Green v. MacLaren
OPINION AND ORDER Denying 1 Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus filed by Joseph Green; Denying Certificate of Appealability; Denying Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis on Appeal. Signed by District Judge Victoria A. Roberts. (CPin)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
JOSEPH MICHAEL GREEN, #607305,
CASE NO. 2:14-CV-13393
HONORABLE VICTORIA A. ROBERTS
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING THE PETITION FOR A WRIT OF
HABEAS CORPUS, DENYING A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY,
AND DENYING LEAVE TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS ON APPEAL
Michigan prisoner Joseph Michael Green (“Petitioner”) filed a pro se Petition for a Writ of
Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 asserting that he is being held in violation of his
constitutional rights. Petitioner was convicted of first-degree murder, assault with intent to commit
murder, and possession of firearm during the commission of a felony following a jury trial in the
Wayne County Circuit Court in 2009. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility
of parole on the murder conviction, a concurrent term of 15 to 30 years imprisonment on the assault
conviction, and a consecutive term of two years imprisonment on the felony firearm conviction. In
his pleadings, Petitioner raises claims concerning a prosecution witness’s invocation of his Fifth
Amendment privilege and the admission of his prior testimony, the alleged denial of his right to be
present and to counsel at a critical stage, and the effectiveness of trial and appellate counsel.
For the reasons set forth, the Court denies habeas relief. The Court also denies a certificate
of appealability and denies leave to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal.
Facts and Procedural History
Petitioner’s convictions arise from a shooting that occurred in Detroit, Michigan on May 15,
2007. Carl Hairston was killed and Jerrance Lewis was injured. Petitioner and his brother, Terrance
Jamal Williams, were tried jointly before separate juries in 2008. Petitioner’s brother was convicted
in that proceeding, but Petitioner’s jury deadlocked. Petitioner was subsequently retried and
convicted. The Michigan Court of Appeals described the underlying facts, which are presumed
correct on habeas review, see 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 413 (6th Cir.
2009), as follows:
In the early morning hours of May 15, 2007, Hairston drove his mother's Chevy
Tahoe to pick up Lewis and Thomas Cook. Although Hairston and Lewis were under
21, the trio traveled to the Perfect Beat nightclub near the corner of Fort Street and
Schaefer Road in southwest Detroit. They left the club shortly before closing,
reentered their vehicle and traversed Fort Street in front of the club for several
minutes while listening to loud music. Williams (then age 20) approached the Tahoe
from behind while driving a light blue minivan. Williams pulled parallel to the
driver's side of the Tahoe. The rear, passenger-side sliding door of the minivan
opened and Green (then age 22) fired more than 20 shots from an AK–47 at the
Tahoe. The minivan collided with the Tahoe and the minivan's door was torn off in
the fray. Hairston was struck with several bullets and was pronounced dead on
arrival at the hospital. Lewis was shot numerous times in the abdomen and side,
required three surgeries to repair internal damage, and was hospitalized for a month.
Cook escaped unharmed. He fled the scene and was only secured as a trial witness
through the significant efforts of the prosecutor and law enforcement officers.
Investigating officers soon received an anonymous tip that “Joe Green” was involved
in the shooting, but they were unable to locate any suspects on that information
alone. Investigators then discovered a burned minivan, missing its sliding rear door,
abandoned in a field. The door recovered on Fort Street perfectly matched the
minivan. The officers traced the vehicle's identification number and learned that it
was registered to Juanita Williams, the mother of defendant Williams and defendant
“Joe Green.” When Lewis recovered sufficiently to speak to the officers, he
specifically identified defendants by name as his attackers. Lewis indicated that he
had seen defendants driving the minivan in the past and clearly saw their faces
during the shooting. Lewis then confirmed defendants' identities through a
Green and Williams had a long-standing feud with Hairston and Lewis. Lewis
admitted that the two groups fought each time they met, sometimes with weapons.
The parties stipulated that Williams had previously shot Lewis in the hand. Cornelius
Wade, a jailhouse informant, testified that Williams confessed to the drive-by
shooting while housed in the Wayne County Jail. According to Wade, a man name
Armond hired Williams and Green to kill Lewis and Hairston to avenge the robbery
of Armond's carwash (which served as a front for a drug-dealing and gambling
operation). Wade alleged that a man named Aaron Campbell was at the Perfect Beat
on the night of the shooting and contacted defendants by telephone to alert them of
Hairston's and Lewis's presence. The prosecution also presented evidence that
someone threw a firebomb into and fired a barrage of bullets at Lewis's home the
night before defendants' preliminary examination.
Defendants asserted alibis in support of their defenses. Williams also presented
evidence from his friends Jamaal and Jameel Croft, who claimed to have been
standing outside the Perfect Beat at the time of the shooting, and asserted that the
minivan's occupants were heavy-set Mexican or Caucasian men. Defendants
attempted to establish that their minivan had been stolen earlier that evening from
an apartment complex in Lincoln Park.1 Williams' jury did not believe his defense
theory and convicted him of first-degree premeditated murder, MCL 750.316, and
assault with intent to murder, MCL 750.83. The court sentenced Williams to life
without parole for the murder conviction and 20 to 30 years imprisonment for the
After the original trial, the Michigan State Police Forensic Laboratory retested the
shell casings found outside the Perfect Beat and Lewis's home. The state lab could
neither confirm nor deny whether any of the casings were fired from a single
weapon. The investigator testified that AK–47s are loosely tooled resulting in
discrepancies between shells fired from a single gun. Accordingly, it remained
possible that the shell casings had been fired from a single weapon.
Green proceeded to retrial after which the jury convicted him of first-degree
premeditated murder, assault with intent to murder and possession of a firearm
during the commission of a felony (felony-firearm), MCL 750.227b. The court
sentenced Green to concurrent terms of life without parole and 15 to 30 years
imprisonment for his murder and assault convictions to be served consecutive to a
two-year term for felony-firearm.
Defendant's maternal aunt, Tracey George, initially told police that she was in the basement on the night of the
shooting. She asserted that she looked through the basement window facing the driveway and saw the minivan pull out. George
told the officers that she assumed one of the defendants was driving. George later attempted to file a vehicle theft report with the
Lincoln Park Police Department, but the officer found her story too incredible to register on LIEN.
In the meantime, Williams had appealed his convictions as of right. We held
Williams' appeal in abeyance pending the State Lab's analysis of the ballistic
evidence. People v. Williams, unpublished order of the Court of Appeals, entered
April 1, 2009 (Docket No. 286097). We then remanded for the trial court to consider
whether Williams was entitled to a new trial based on newly discovered evidence.
People v. Williams, unpublished order of the Court of Appeals, entered January 15,
2010 (Docket No. 286097). The trial court concluded that the exchange of ballistic
evidence would not make a different result probable on retrial and therefore denied
Williams' motion for a new trial.
Green also sought a new trial, but based on the ineffective assistance of counsel at
his second trial. The trial court rejected Green's claim....
People v. Green, No. 291335, 2011 WL 6004067, *1-3 (Mich. Ct. App. Dec. 1, 2011) (unpublished)
(footnote in original).
Following his convictions and sentencing, Petitioner filed an appeal of right with the
Michigan Court of Appeals raising claims concerning prosecution witness Jerrance Lewis’s
invocation of his Fifth Amendment privilege at Petitioner’s second trial and the admission of his
testimony from the first trial, and the effectiveness of trial counsel for failing to produce two
witnesses, Jamaal and Jameel Croft, who testified before the co-defendant’s jury at the first trial, and
Petitioner’s second trial. The court denied relief on those claims and affirmed Petitioner’s
convictions. Id. at *11-14. Petitioner filed an application for leave to appeal with the Michigan
Supreme Court, which was denied in a standard order. People v. Green, 491 Mich. 920, 812 N.W.2d
Petitioner then filed a motion for relief from judgment with the state trial court raising claims
concerning Jerrance Lewis’s invocation of his Fifth Amendment privilege and the admission of his
testimony from the first trial, the alleged denial of his right to be present and to counsel at a critical
stage, the pre-trial identification procedures, and the effectiveness of trial and appellate counsel.
While that case was pending, Petitioner instituted a habeas action in this Court raising those same
claims, which the Court dismissed without prejudice to allow Petitioner to fully exhaust his claims
in the state courts before proceeding on federal habeas review. Green v. MacLaren, No. 13-CV10651 (E.D. Mich. Feb. 22, 2013).
The state trial court subsequently denied Petitioner’s motion for relief from judgment finding
that certain claims had already been denied on direct appeal and that the remaining claims lacked
merit. People v. Green, No. 07-010617-01-FC (Wayne Co. Cir. Ct. March 6, 2013). Petitioner filed
an application for leave to appeal with the Michigan Court of Appeals raising the same claims,
which was denied for failure to “meet the burden of establishing entitlement to relief under MCR
6.508(D).” People v. Green, No. 316280 (Mich. Ct. App. Oct. 25, 2013). Petitioner then filed an
application for leave to appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court, which was similarly denied.
People v. Green, 495 Mich. 993, 845 N.W.2d 120 (2014).
Petitioner instituted this action in August, 2014. As noted, he raises claims concerning
Jerrance Lewis’s invocation of his Fifth Amendment privilege and the admission of his prior
testimony, the alleged denial of his right to be present and to counsel at a critical stage, and the
effectiveness of trial and appellate counsel. Respondent filed an answer to the petition, contending
that it should be denied because certain claims are procedurally defaulted and all of the claims lack
merit. Petitioner replied.
Standard of Review
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), codified at 28
U.S.C. § 2241 et seq., sets forth the standard of review that federal courts must use when considering
habeas petitions brought by prisoners challenging their state court convictions. The AEDPA
provides in relevant part:
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
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) (1996).
“A state court’s decision is ‘contrary to’ . . . clearly established law if it ‘applies a rule that
contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court cases]’ or if it ‘confronts a set of facts
that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme] Court and nevertheless
arrives at a result different from [that] precedent.’” Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 15-16 (2003)
(per curiam) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)); see also Bell v. Cone, 535
U.S. 685, 694 (2002).
“[T]he ‘unreasonable application’ prong of § 2254(d)(1) permits a federal habeas court to
‘grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme]
Court but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of petitioner’s case.” Wiggins v. Smith,
539 U.S. 510, 520 (2003) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 413); see also Bell, 535 U.S. at 694.
However, “[i]n order for a federal court to find a state court’s application of [Supreme Court]
precedent ‘unreasonable,’ the state court’s decision must have been more than incorrect or
erroneous. The state court’s application must have been ‘objectively unreasonable.’” Wiggins, 539
U.S. at 520-21 (citations omitted); see also Williams, 529 U.S. at 409. “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, 521 U.S. at 333, n. 7; Woodford v. Viscotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (per curiam)).
The United States Supreme Court has held that “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. (citing Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003)). 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. Thus, in order to
obtain federal habeas relief, a state prisoner must show that the state court’s rejection of a claim
“was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in
existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” Id.; see also White v. Woodall,
_ U.S. _, 134 S. Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014). Federal judges “are required to afford state courts due
respect by overturning their decisions only when there could be no reasonable dispute that they
were wrong.” Woods v. Donald, _ U.S. _, 135 S. Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015). A habeas petitioner
cannot prevail as long as it is within the “realm of possibility” that fairminded jurists could find the
state court decision to be reasonable. Woods v. Etherton, _ U.S. _, 136 S. Ct. 1149, 1152 (2016).
Section 2254(d)(1) limits a federal court’s review to a determination of whether the state
court’s decision comports with clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court
at the time the state court renders its decision. Williams, 529 U.S. at 412; see also Knowles v.
Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, 122 (2009) (noting that the Supreme Court “has held on numerous
occasions that it is not ‘an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law’ for a state
court to decline to apply a specific legal rule that has not been squarely established by this Court”)
(quoting Wright v. Van Patten, 552 U.S. 120, 125-26 (2008) (per curiam)); Lockyer, 538 U.S. at
71-72. Section 2254(d) “does not require a state court to give reasons before its decision can be
deemed to have been ‘adjudicated on the merits.’” Harrington, 562 U.S. at 100. Furthermore, it
“does not require citation of [Supreme Court] cases–indeed, it does not even require awareness of
[Supreme Court] cases, so long as neither the reasoning nor the result of the state-court decision
contradicts them.” Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002); see also Mitchell, 540 U.S. at 16.
The requirements of “clearly established law” are to be determined solely by Supreme Court
precedent. Thus, “circuit precedent does not constitute ‘clearly established Federal law, as
determined by the Supreme Court,’” and “[i]t therefore cannot form the basis for habeas relief
under AEDPA.” Parker v. Matthews, 567 U.S. _, 132 S. Ct. 2148, 2155 (2012) (per curiam); see
also Lopez v. Smith, _ U.S. _ 135 S. Ct. 1, 2 (2014) (per curiam). The decisions of lower federal
courts may be useful in assessing the reasonableness of the state court’s decision. Stewart v. Erwin,
503 F.3d 488, 493 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Williams v. Bowersox, 340 F.3d 667, 671 (8th Cir. 2003));
Dickens v. Jones, 203 F. Supp. 2d 354, 359 (E.D. Mich. 2002).
Lastly, a state court’s factual determinations are presumed correct on federal habeas review.
28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). A petitioner may rebut this presumption with clear and convincing
evidence. Warren v. Smith, 161 F.3d 358, 360-61 (6th Cir. 1998). Habeas review is also “limited
to the record that was before the state court.” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011).
Fifth Amendment Privilege/Use of Prior Testimony Claim
Petitioner first asserts that he is entitled to habeas relief because Jerrance Lewis improperly
invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege at Petitioner’s second trial and the trial court erred in
admitting Lewis’s testimony from the first trial. The Michigan Court of Appeals described the
Several months before Green's second trial, Lewis informed the court, prosecutor
and defense counsel through his own attorney that he would not testify. At that
point, Lewis faced an unrelated murder charge. He refused to testify at Green's
retrial, on the advice of counsel, to avoid making any statements that could be used
against him in his own trial. It appears from the record that the court spoke to Lewis
in chambers at some point and Lewis reiterated his intent to invoke his Fifth
Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. Ultimately, Lewis was not
convicted of murder, but our record is silent regarding the exact fate of those
charges. Lewis was instead convicted of felony-firearm and delivery of cocaine. As
he refused to testify at Green's retrial, the court permitted the prosecution to read
into the record the transcript of Lewis's testimony from the first trial.
Green, 2011 WL 6004067 at *11. Respondent contends that this claim lacks merit.
A federal court may only grant habeas relief to a person who is “in custody in violation of
the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Alleged trial court
errors in the application of state evidentiary law are generally not cognizable as grounds for federal
habeas relief. See Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67–68 (1991) (“it is not the province of a
federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determinations on state-law questions”); Serra v.
Michigan Dep’t of Corrections, 4 F.3d 1348, 1354 (6th Cir. 1993). “Trial court errors in state
procedure or evidentiary law do not rise to the level of federal constitutional claims warranting
relief in a habeas action, unless the error renders the proceeding so fundamentally unfair as to
deprive the petitioner of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.” McAdoo v. Elo, 365 F.3d
487, 494 (6th Cir. 2004) (quoting Estelle, 502 U.S. at 69-70); see also Wynne v. Renico, 606 F.3d
867, 871 (6th Cir. 2010) (citing Bey v. Bagley, 500 F.3d 514, 519-20 (6th Cir. 2007)); Bugh v.
Mitchell, 329 F.3d 496, 512 (6th Cir. 2003).
The Michigan Court of Appeals denied relief on this claim. The court explained:
We review a trial court's evidentiary rulings for an abuse of discretion and
underlying legal questions regarding the rules of evidence de novo. People v.
Farquharson, 274 Mich App 268, 271; 731 NW2d 797 (2007).4 Pursuant to MRE
804(b)(1), if a witness is “unavailable,” a party may avoid the hearsay rule and
Testimony given as a witness at another hearing of the same or a
different proceeding, if the party against whom the testimony is now
offered ... had an opportunity and similar motive to develop the
testimony by direct, cross, or redirect examination.5
Relevant to Green's appeal, a declarant is “unavailable” if he “is exempted by ruling
of the court on the ground of privilege from testifying concerning the subject matter
of the declarant's statement.” MRE 804(a).
It is well-established that a witness who invokes his Fifth Amendment privilege
against self-incrimination is “unavailable” as defined in MRE 804(a). People v.
Meredith, 459 Mich 62, 66; 586 NW2d 538 (1998), citing People v. Fields, 450
Mich 94, 107; 538 NW2d 356 (1995), and People v. Underwood, 447 Mich 695,
702, 708; 526 NW2d 903 (1994). See also United States v. Salerno, 505 U.S. 317,
321; 112 S Ct 2503; 120 L Ed 2d 255 (1992). Green now contends that the court
Green also claims that he was denied his constitutional right to present a defense,
specifically to show that Lewis later recanted his accusation. However, Green has not established
that Lewis would have recanted. Green attached a handwritten statement to his appellate brief
and claims that it was penned by Lewis. That statement is neither an affidavit nor is it notarized.
And Green never presented that statement to the trial court.
MCL 768.26 similarly allows for the admission of a declarant's prior testimony:
Testimony taken at an examination, preliminary hearing, or at a former trial of the
case, or taken by deposition at the instance of the defendant, may be used by the
prosecution whenever the witness giving such testimony can not, for any reason,
be produced at the trial, or whenever the witness has, since giving such testimony
become insane or otherwise mentally incapacitated to testify.
was first required to conduct a hearing to determine whether Lewis validly asserted
his Fifth Amendment privilege. Green's reliance on People v. Poma, 96 Mich App
726; 294 NW2d 221 (1980), to support this position is misplaced.
In Poma, this Court approved a trial court's decision to conduct an evidentiary
hearing to determine whether a particular witness validly asserted his Fifth
Amendment privilege. Id. at 732. The trial court had determined that the witness
had not validly asserted his privilege and ordered him to testify. The witness then
invoked his privilege on the stand in front of the jury and otherwise claimed not to
remember any details of the crime. Id. at 729–730. The question in Poma was
whether the defendant was prejudiced by the witness's assertion of his privilege at
trial, not whether a separate hearing was a required step in deeming a witness
“unavailable” to testify. The purpose of such a hearing is to prevent prejudice to a
defendant by a witness who invokes his Fifth Amendment privilege before the jury,
thereby creating a negative inference against the defendant. Id. at 732–733. That
danger was avoided here as Lewis was not placed on the stand. Moreover, a hearing
was necessary in Poma because the witness was a co-participant in the drug
trafficking activity for which the defendant was on trial. Id. at 729, 732. The witness
in this case is a victim. Accordingly, Poma is inapplicable and the dangers it sought
to prevent were not present in this case.
We agree with Green that Lewis likely did not have a valid reason to invoke his
Fifth Amendment privilege. Nothing he said about the current shooting, in which
Lewis was a victim, likely would have incriminated him. The court theoretically
could have precluded reference to Lewis's pending charges and limited the scope
of examination to Green's charged offenses. Yet, Lewis had already expressed his
adamant refusal to testify knowing the potential consequences of that decision. The
court “was not obligated to threaten [Lewis] with contempt” before declaring him
“unavailable.” People v. Burgess, 96 Mich App 390, 401; 292 NW2d 209 (1980).
Lewis was already facing life imprisonment on his pending murder charge. As such,
any threat of contempt and its relatively minor punishment “would probably have
been an exercise in futility.” Id.
The transcript of Lewis's testimony also comports with the requirements for
admissibility in MRE 804(b)(1). Green faced the same charges in the original trial
and on retrial. He clearly had “an opportunity ... to develop [Lewis's] testimony” in
the original trial and actually made good use of that opportunity. Green had a
“similar motive to develop [Lewis's] testimony” at both the original trial and
retrial—to avoid conviction for an offense in which Lewis was the victim.
Accordingly, we find no error warranting relief in the admission of Lewis's former
testimony at Green's retrial.
We also reject Green's challenge to the court's refusal to allow defense counsel to
argue in closing that Lewis did not testify because he would have perjured himself.
There simply was no evidence on the record that Lewis intended to perjure himself
on the stand. Counsel may not make arguments in closing without any support in
the record. People v. Buckey, 424 Mich 1, 28–29; 378 NW2d 432 (1985). In any
event, counsel actually noted the inconsistencies between Lewis's transcribed
testimony and his earlier statements to the police in closing, essentially arguing that
Lewis had not testified truthfully at the first trial.
Green, 2011 WL 6004067 at *11-13.
The state court’s decision is neither contrary to Supreme Court precedent nor an
unreasonable application of federal law or the facts. First, to the extent that Petitioner asserts that
the trial court erred in admitting the testimony under Michigan Rule of Evidence 804 or any other
provision of Michigan law, he merely alleges a violation of state law which does not justify federal
habeas relief. Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991); Serra v. Michigan Dep’t of
Corrections, 4 F.3d 1348, 1354 (6th Cir. 1993). “Trial court errors in state procedure and/or
evidentiary law do not rise to the level of federal constitutional claims warranting relief in a habeas
action, unless the errors render the proceeding so fundamentally unfair as to deprive the petitioner
of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.” McAdoo v. Elo, 365 F.3d 487, 494 (6th Cir.
2004) (quoting Estelle, 502 U.S. at 69-70); see also Wynne v. Renico, 606 F.3d 867, 871 (6th Cir.
2010) (citing Bey v. Bagley, 500 F.3d 514, 519-20 (6th Cir. 2007)). Accordingly, to the extent that
Petitioner asserts that the trial court erred under Michigan law, he fails to state a claim upon which
habeas relief may be granted. State courts are the final arbiters of state law and the federal courts
will not intervene in such matters. Lewis v. Jeffers, 497 U.S. 764, 780 (1990); Oviedo v. Jago, 809
F.2d 326, 328 (6th Cir. 1987); see also Bradshaw v. Richey, 546 U.S. 74, 76 (2005); Sanford v.
Yukins, 288 F.3d 855, 860 (6th Cir. 2002).
Second, with regard to federal law, Petitioner fails to establish that the admission of the
disputed testimony violated his constitutional rights or otherwise rendered his trial fundamentally
unfair. Petitioner asserts that the admission of Lewis’s prior testimony violated his confrontation
rights. The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment guarantees a criminal defendant the
right to confront the witnesses against him. Davis v. Alaska, 415 U.S. 308, 315 (1973). The Sixth
Amendment protections are not so broad, however, as to exclude the admission of certain hearsay
statements against a criminal defendant despite his or her inability to confront the declarant at trial.
Maryland v. Craig, 497 U.S. 836, 847-48 (1990). In Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 54
(2004), the Supreme Court held that the testimonial statement of a witness who does not appear at
trial is admissible if the witness is unavailable to testify and the defendant had a prior opportunity
to cross-examine the witness. Testimonial statements include grand jury testimony, preliminary
hearing testimony, and prior trial testimony, as well as statements made during police
interrogations. Id. at 54.
For Confrontation Clause purposes, unavailability requires only that the prosecution made
a good faith effort to obtain the declarant’s presence at trial. Barber v. Page, 390 U.S. 719, 724-25
(1968); Winn v. Renico, 175 F. App’x 728, 733 (6th Cir. 2006). When a witness refuses to testify,
he or she is unavailable whether the refusal to testify is based upon privilege or is punishable by
contempt. United States v. Bourjaily, 781 F.3d 539, 544 (6th Cir. 1986) (quoting Mayes v.
Sowders, 621 F.2d 850, 856 (6th Cir. 1980) (citing cases), and ruling that co-defendant’s refusal
to testify made him unavailable); see also United States v. Johnson, 581 F.3d 320, 327 (6th Cir.
2009) (likelihood that co-defendant would invoke Fifth Amendment if called to testify rendered
him unavailable); Favorite v. Bergh, No. 11-10266, 2013 WL 5816503, *8 (E.D. Mich. Oct. 29,
2013) (witness who refused to further testify at trial was unavailable and court was not required to
threaten him with contempt before finding him unavailable and admitting his preliminary
examination testimony, especially since he was already serving time in prison); Blackston v.
Rapelje, 907 F. Supp. 2d 878, 896-98 (E.D. Mich. 2012) (no confrontation violation where
witnesses refused to testify at petitioner’s second trial and court admitted testimony from first trial).
Moreover, a federal habeas court may not overturn a state court’s decision on unavailability merely
because additional steps might have been taken to make the witness available. Hardy v. Cross, _
U.S. _, 132 S. Ct. 490, 495 (2011).
In this case, even assuming that the trial court erred in allowing Lewis to invoke his Fifth
Amendment privilege at Petitioner’s second trial, the court did not violate Petitioner’s confrontation
rights by admitting Lewis’s testimony from the first trial. Lewis was adamant in his refusal to
testify at the second trial, which rendered him unavailable, and any threat of contempt would have
been futile given his own confinement and pending criminal charges. Additionally, Petitioner had
the same motivation and a full opportunity to cross-examine Lewis at the first trial. Lewis’s prior
testimony was thus admissible at Petitioner’s second trial and the Confrontation Clause was not
Petitioner also asserts that the admission of Lewis’ prior testimony impaired his right to
present a defense. In particular, he claims that Lewis would have recanted his testimony from the
first trial identifying him as the shooter. In support of this claim, Petitioner offers a handwritten
statement, allegedly from Lewis, in which Lewis states that he saw the driver, but not the shooter,
involved in the crime and states that he identified Petitioner based upon what he was told and his
belief that Petitioner was involved due to their ongoing feud.
The right of an accused to present a defense has long been recognized as “a fundamental
element of due process.” Washington v. Texas, 388 U.S. 14, 19 (1967); see also Holmes v. South
Carolina, 547 U.S. 319, 329-31 (2006) (state rule excluding evidence of third party guilt based
solely on strength of prosecution’s case violated defendant’s right to present a defense); Chambers
v. Mississippi, 410 U.S. 284, 302 (1973) (exclusion of hearsay statements critical to defense which
“bore persuasive assurances of trustworthiness,” coupled with refusal to permit cross-examination
of the declarant, violated defendant’s right to due process). A defendant’s right to present evidence
is not unlimited, however, and may be subject to “reasonable restrictions.” United States v.
Scheffer, 523 U.S. 303, 308 (1998). A defendant “does not have an unfettered right to offer
evidence that is incompetent, privileged, or otherwise inadmissable under standard rules of
evidence.” Montana v. Egelhoff, 518 U.S. 37, 42 (1996) (quoting Taylor v. Illinois, 484 U.S. 400,
410 (1988)); see also Holmes, 547 U.S. at 326 (recognizing that “well-established rules of evidence
permit trial judges to exclude evidence if its probative value is outweighed by certain other factors
such as unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or potential to mislead the jury”). When deciding
if the exclusion of evidence impairs a defendant’s rights, the question is not whether the excluded
evidence would have caused the jury to reach a different result. The question is whether the
defendant was afforded “a meaningful opportunity to present a complete defense.” Crane v.
Kentucky, 476 U.S. 683, 690 (1986) (quoting California v. Trombetta, 467 U.S. 479, 485 (1984));
see also Chambers, 410 U.S. at 302.
Petitioner was not denied the right to present a defense. There was no indication at
Petitioner’s second trial that Lewis would have recanted his prior testimony, which could have
subject him to perjury charges – Lewis simply refused to testify. The alleged recantation statement
was not presented at trial and first appeared on appeal. The statement is also of dubious authorship
given that it is not an affidavit and is neither dated nor notarized. Petitioner fails to establish that
Lewis would have recanted his prior testimony or that he was otherwise denied the right to present
a defense at his second trial. In fact, the record indicates that Petitioner was able to challenge
Lewis’s prior testimony by noting inconsistencies with his police statements and that he was able
to present other evidence in support of his defense. Petitioner fails to establish a violation of his
constitutional rights. Habeas relief is not warranted on this claim.
Ineffective Assistance of Trial Counsel Claim
Petitioner next asserts that he is entitled to habeas relief because trial counsel was
ineffective for failing to investigate and produce two witnesses, Jamaal and Jameel Croft, who
testified before his co-defendant’s jury at the first trial, at his second trial. The Michigan Court of
Appeals described the relevant facts as follows:
Green claims that attorney Wyatt Harris was ineffective on retrial because he did
not adequately investigate and then call Jamaal and Jameel Croft as witnesses. The
Croft brothers had testified at the first trial but only before Williams' jury. At that
trial, Jamaal claimed that the driver of the van was a heavy—set Mexican or
Caucasian male with a red bandanna over his face. Jamaal claimed there were two
men in the back of the van—one sitting down and a Caucasian or Mexican shooter
with black spiky hair. Jameel testified that a heavy-set Caucasian or Mexican man
was driving the van but admitted that he did not see the people in the backseat.
Williams' jury clearly disbelieved the Croft brothers' version of events as they
convicted Williams of murder and assault.
At the Ginther hearing, Harris testified that his defense theory was that Williams
perpetrated the crime with someone other than Green. He was aware of the Croft
brothers' testimony ahead of retrial because he read the transcripts from the first trial
and was informed about these witnesses by attorney Johnson. Harris noted that the
Croft brothers' testimony contradicted the defense theory that Williams was the
driver. Moreover, Williams had been convicted despite the Croft brothers'
testimonies, indicating that the jury found them incredible. Harris opined that
Jamaal's version of events was incredible and Jameel's potential testimony would
be unhelpful. Harris was concerned that their testimony would be undermined by
cross-examination on even slight errors in the details, further jeopardizing their
credibility. This proved to be true when the prosecutor questioned Jamaal at the
Green, 2011 WL 6004067 at *13-14 (citation footnote omitted). Respondent contends that this
claim lacks merit.
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees a criminal defendant
the right to the effective assistance of counsel. In Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984),
the United States Supreme Court set forth a two-prong test for determining whether a habeas
petitioner has received ineffective assistance of counsel. First, a petitioner must prove that
counsel’s performance was deficient. This requires a showing that counsel made errors so serious
that he or she was not functioning as counsel as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Strickland,
466 U.S. at 687. Second, the petitioner must establish that counsel’s deficient performance
prejudiced the defense. Counsel’s errors must have been so serious that they deprived the petitioner
of a fair trial or appeal. Id.
To satisfy the performance prong, a petitioner must identify acts that were “outside the wide
range of professionally competent assistance.” Id. at 690. The reviewing court’s scrutiny of
counsel’s performance is highly deferential. Id. at 689. There is a strong presumption that trial
counsel rendered adequate assistance and made all significant decisions in the exercise of
reasonable professional judgment. Id. at 690. The petitioner bears the burden of overcoming the
presumption that the challenged actions were sound trial strategy.
As to the prejudice prong, a petitioner must show that “there is a reasonable probability that,
but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.”
Id. at 694. A reasonable probability is one that is sufficient to undermine confidence in the
outcome of the proceeding.
“On balance, the benchmark for judging any claim of
ineffectiveness must be whether counsel’s conduct so undermined the proper functioning of the
adversarial process that the [proceeding] cannot be relied on as having produced a just result.”
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 686.
The Supreme Court has confirmed that a federal court’s consideration of ineffective
assistance of counsel claims arising from state criminal proceedings is quite limited on habeas
review due to the deference accorded trial attorneys and state appellate courts reviewing their
performance. “The standards created by Strickland and § 2254(d) are both ‘highly deferential,’ and
when the two apply in tandem, review is ‘doubly’ so.” Harrington, 131 S. Ct. at 788 (internal and
end citations omitted). “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 deferential standard.” Id.
Citing the Strickland standard, the Michigan Court of Appeals denied relief on this claim.
The court explained in relevant part:
We agree with the trial court's conclusion that Jameel's testimony would be
irrelevant because he testified, both at the first trial and at the Ginther hearing, that
he did not see the shooter. Therefore, he could not exculpate Green. We further
agree with the trial court and Harris that Jamaal's original trial testimony was
incredible, supporting Harris's strategic decision not to call him as a witness.
Moreover, the court noted that Jamaal's Ginther hearing testimony was inconsistent
with his own testimony in the first trial, and that his claims were inconsistent with
all other testimony. The court concluded that “there is absolutely nothing to be
offered by the testimony of either of the witnesses that shows there is even a remote
possibility—let alone a reasonable likelihood, that the outcome would have been
As Jameel could not exculpate Green and Jamaal was unable to keep his story
straight, Harris reasonably chose to omit them from his witness list on retrial. Green
was not denied a substantial defense by their absence. Accordingly, we affirm
Green's convictions and sentences and the trial court's denial of his motion for a new
Green, 2011 WL 6004067 at *14.
The state court’s denial of relief is neither contrary to Supreme Court precedent nor an
unreasonable application of federal law or the facts. First, Petitioner fails to establish that trial
counsel’s performance was deficient. The state court record indicates that counsel was well aware
of Jameel Croft’s and Jamaal Croft’s potential testimony based upon their appearance as witnesses
before co-defendant Williams’ jury at the first trial and that he made a strategic decision not to call
them to testify at Petitioner’s second trial. Counsel’s decision was reasonable given that Jameel’s
testimony would not have exculpated Petitioner and Jamaal’s testimony was subject to serious
challenge due to the inconsistencies in his statements. Second, Petitioner fails to establish that he
was prejudiced by counsel’s conduct. There is no reasonable probability that the outcome of the
trial would have been different given that Jameel’s testimony was not exculpatory, that Jamaal’s
testimony was not particularly credible, and that the prosecution presented significant evidence of
Petitioner’s guilt, including the surviving victim’s positive identification of Petitioner as the shooter
and Petitioner’s brother as the driver, the ongoing feud between the parties involved in the incident,
and the fact that the minivan used in the shooting was registered to Petitioner’s mother. Petitioner
fails to demonstrate that trial counsel erred or that he was prejudiced by counsel’s conduct as
required under the Strickland standard. Habeas relief is not warranted on this claim.
Right to Be Present/Absence of Counsel Claims
Petitioner asserts that he is entitled to habeas relief because neither he nor trial counsel was
present at a pre-trial hearing concerning Jerrance Lewis’s invocation of his Fifth Amendment
privilege and refusal to testify at the second trial. Respondent contends that these claims are
waived/procedurally defaulted and lack merit.
The United States Supreme Court recognized that a criminal defendant has a fundamental
right to be present at all critical stages of a criminal proceeding. Iowa v. Tovar, 541 U.S. 77, 80-81
(2004); Rushen v. Spain, 464 U.S. 114, 117 (1983). That is, a defendant “has a due process right
to be present in his own person whenever his presence has a relation, reasonably substantial, to the
fulness of his opportunity to defend against the charge.” Kentucky v. Stincer, 482 U.S. 730, 745
(1987); see also United States v. Riddle, 249 U.S. F.3d 529, 534 (6th Cir. 2001) (criminal defendant
has a constitutional right to be present at “all stages of the trial where his absence might frustrate
the fairness of the proceedings”). This right is derived from the Due Process Clause of the Fifth
and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as from the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause.
United States v. Gagnon, 470 U.S. 522, 526 (1985). A defendant, however, does not have the right
to be present at a proceeding “when presence would be useless, or the benefit but a shadow.”
Stincer, 482 U.S. at 745.
The right to be present during critical stages of trial may be knowingly and voluntarily
waived, Riddle, 249 F.3d at 534; see also Taylor v. United States, 414 U.S. 17, 19-20 (1973), and
waiver may be implied from a defendant’s conduct. United States v. Marshall, 248 F.3d 525, 535
(6th Cir. 2001); Cuoco v. United States, 208 F.3d 27, 30 (2d Cir. 2000). A violation of the right
to be present at critical stages of trial is subject to harmless error analysis. Rushen, 464 U.S. at 117.
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides for the right to counsel
in criminal prosecutions. U.S. CONST. AMEND. VI. Consequently, a criminal defendant has a right
to counsel during the critical stages of his or her criminal proceedings. See, e.g., Bell v. Cone, 535
U.S. 685, 695-96 (2002); Roe v. Flores-Ortega, 528 U.S. 470, 483 (2000); United States v. Cronic,
466 U.S. 648, 659 (1984); United States v. Wade, 388 U.S. 218, 227 (1967); see also Van v. Jones,
475 F.3d 292, 311-12 (6th Cir. 2007).
The complete denial or absence of counsel at a critical stage of the proceedings is a per se
Sixth Amendment violation which mandates a presumption of prejudice and is generally not subject
to harmless error review. See Holloway v. Arkansas, 435 U.S. 475, 489 (1978) (ruling that reversal
is automatic when a defendant is denied counsel during a critical stage or throughout the
prosecution of a capital offense); see also Cronic, 466 U.S. at 659-60; Van, 475 F.3d at 312. A
partial denial of counsel or the absence of counsel at a non-critical stage of the proceedings,
however, is not such a structural error. Rather, such a trial-type error requires an inquiry into the
prejudicial effect and/or harmlessness of the error. Satterwhite v. Texas, 486 U.S. 249, 256-58
(1988); Rushen, 464 U.S. at 117-18; Coleman v. Alabama, 399 U.S. 1, 11 (1970); Wade, 388 U.S.
at 239-40; Hereford v. Warren, 536 F.3d 523, 532-33 (6th Cir. 2008).
Petitioner first raised these issues in his motion for relief from judgment on collateral review
in the state courts. The trial court denied relief on these claims, explaining:
The record is clear, despite defendant’s argument, that his counsel was advised of
Lewis’ position prior to Lewis and his attorney approaching the court.
More important is the fact that defendant offers no legal or factual support for the
right to participate in and cross-examine Lewis during a hearing on his assertion of
a privilege. Cases cited, such as People v Medcoff, 344 Mich 108 (1955) and
People v Hull, 86 Mich 449, (1891) are inapplicable as there was no evidence
adduced with respect to defendant. Defendant also relies repeatedly on Webb v
Texas, 409 U.S. 95 (1972), which likewise has no bearing on the instant case. There
the judge bullied a prospective defense witness into not testifying.
Green, No. 07-010617-01-FC at *3-4. The Michigan appellate courts both denied leave to appeal
pursuant to Michigan Court Rule 6.508(D).
The state courts’ decisions are neither contrary to Supreme Court precedent nor an
unreasonable application of federal law or the facts. Petitioner fails to cite, nor can the Court find,
any Supreme Court precedent which establishes that a pre-trial hearing involving a witness’s
invocation of his or her Fifth Amendment privilege and refusal to testify is a critical stage of a
criminal proceeding at which a defendant has a constitutional right to be present, or to have counsel
present. Consequently, the state courts’ denials of relief cannot be deemed contrary to clearly
established Supreme Court precedent or an unreasonable application thereof. See Coleman v.
Bergh, 804 F.3d 816, 818-19 (6th Cir. 2015) (ruling that because the Supreme Court has never held
that a hearing on a motion for new trial is a critical stage, there is no “clearly established federal
law as determined by the Supreme Court” creating a right to counsel at such a hearing so that
appellate counsel had no basis to raise a Sixth Amendment violation and vacating grant of
certificate of appealability on ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claim); see also Aceval v.
Maclaren, _ F. App’x _, 2016 WL 7210108, *1 (6th Cir. Dec. 13, 2016) (denying habeas relief on
novel due process claim concerning retrial after a mistrial because it was unsupported by Supreme
Furthermore, the trial court’s inquiry/hearing concerned a purely legal matter involving
witness Lewis’s own Fifth Amendment rights and refusal to testify. At the hearing, Lewis’s
attorney stated Lewis’s intentions and Lewis confirmed that if called to testify at the second trial,
he would invoke his Fifth Amendment rights and would be unavailable to testify. 2/12/09 Hrg. Tr.,
pp. 3-5. As such, it did not implicate Petitioner’s “privilege of presence.” Stincer, 482 U.S. at 745.
The record further demonstrates that defense counsel was aware of Lewis’s planned
invocation of his Fifth Amendment privilege and refusal to testify at the second trial (based upon
Lewis’s own pending criminal charges), 10/31/08 Hrg, Tr., pp. 11-12, and essentially waived his
right to be present at the pre-trial hearing in which Lewis confirmed his intentions. 2/12/09 Hrg.
Tr., pp. 5. Despite not appearing at that hearing, defense counsel nonetheless had an opportunity
to contest the matter before and/or during trial – and actually raised an objection to Lewis not
testifying on the first day of the second trial. 2/17/09 Trial Tr., pp. 5-6.
Petitioner fails to demonstrate that his presence, or defense counsel’s presence, at the pretrial hearing would have contributed to the fairness of the hearing, served any useful purpose, or
had any effect whatsoever on the court’s ruling or the outcome of his second trial. He thus fails to
establish a violation of his right to be present or his right to counsel at a critical stage of trial and/or
that his absence or defense counsel’s absence at the pre-trial hearing was prejudicial. Even if an
error occurred, it was harmless as it did not have a “substantial and injurious effect or influence in
determining the jury’s verdict.” Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 637 (1993); see also Fry v.
Pliler, 551 U.S. 112, 117-18 (2007) (confirming that the Brecht standard applies in “virtually all”
habeas cases); Ruelas v. Wolfenbarger, 580 F.3d 403, 411 (6th Cir. 2009) (ruling that Brecht is
“always the test” in the Sixth Circuit). Habeas relief is not warranted on these claims.
Ineffective Assistance of Appellate Counsel Claim
Lastly, Petitioner asserts that he is entitled to habeas relief because appellate counsel was
ineffective for failing to raise his collateral review claims on direct appeal. Respondent contends
that this claim lacks merit.
As discussed supra, in order to establish ineffective assistance of counsel, a habeas
petitioner must show that counsel’s performance was deficient and that the deficient performance
prejudiced the defense. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. With regard to appellate counsel, it is
well-established that a criminal defendant does not have a constitutional right to have appellate
counsel raise every non-frivolous issue on appeal. Jones v. Barnes, 463 U.S. 745, 751 (1983). The
Supreme Court has explained:
For judges to second-guess reasonable professional judgments and impose on
appointed counsel a duty to raise every “colorable” claim suggested by a client
would disserve the … goal of vigorous and effective advocacy …. Nothing in the
Constitution or our interpretation of that document requires such a standard.
Id. at 754. Strategic and tactical choices regarding which issues to pursue on appeal are “properly
left to the sound professional judgment of counsel.” United States v. Perry, 908 F.2d 56, 59 (6th
Cir. 1990). In fact, “the hallmark of effective appellate advocacy” is the “process of ‘winnowing
out weaker arguments on appeal and focusing on’ those more likely to prevail.” Smith v. Murray,
477 U.S. 527, 536 (1986) (quoting Barnes, 463 U.S. at 751-52). “Generally, only when ignored
issues are clearly stronger than those presented will the presumption of effective assistance of
appellate counsel be overcome.” Monzo v. Edwards, 281 F.3d 568, 579 (6th Cir. 2002). Appellate
counsel may deliver deficient performance and prejudice a defendant by omitting a “dead-bang
winner,” defined as an issue which was obvious from the trial record and would have resulted in
reversal on appeal. Meade v. Lavigne, 265 F. Supp. 2d 849, 870 (E.D. Mich. 2003).
Petitioner first raised this claim on collateral review. The state trial court denied relief
finding that the claim lacked merit because the underlying issues lacked merit. Green, No. 07010617-01-FC at *6. The state appellate courts denied relief under Michigan Court Rule 6.508(D).
The state courts’ denial of relief is neither contrary to Supreme Court precedent nor an
unreasonable application of federal law or the facts. Petitioner fails to show that by omitting the
claims presented in his motion for relief from judgment, appellate counsel’s performance fell
outside the wide range of professionally competent assistance. Appellate counsel raised substantial
claims on direct appeal, including the Fifth Amendment privilege/admission of prior testimony
claim and the ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim. None of the other claims subsequently
raised by Petitioner are “dead-bang winners.” Moreover, even if appellate counsel erred in some
fashion, Petitioner cannot show that he was prejudiced by counsel’s conduct, given that the
underlying claims lack merit. See discussion supra. Habeas relief is not warranted on this claim.
For the reasons stated, the Court concludes that Petitioner is not entitled to federal habeas
relief on his claims. Accordingly, the Court DENIES and DISMISSES WITH PREJUDICE the
Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus.
Before Petitioner may appeal the Court’s decision, a certificate of appealability must issue.
See 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(1)(a); FED. R. APP. P. 22(b). A certificate of appealability may issue “only
if the applicant has made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right.” 28 U.S.C.
§ 2253(c)(2). When a federal court denies relief on the merits, the substantial showing threshold
is met if the petitioner demonstrates that reasonable jurists would find the court’s assessment of the
constitutional claim debatable or wrong. Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484-85 (2000). “A
petitioner satisfies this standard by demonstrating that . . . jurists could conclude the issues
presented are adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed further.” Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537
U.S. 322, 327 (2003). Petitioner makes no such showing. Accordingly, the Court DENIES a
certificate of appealability. The Court also DENIES leave to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal
as an appeal cannot be taken in good faith. See FED. R. APP. P. 24(a).
IT IS SO ORDERED.
S/Victoria A. Roberts
VICTORIA A. ROBERTS
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated: January 26, 2017
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