Rathman v. Woods
OPINION and ORDER (1) Dismissing 1 Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, (2) Denying a Certificate of Appealability, and (3) Denying Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis on Appeal. Signed by District Judge Matthew F. Leitman. (HMon)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
Case No. 15-cv-12150
Hon. Matthew F. Leitman
OPINION AND ORDER (1) DISMISSING PETITION FOR WRIT OF
HABEAS CORPUS (ECF #1), (2) DENYING A CERTIFICATE OF
APPEALABILITY, AND (3) DENYING LEAVE TO PROCEED IN FORMA
PAUPERIS ON APPEAL
In 2013, Petitioner Robert Rathman was charged in Michigan state court with
three crimes, including armed robbery. Instead of proceeding to trial, Rathman
reached a plea agreement with prosecutors. The prosecution agreed to drop the
armed robbery charge and a sentencing enhancement, and Rathman agreed to plead
no contest to two lesser offenses. Rathman and the prosecution further agreed on
the record to a specific sentence: 37 to 120 months in prison. At sentencing, the trial
court imposed the precise sentence to which Rathman had agreed: 37 to 120 months
in prison. Rathman now insists that the sentence violated his Sixth Amendment
rights and that he is entitled to federal habeas relief.
Rathman is incorrect.
Accordingly, for the reasons stated below, the Court DISMISSES Rathman’s
petition for a writ of habeas corpus. (See ECF #1.)
On February 23, 2013, Rathman was charged with three felonies in the
Washtenaw County Circuit Court: armed robbery, larceny from a person, and
carrying a weapon with unlawful intent. (See ECF #10-1 at Pg. ID 79.) Prior to trial,
Rathman agreed to plead no contest to the larceny from a person and carrying a
weapon with unlawful intent charges, and the prosecution agreed to dismiss the
armed robbery charge and a habitual offender sentencing enhancement.1 (See id.)
Rathman tendered his plea on December 19, 2013. During the plea hearing,
Rathman and the prosecution agreed on the record to a sentence of 37 months to 120
months imprisonment on the larceny from a person charge. (See 12/19/13 Plea
Hearing Tr. at 4-5, ECF #10-4 at Pg. ID 149-50.) On January 28, 2014, the state trial
court sentenced Rathman based upon the sentencing agreement that Rathman had
reached with prosecutors. The court sentenced Rathman to 37 months to 120 months
The plea agreement also resolved another case against Rathman in the Washtenaw
County Circuit Court, Case No. 13-000341-FC. In that case, the prosecutor agreed
to dismiss a breaking and entering charge and a habitual offender sentencing
enhancement against Rathman in exchange for his guilty plea to an amended charge
of larceny from a building. The trial court initially sentenced Rathman to one to four
years imprisonment on that conviction but then re-sentenced him to 12 months
imprisonment with credit for time served in 2015. That conviction and sentence are
not challenged in this habeas proceeding.
imprisonment on the larceny from a person conviction and a concurrent term of 12
to 60 months imprisonment on the carrying a weapon with unlawful intent
conviction in accordance with his plea and sentencing agreement.
Following Rathman’s plea and sentencing, he filed a delayed application for
leave to appeal with the Michigan Court of Appeals. In that application, he argued
that “the trial court reversibly erred in the scoring of the offense variables [under
Michigan’s sentencing guidelines] when the facts to support the scoring were not
proved to a jury or admitted to by [Rathman]….” (Petition, ECF # 1 at Pg. ID 2,
describing claim raised in the Michigan Court of Appeals). The state appellate court
denied leave to appeal “for lack of merit in the grounds presented.” People v.
Rathman, No. 322832 (Mich. Ct. App. Sept. 10, 2014) (unpublished). Rathman then
filed an application for leave to appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court, which
remanded for re-sentencing on the larceny in a building case (see footnote 1 above),
but did not address that sentence that Rathman challenges here. People v. Rathman,
497 Mich. 1008, 862 N.W.2d 183 (April 28, 2015).
On June 11, 2015, Rathman filed a petition in this Court seeking a writ of
habeas corpus. (See ECF #1.) Rathman claims that the state trial court violated his
Sixth Amendment rights when it sentenced him to 37 to 120 months in prison. In
The trial court reversibly erred in the scoring of the offense
variables when the facts to support the scoring were not
proved to a jury or admitted to by [him] and based upon
the inaccurate scoring [he] was sentenced within a higher
cell rendered his sentence an illegal sentence and [he] is
therefore entitled to resentencing.
(Id. at 5, Pg. ID 5.)
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
federal 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 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
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an
unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the
evidence presented in the State court proceeding.
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” of “clearly established Federal
law” 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. “[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)). Therefore, 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.
As described above, Rathman claims that “[t]he trial court reversibly erred in
the scoring of the offense variables [because] the facts to support the scoring were
not provided to a jury or admitted to by [him].” (Petition, ECF #1 at Pg. ID 5.)
Rathman insists that the trial court’s error led to him receiving an increased and thus
“illegal” sentence. (Id.) This claim sounds in the nature of a claim under United
States v. Blakely, 452 U.S. 296 (2004) and United States v. Booker, 453 U.S. 220
(2005). In those two decisions, the United States Supreme Court “held that the Sixth
Amendment right to trial by jury is violated where a defendant’s [mandatory
sentencing] guidelines range is increased based on facts (other than a prior
conviction) found by the judge without a jury or using a preponderance standard.”
United States v. Schlifer, 403 F.3d 849, 853 (7th Cir. 2005); see also United States
v. Lopez-Urbina, 434 F.3d 750, 759 (5th Cir. 2005) (noting that “Booker extended
the principles in Blakely to the United States Sentencing Guidelines and held that a
sentence imposed in a mandatory Guideline regime violated a defendant’s Sixth
Amendment right to a jury trial”).
But there was not a Blakely/Booker error here. Simply put, Rathman’s “Sixth
Amendment right to a jury determination was not violated because his [sentence]
was not based upon any factual findings made by the sentencing judge” and was
instead based on his own agreement with prosecutors. Tidwell v. Evans, 2008 WL
4195940, at *6 (C.D. Cal. Sept. 4, 2008); see also United States v. Cieslowski, 410
F.3d 353, 364 (7th Cir. 2005) (Booker is not “applicable” where defendant agreed
to specific sentence in plea agreement and sentence complied with that agreement).
Indeed, because Rathman’s “sentence arose directly from [his] plea agreement, the
sentencing court had no obligation to independently justify its [sentence]. The
sentencing court simply accepted the terms bargained for by the parties,” and in
doing so, the court did not violate Rathman’s Sixth Amendment rights. Tidwell, 2008
WL 4195940, at *6.
Moreover, a criminal defendant who agrees to a specific sentence in a plea
agreement and then receives the exact sentence that he bargained for “waives the
right to challenge that sentence” as violative of the Blakely/Booker rule. See
Amezcue v. Ochoa, 577 Fed. App’x 699, 700-01 (9th Cir. 2014) (denying habeas
petition and holding that petitioner’s “plea and stipulation to [a] thirteen-year
sentence waived” any argument that the sentence violated the Sixth Amendment);
Tidwell, 2008 WL 4195940, at *6 (denying habeas petition, citing cases, and
explaining that because petitioner had agreed to a specific sentence, he “waived any
argument that his sentence was imposed under statutory standards held to be
unconstitutional by the Supreme Court”); Clifton v. Bell, 2011 WL 2976815, at *8
(E.D. Mich July 22, 2011) (same); see also United States v. Livingston, 1 F.3d 723,
725 (8th Cir. 1993) (holding that defendant waived right to challenge on appeal a
sentence that was imposed pursuant to a sentence agreement).
presented no basis to depart from that rule. Therefore, he is not entitled to habeas
For the reasons stated above, the Court DISMISSES Rathman’s petition for
a writ of habeas corpus (ECF #1).
Before Rathman may appeal this Court’s ruling, he must obtain a certificate
of appealability. See 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(1)(a); see also FED. R. APP. P. 22(b). A
habeas petitioner may obtain such a certificate “only if [he] has made a substantial
showing of the denial of a constitutional right.” 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). When a
court denies relief on the merits, the substantial showing threshold is met only if the
petitioner can demonstrate that reasonable jurists would find the court’s assessment
of the constitutional claim debatable or wrong. See 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).
Here, jurists of reason would not debate the Court’s conclusion that Rathman
has not met the standard for a certificate of appealability because his claim is devoid
of merit. The Court will therefore DENY Rathman a certificate of appealability. The
Court will also DENY Rathman permission to appeal in forma pauperis because any
appeal of this decision cannot be taken in good faith. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3);
see also FED. R. APP. P. 24(a).
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/Matthew F. Leitman
MATTHEW F. LEITMAN
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated: May 3, 2017
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing document was served upon the
parties and/or counsel of record on May 3, 2017, by electronic means and/or ordinary
s/Holly A. Monda
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