Arnold v. Howard
OPINION and ORDER DISMISSING 1 Habeas Corpus Petition, Denying a Certificate of Appealability and Denying Leave to Appeal in Forma Pauperis. Signed by District Judge Stephen J. Murphy, III. (DPar)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
CHARESE LOUISE ARNOLD,
Case No. 2:21-cv-10407
HONORABLE STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III
OPINION AND ORDER
DISMISSING THE HABEAS CORPUS PETITION 
Petitioner Charese Louise Arnold is an inmate at the Women's Huron Valley
Correctional Facility who filed an application for a writ of habeas corpus under 28
U.S.C. § 2254. ECF 1. Petitioner was convicted by a guilty plea of conspiracy to deliver
cocaine or heroin in violation of Mich. Comp. Laws § 333.7401(2)(a)(ii). Id. at 1. She
is serving a term of incarceration of fourteen to thirty-five years for the offense. Id.
Petitioner challenges that sentence as disproportionate and unreasonable. Id. at 2.
The Court will deny the application for a writ of habeas corpus. And the Court
will also deny Petitioner a certificate of appealability and leave to proceed in forma
pauperis on appeal.
Petitioner pled guilty to a charge of conspiracy to deliver cocaine or heroin in
excess of 450 grams but less than 1000 grams in violation of Mich. Comp. Laws
§§ 333.7401(2)(a)(ii), 750.157a. People v. Arnold, No. 336817, 2018 WL 4957076, at *1
(Mich. Ct. App. Oct. 11, 2018). In exchange for her guilty plea, the prosecution
dismissed twelve other charges, including one for conspiracy to delivery 1,000 or more
grams of heroin or cocaine in violation of Mich. Comp. Laws § 333.7401(2)(a)(i). Id.
The prosecution also agreed to amend its fourth-offense habitual offender notice to a
second-offense, Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.10. Id.
Petitioner raised one issue on direct appeal: whether her score calculated
under the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines was correct, specifically the offense
variable for aggravated controlled substance offenses, that is OV 15. Id. A divided
Michigan Court of Appeals denied Petitioner leave to appeal "for lack of merit in the
grounds presented." People v. Arnold, No. 336817 (Mich. Ct. App. May 11, 2017). The
Michigan Supreme Court remanded Petitioner's case to the Court of Appeals "as on
leave granted." People v. Arnold, 501 Mich. 940, 904 (2017).
On remand, the Michigan Court of Appeals concluded that Petitioner was
entitled to a reduced score and remanded for resentencing. Arnold, 2018 WL 4957076,
at *3. Petitioner's sentence was subsequently reduced from the original 20 to 35 years
of incarceration to 14 to 35 years. ECF 1, PgID 1.
Following resentencing, Petitioner filed a delayed application for leave to
appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals, but this application was denied "for lack of
merit in the grounds presented." People v. Arnold, No. 349744 (Mich. Ct. App. Aug.
21, 2019). The Michigan Supreme Court also denied leave in a standard form order.
People v. Arnold, 505 Mich. 947 (2020) (Mem).
In her applications for leave to appeal after resentencing, Petitioner raised a
single issue—the same claim for which she now seeks habeas relief:
Petitioner's Sentence Was Disproportionate and Unreasonable Where
the Trial Court Sentenced [Petitioner] 33 Months Above The Low End
Minimum Of The Sentencing Guideline And Failed To Take Into
Account Significant Mitigating Factors, Failed To Tailor The Sentence
To The Individual Offender, And Failed To Justify The Sentence With
ECF 1, PgID 5, 17.
"Federal courts are authorized to dismiss summarily any habeas petition that
appears legally insufficient on its face." McFarland v. Scott, 512 U.S. 849, 856 (1994)
(citing Rule 4 Governing Section 2254 Proceedings for the United States District
Courts). "The rules governing § 2254 cases provide that the court shall promptly
examine a petition to determine 'if it plainly appears from the face of the petition and
any exhibits annexed to it that the petitioner is not entitled to relief.'" Crump v.
Lafler, 657 F.3d 393, 396 n.2 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting Rule 4 Governing Section 2254
Proceedings for the United States District Courts). After conducting this initial
inquiry, "[i]f the court determines that the petitioner is not entitled to relief, the court
shall summarily dismiss the petition." Id. (citing McFarland, 512 U.S. at 856).
Federal courts therefore have "a duty to screen out a habeas corpus petition which
should be dismissed for lack of merit on its face" including a petition that is "frivolous,
or obviously lacking in merit[.]" Allen v. Perini, 424 F.2d 134, 141 (6th Cir. 1970). No
response to a habeas petition is necessary where the facts can be determined from
the petition itself. Id.
After undertaking the review required by Rule 4, the Court concludes that
Petitioner's claim does not entitle her to habeas relief, and the petition must be
summarily denied. See McIntosh v. Booker, 300 F. Supp. 2d 498, 499 (E.D. Mich.
Section 2254 Petition
Petitioner argues that her sentence was disproportionate and unreasonable
because the trial court sentenced her to a minimum term that was thirty-three
months above the low end of the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines. ECF 1, PgID 5.
Her claim is based, in part, on the Michigan court's failure to consider significant
mitigating factors, to tailor the sentence to her individually, and to justify the
sentence appropriately. Id. at 17.
A claim the trial court violated state law when it sentenced a petitioner is not
cognizable in a federal habeas corpus proceeding. Baker v. Barrett, 16 F. Supp. 3d
815, 837 (E.D. Mich. 2014) (citing Branan v. Booth, 861 F.2d 1507, 1508 (11th Cir.
1988)). This includes challenges based on a state trial court's departure from the
sentencing guidelines range. Id.
Unlike most sentencing guidelines claims, Petitioner's claim is not that the
trial court exceeded the sentencing guidelines range, but instead, that it sentenced
her above the low end of the range. ECF 1, PgID 1. After the Michigan Court of
Appeals agreed that Petitioner's initial Sentencing Guidelines recommendations
were incorrectly calculated, a new recommended range was calculated to be 135 to
281 months of imprisonment. Arnold, 2018 WL 4957076, at *3. Following
resentencing, Petitioner's minimum sentence was fourteen years or 168 months. 168
months is well within the Guidelines range, and in fact, is within the lower half of
Generally, "a federal court will not set aside, on allegations of unfairness or an
abuse of discretion, terms of a sentence that is within state statutory limits unless
the sentence is so disproportionate to the crime as to be completely arbitrary and
shocking." Doyle v. Scutt, 347 F. Supp. 2d 474, 485 (E.D. Mich. 2004). A habeas
petitioner arguing a sentence is unjustified or disproportionate must "show that the
sentence imposed exceeded the statutory limits or is wholly unauthorized by law."
Vliet v. Renico, 193 F. Supp. 2d 1010, 1014 (E.D. Mich. 2002) (citing Haynes, 825 F.2d
at 923). This is so because "[a] sentence within the statutory maximum set by statute
generally does not constitute 'cruel and unusual punishment.'" United States v.
Moore, 643 F.3d 451, 455 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting United States v. Layne, 324 F.3d
464, 474 (6th Cir. 2003)).
Petitioner's sentence is both within the statutory maximum set by the
Michigan statutory sentencing scheme and is not arbitrary or shocking. The statutes
governing a conviction for conspiracy to deliver 450 or more but less than 1,000 grams
of heroin or cocaine authorize a maximum sentence of thirty years or 360 months.
Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 750.157a; 333.7401(2)(a)(ii). And Petitioner was sentenced as a
second-offense habitual offender, which permits the trial court to impose a maximum
sentence that is one and a half times higher than that authorized for a first offense,
up to 540 months of imprisonment in this case. See Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.10. Thus,
the Michigan state laws and Sentencing Guidelines would have permitted a sentence
of over twenty-three years to a maximum of forty-five years, or 276 months to 540
months. The sentence of fourteen to thirty-five years is well within the authorized
Turning to Petitioner's remaining claims—that her sentence is unreasonable,
that the trial court failed to individualize and justify the sentence it imposed, and
that the trial court failed to consider significant mitigating factors—habeas relief is
unavailable. "The Supreme Court has determined that strict proportionality between
a crime and its punishment is not required." United States v. Marks, 209 F.3d 577,
583 (6th Cir. 2000) (citing Harmelin v. Michigan, 501 U.S. 957, 959–960 (1991)). The
Supreme Court in Harmelin upheld a Michigan law which imposed a sentence of life
without parole for possession of more than 650 grams of cocaine. Id. Applying this
"narrow proportionality principle," the Sixth Circuit holds that "only an extreme
disparity between crime and sentence offends the Eighth Amendment." Cowherd v.
Million, 260 F. App'x 781, 785 (6th Cir. 2008) (citing Marks, 209 F.3d at 583). And
Petitioner's sentence does not demonstrate such an "extreme disparity."
In pleading guilty to conspiracy to delivery between 450 and 1000 grams of
heroin or cocaine, Petitioner admitted to running a drug-trafficking operation which
distributed drugs across Michigan from Detroit to Traverse City. Arnold, 2018 WL
4957076, at *1. And Sixth Circuit precedent has continued to rely on the Supreme
Court's decision in Harmelin in which a life sentence for simple possession of 650
grams of cocaine—an approximately equivalent amount that Petitioner was convicted
of distributing—did not violate the Eighth Amendment. See e.g., United States v.
Sherrill, 972 F.3d 752, 772 (6th Cir. 2020). Petitioner is not entitled to habeas corpus
Certificate of Appealability and In Forma Pauperis on Appeal
To obtain a certificate of appealability, a prisoner must make a substantial
showing of the denial of a constitutional right. 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). To do so, the
applicant must 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, 48384 (2000). When a district court rejects a habeas petitioner's constitutional claims on
the merits, the petitioner must demonstrate that reasonable jurists would find the
district court's assessment of the constitutional claims to be debatable or wrong. Id.
at 484. "The district court must issue or deny a certificate of appealability when it
enters a final order adverse to the applicant." Rule 11(a) Governing Section 2254
Proceedings for the United States District Courts; see also Strayhorn v. Booker, 718 F.
Supp. 2d 846, 875 (E.D. Mich. 2010).
For the reasons stated in this opinion, the Court will deny Petitioner a
certificate of appealability because she has failed to make a substantial showing of
the denial of a federal constitutional right. See Dell v. Straub, 194 F. Supp. 2d 629,
659 (E.D. Mich. 2002). Leave to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal will also be
denied, because an appeal of this order cannot be taken in good faith.
WHEREFORE, it is hereby ORDERED that the Petition for a Writ of Habeas
Corpus  is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that a Certificate of Appealability is DENIED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Petitioner is DENIED leave to appeal in
s/ Stephen J. Murphy, III
STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III
United States District Judge
Dated: March 31, 2021
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing document was served upon the parties
and/or counsel of record on March 31, 2021, by electronic and/or ordinary mail.
s/ David P. Parker
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