Hobbs v. Palmer
OPINION and ORDER denying 1 Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, denying a Certificate of Appealability, and denying permission to appeal in forma pauperis. Signed by District Judge George Caram Steeh. (MBea)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
RAYMOND E. HOBBS,
Case No. 2:16-cv-12556
Hon. George Caram Steeh
CARMEN D. PALMER,
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF
HABEAS CORPUS, DENYING A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY,
AND DENYING PERMISSION TO APPEAL IN FORMA PAUPERIS
This is a habeas case filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Raymond E.
Hobbs, (“Petitioner”), was convicted in the Wayne Circuit Court after a jury
trial of assault with intent to commit murder, MICH. COMP. LAWS § 750.83,
felon in possession of a firearm, MICH. COMP. LAWS § 750.224f, and
possession of a firearm during the commission of a firearm. MICH. COMP.
LAWS § 750.227b. Petitioner was sentenced to 23 to 40 years
imprisonment for the assault conviction, 6 to 10 years for the felon in
possession conviction, and a consecutive 2 years for the firearm
conviction. The petition raises two claims: (1) there was constitutionally
insufficient evidence presented at trial to prove that Petitioner did not act in
self-defense, and (2) Petitioner’s sentence for the assault conviction
violates the Eighth Amendment. The Court finds that Petitioner’s claims are
without merit. Therefore, the petition will be denied. The Court will also
deny Petitioner a certificate of appealability and deny permission to appeal
in forma pauperis.
This Court recites verbatim the relevant facts relied upon by the
Michigan Court of Appeals, 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. 2009):
In this case, the jury heard testimony that defendant
intentionally bumped Holt as he was leaving Holt’s house, and
then turned around and punched Holt in the jaw. Witnesses
testified that Holt did not want to fight and did not retaliate after
being punched by defendant. Holt did pull a pocketknife out of
his pocket, but testified that he never opened it or threatened
defendant with it. The jury received testimony that Holt was
inside his home and defendant was outside the home on the
front porch, with a closed door separating the two of them,
when Holt pulled out the knife. Defendant admitted that he was
angry, wanted to fight, and did not leave the premises.
Holt testified that he was holding the door shut from inside the
home, trying to prevent defendant from re-entering the house,
when defendant obtained a weapon and fired it in his direction.
Holt testified that he opened the door and tried to grab the
weapon, which led to a struggle during which both men fell off
the porch. According to Holt, defendant fired two more shots,
Holt complained that he had been shot, defendant fired an
additional two shots. Holt was struck by three bullets. Holt
repudiated defendant’s self defense argument that he charged
defendant with an open knife. Holt’s pocketknife was later
found on the ground outside, in the closed position.
People v. Hobbs, No. 318014, 2014 WL 6602724, at *2-3 (Mich. Ct. App.
Nov. 20, 2014).
Following his conviction and sentence, Petitioner filed a claim of
appeal. His brief on appeal filed in the Michigan Court of Appeals raised
I. Verdict of guilty based upon insufficient evidence constituted
a denial of due process.
II. Sentence imposed violated constitutional guarantees against
The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner’s conviction in an
unpublished opinion. Hobbs, 2014 WL 6602724. Petitioner filed an
application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court that raised
the same two claims. The Michigan Supreme Court denied the application
because it was not persuaded that the questions presented should be
reviewed by the Court. People v. Hobbs, 865 N.W.2d 14 (Mich. 2015)
II. Standard of Review
28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) curtails a federal court’s review of
constitutional claims raised by a state prisoner in a habeas action if the
claims were adjudicated on the merits by the state courts. Relief is barred
under this section unless the state court adjudication was “contrary to” or
resulted in an “unreasonable application of” clearly established Supreme
“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 [this] precedent.’” Mitchell v. Esparza, 540
U.S. 12, 15-16 (2003) (per curiam), quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S.
362, 405-06 (2000).
“[T]he ‘unreasonable application’ prong of the statute 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.
“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), quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004).
“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. . . . As a condition for obtaining
habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the
state court’s ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so
lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and
comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded
disagreement.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 103 (internal quotation omitted).
A. Sufficiency of the Evidence
Petitioner’s first claim asserts that the prosecution presented
constitutionally insufficient evidence to prove that he did not act in self
defense. After reciting the applicable standard, the Michigan Court of
Appeals rejected the claim on the merits as follows:
Defendant’s self-defense claim was premised on his
account of the circumstances surrounding the offense.
Defendant admitted he possessed a firearm, but claimed that
he never produced it until after Holt came charging at him with
an open knife, and that he fired the gun only to protect himself
from the knife attack. Although this testimony supported a
self-defense claim, the jury was not required to credit
defendant’s testimony. Rather, the credibility of defendant’s
account was up to the jury to decide. People v. Harrison, 283
Mich App 374, 378 (2009). This Court will not interfere with the
fact-finder’s role of determining the credibility of witnesses.
Eisen, 296 Mich. App at 331.
Viewed in a light most favorable to the prosecution, the
jury could reasonably infer from the testimony that defendant
did not honestly and reasonably believe that Holt was a threat
Hobbs, 2014 WL 6602724, at *3.
This decision did not result in an unreasonable application of clearly
established federal law.
First, Respondent correctly notes that Petitioner’s claim is not
cognizable on habeas review since clearly established federal law does not
require the prosecution to disprove an affirmative defense beyond a
reasonable doubt. Under Michigan law, self-defense is an affirmative
defense. See People v. Dupree, 486 Mich. 693, 704, 712 (2010). And
although under Michigan law the prosecutor is required to disprove a claim
of self-defense, see People v. Watts, 61 Mich. App. 309, 311 (1975),
“[p]roof of the nonexistence of all affirmative defenses has never been
constitutionally required. . . .” See Smith v. United States,133 S. Ct. 714,
719, 184 L. Ed. 2d 570 (2013) (quoting Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S.
197, 210 (1977)).
The Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
have rejected the argument that the Constitution requires the prosecution
to disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. See Gilmore v.
Taylor, 508 U.S. 333, 359 (1993) (Blackmun, J., dissenting) (“In those
States in which self-defense is an affirmative defense to murder, the
Constitution does not require that the prosecution disprove self-defense
beyond a reasonable doubt”); Martin v. Ohio, 480 U.S. 228, 233-36 (1987);
see also Allen v. Redman, 858 F. 2d 1194, 1197 (6th Cir.1988) (explaining
that habeas review of sufficiency-of-the-evidence claims is limited to
elements of the crimes as defined by state law and citing Engle v. Isaac,
456 U.S. 107 (1982), and Duffy v. Foltz, 804 F.2d 50 (6th Cir. 1986)).
Therefore, “the due process ‘sufficient evidence’ guarantee does not
implicate affirmative defenses, because proof supportive of an affirmative
defense cannot detract from proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the
accused had committed the requisite elements of the crime.” Caldwell v.
Russell, 181 F.3d 731, 740 (6th Cir. 1999). As such, Petitioner’s claim that
the prosecutor failed to disprove his affirmative defense is non-cognizable
on habeas review. Id.
In any event, the claim is without merit because sufficient evidence
was presented that Petitioner did not act in self defense. When reviewing
the sufficiency of the evidence to support a criminal conviction, the critical
inquiry is, “whether the record evidence could reasonably support a finding
of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318
(1979). This inquiry, however, does not require a court to “ask itself
whether it believes that the evidence at the trial established guilt beyond a
reasonable doubt.” Instead, the relevant question is whether, after viewing
the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier
of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a
reasonable doubt. Id. at 318-19 (internal citation and footnote omitted)
(emphasis in the original). A federal court does not re-weigh the evidence
or redetermine the credibility of the witnesses whose demeanor was
observed at trial. Marshall v. Lonberger, 459 U.S. 422, 434 (1983). It is the
province of the fact-finder to weigh the probative value of the evidence and
resolve any conflicts in testimony. Neal v. Morris, 972 F.2d 675, 679 (6th
Here, evidence was presented at trial that Petitioner initiated the
confrontation with the victim when he punched him in the face. There was
testimony that the victim did not want to fight Petitioner, but he did pull an
unopened pocket knife from his pocket. There was testimony that the victim
never opened the knife, however, and he never threatened Petitioner with
it. The victim testified that he was trying to prevent Petitioner from reentering his home when Petitioner pulled out a handgun and fired it in his
direction. The victim testified that he tried to grab the gun and was shot
during the struggle. After the victim yelled that he had been shot, there was
evidence presented that Petitioner shot him twice more. Clearly, the jury
credited the victim’s account of the incident and discredited Petitioner’s
account. Because the jury essentially chose to reject Petitioner’s testimony
that he acted in self-defense, which is a credibility determination that this
Court must defer to, Petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief on his
sufficiency of evidence claim. See Johnson v. Hofbauer, 159 F. Supp. 2d
582, 597-98 (E.D. Mich. 2001).
B. Severity of Petitioner’s Sentence
Petitioner’s second claim asserts that his 23-year minimum sentence
for his assault conviction violates the Eighth Amendment because it is
disproportionate to the severity of the offense.
A habeas petitioner who seeks to challenge the severity of a prison
sentence on Eight Amendment grounds faces a formidable challenge. He
may obtain relief only by demonstrating that a state court decision
contravened “clearly established” Supreme Court law. However, the
Supreme Court has acknowledged ‘that our precedents in this area have
not been a model of clarity.” Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 72 (2003).
“Indeed, in determining whether a particular sentence for a term of years
can violate the Eighth Amendment, we have not established a clear or
consistent path for courts to follow.” Id. The Supreme Court has found that
“the only relevant clearly established law amenable to the ‘contrary to’ or
‘unreasonable application of’ framework is the gross disproportionality
principle, the precise contours of which are unclear, applicable only in the
‘exceedingly rare’ and ‘extreme' case.” Id.
In the present case, Petitioner’s sentence fell within the maximum
sentence set by state law, which included the possibility of a life sentence,
and “a sentence within the statutory maximum set by statute generally
does not constitute ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’” United States v.
Organek, 65 F. 3d 60, 62 (6th Cir. 1995)(citation omitted)(quoted with
approval in Austin v. Jackson, 213 F. 3d 298, 302 (6th Cir. 2000). “As long
as the sentence remains within the statutory limits, trial courts have
historically been given wide discretion in determining ‘the type and extent
of punishment for convicted defendants.’” Austin, 213 F. 3d at 301 (quoting
Williams v. New York, 337 U.S. 241, 245 (1949)).
In light of “the vagueness” of the gross-disproportionality principle
and the admonition that the principle is “applicable only in the ‘exceedingly
rare’ and ‘extreme’ case,” this Court concludes that the state courts did not
unreasonably apply clearly established law in rejecting Petitioner’s
proportionality claim. See Smith v. Howerton, 509 F. App'x. 476, 484 (6th
Cir. 2012)(internal quotations omitted).
As Petitioner’s claims are without merit, the petition will be denied.
IV. Certificate of Appealability
In order to appeal the Court’s decision, Petitioner must obtain a
certificate of appealability by making 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 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). A federal
district court may grant or deny a certificate of appealability when the court
issues a ruling on the habeas petition. Castro v. United States, 310 F.3d
900, 901 (6th Cir. 2002).
Here, jurists of reason would not debate the Court’s conclusion that
Petitioner has not demonstrated entitlement to habeas relief with respect to
any of his claims. The Court will therefore denya certificate of appealability
with respect to all of Petitioner’s claims. The Court will also deny
permission to appeal this decision in forma pauperis because an appeal
could not be taken in good faith. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3).
Accordingly, the Court 1) DENIES WITH PREJUDICE the petition for
a writ of habeas corpus, 2) DENIES a certificiate of appealability, and 3)
DENIES permission to appeal in forma pauperis.
Dated: March 20, 2017
s/George Caram Steeh
GEORGE CARAM STEEH
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE
Copies of this Order were served upon attorneys of record on
March 20, 2017, by electronic and/or ordinary mail and also on
Raymond E. Hobbs #240301, Michigan Reformatory,
1342 West Main Street, Ionia, MI 48846
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