Watkins v. Stoddard
OPINION and ORDER Denying 1 Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Declining to Issue a Certificate of Appealbility, or Leave to Appeal In Forma Pauperis Signed by District Judge Sean F. Cox. (JMcC)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
NAPOLEAN DERRON WATKINS,
CIVIL NO. 2:14-CV-13200
HONORABLE SEAN F. COX
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING THE PETITION FOR A WRIT OF HABEAS
CORPUS AND DECLINING TO ISSUE A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY OR
LEAVE TO APPEAL IN FORMA PAUPERIS
Napolean Derron Watkins, (“petitioner”), presently incarcerated at the Marquette Branch
Prison in Marquette, Michigan, has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254. In his pro se application, petitioner challenges his conviction for assault with intent to
murder (AWIM), Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.83; carrying a concealed weapon (CCW), Mich. Comp.
Laws § 750.227; possession of a firearm by a felon (felon-in-possession), Mich. Comp. Laws §
750.224f; and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (felony-firearm), Mich.
Comp. Laws § 750.227b. Defendant was sentenced as a second habitual offender, Mich. Comp.
Laws § 769.10, to concurrent prison terms of 25 to 50 years for the AWIM conviction, 1 to 7 ½
years for the CCW conviction, and 1 to 7 ½ years for the felon-in-possession conviction. He was
also sentenced to a mandatory two-year prison term for the felony-firearm conviction. For the
reasons stated below, the petition for a writ of habeas corpus is DENIED WITH PREJUDICE.
Petitioner was convicted of the above offenses following a jury trial in the Wayne County
Circuit Court. This Court recites verbatim the relevant facts regarding petitioner’s conviction from
the Michigan Court of Appeals’ opinion affirming his conviction, 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.
Defendant was arrested and charged following his alleged involvement in a non-fatal
shooting at a Coney Island restaurant on Detroit’s west side. The evidence
established that, in the early morning hours of December 19, 2008, after an evening
of socializing and drinking alcohol, defendant and two friends drove to a Coney
Island restaurant at the intersection of Livernois Avenue and Tireman Street. While
inside the restaurant, defendant attempted to speak to some female customers, but
they ridiculed and rebuffed him. Instead, the female customers chose to speak to
defendant’s friend, victim Leonardrow Smith. Defendant became angry with Smith
and produced a semi-automatic handgun that he had been carrying in his pocket or
waistband. Smith testified that defendant began “playing with [the gun] behind
[Smith’s] head.” Smith turned around and confronted defendant, knocking the
firearm out of defendant’s hand. Defendant’s other friend then intervened and broke
up the fight between defendant and Smith. At that point, defendant retrieved his gun
and Smith believed that the disagreement had been resolved.
Smith picked up his food from the counter, turned, and began walking toward the
front door of the restaurant. Defendant followed Smith. As Smith walked out the
door of the Coney Island restaurant, defendant shot him once in the back of the head,
just behind the right ear. Smith became dazed, stumbled, and fell. Smith then looked
up and saw defendant leaving the restaurant. According to Smith, defendant “jumped
in the car” and drove away. When police later arrived on the scene, one spent shell
casing was recovered from the area of the restaurant’s front entrance.
Smith was transported to Henry Ford Hospital, where he gave a statement to
Investigator Robert Lee of the Detroit Police Department. Smith did not specifically
recall what he had told Lee at the hospital. However, according to Lee, Smith
identified defendant as his assailant. Smith ultimately recovered from his injury.
Smith testified that defendant called him on the telephone approximately one month
after the shooting. During the telephone conversation, defendant apparently
threatened “to finish the job” and “let bullets fly” if he ever met Smith again.
After providing defendant with written and verbal information concerning his
constitutional rights, Detroit Police Officers Terence Sims and Richard Firsdon
conducted a video-recorded interview with defendant in March 2009. After waiving
his Miranda1 rights, defendant initially admitted that he had shot Smith at the Coney
Island restaurant on December 19, 2008. Defendant also initially told the police that
he would have killed Smith if he had had more than one bullet in his gun. At the end
of the interview, however, defendant recanted, telling the police that he had not shot
Smith and that he had not even been at the Coney Island restaurant in question.
At trial, Smith identified defendant as his assailant. The prosecution displayed
footage taken from the surveillance cameras at the Coney Island restaurant. The
surveillance camera footage showed two men arguing inside the Coney Island
restaurant and one man later being shot in the back of the head as he attempted to
exit the restaurant through the front door. The prosecution also played the video
recording of defendant’s interview with the police. The recording, itself, was
admitted into evidence as an exhibit over defense counsel’s objection.
After playing the video recording of defendant’s police interview, the prosecution
questioned Officer Firsdon regarding some of the specific exchanges that he had with
defendant during the interview. The sound quality of the video was poor, and the
prosecution therefore asked Officer Firsdon to highlight and recap the more
inculpatory admissions made by defendant during the interview. Firsdon responded
to the prosecution’s questions by explaining or summarizing certain of his exchanges
with defendant as the prosecution simultaneously showed the corresponding portions
of the video recording.
Defendant’s primary defense at trial was that he had been in Las Vegas, Nevada,
with his fiancée at the time of the shooting. Defendant admitted that he knew Smith
from the neighborhood, but denied that he had shot Smith. Defendant testified that,
during his interview with the police, he had “just played around most of the time”
and had told the police whatever he “thought they wanted [to hear].” Defendant also
presented the testimony of Akeem Holmes, who had allegedly spoken to Smith while
Smith was in jail on charges stemming from an unrelated incident. According the
Holmes, while in jail Smith told him that “he didn’t know who shot him.”
People v. Watkins, No. 294812, 2010 WL 5093392, at *1–2 (Mich.Ct.App. Dec. 14, 2010);
lv. den., 489 Mich. 935, 797 N.W.2d 633 (2011).
Petitioner now seeks a writ of habeas corpus on the following grounds:
I. The trial court committed reversible error and denied Petitioner his state and
Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L. Ed.2d 694 (1966)(footnote
federal constitutional rights and due process of law under the Sixth and Fourteenth
amendments and const 1963, art 1 sec 17, and 20, by allowing a police witness to
paraphrase what Petitioner said during an interview.
II. Trial court erred at sentencing by imposing an upward departure minimum
sentence of twenty-five years, where no valid substantial and compelling reasons
supported the departure. Re-sentencing is required.
III. Petitioner was denied his constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel
by trial counsel failure to advocate for his client unaffected by conflicting
consideration, conduct basic pre-trial investigation, file pre-trial motions to suppress,
request competency evaluation in the face of continued erratic behavior, present a
defense witness, object to inadmissible evidence, object to prosecutor’s misconduct
and other mistakes and omissions.
IV. Petitioner’s Sixth Amendment constitutional right to effective assistance of
counsel, on his direct appeal was violated when appellate counsel failed to raise
issues which were meritorious, significant and obvious.
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
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
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, 405-06 (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 federal system.” 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, 562 U.S.
86, 101 (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. at 102 (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, 562
U.S. at 102. 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. “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. at 102-03 (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. 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, 562 U.S. at 103. In reviewing petitioner’s claims, this Court must
remember that under the federal constitution, petitioner was “entitled to a fair trial but not a perfect
one.” Lutwak v. United States, 344 U.S. 604, 619 (1953).
A. Claim # 1. The trial court error for letting officer paraphrase statements made by
petitioner on a video.
Petitioner first claims that he was deprived of due process and a fundamentally fair trial
when the trial court allowed Officer Richard Firsdon to testify about an interview with petitioner
and paraphrase what petitioner said during the interview.
The Michigan Court of Appeals found that Firsdon paraphrased petitioner’s testimony but
found that it was not outcome determinative as follows:
We acknowledge that Officer Firsdon’s testimony did not constitute an exact,
verbatim recital of the statements that defendant made during the police interview.
Indeed, despite the prosecution’s argument to the contrary, it is clear from the
transcripts that Firsdon paraphrased certain of defendant’s statements, recasting
them in his own words. . .
In the present case, defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his Miranda
rights before making any statements to the police. This fact is not disputed on
appeal. Accordingly, any editorializing or paraphrasing of defendant’s statements
by Officer Firsdon “went only to the question of the officer’s credibility,” id., and
does not constitute an independent ground for reversal. This is especially so in light
of the fact that the video recording of defendant’s interview was actually admitted
into evidence as an exhibit. In other words, the jurors had the opportunity to
discover any embellishments, exaggerations, or misstatements in Firsdon’s
testimony by viewing the video recording in the jury room and comparing it to
Firsdon’s actual testimony. It is exclusively for the jury to assess the credibility of
the witnesses and decide which testimony to believe.
Moreover, even assuming arguendo that Firsdon’s testimony was somehow
improper, we cannot conclude that it more probably than not affected the outcome
of defendant’s trial. It is fundamental that evidentiary error does not warrant
reversal unless the defendant can establish that the error resulted in a miscarriage
of justice—i.e., that it more probably than not affected the outcome of the
proceedings. In this case, there was a great deal of evidence tending to prove that
defendant was the assailant who shot Smith in the back of the head at the Coney
Island restaurant. Smith positively identified defendant as his assailant, defendant
initially confessed to the police before recanting his statement, a man matching
defendant’s physical characteristics could be seen shooting Smith in the head on the
restaurant’s surveillance video, the spent shell casing found at the scene was
consistent with the handgun that defendant was known to carry, and an employee
of the Coney Island restaurant identified defendant as the man who had argued with
Smith at his restaurant in the early morning hours of December 19, 2008. Given this
significant, independent evidence of defendant’s guilt, we cannot say that the
admission of Firsdon’s testimony—even if admitted in error—more probably than
not resulted in a miscarriage of justice in this case.
People v. Watkins, 2010 WL 5093392, at * 4 (internal citations omitted).
It is “not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determinations on
state-court questions.” Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991). A federal court is limited
in federal habeas review to deciding whether a state court conviction violates the Constitution,
laws, or treaties of the United States. Id. Errors in the application of state law, especially rulings
regarding the admissibility of evidence, are usually not questioned by a federal habeas court.
Seymour v. Walker, 224 F.3d 542, 552 (6th Cir. 2000). A state court evidentiary ruling will be
reviewed by a federal habeas court only if it was so fundamentally unfair as to violate a habeas
petitioner’s due process rights. Coleman v. Mitchell, 244 F.3d 533, 542 (6th Cir. 2001).
In the present case, petitioner’s challenge to the state trial court’s decision to allow the
prosecutor to use Officer Firsdon’s testimony pertaining to petitioner’s remarks during the police
interview is not cognizable on habeas review, because it does not present a constitutional issue. See
e.g. Hadley v. Lavigne, No. 2:04-CV-83, 2006 WL 3837727, at *7 (W.D. Mich. Dec. 29, 2006)
(habeas petition not entitled to habeas relief because the prosecutor elicited a non-verbatim account
of the petitioner’s statement to the police from an officer at trial); see also United States v.
Billingsley, 160 F.3d 502, 504 (8th Cir. 1998) (Law enforcement agent’s testimony paraphrasing
contents of a taped conversation between defendant and his heroin supplier did not constitute
hearsay, but were admissions against a party). The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the trial
court did not abuse its discretion under Michigan law in allowing the prosecutor to utilize Officer
Firsdon’s testimony pertaining to the substance of petitioner’s remarks, though noting that “despite
the prosecution’s argument to the contrary, it is clear from the transcripts that Firsdon paraphrased
certain of defendant’s statements, recasting them in his own words.” With this in mind, the
Michigan Court of Appeals concluded that “any editorializing or paraphrasing of defendant’s
statements by Officer Firsdon ‘went only to the question of the officer’s credibility,’ and does not
constitute an independent ground for reversal. This is especially so in light of the fact that the
video recording of defendant’s interview was actually admitted into evidence as an exhibit. In
other words, the jurors had the opportunity to discover any embellishments, exaggerations, or
misstatements in Firsdon’s testimony by viewing the video recording in the jury room and
comparing it to Firsdon’s actual testimony.” Watkins, 2010 WL 5093392, at *4 (internal citation
Although a state appellate court’s finding that no error has occurred is not dispositive when
a federal court engages in a fundamental fairness analysis, “it is a strong factor mitigating against
a finding that the state trial court’s evidentiary ruling rendered the petitioner’s trial fundamentally
unfair.” United States ex. rel. Hancock v. McEvers, 619 F. Supp. 882, 887 (N.D. Ill. 1985) (holding
that admission of a habeas petitioner’s prior convictions was proper under state evidentiary rules
and did not render the trial fundamentally unfair). Therefore, petitioner did not suffer prejudice of
constitutional dimension when the state trial court refused to preclude admission of Officer Richard
Firsdon’s testimony pertaining to statements made by petitioner during a police interview.
Petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief on his first claim.
B. Claim # 2. The sentencing claim.
Petitioner alleges that the trial court erred by departing above the minimum sentencing
guideline where no valid substantial and compelling reasons existed to support the departure.
It is well-established that “federal habeas corpus relief does not lie for errors of state law.”
Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. at 67. Petitioner’s claim that the state trial court misapplied the
Michigan Sentencing Guidelines is not a cognizable claim for federal habeas review, because it is
a state law claim. See Tironi v. Birkett, 252 F.App’x. 724, 725 (6th Cir. 2007); Howard v. White,
76 F.App’x. 52, 53 (6th Cir. 2003). “Petitioner has no state-created interest in having the Michigan
Sentencing Guidelines applied rigidly in determining his sentence.” See Mitchell v. Vasbinder, 644
F. Supp. 2d 846, 867 (E.D. Mich. 2009) (citing Shanks v. Wolfenbarger, 387 F. Supp. 2d 740, 752
(E.D. Mich. 2005)). Petitioner’s claim that the state trial court improperly departed above the
recommended sentencing guidelines range would thus not entitle him to habeas relief, because such
a departure does not violate any of petitioner’s federal due process rights. See Austin v. Jackson,
213 F.3d 298, 301 (6th Cir. 2000); see also Drew v. Tessmer, 195 F. Supp. 2d 887, 889-90 (E.D.
Mich. 2001). “[I]n short, petitioner had no federal constitutional right to be sentenced within
Michigan’s guideline minimum sentence recommendations.” Doyle v. Scutt, 347 F. Supp. 2d 474,
485 (E.D. Mich. 2004). Any error by the trial court in calculating his guideline score or in
departing above his sentencing guidelines range alone would not merit habeas relief. Id.
Petitioner’s second claim is without merit.
C. Claim # 3. The ineffective assistance of trial counsel claims.
Petitioner alleges many grounds of ineffective assistance of trial counsel, which were
originally filed in his Rule 4 Supplemental brief on his direct appeal.
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, 562
U.S. at 112). 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).
On habeas review, “the question ‘is not whether a federal court believes the state court’s
determination’ under the Strickland standard ‘was incorrect but whether that determination was
unreasonable-a substantially higher threshold.’” Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, 123 (2009)
(quoting Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007)). “The pivotal question is whether the
state court’s application of the Strickland standard was unreasonable. This is different from asking
whether defense counsel’s performance fell below Strickland’s standard.” Harrington v. Richter,
562 U.S. at 101. Therefore, “because the Strickland standard is a general standard, a state court has
even more latitude to reasonably determine that a defendant has not satisfied that standard.”
Knowles, 556 U.S. at 123 (citing Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. at 664). Pursuant to the §
2254(d)(1) standard, a “doubly deferential judicial review” applies to a Strickland claim brought
by a habeas petitioner. Id. This means that on habeas review of a state court conviction, “[A] state
court must be granted a deference and latitude that are not in operation when the case involves
review under the Strickland standard itself.” Harrington, 562 U.S. at 101. “Surmounting
Strickland’s high bar is never an easy task.” Id. at 105 (quoting Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356,
Because of this doubly deferential standard, the Supreme Court has indicated that:
Federal habeas courts must guard against the danger of equating unreasonableness
under Strickland with unreasonableness under § 2254(d). When § 2254(d) applies,
the question is not whether counsel’s actions were reasonable. The question is
whether there is any reasonable argument that counsel satisfied Strickland’s
Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. at 105.
In addition, a reviewing court must not merely give defense counsel the benefit of the doubt,
but must also affirmatively entertain the range of possible reasons that counsel may have had for
proceeding as he or she did. Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 196 (2011).
Petitioner alleges that he was denied his constructional right to the effective assistance of
counsel by trial counsel’s failure to advocate for his client due to conflicting consideration.
This allegation is being raised for the first time on petitioner’s request for habeas relief.
Because this claim is meritless, this Court will address petitioner’s claim on the merits.
A claim of a conflict of interest, by itself, is insufficient to justify reversal of a conviction.
See Reedus v. Stegall, 197 F. Supp. 2d 767, 782 (E.D. Mich. 2001) (citing to United States v. Hall,
200 F.3d 962, 966 (6th Cir. 2000) (additional citations omitted). Instead, a habeas petitioner must
demonstrate “that counsel ‘actively represented conflicting interests’ and that ‘an actual conflict
of interest adversely affected his lawyer’s performance.’” Reedus, 197 F. Supp. 2d at 782 (citing
to Strickland, 466 U.S. at 692). To show this, a habeas petitioner “must make a factual showing
of inconsistent interests and must demonstrate that the attorney ‘made a choice between possible
courses of action, such as eliciting (or failing to elicit) evidence helpful to one client but harmful
to another.” Reedus v. Stegall, 197 F. Supp. 2d at 782-783 (quoting Thomas v. Foltz, 818 F.2d 476,
481 (6th Cir. 1987)). Where a habeas petitioner does not show that his trial counsel had an actual
conflict of interest which prejudiced his defense, he is not entitled to habeas relief on this claim.
Reedus, 197 F. Supp. 2d at 783.
A federal court on habeas review will not find an actual conflict of interest unless a habeas
petitioner can point to specific instances in the record to suggest an actual conflict or impairment
of his interests. See Reedus v. Stegall, 197 F. Supp. 2d 767, 783 (E.D. Mich. 2001) (citing Dixson
v. Quarles, 627 F. Supp. 50, 53 (E.D.Mich.1985)). Conclusory allegations of a conflict of interest
which adversely affected a habeas petitioner’s legal representation do not warrant federal habeas
relief. Id. In the present case, petitioner has failed to allege or to prove that an alleged conflict of
interest prejudiced his defense. Petitioner is therefore not entitled to habeas relief on this part of
his ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim.
Petitioner alleges that trial counsel failed to conduct a basic pre-trial investigation and file
A habeas petitioner cannot show deficient performance or prejudice resulting from
counsel’s failure to investigate if the petitioner does not make some showing of what evidence
counsel should have pursued and how such evidence would have been material to his or her
defense. See Hutchison v. Bell, 303 F.3d 720, 748 (6th Cir. 2002). Petitioner cannot prevail on his
claim that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to adequately prepare the case or conduct a
minimal investigation because he has failed to show how additional pretrial work counsel had
allegedly been deficient in failing to perform would have been beneficial to his defense. See Martin
v. Mitchell, 280 F.3d 594, 607-08 (6th Cir. 2002).
Petitioner alleges that trial counsel failed to file a motion for discovery pertaining to the
videotaped interview with Officer Richard Firsdon.
Petitioner raised a similar ineffective assistance of counsel claim in his pro se supplemental
brief filed on appeal. In his supplemental brief, petitioner claimed that trial counsel was ineffective
for failing to file a motion to suppress, without identifying which pieces of evidence he claims
should have been suppressed. The claim was rejected by the Michigan Court of Appeals on the
grounds that petitioner failed to preserve this issue by filing for a new trial or Ginther hearing and
because petitioner did not identify which pieces of evidence should have been suppressed. Here,
petitioner brings a different claim pertaining to trial counsel’s failure to file a motion for discovery
pertaining to the videotaped interview. The trial court judge denied this claim, filed in his motion
for relief from judgment, finding that petitioner did not raise this issue on direct appeal, citing MCR
6.508(D)(2),(3). People v. Watkins, No. 09-009044-01 *12. (Wayne County Circuit Court, April
Furthermore, the record clearly reflects that this claim is meritless considering that there
was extensive editing of the videotape before trial when the prosecutor and defense counsel viewed
all of the tape and then stipulated to what portions would be shown to the jury. Both parties
informed the jury that the video contained “jumps,” to avoid telling them that prejudicial portions
removed. (Tr. 7/16/2009, pp. 3-5, 121-127). A habeas petitioner must show that he was prejudiced
by trial counsel’s failure to object to an alleged discovery violation in order to obtain relief on an
ineffective assistance of counsel claim. See Wickline v. Mitchell, 319 F.3d 813, 822 (6th Cir. 2003).
Defense counsel was able to view the videotape prior to trial and was able to stipulate to which
portions of the videotape would be shown to the jury. Petitioner failed to show that counsel did not
obtain and review the evidence, thus, counsel was not ineffective for failing to file a discovery
Petitioner alleges that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel when trial counsel
failed to request a competency hearing in light of his multiple psychological diagnoses and erratic
behavior. The Michigan Court of Appeals found that petitioner failed to brief this issue on appeal
and further found that the record was void of any evidence to suggest that petitioner was not
competent to stand trial. Watkins, 2010 WL 5093392 at *10.
Under Michigan law, a party who fails to develop any argument or cite any authority in
support of his or her claim waives appellate review of the issue. People v. Griffin, 235 Mich. App.
27, 45, 597 N.W.2d 176 (1999). “A party may not merely state a position and then leave it to [the
Michigan Court of Appeals] to discover and rationalize the basis for the claim.” Id. A state court
conclusion that an issue was waived is considered a procedural default. See e.g., Shahideh v.
McKee, 488 F. App’x. 963, 965 (6th Cir. 2012). This part of petitioner’s claim is procedurally
When the state courts clearly and expressly rely on a valid state procedural bar, federal
habeas review is also barred unless petitioner can demonstrate “cause” for the default and actual
prejudice as a result of the alleged constitutional violation, or can demonstrate that failure to
consider the claim will result in a “fundamental miscarriage of justice.” Coleman v. Thompson, 501
U.S. 722, 750-51 (1991). If a petitioner fails to show cause for his procedural default, it is
unnecessary for the court to reach the prejudice issue. Smith v. Murray, 477 U.S. 527, 533 (1986).
However, in an extraordinary case, where a constitutional error has probably resulted in the
conviction of one who is actually innocent, a federal court may consider the constitutional claims
presented even in the absence of a showing of cause for procedural default. Murray v. Carrier, 477
U.S. 478, 479-80 (1986). However, to be credible, such a claim of innocence requires a petitioner
to support the allegations of constitutional error with new reliable evidence that was not presented
at trial. Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 324 (1995).
Petitioner raised his claim that trial counsel was ineffective by failing to request a
competency hearing in his Standard 4 pro per brief that he submitted in addition to the brief
submitted by appellate counsel. 2 Petitioner has offered no reasons for his failure to properly brief
this claim. Because petitioner has not demonstrated any cause for his procedural default, it is
unnecessary for this Court to reach the prejudice issue. Smith v. Murray, 477 U.S. at 533.
Additionally, petitioner has not presented any new reliable evidence to support any assertion of
innocence which would allow this Court to consider his claim as a ground for a writ of habeas
corpus in spite of the procedural default. Because petitioner has not presented any new reliable
evidence that he is innocent of these crimes, petitioner’s claim is procedurally defaulted. Pearl v.
Cason, 219 F. Supp. 2d. 820, 828 (E.D. Mich. 2002). Petitioner is therefore not entitled to habeas
relief on his competency claim.
Petitioner alleges that trial counsel was ineffective by failing to hire an investigator to
discover and then interview and call “known witnesses.” Petitioner concedes that “the record on
this aspect of ineffective assistance is not part of the lower court record,” and as such “an
evidentiary hearing is needed.”
Standard 4 of Administrative Order 2004-6, 471 Mich. cii (2004), “explicitly provides
that a pro se brief may be filed within 84 days of the filing of the brief by the appellant’s
counsel, and may be filed with accompanying motions.” Ware v. Harry, 636 F. Supp. 2d 574,
594, n. 6 (E.D. Mich. 2008).
Conclusory allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel, without any evidentiary support,
do not provide a basis for habeas relief. See Workman v. Bell, 178 F.3d 759, 771 (6th Cir. 1998).
By failing to present any evidence to the state courts in support of this portion of his ineffective
assistance of claim, petitioner is not entitled to an evidentiary hearing on his ineffective assistance
of counsel claim with this Court. See Cooey v. Coyle, 289 F.3d 882, 893 (6th Cir. 2002) (citing 28
U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2)(A)(ii)). Furthermore petitioner has failed to show that counsel would have
obtained beneficial information had he hired an investigator earlier; thus, he has failed to establish
that he was prejudiced by counsel’s failure to hire an investigator. See Welsh v. Lafler, 444
F.App’x. 844, 851 (6th Cir. 2011) (Defense counsel’s failure to hire private investigator during
prosecution for criminal sexual conduct did not prejudice defendant, and thus was not ineffective
assistance; defendant failed to present sufficiently detailed and convincing account of what
additional facts investigator could have discovered in support of defendant’s innocence). Petitioner
is not entitled to habeas relief on this claim.
Petitioner alleges that trial counsel was ineffective by failing to challenge the witness
identification/witness statement by not questioning the witness about petitioner’s facial tattoos.
“Courts generally entrust cross-examination techniques, like other matters of trial strategy,
to the professional discretion of counsel.” Dell v. Straub, 194 F. Supp. 2d 629, 651 (E.D. Mich.
2002). “Impeachment strategy is a matter of trial tactics, and tactical decisions are not ineffective
assistance of counsel simply because in retrospect better tactics may have been available.” Id.
In the present case, defense counsel’s performance did not constitute ineffective assistance
of counsel where the record shows that defense counsel carefully cross-examined the prosecution
witnesses and in his closing argument emphasized the inconsistencies and weaknesses in the
testimony of the various witnesses. See Krist v. Foltz, 804 F.2d 944, 948-49 (6th Cir. 1986);
Millender v. Adams, 187 F. Supp. 2d 852, 872 (E.D. Mich. 2002).
Although other attorneys might have reached a different conclusion about the value of
cross-examining [the witness] in greater detail, counsel’s strategic choice not to cross-examine the
witnesses about petitioner’s facial tattoos was “‘within the wide range of reasonable professional
assistance.’” See Moss v. Hofbauer, 286 F.3d 851, 864 (6th Cir. 2002) (quoting Strickland, 466
U.S. at 689). Counsel’s strategic choice to forego more in-depth cross-examination is “virtually
unchallengeable” because it was made after considering the relevant law and facts of the case. Id.
This evidence could have been extremely damaging to petitioner, had it solidified the witnesses’
identification of petitioner, thus, counsel was not ineffective for failing to use it to impeach the
credibility of the prosecutor’s witnesses. See e.g., U.S. v. Munoz, 605 F.3d 359, 382 (6th Cir.
2010)(defense counsel’s failure to introduce additional impeachment evidence from jailmate of
witness did not prejudice defendant during his drug conspiracy prosecution, and thus could not
amount to ineffective assistance; counsel’s failure to place incarcerated drug importer on stand to
testify on defendant’s behalf eliminated the risk that jury would associate defendant with drugs).
Petitioner alleges that counsel was ineffective by failing to pursue an alibi defense.
Other than petitioner’s trial testimony, the record is void of any evidence that petitioner was
in Las Vegas at the time of the shooting. The Michigan Court of Appeals rejected this claim
finding that counsel was not ineffective for failing to present an alibi defense that he has reason to
believe may be false or perjurious.” People v. Watkins, 2010 WL 5093392, at * 9. Moreover, the
failure to call an alibi witness is a reasonable trial strategy where defense counsel has a reasonable
basis to believe that the witness’s testimony was fabricated and that such fact would be exposed
on cross-examination. See United States v. Foreman, 323 F.3d 498, 503 (6th Cir. 2003). Trial
Counsel questioned petitioner on his whereabouts on the day of the shooting and then requested
a jury instruction pertaining to an alibi defense, because of petitioner’s testimony. (Tr. 3/20/2015,
pp. 35, 50). Trial counsel was not ineffective for failing to pursue and alibi defense.
Petitioner alleges that trial counsel was ineffective by failing to object to “prosecutorial
misconduct and other mistakes and omissions.” The Michigan Court of Appeals rejected this claim
The record discloses no instances of prosecutorial misconduct or other prejudicial
behavior by the prosecution. Nor does defendant identify any instances of
prosecutorial misconduct at trial apart from his bald, unsupported assertion that
“there was overwhelming evidence pointing towards prosecutorial fabrication.”
Defendant’s trial attorney did not perform deficiently by failing to raise a meritless
objection in this regard.
Watkins, 2010 WL 5093392, at *9.
Petitioner has failed to show that the prosecutor committed misconduct, thus, counsel was
not ineffective for failing to object. Petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief on his ineffective
assistance of trial counsel claims.
D. Claim # 4. The ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claim.
Petitioner alleges in his fourth and final claim that appellate counsel was ineffective for
failing to raise these ineffective assistance of trial counsel claims on his appeal of right.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant the right to the effective assistance of counsel
on the first appeal by right. Evitts v. Lucey, 469 U.S. 387, 396-397 (1985). However, court
appointed counsel does not have a constitutional duty to raise every nonfrivolous issue requested
by a defendant. Jones v. Barnes, 463 U.S. 745, 751 (1983). Because none of these claims can be
shown to be meritorious, appellate counsel was not ineffective for failing to bring these claims on
petitioner’s direct appeal. “[A]ppellate counsel cannot be found to be ineffective for ‘failure to
raise an issue that lacks merit.’” Shaneberger v. Jones, 615 F.3d 448, 452 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting
Greer v. Mitchell, 264 F.3d 663, 676 (6th Cir. 2001)).
Moreover, petitioner was able to raise his ineffective assistance of counsel claims in his
Standard 4 pro per supplemental brief. Because the Michigan Court of Appeals considered, and
rejected the claims raised by petitioner in his supplemental pro per brief, petitioner is unable to
show that he was prejudiced by appellate counsel’s failure to raise these claims in the appeal brief
filed by counsel. See Donaldson v. Booker, 505 F.App’x. 488, 496 (6th Cir. 2012). Petitioner’s
fourth and final claim is without merit.
The Court will deny the petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The Court will also deny a
certificate of appealability to petitioner. In order to obtain a certificate of appealability, a prisoner
must make a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right. 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2).
To demonstrate this denial, the applicant is required to show that reasonable jurists could debate
whether, or agree that, the petition should have been resolved in a different manner, or that the
issues presented were adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed further. Slack v. McDaniel,
529 U.S. 473, 483-84 (2000). When a district court rejects a habeas petitioner’s constitutional
claims on the merits, the petitioner must demonstrate that reasonable jurists would find the district
court’s assessment of the constitutional claims to be debatable or wrong. Id. at 484. “The district
court must issue or deny a certificate of appealability when it enters a final order adverse to the
applicant.” Rules Governing § 2254 Cases, Rule 11(a), 28 U.S.C. foll. § 2254.
For the reasons stated in this opinion, the Court will deny petitioner a certificate of
appealability because he has failed to make a substantial showing of the denial of a federal
constitutional right. See also Millender v. Adams, 187 F. Supp. 2d 852, 880 (E.D. Mich. 2002).
The Court further concludes that petitioner should not be granted leave to proceed in forma
pauperis on appeal, as any appeal would be frivolous. See Fed.R.App. P. 24(a).
Based upon the foregoing, IT IS ORDERED that the petition for a writ of habeas corpus
is DENIED WITH PREJUDICE.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Court DECLINES TO ISSUE a certificate of
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that petitioner will be DENIED leave to appeal in forma
Dated: May 16, 2017
s/Sean F. Cox
Sean F. Cox
U. S. District Judge
I hereby certify that on May 16, 2017, the foregoing document was served on counsel of record
via electronic means and upon Napolean Watkins via First Class mail at the address below:
Napolean Watkins 704896
MARQUETTE BRANCH PRISON
1960 U.S. HWY 41 SOUTH
MARQUETTE, MI 49855
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