Tillman v. Gidley
OPINION AND ORDER Denying 1 Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus filed by Elisha Tillman. Signed by District Judge David M. Lawson. (SPin)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
Case Number 15-12116
Honorable David M. Lawson
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS
Petitioner Elisha Tillman pleaded guilty in the Saginaw County, Michigan circuit court to
conspiracy and cocaine distribution crimes under a plea agreement with the state prosecutor.
Consistent with that agreement, he was sentenced as a fourth habitual offender to concurrent prison
terms of 55 to 240 months and 24 to 180 months. In his habeas corpus petition filed under 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254, which he filed pro se, Tillman raises a single claim: he is entitled to resentencing because
the trial court imposed a sentence based on incorrectly scored guidelines. That claim is based
entirely on an interpretation of the state’s sentencing guideline statutes and does not question
whether Tillman is in custody in violation of the federal Constitution or laws. Therefore, the
petition will be denied.
Tillman was charged originally with four offenses: 1) possession with intent to deliver
between 50 and 449 grams of cocaine, 2) manufacture or delivery of marijuana, 3) conspiracy to
possess with intent to deliver between 50 and 449 grams of cocaine, and 4) maintaining a drug
house. Before trial, he moved to suppress the drugs seized from a house he was renting. The trial
court denied the motion after a hearing, the petitioner appealed, and the Michigan Court of Appeals
affirmed. People v. Tillman, No. 302169, 2011 WL 5870057 (Mich. Ct. App. Nov. 22, 2011). The
Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal. People v. Tillman, 491 Mich. 909, 810 N.W.2d 913
Tillman then struck a deal with the prosecutor to plead guilty as a fourth habitual felony
offender to conspiracy to deliver less than 50 grams of cocaine, Mich. Comp. Laws §§
333.7401(2)(a)(iv) and 750.157a, possession with intent to deliver less than fifty grams of cocaine,
Mich. Comp. Laws § 333.7401(2)(a)(iv), and delivery of marijuana, Mich. Comp. Laws §
333.7410(2)(D)(III). The trial court agreed that the petitioner would receive no more than 55 month
minimum terms, and followed through with the agreement at sentencing.
Nonetheless, Tillman appealed. His delayed application for leave to appeal in the Michigan
Court of Appeals raised one claim: “Mr. Tillman is entitled to re-sentencing because the trial court
imposed a sentence based on incorrectly scored guidelines.” The application did not allege any
violation of Tillman’s federal constitutional rights. The application was denied for “lack of merit
in the grounds presented.” People v. Tillman, No. 314913 (Mich. Ct. App. Oct 11, 2013). The
petitioner raised the same claim in the Michigan Supreme Court, but his application for leave to
appeal was denied. People v. Tillman, 495 Mich. 950, 843 N.W.2d 510 (2014) (unpublished table
Tillman filed his habeas corpus petition in this Court raising the same claim. One section
of the petition purports to raise a claim based on Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). See Pet.
at 4. But that appears to be a mistake. In his brief in support of the petition, the petitioner states that
he is raising the same sentencing guideline claim that was presented to the state courts. Pet. at 10,
34, 35-48. The petitioner never presented a Miranda claim to the state courts, and there is no
indication in the state court record that the petitioner even gave a statement to the police. The
respondent noted this apparent error in her responsive pleading, and the petitioner has not filed a
reply brief asserting that he is attempting to raise a Miranda claim for the first time in this action.
The Court therefore will assume that the petitioner is attempting to raise in this action the only claim
that he exhausted in the state courts on his direct appeal.
A federal court may “entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a
person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody
in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a)
(emphasis added). This statute does not afford a state prisoner relief when his complaint is
predicated only on state law issues that do not rise to the level of a federal constitutional violation.
Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, (1991); Milton v. Wainwright, 407 U.S. 371, 377(1972); see also
Rivera v. Illinois, 556 U.S. 148, 159 (2009) ( stating that “‘a mere error of state law,’ we have noted,
‘is not a denial of due process’”) (quoting Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107, 121 n.21 (1982)). “A federal
court may not issue a writ on the basis of a perceived error of state law.” Pulley v. Harris, 465 U.S.
37, 41 (1984).
Tillman contends that the state court incorrectly calculated his sentencing guideline range
under the Michigan sentencing guidelines statutes. However, a claim that the state trial court
incorrectly scored, calculated, or applied the state legislative sentencing guidelines is not a
cognizable claim for federal habeas review because it is based solely on state law. See McPhail v.
Renico, 412 F. Supp. 2d 647, 656 (E.D. Mich. 2006). Therefore, Tillman’s claim that the trial court
erred when it calculated Tillman’s guideline range is not cognizable on federal habeas review
because it is a state law claim. See Howard v. White, 76 F. App’x 52, 53 (6th Cir. 2003) (holding
that “[a] state court’s alleged misinterpretation of state sentencing guidelines and crediting statutes
is a matter of state concern only”); Cook v. Stegall, 56 F. Supp. 2d 788, 797-98 (E.D. Mich. 1999).
State courts are the final arbiters of state law. Bradshaw v. Richey, 546 U.S. 74, 76 (2005);
Sanford v. Yukins, 288 F.3d 855, 860 (6th Cir. 2002). Therefore, claims that challenge a state
court’s sentencing decision under state law are normally not cognizable on federal habeas review,
unless the habeas petitioner can show that the sentence imposed exceeded the statutory limits or is
wholly unauthorized by law. See Vliet v. Renico, 193 F. Supp. 2d 1010, 1014 (E.D. Mich. 2002).
A sentence imposed within the statutory limits is generally not subject to habeas review. Townsend
v. Burke, 334 U.S. 736, 741 (1948).
The petitioner does not contend that his prison sentences exceeded the statutory limits or are
wholly unauthorized by law. Nor did he assert in the state courts that his federal constitutional rights
were violated by his sentence. And he has not asserted that his sentences violated his federal due
process rights. See Austin v. Jackson, 213 F. 3d 298, 301 (6th Cir. 2000); see also Doyle v. Scutt,
347 F. Supp. 2d 474, 485 (E.D. Mich. 2004) (noting that the “petitioner had no federal constitutional
right to be sentenced within Michigan’s guideline minimum sentence recommendations”). The
petitioner has not identified any violation of federal law.
For the reasons stated, the Court finds that the petitioner has not established that he is in
custody in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States.
Accordingly, it is ORDERED that the petition for a writ of habeas corpus is DENIED.
s/David M. Lawson
DAVID M. LAWSON
United States District Judge
Dated: May 4, 2016
PROOF OF SERVICE
The undersigned certifies that a copy of the foregoing order was served
upon each attorney or party of record herein by electronic means or first
class U.S. mail on May 4 2016.
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