Williams v. Michigan, State of
OPINION and ORDER Granting Respondent's 9 MOTION to Dismiss, Denying the 1 Habeas Petition, Declining to Issue a Certificate of Appealability, and Granting Leave to Appeal In Forma Pauperis. Signed by District Judge Matthew F. Leitman. (HMon)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
HENRY LOUIS WILLIAMS,
Case No. 16-12820
Hon. Matthew F. Leitman
CATHERINE S. BAUMAN,
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING RESPONDENT’S MOTION TO
DISMISS [ECF #9], DENYING THE HABEAS PETITION [ECF #1],
DECLINING TO ISSUE A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY,
AND GRANTING LEAVE TO APPEAL IN FORMA PAUPERIS
This matter has come before the Court on petitioner Henry Louis Williams’
pro se Habeas Corpus Petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (ECF #1) and Respondent’s
Motion to Dismiss the Petition (ECF #9).
The Petition challenges Williams’
Oakland County convictions for armed robbery, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.529,
conspiracy to commit armed robbery, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.157a, Mich. Comp.
Laws § 750.529, and conspiracy to commit first-degree home invasion, Mich. Comp.
Laws § 750.157a, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.110a(2). Williams alleges as grounds
for relief that (1) the trial court abused its discretion by failing to abide by the
sentencing agreement, (2) offense variables 1 through 3 of the Michigan sentencing
guidelines were scored incorrectly, (3) the trial court abused its discretion when
scoring offense variable 10 of the sentencing guidelines; and (4) his guilty plea was
involuntary because it was based on erroneous advice from counsel. Respondent
urges the Court to dismiss the Petition on the grounds that Petitioner failed to exhaust
state remedies for his claims and that his claims are moot. The Court has concluded
from a review of the pleadings and state-court record that Petitioner’s claims are
moot, not cognizable on habeas review, or meritless. Accordingly, the Court will
GRANT Respondent’s Motion and DENY the Habeas Petition.
The charges against Williams arose from an incident that occurred on April
30, 2014. On that date, Petitioner and his three co-defendants went to a house in
Bloomfield Hills to steal jewelry, money, or other valuable things. One of the codefendants knew the homeowner and anticipated that the homeowner would be away
at the time. However, when the group of four arrived at the house, they discovered
that the homeowner was inside the house. The group then went to Detroit, picked
up a gun, and returned to the house. Williams stood outside the house and acted as
a “lookout” while one of the defendants went to the front door of the residence.
When the homeowner refused to open the door, the co-defendant fired four or five
gunshots through the door and seriously injured the homeowner.
On September 29, 2014, Williams pleaded guilty, as charged, to armed
robbery, conspiracy to commit armed robbery, and conspiracy to commit home
invasion. He was twenty-one years old at the time, and he stated that he understood
the charges to which he was pleading guilty. He also stated that he understood the
rights he was waiving and that it was his choice to plead guilty. (9/29/14 Plea Tr.
There was no plea agreement, but the trial court agreed -- pursuant to the
decision in People v. Cobbs, 505 N.W.2d 208 (1993), discussed in footnote 1 below
-- to sentence Williams within the bottom one-third of the sentencing guidelines
range.1 Defense counsel calculated the sentencing guidelines at 135 - 225 months,
“Michigan’s sentencing guidelines . . . create a range within which the trial court
must set the minimum sentence.” People v. Drohan, 475 Mich. 140, 161; 715
N.W.2d 778, 790 (2006). “The maximum sentence is not determined by the trial
court, but rather is set by law.” Id.
In People v. Cobbs, 505 N.W.2d 208 (1993), the Michigan Supreme Court
approved the following manner in which a judge may participate in sentencing
At the request of a party, and not on the judge’s own initiative, a judge
may state on the record the length of sentence that, on the basis of the
information then available to the judge, appears to be appropriate for
the charged offense.
The judge’s preliminary evaluation of the case does not bind the judge’s
sentencing discretion, since additional facts may emerge during later
proceedings, in the presentence report, through the allocution afforded
to the prosecutor and the victim, or from other sources. However, a
defendant who pleads guilty or nolo contendere in reliance upon a
judge’s preliminary evaluation with regard to an appropriate sentence
has an absolute right to withdraw the plea if the judge later determines
that the sentence must exceed the preliminary evaluation.
whereas the prosecution calculated the guidelines at 171 - 285 months, but defense
counsel stated that the guidelines would be within one of those two ranges. See id.
at 4-5; 7/22/15 Mot. Hr’g at 3.
When the Michigan Department of Corrections calculated the guidelines
range for the trial court in preparation for sentencing, it determined that the
guidelines were 225 to 375 months. (12/8/14 Sentencing Tr. at 4, 10.) The trial
court then sentenced Williams to concurrent terms of 23 to 50 years in prison for the
armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery and 13 to 20 years for the
conspiracy to commit home invasion. The 23-year sentence was 276 months -- one
month more than the top of the lowest one third of the sentencing guidelines as
calculated by the Michigan Department of Corrections.
In an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals,
Williams argued through counsel that: (1) the trial court failed to abide by the Cobbs
agreement and failed to advise him of his right to withdraw his plea if the court did
not abide by the agreement; (2) the trial court erred when scoring offense variable
10 of the Michigan sentencing guidelines; and (3) the trial court abused its discretion
by ordering restitution without any verification of the amount of restitution owed.
Id., 443 Mich. at 283, 505 N.W.2d at 212 (emphasis and footnote omitted).
The Michigan Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal for lack of merit in Williams’
claims. See People v. Williams, No. 325561 (Mich. Ct. App. Mar. 3, 2015).
In a pro se application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court,
Williams raised the same three claims that he had presented to the Michigan Court
of Appeals. He also raised two new claims, which alleged that the trial court erred
in scoring offense variable 9 and that his rights under the Fifth Amendment were
While the appellate application was pending in the Michigan Supreme Court,
Williams retained counsel, and that attorney filed a motion to withdraw Williams’
guilty plea or for re-sentencing. Counsel argued that: (1) Williams’ guilty plea was
involuntary and unintelligent because it was based on the erroneous advice of
counsel regarding the appropriate sentencing guidelines; (2) the trial court failed to
advise Williams of his right to withdraw his guilty plea if the court could not follow
the Cobbs evaluation; and (3) Williams was entitled to re-sentencing because offense
variables 1 through 3 and 10 were scored inaccurately.
Shortly after counsel filed the motion to withdraw Williams’ guilty plea, she
filed a supplemental application in the Michigan Supreme Court and requested a
remand to the trial court. She argued that: (1) Williams’ plea was involuntary and
unintelligent because it was based on the erroneous advice of counsel regarding the
sentencing guidelines; (2) the trial court failed to advise Williams of his right to
withdraw his plea if the court could not follow the Cobbs agreement; (3) trial counsel
was ineffective for failing to object to the scoring of offense variables 1through 3;
and (4) trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object properly to offense
On July 22, 2015, the trial court held oral argument on Williams’ postconviction motion. The court granted Williams’ request to withdraw his guilty plea,
but it declined to alter the scoring of the offense variables. The prosecuting attorney
then asked the court to adjourn the case for one week while the attorney sought
approval from his supervisor for a sentence within the sentencing guidelines
contemplated in the Cobbs evaluation. The trial court granted the prosecutor’s
request. (7/22/15 Mot. Hr’g at 3-16.)
On July 29, 2015, the proceedings resumed, and the trial court stated that it
would be willing to sentence Williams to a minimum term of 17 years in prison with
a maximum sentence of fifty years. Williams agreed to this sentence and was then
re-sentenced to a term of 17 to 50 years in prison for the armed robbery and
conspiracy to commit armed robbery and 13 to 20 years in prison for the conspiracy
to commit home invasion. Notably, this sentence was within the terms of Williams’
original Cobbs agreement and within the guidelines ranges discussed at Williams’
Williams withdrew his motion to withdraw his guilty plea and his request for
an evidentiary hearing concerning trial counsel’s earlier representations concerning
the sentence. (7/29/15 Mot. Hr’g/Re-Sentencing at 3-15.)
Counsel for Williams then updated the Michigan Supreme Court on the status
of the case, and on September 29, 2015, the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave
to appeal because it was not persuaded to review the issues. See People v. Williams,
498 Mich. 884; 869 N.W.2d 585 (2015) (table decision). Williams did not appeal
his new sentence. Instead, he filed his Habeas Corpus Petition on August 1, 2016.
Respondent argues in her Motion to Dismiss the Petition that Williams did not
exhaust state remedies for any of his claims about his new sentence and, to the extent
he was raising claims about his earlier sentence, those claims are moot. See Mot. to
Dismiss, ECF #9. Williams replies that his claims should be deemed exhausted
because it would be futile to attempt to exhaust state remedies now. He urges the
Court to adjudicate his claims or to hold his Petition in abeyance while he returns to
state court and attempts to exhaust state remedies for a claim about appellate counsel.
See Response to Mot. to Dismiss, ECF #14.
Habeas petitioners ordinarily must exhaust available state remedies before
presenting their claims to a federal court in a habeas corpus petition. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254(b)(1); O’Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 839, 845 (1999).
exhaustion rule, however, is not a jurisdictional requirement. Castille v. Peoples,
489 U.S. 346, 349 (1989). Courts may deny a habeas petition on the merits despite
the petitioner’s failure to exhaust available state remedies. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(2).
Williams’ claims do not warrant habeas relief. The Court therefore excuses
any failure to exhaust state remedies and will go directly to the merits of Williams’
To the extent the Michigan Court of Appeals adjudicated at least some of
Williams’ claims on the merits, this Court’s authority “to issue habeas corpus relief
. . . is provided by 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective
Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA).” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 97
(2011). Pursuant to § 2254, the Court may grant a state prisoner’s application for
the writ of habeas corpus only if the state court’s adjudication of the prisoner’s
claims on the merits
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
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).
“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.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 101 (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado,
541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). To obtain a writ of habeas corpus from a federal court,
a state prisoner must show that the state court’s ruling on his or her 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. at 103.
The Court also is mindful that
[t]he Constitution’s case or controversy requirement confines the
jurisdiction of the courts to “real and substantial controvers[ies]
admitting of specific relief through a decree of a conclusive character.
. . .” North Carolina v. Rice, 404 U.S. 244, 246, 92 S.Ct. 402, 30
L.Ed.2d 413 (1971) (citation omitted). Accordingly, this Court lacks
jurisdiction to consider any case or issue that has “lost its character as
a present, live controversy” and thereby becomes moot. Hall v. Beals,
396 U.S. 45, 48, 90 S.Ct. 200, 24 L.Ed.2d 214 (1969). . . .
“ ‘Simply stated, a case is moot when the issues presented are no longer
‘live’ or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome.’ ”
Int’l Union v. Dana Corp., 697 F.2d 718, 720–21 (6th Cir. 1983)
(quoting Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 496, 89 S.Ct. 1944, 23
L.Ed.2d 491 (1969)).
Demis v. Sniezek, 558 F.3d 508, 512 (6th Cir. 2009).
Williams contends that the trial court abused its discretion by failing to abide
by the Cobbs agreement. However, this claim is moot. While the trial court initially
sentenced Williams to one month more than the bottom one-third of the sentencing
guidelines as calculated by the Department of Corrections, the trial court
subsequently re-sentenced Williams at his request. The new minimum sentence of
17 years (or 204 months) fell within the bottom one-third of one of the sentencing
guideline ranges that Williams contemplated at his guilty plea.2 By sentencing
Williams within the contemplated guidelines, the trial court complied with the Cobbs
agreement, and thus Williams no longer has a live claim for violation of that
As previously explained, the prosecution calculated the bottom one-third of the
guidelines to be 171 to 209 months.
There is also a real question as to whether the claim of failure to abide by the Cobbs
agreement is cognizable on habeas review. Federal habeas corpus relief “does not
lie for errors of state law.” Lewis v. Jeffers, 497 U.S. 764, 780 (1990); see also
Pulley v. Harris, 465 U.S. 37, 41 (1984) (explaining that “[a] federal court may not
issue the writ on the basis of a perceived error of state law”). Williams has not
shown how the alleged violation of the Cobbs state-law rule amounted to an error of
federal constitutional law.
Williams’ second and third claims challenge the trial court’s scoring of the
Michigan sentencing guidelines. Williams states that there was no evidence to
support the scoring of offense variable 10 for predatory conduct and that offense
variables 1 through 3 (aggravated use of a weapon, lethal potential of the weapon
possessed or used, and physical injury to a victim) were scored as though he had
been charged with assault with intent to commit murder and felony firearm.
These claims lack merit because “[a] state court’s alleged misinterpretation of
state sentencing guidelines . . . is a matter of state concern only,” Howard v. White,
76 F. App’x 52, 53 (6th Cir. 2003), and “federal habeas corpus relief does not lie for
errors of state law,” Jeffers, 497 U.S. at 780. Therefore, Williams’ claims regarding
alleged errors in the scoring of the sentencing guidelines are not cognizable in this
habeas corpus action. Tironi v. Birkett, 252 F. App’x 724, 725 (6th Cir. 2007);
McPhail v. Renico, 412 F. Supp. 2d 647, 656 (E.D. Mich. 2006).
In his fourth and final claim, Williams argues that his guilty plea was not
knowing, intelligent, and voluntary because he relied on his trial attorney’s
erroneous advice regarding the sentencing guidelines. However, even if original
counsel did miscalculate the guidelines, that miscalculation would not entitle
Williams to relief because he was given an opportunity to withdraw the plea he
entered based on that advice, and he declined.
Instead of withdrawing his
erroneously-induced plea, he chose to re-negotiate the matter with the prosecution,
and he agreed to a minimum sentence of 204 months or 17 years. (7/29/15 Mot.
Hr’g/Re-Sentencing at 4, 9-11.) Under these circumstances, the erroneous advice of
trial counsel neither prejudiced Williams nor rendered his plea unknowing or
Williams’ claims are moot, not cognizable on habeas review, or meritless.
Furthermore, to the extent that the state courts considered Williams’ claims, their
decisions were not contrary to clearly established federal law, unreasonable
applications of federal law, or unreasonable determinations of the facts.
Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Respondent’s Motion to Dismiss
(ECF #9) is GRANTED, and the Habeas Petition (ECF #1) is DENIED.
“[A] prisoner seeking postconviction relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 has no
automatic right to appeal a district court’s denial or dismissal of the petition. Instead,
[the] petitioner must first seek and obtain a [certificate of appealability.]” Miller-El
v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 327 (2003). A certificate of appealability may issue “only
if the applicant has made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional
28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2).
“A petitioner satisfies this standard by
demonstrating that jurists of reason could disagree with the district court’s resolution
of his constitutional claims or that jurists could conclude the issues presented are
adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed further.” Miller-El, 537 U.S. at 327.
Reasonable jurists would not disagree with the Court’s resolution of the
Habeas Petition, nor conclude that the issues deserve encouragement to proceed
further because Williams’ claims are moot, non-cognizable, or meritless.
Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that a certificate of appealability is
Although this Court has denied Petitioner a certificate of appealability, the
standard for granting an application for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”)
is lower than the standard for certificates of appealability. See Foster v. Ludwick,
208 F.Supp.2d 750, 764 (E.D. Mich. 2002) (citing United States v. Youngblood, 116
F.3d 1113, 1115 (5th Cir. 1997)). While a certificate of appealability may only be
granted if a petitioner makes a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional
right, a court may grant IFP status if it finds that an appeal is being taken in good
faith. See Foster at 764-65; see also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3); Fed. Rule App. Proc.
Although jurists of reason could not debate this Court’s resolution of
Petitioner’s claims, the issues Petitioner raises are not frivolous.
Petitioner could appeal this Court’s decision in good faith. The Court GRANTS
Petitioner leave to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/Matthew F. Leitman
MATTHEW F. LEITMAN
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated: September 26, 2017
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing document was served upon the
parties and/or counsel of record on September 26, 2017, by electronic means and/or
s/Holly A. Monda
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