Woods v. Yokum
OPINION AND ORDER (1) DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS, (2) DENYING A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY, AND (3) DENYING PERMISSION TO APPEAL IN FORMA PAUPERIS. Signed by District Judge George Caram Steeh. (LHos)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
TOBY JACQUETT WOODS,
Case No. 2:20-cv-12588
Hon. George Caram Steeh
OPINION AND ORDER (1) DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS
CORPUS, (2) DENYING A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY, AND
(3) DENYING PERMISSION TO APPEAL IN FORMA PAUPERIS
Toby Jacquett Woods, (“Petitioner”), a Michigan prisoner, filed this
action under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner is serving a prison sentence as a
fourth-time habitual felony offender of 30 months to 40 years for his
Oakland Circuit Court guilty plea conviction of delivery of less than 50
grams of cocaine. MICH. COMP. LAWS § 333.7401(2)(a)(iv). The petition
raises three claims: (1) the sentencing guidelines were scored incorrectly,
(2) Petitioner’s sentence was based on inaccurate information, and (3)
Petitioner’s incarceration violates the Eighth Amendment due to the
increased risk of contracting COVID-19 in prison. The Court will deny the
petition because Petitioner’s claims are without merit. The Court will also
deny Petitioner a certificate of appealability and deny permission to appeal
in forma pauperis.
The charges against Petitioner stemmed from a February 16, 2018,
traffic stop occurring in Pleasant Ridge, Michigan. Petitioner was driving the
vehicle and another man, Makowski, was seated in the front passenger
seat. Officers determined that Petitioner was on probation and was driving
on a suspended license. Upon exiting the vehicle, an officer found a knife
on Petitioner’s person. A search of the vehicle revealed twelve zip-lock
bags, each containing a small amount of what was later determined to be
crack cocaine. One bag was found near Makowski’s foot, five bags were
located between the center console and the passenger seat, and six bags
were found between the center console and the driver’s seat,
Petitioner was arrested and questioned at the police station.
Petitioner told police that Makowski had called him the previous day to set
up a purchase of crack cocaine. Petitioner told police that he was only
acting as the middleman for a deal between Makowski and someone else.
He said he called the seller and drove Makowski to a location to purchase
Petitioner was originally charged with possession of a dangerous
weapon, delivery of less than 50 grams of cocaine, and habitual offender –
fourth offense. The prosecutor moved to dismiss the weapon charge at the
preliminary examination. (Prelim. Ex., ECF No. 8-2, at 3.)
Petitioner subsequently pled guilty to the delivery of cocaine and
habitual offender charges, with an agreement that his minimum sentence
would be within the bottom third of the sentencing guidelines range. (Plea
Tr., ECF No. 8-4, at 5.) Shortly before Petitioner’s plea he had been
sentenced in the Macomb Circuit Court for another narcotics offense and
was sentenced to 10 months to 40 years. (Id., at 4-5.)
Petitioner was subsequently sentenced as indicated above in
accordance with the plea agreement to 30 months to 40 years. (Sent. Tr.,
ECF No. 8-5, at 11.)
Petitioner later filed a motion for resentencing, asserting that the
sentencing guidelines were erroneously scored to reflect that he was
carrying a knife when he was arrested when that charge had been
dismissed. (Mot. Resent., ECF No. 8-8, at 2-3.) Petitioner also asserted
that the possession of the knife related to his legitimate work as a carpet
installer. (id.) Petitioner asserted that had the guidelines been scored
correctly, the new minimum sentence range would have been 10 to 46
months, meaning that the plea deal would have called for a maximum
possible minimum term of 18 2/3 months. (id., at 5.) The trial court denied
the motion, stating:
[T]he defendant has failed to show that the People [did not meet]
their burden by a preponderance of evidence that the scoring of
OV2 was correct. The Defendant has conceded hat he had a
knife in his possession. The scoring variable does not require
that the defendant possess the knife for any particular purpose,
or that the knife be of a particular type to be sufficient for scoring
(Order, ECF No. 8-13, at 1.)
Petitioner then pursued a direct appeal. His appellate counsel filed an
application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals that raised
I. Mr. Woods is entitled to resentencing where he was sentenced
on misscored guidelines, on inaccurate information, and his trial
attorney was ineffective.
II. Mr. Woods is entitled to resentencing due to factors created
by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Michigan Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal “for lack of
merit in the grounds presented.” People v. King, 2016 WL 555860 (Mich.
Ct. App. Feb. 11, 2016). Petitioner then filed an application for leave to
appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court, but it was denied by standard form
order. People v. Woods, 944 N.W.2d 924 (Mich. 2020) (Table).
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), quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06
“[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. Sentencing Claims
Petitioner first claims that the sentencing guidelines were scored
incorrectly and that he was sentenced based on a false information when
the offense variables were scored to reflect Petitioner’s possession of a
knife at the time of his arrest.
The trial court held the guidelines were correctly scored when it
denied Petitioner’s motion for resentencing. Offense Variable 2 of the
Michigan Sentencing Guidelines addresses the lethal potential of a weapon
possessed or used during the commission of the offense. MICH. COMP.
LAWS § 777.32(1); People v Young, 276 Mich. App. 446, 451 (2007). The
trial court assessed 5 points under § 777.32(1)(d), which applies when
“[t]he offender possessed or used a pistol, rifle, shotgun, or knife or other
cutting or stabbing weapon.” The trial court rejected Petitioner’s argument
that no points should be scored under this offense variable if the defendant
possessed the knife for a legitimate purpose, finding that mere possession
of knife during an offense justified the scoring.
This Court cannot second-guess that construction of state law. “A
state court’s alleged misinterpretation of state sentencing guidelines and
crediting statutes is a matter of state concern only.” Howard v. White, 76 F.
App’x 52, 53 (6th Cir. 2003). “[F]ederal habeas corpus relief does not lie for
errors of state law.” Id. (quoting Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67
(1991)). Petitioner’s claim that the trial court erred when it scored OV 2 for
possessing a knife regardless of his purpose is therefore not cognizable on
federal habeas review.
Petitioner relatedly argues that the scoring of the guidelines was
based on inaccurate information. A sentence based on “extensively and
materially false” information which the defendant had no opportunity to
correct may state a federal due process violation. Townsend v. Burke, 334
U.S. 736, 741 (1948). Here, Petitioner admitted that he possessed the
knife, which was the basis for the scoring of the guidelines. Thus, the
sentence was not based on inaccurate information. Rather, Petitioner
contested whether that admitted fact justified the scoring of points under
the offense variable, a non-cognizable question of state law. Petitioner
therefore has not demonstrated his sentence was based on extensively
and materially false information.
Petitioner’s first and second habeas claims are therefore without merit.
Petitioner’s final claim asserts that his imprisonment violates the
Eighth Amendment because of the increased risk to his health posed by
the spread of COVID-19 at his correctional facility.
Where a prisoner’s habeas petition seeks release from prison by
claiming that no set of conditions of confinement would be constitutionally
sufficient, the claim is properly construed as challenging the fact or extent
of confinement, which is a cognizable habeas claim under 28 U.S.C. §
2241. See Wilson v. Williams, 961 F.3d 829, 838 (6th Cir. 2020) (citing
Adams v. Bradshaw, 644 F.3d 481, 483 (6th Cir. 2011). On the other hand,
conditions of confinement claims which seek relief in the form of
improvement of prison conditions or a transfer to another facility are not
cognizable under § 2241. Id. (citing Luedtke v. Berkebile, 704 F.3d 465,
466 (6th Cir. 2013)).
Petitioner's claims are non-cognizable in this habeas action.
Petitioner does not allege that no set of conditions of confinement would
remedy the risk caused by Covid-19. Petitioner alleges that the prison is
overcrowded and that prison officials have not controlled prisoner’s
exposure to MDOC staff and other prisoners, and he indicates that they
cannot adequately enforce social distancing practices. At the same time,
Petitioner's allegations suggest that the risk of contracting Covid-19 could
be ameliorated if prison officials took reasonable steps to reduce the risk of
infection. Petitioner thus does not allege that no conditions of confinement
would be sufficient to prevent irreparable constitutional remedy. Petitioner's
claim is therefore non-cognizable in a habeas petition. Wilson v. Williams,
961 F.3d at 838.
Claims which challenge the conditions of confinement, as Petitioner’s,
should normally be brought as a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. See Lutz v. Hemingway, 476 F. Supp. 2d 715, 718 (E.D. Mich.
2007). The proper course for a district court after it determines that the
substance of a state prisoner’s pro se habeas petition is a subject more
appropriately reached under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is to dismiss the petition
without prejudice to allow petitioner to raise his potential civil rights claims
properly as a § 1983 action. See Martin v. Overton, 391 F. 3d 710, 714 (6th
Cir. 2004) (holding that the district court should have dismissed the habeas
petitioner's § 2241 petition without prejudice to allow petitioner to raise his
potential civil rights claims properly as a § 1983 action rather than to recharacterize it as a § 2254 petition without notice to petitioner).
IV. Certificate of Appealability
Before Petitioner may appeal this decision, the Court must determine
whether to issue a certificate of appealability. 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). To satisfy § 2253(c)(2),
Petitioner must show “that reasonable jurists could debate whether (or, for
that matter, agree that) 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, 484
(2000) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The Court finds that
reasonable jurists would not debate the resolution of any of Petitioner’s
claims. The Court will therefore deny a certificate of appealability.
Finally, Petitioner is not entitled to permission to appeal in forma
pauperis because any appeal of this decision would be frivolous. 28 U.S.C.
Accordingly, the Court 1) DENIES WITH PREJUDICE the petition for
a writ of habeas corpus with respect to Petitioner’s first and second claims,
2) DENIES WITHOUT PREJUDICE Petitioner’s conditions of confinement
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claims, 3) DENIES a certificate of appealability, and 4) DENIES permission
to appeal in forma pauperis.
Dated: June 3, 2021
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
June 3, 2021, by electronic and/or ordinary mail and also on
Toby Jacquett Woods #312839, Charles Egeler Reception
And Guidance Center Annex, 3855 Cooper Street,
Jackson, MI 49201.
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