Petitioner raised the same eight claims and two additional claims in the Michigan Supreme Court. The two new claims alleged that the trial court's reporter omitted a police officer's testimony from the transcript of trial and that appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to file a supplemental brief or move to remand the case for an evidentiary hearing. On May 27, 2008, the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal because it was not persuaded to review the issues. See People v. Williams, 748 N.W.2d 826 (Mich. 2008) (table).

In 2009, Petitioner filed his habeas corpus petition in this Court and asked the Court to stay his case so that he could pursue additional state remedies. See Pet. for Writ of Habeas Corpus, ECF No. 1. On October 28, 2009, the Court granted Petitioner's request for a stay and closed his case for administrative purposes. See Order Granting a Stay and Closing the Case, ECF No. 7.

Petitioner then filed a motion for relief from judgment in Wayne County Circuit Court. The trial court's successor denied his motion, and the Michigan Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal for failure to establish entitlement to relief under Michigan Court Rule 6.508(D). See People v. Williams, No. 297594 (Mich. Ct. App. Dec. 28, 2010). On September 6, 2011, the

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Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal for the same reason. See People v. Williams, 802 N.W.2d 343 (Mich. 2011) (table).

On September 16, 2011, Petitioner filed an amended habeas corpus petition, see ECF No. 11, and on October 12, 2011, he asked the Court to re-open his habeas case, see ECF No. 12. The Court granted Petitioner's motion and re-opened this case. See Order Granting Mot. to Re-Open Case, ECF No. 13. The amended petition alleges that: (1) the trial court deprived Petitioner of a fair trial by refusing to instruct the jury on the lesser-included offense of manslaughter; (2) the trial court improperly excluded evidence of the victim's violent and aggressive conduct; (3) Petitioner's trial and appellate attorneys were ineffective; (4) the trial court improperly submitted the charge of first-degree murder to the jury, and the evidence was insufficient to sustain Petitioner's conviction for second-degree murder; and (5) the police failed to preserve critical impeachment evidence.

Respondent argues through counsel in an answer to the habeas petition that habeas claims one, three, and four are barred by the one-year statute of limitations. Respondent also maintains that Petitioner procedurally defaulted two of his claims by relying on a factual basis that was not presented to the state courts. Finally, Respondent argues that Petitioner's claims either are not cognizable on habeas review or are meritless and that any errors were harmless. See Answer in Opp'n to Pet. for Writ of Habeas Corpus, ECF No. 18. Petitioner concedes that his first claim is not cognizable on habeas review, but he maintains that his other claims have merit and are not time-barred. See Reply to Resp't's Answer in Opp'n to Pet. for Writ of Habeas Corpus, ECF No. 19.

Neither the one-year statute of limitations, nor the doctrine of exhaustion of state remedies, are jurisdictional matters. See Holland v. Florida, 560 U.S. 631, 645 (2010) (stating

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"the AEDPA 'statute of limitations defense . . . is not 'jurisdictional' " and "does not set forth 'an inflexible rule requiring dismissal whenever' its 'clock has run' ") (quoting Day v. McDonough, 547 U.S. 198, 205 (2006)); Castille v. Peoples, 489 U.S. 346, 349 (1989) (noting that the rule requiring state prisoners to exhaust state remedies before presenting their claims to a federal court in a habeas corpus petition is not a jurisdictional requirement). Procedural default also is not a jurisdictional bar to review of a claim on the merits. Howard v. Bouchard, 405 F.3d 459, 476 (6th Cir. 2005). The Court, moreover, has concluded from a review of the pleadings and record that Petitioner's claims do not warrant habeas relief. An analysis of whether Petitioner's claims are unexhausted, procedurally defaulted, or barred by the statute of limitations would "add[] nothing but complexity to the case." Babick v. Berghuis, 620 F.3d 571, 576 (6th Cir. 2010). The Court therefore "cut[s] to the merits here[.]" Id.

II.

"The statutory authority of federal courts to issue habeas corpus relief for persons in state custody is provided by 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA)." Harrington v. Richter, 131 S. Ct. 770, 783 (2011). Pursuant to § 2254, the Court may not grant a state prisoner's application for the writ of habeas corpus unless the state court's adjudication of the prisoner's claims on the merits

(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). While some federal judges find the limitations of § 2254(d) too confining, all federal judges must obey the provision. White v. Woodall, 134 S. Ct. 1697, 1701 (2014).

Under the "contrary to" clause [of § 2254(d)(1)], a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that

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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. Under the "unreasonable application" clause [of § 2254(d)(1)], a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that
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