Johnson v. Mackie
OPINION AND ORDER Denying 1 Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus filed by Brian Johnson; Denying a Certificate of Appealability, and Denying Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis. Signed by District Judge John Corbett O'Meara. (WBar)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
BRIAN JOHNSON, #212417,
CASE NO. 11-CV-13364
HON. JOHN CORBETT O’MEARA
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING THE PETITION FOR A WRIT OF
HABEAS CORPUS, DENYING A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY,
AND DENYING LEAVE TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS ON APPEAL
This is a habeas case brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Michigan prisoner Brian
Johnson (“Petitioner”) was convicted of second-degree murder, MICH. COMP. LAWS § 750.317, felon
in possession of a firearm, MICH. COMP. LAWS § 750.224f, and possession of a firearm during the
commission of a felony, MICH. COMP. LAWS § 750.227b, following a jury trial in the Wayne County
Circuit Court in 2004. He is currently serving 30 to 50 years imprisonment on the murder
conviction, a concurrent term of one to five years imprisonment on the felon in possession
conviction, and a consecutive term of two years imprisonment on the felony firearm conviction.
In his pleadings, Petitioner raises claims concerning the effectiveness of appellate counsel
on re-sentencing appeal, the bind-over decision and amendment to the information, the absence of
trial counsel during jury “re-instruction,” the effectiveness of trial counsel in preparing for trial, and
the effectiveness of appellate counsel on direct appeal. For the reasons set forth, the Court denies
the petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The Court also denies a certificate of appealability and
denies leave to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal.
Facts and Procedural History
Petitioner’s convictions arise from the shooting death of Kevin Ross, the father of a child
whose mother is Petitioner’s ex-girlfriend Kienda Lewis, in Detroit, Michigan on June 7, 2000. The
Michigan Court of Appeals set forth the following facts, which are presumed correct on federal
habeas review, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 413 (6th Cir. 2009).
This case arose out of the shooting death of Kevin Ross (Ross) on June 7, 2000.
Defendant was seen arriving at the home of Lucille Coles, the aunt of Kienda Lewis.
Lewis, who was inside the home, heard shots, looked outside and saw Ross’s car
spinning in a field. Another witness heard the shots and saw defendant with
something in his hand, and then saw defendant flee hastily in a car.
People v. Johnson, No. 259067, 2006 WL 708221, *1 (Mich. Ct. App. March 21, 2006)
(unpublished). Petitioner did not testify at trial. His defense was that the prosecution’s evidence
was circumstantial and that his guilt could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
At the close of trial, the jury found Petitioner guilty of second-degree murder, felon in
possession of a firearm, and felony firearm. The trial court sentenced Petitioner, as a fourth habitual
offender, to 40 to 75 years imprisonment on the murder conviction, a concurrent term of one to five
years imprisonment on the felon in possession conviction, and a consecutive term of two years
imprisonment on the felony firearm conviction.
Following sentencing, Petitioner filed an appeal of right with the Michigan Court of Appeals
raising prosecutorial misconduct claims. The court denied relief on those claims and affirmed his
convictions. Id. Petitioner did not appeal this decision to the Michigan Supreme Court.
In 2009, Petitioner filed a motion for relief from judgment with the state trial court raising
claims concerning the bind-over decision and amendment to the information, the absence of trial
counsel during jury “re-instruction,” the effectiveness of trial counsel in preparing for trial, the
prosecutor’s failure to timely file a fourth habitual offender notice, and the effectiveness of appellate
counsel. The trial court ruled that the prosecutor failed to properly file the habitual offender notice
and ordered that Petitioner be re-resentenced, but denied relief on the other claims. People v.
Johnson, No. 04-6744-01 (Wayne Co. Cir. Ct. Mar. 2, 2009). On July 16, 2009, the trial court
conducted a hearing and re-sentenced Petitioner to 30 to 50 years imprisonment on the seconddegree murder conviction. Petitioner’s other sentences remained the same.
Following re-sentencing, Petitioner filed a claim of appeal with the Michigan Court of
Appeals. Petitioner’s second appointed appellate counsel, Donald Cook, subsequently moved to
withdraw as counsel under Michigan Court Rule 7.211(C)(5) claiming that there were no
meritorious issues for appeal such that any appeal would be “wholly frivolous.” Appellate counsel
filed a brief discussing why the issues of jury re-instruction, sentencing proportionality, and the
scoring of the sentencing guidelines lacked merit. The Michigan Court of Appeals reviewed the
proceedings, agreed that an appeal would be “wholly frivolous,” granted the motion to withdraw,
and affirmed Petitioner’s new sentence. People v. Johnson, No. 293566 (Mich. Ct. App. April 15,
2010). Petitioner filed an application for leave to appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court asserting
that second appointed appellate counsel was ineffective. The court denied leave to appeal in a
standard order. People v. Johnson, 488 Mich. 856, 787 N.W.2d 509 (2010).
Petitioner also filed a separate application for leave to appeal with the Michigan Court of
Appeals regarding the trial court’s denial of the other claims raised in his motion for relief from
judgment. The Michigan Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal under Michigan Court Rule
6.508(D). People v. Johnson, No. 296736 (Mich. Ct. App. July 14, 2010). Petitioner filed an
application for leave to appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court, which was similarly denied.
People v. Johnson, 488 Mich. 1046, 794 N.W.2d 587 (2011).
Petitioner thereafter instituted this federal habeas action. He raises the following claims:
He was denied the effective assistance of counsel on appeal following his
resentencing when his appellate counsel, Donald Cook, failed to recognize
and argue that the trial court erred in denying his motion for relief from
judgment on his claim of a structural error based on ineffective assistance of
He was denied the effective assistance of counsel on appeal following his
resentencing when his appellate counsel, Donald Cook, failed to recognize
and argue that Petitioner’s resentencing was disproportionate and based on
He was denied the effective assistance of counsel of appeal following his
resentencing when his appellate counsel, Donald Cook, failed to recognize
and argue that the guidelines were improperly scored because they were
based on inaccurate information.
He was improperly bound over to the circuit court for trial.
He was denied the effective assistance of counsel when his trial counsel was
absent during jury reinstruction, thereby causing a structural defect in the
He was denied the effective assistance of counsel when his trial counsel
failed to investigate and adequately prepare for trial.
He was denied the effective assistance of counsel during his direct appeal
when his appellate counsel, Daniel Rust, failed to raise more meritorious
Respondent has filed an answer to the petition contending that habeas claims IV through VII are
time-barred and that all of the habeas claims lack merit. Because the statute of limitations issue is
complicated to resolve due to Petitioner’s re-sentencing, the Court shall not address that issue and
shall instead proceed to the merits of Petitioner’s claims.
Standard of Review
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), codified 28 U.S.C.
§ 2241 et seq., provides the standard of review for federal habeas cases brought by state prisoners.
The AEDPA provides in relevant part:
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 States; or
(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.
28 U.S.C. §2254(d) (1996).
“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 [that] precedent.’” Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 15-16 (2003)
(per curiam) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)); Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S.
685, 694 (2002). “[T]he ‘unreasonable application’ prong of § 2254(d)(1) 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); Bell, 535 U.S. at 694.
However, “[i]n order for a federal court find a state court’s application of [Supreme Court]
precedent ‘unreasonable,’ the state court’s decision must have been more than incorrect or
erroneous. The state court’s application must have been ‘objectively unreasonable.’” Wiggins, 539
U.S. at 520-21 (citations omitted). The “AEDPA thus imposes a ‘highly deferential standard for
evaluating state-court rulings,’ and ‘demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the
doubt.’” Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010) (quoting Lindh, 521 U.S. at 333, n. 7); Woodford
v. Viscotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (per curiam)).
The Supreme Court recently held that “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, _ U.S. _, 131 S. Ct. 770, 786 (2011) (citing
Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). The Supreme Court emphasized “that even
a strong case for relief does not mean the state court’s contrary conclusion was unreasonable.” Id.
(citing Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003)). Pursuant to § 2254(d), “a habeas court must
determine what arguments or theories supported or ... could have supported, the state court’s
decision; and then it must ask whether it is possible fairminded jurists could disagree that those
arguments or theories are inconsistent with the holding in a prior decision” of the Supreme Court.
Id. Thus, in order to obtain habeas relief in federal court, a state prisoner must 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.” Id.
Section 2254(d)(1) limits a federal habeas court’s review to a determination of whether the
state court’s decision comports with clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme
Court at the time the state court renders its decision. Williams, 529 U.S. at 412; see also Knowles
v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, 122 (2009) (noting that the Supreme Court “has held on numerous
occasions that it is not ‘an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law’ for a state
court to decline to apply a specific legal rule that has not been squarely established by this Court”
and quoting Wright v. Van Patten, 552 U.S. 120, 125-26 (2008) (per curiam). Section 2254(d)
“does not require a state court to give reasons before its decision can be deemed to have been
‘adjudicated on the merits.’” Harrington, 131 S. Ct. at 785. Furthermore, it “does not require
citation of [Supreme Court] cases–indeed, it does not even require awareness of [Supreme Court]
cases, so long as neither the reasoning nor the result of the state-court decision contradicts them.”
Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002). While the requirements of “clearly established law” are to
be determined solely by Supreme Court precedent, the decisions of lower federal courts may be
useful in assessing the reasonableness of the state court’s resolution of an issue. See Stewart v.
Erwin, 503 F.3d 488, 493 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Williams v. Bowersox, 340 F.3d 667, 671 (8th Cir.
2003)); Dickens v. Jones, 203 F. Supp. 354, 359 (E.D. Mich. 2002).
A state court’s factual determinations are presumed correct on federal habeas review. See
28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). A habeas petitioner may rebut this presumption only with clear and
convincing evidence. Warren v. Smith, 161 F.3d 358, 360-61 (6th Cir. 1998). Moreover, habeas
review is “limited to the record that was before the state court.” Cullen v. Pinholster, _ U.S. _, 131
S. Ct. 1388, 1398 (2011).
Effectiveness of Appellate Counsel after Re-Sentencing (Habeas Claims I-III)
Petitioner asserts that he is entitled to habeas relief because appellate counsel after resentencing was ineffective for failing to pursue claims regarding the absence of counsel during jury
“re-instruction,” the proportionality of his sentence and the accuracy of the sentencing information,
and the scoring of the sentencing guidelines. The record indicates that appellate counsel, rather
than pursuing such issues on appeal, filed a motion to withdraw pursuant to Michigan Court Rule
7.211(C)(5), along with a brief indicating that the foregoing issues lacked merit pursuant to Anders
v. California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967), with the Michigan Court of Appeals. The court granted the
motion to withdraw, determined that the appeal was “wholly frivolous,” and affirmed Petitioner’s
new sentence. Johnson, No. 293566 at *1. The Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal
in a standard order.
The state courts’ decisions are neither contrary to Supreme Court precedent nor an
unreasonable application of federal law or the facts.1 In Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738, 744
(1967), the Supreme Court held that court-appointed appellate counsel may move to withdraw if,
following “a conscientious examination” of the case, appellate counsel determines that the case
is “wholly frivolous.” The Supreme Court indicated that any request to withdraw should “be
accompanied by a brief referring to anything in the record that might arguably support the appeal.”
Id. A copy of the brief should be given to the defendant, along with time to allow him to raise his
own claims. Id. The court must then decide, after a full examination of all the proceedings,
whether the appeal is wholly frivolous. If the court makes such a finding, it may grant counsel’s
request to withdraw and dismiss the appeal. Id. The Supreme Court has explained:
[The Anders] requirement was designed to provide the appellate courts with a basis
for determining whether appointed counsel have fully performed their duty to
support their clients’ appeals to the best of their ability. The Anders requirement
assures that indigent defendants have the benefit of what wealthy defendants are
able to acquire by purchase – a diligent and thorough review of the record and an
identification of any arguable issues revealed by that review. Thus, the Anders brief
assists the court in making the critical determination whether the appeal is indeed
so frivolous that counsel should be permitted to withdraw.
McCoy v. Court of Appeals of Wisconsin, Dist. 1, 486 U.S. 429, 439 (1988) (footnotes omitted).
The Court notes that it would reach the same result under a de novo standard of review.
In Smith v. Robbins, 528 U.S. 259 (2000), the Supreme Court discussed the proper standard
for reviewing a claim that appellate counsel was ineffective for seeking to withdraw rather than
pursuing an appeal. The Supreme Court explained:
[T]he proper standard for evaluating [a criminal defendant’s] claim that appellate
counsel was ineffective in neglecting to file a merits brief is that enunciated in
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S. Ct. 2052, 80 L. Ed. 2d 674 (1984).
See Smith v. Murray, 477 U.S. 527, 535-536, 106 S. Ct. 2661, 91 L. Ed. 2d 434
(1986) (applying Strickland to claim of attorney error on appeal). [The defendant]
must first show that his counsel was objectively unreasonable, see Strickland, 466
U.S., at 687-691, 104 S. Ct. 2052, 80 L. Ed. 2d 674, in failing to find arguable
issues to appeal – that is, that counsel unreasonably failed to discover nonfrivolous
issues and to file a merits brief raising them. If [the defendant] succeeds in such a
showing, he then has the burden of demonstrating prejudice. That is, he must show
a reasonable probability that, but for his counsel’s unreasonable failure to file a
merits brief, he would have prevailed on his appeal. See id. at 694, 104 S. Ct. 2052,
80 L. Ed. 2d 674 (defendant must show “a reasonable probability that, but for
counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been
Smith, 528 U.S. at 285-86.
In this case, Petitioner has not shown that appellate counsel erred or that he was prejudiced
by counsel’s conduct in moving to withdraw rather than pursuing an appeal of the re-sentencing
decision. The record indicates that appellate counsel reviewed the record and visited Petitioner in
prison. Counsel determined after extensive review that there was no valid legal basis on which to
challenge either the trial court’s denial of Petitioner’s claims on collateral review or the resentencing decision. Petitioner has failed to show that appellate counsel unreasonably failed to
discover nonfrivolous issues and unreasonably failed to file a merits brief raising nonfrivolous
issues following re-sentencing. He has also failed to demonstrate a reasonable probability that,
but for appellate counsel’s decision not to file a merits brief, he would have prevailed on appeal.
To be sure, the Michigan Court of Appeals reviewed the matter and found that the appeal was
Simply stated, Petitioner underlying claims lack merit. First, as discussed infra, the trial
court properly ruled on the motion for relief from judgment, including the jury “re-instruction”
issue. Moreover, under Michigan law, appellate counsel would not have been able to raise alleged
errors arising from Petitioner’s trial on appeal of the re-sentencing decision. See, e.g., People v.
Gauntlett, 152 Mich. App. 397, 400 n. 1, 394 N.W.2d 437 (1986) (citing People v. Jones, 394
Mich. 434, 231 N.W.2d 649 (1975)).
Second, Petitioner cannot prevail on any claim that his sentence is disproportionate under
state law. Petitioner’s sentence was within the statutory limits and the guidelines range. A
sentence within the guidelines range is presumptively proportionate and constitutional under
Michigan law, see, e.g., People v. Powell, 278 Mich. App. 318, 323, 750 N.W.2d 607 (2008), and
Petitioner has not rebutted that presumption. Furthermore, the United States Constitution does not
require strict proportionality between a crime and its punishment. Harmelin v. Michigan, 501 U.S.
957, 965 (1991). A sentence that falls within the maximum penalty authorized by statute “generally
does not constitute ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’” Austin v. Jackson, 213 F.3d 298, 302 (6th Cir.
Third, Petitioner has not shown that his sentence was based upon inaccurate
A sentence may violate federal due process if it is carelessly or deliberately pronounced on an
extensive and materially false foundation which the defendant had no opportunity to correct.
Townsend v. Burke, 334 U.S. 736, 741 (1948); see also United States v. Tucker, 404 U.S. 443, 447
(1972); United States v. Sammons, 918 F.2d 592, 603 (6th Cir. 1990) (defendant must have a
meaningful opportunity to rebut contested sentencing information). To prevail on such a claim, a
petitioner must show that the court relied upon the allegedly false information. United States v.
Polselli, 747 F.2d 356, 358 (6th Cir. 1984); Draughn v Jabe, 803 F. Supp. 70, 81 (E.D. Mich.
1992). Petitioner has not done so. The record indicates that the trial court considered the
circumstances of the crime, Petitioner’s criminal record, the pre-sentence reports, and other
permissible factors at sentencing. Petitioner had an opportunity to contest the accuracy of the
reports – and changes were ultimately made to accurately reflect Petitioner’s prior convictions.
Contrary to Petitioner’s assertion, there is no evidence that the court relied upon any inaccuracies
in calculating the guidelines or imposing sentence.
Fourth, Petitioner has not shown that the state sentencing guidelines were improperly
scored. As explained by appellate counsel in his Anders brief and reflected in the re-sentencing
hearing transcript, the prior record variables and offense variables were correctly scored based upon
Petitioner’s criminal history and the circumstances of the crime.
Accordingly, given that Petitioner’s underlying claims lack merit, he cannot demonstrate
that appellate counsel erred or that he was prejudiced by appellate counsel’s conduct following the
re-sentencing decision. Counsel cannot be deemed deficient for failing to raise meritless issues.
See, e.g., Coley v. Bagley, 706 F.3d 741, 752 (6th Cir. 2014) (“Omitting meritless arguments is
neither professionally unreasonable nor prejudicial.”); United States v. Steverson, 230 F.3d 221,
225 (6th Cir. 2000). Petitioner has failed to establish appellate counsel was ineffective under the
Strickland standard. Habeas relief is therefore not warranted on these claims.
Bindover Decision (Habeas Claim IV)
Petitioner next asserts that he is entitled to habeas relief because he was not properly bound
over to the state circuit court for trial and an amendment to the information was improper. The
state trial court denied relief on this claim on collateral review, finding that the trial court properly
bound over Petitioner for trial on an open murder charge and that the subsequent amendment to the
information to charge first-degree murder was proper. Johnson, No. 04-006744-01 at pp. 2-3. The
Michigan appellate courts denied leave to appeal.
The state court’s denial of relief is neither contrary to Supreme Court precedent nor an
unreasonable application thereof. The Supreme Court has held that the federal Constitution does
not require that a probable cause hearing be conducted prior to a criminal trial. Gerstein v. Pugh,
420 U.S. 103, 119, 125 n. 26 (1975). Accordingly, the bind-over decision constitutes a state law
issue which does not implicate a federal constitutional right and is not subject to review in a federal
habeas proceeding. See Schacks v. Tessmer, No. 00-1062, 2001 WL 523533, *6 (6th Cir. May 8,
2001) (unpublished) (refusing to review state court determination that second-degree murder
conviction rendered bind-over sufficiency of the evidence challenge moot); Dorchy v. Jones, 320
F. Supp. 2d 564, 578-79 (E.D. Mich. 2004) (denying habeas relief on state prisoner’s claim that
there was insufficient evidence to bind him over for trial); see also Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S.
62, 67 (1991) (ruling that habeas relief is not available for perceived violations of state law).2
With regard to the amendment to the information, it is well-settled that prosecutors have
significant discretion in determining what charges to file against an accused provided that probable
cause exists to believe that an offense was committed by the accused under the charging statute.
Bordenkircher v. Hayes, 434 U.S. 357, 364 (1978); United States v. Davis, 15 F.3d 526, 529 (6th
Cir. 1994). Amendments to a state criminal information are permissible so long as the amendment
Even under Michigan law, any error in the preliminary examination proceeding is
considered harmless once a valid conviction has been obtained. See People v. Hall, 435 Mich.
599, 610-12, 460 N.W.2d 520 (1990).
does not alter the degree of the crime charged or unfairly surprise the defendant. See, e.g., Wright
v. Lockhart, 854 F.2d 309, 312 (8th Cir. 1988); Sharrar v. Foltz, 658 F. Supp. 862, 866-67 (E.D.
Mich. 1987). In this case, the amendment from open murder (which encompasses first-degree and
second-degree murder) to first-degree murder two months before trial did not alter the crime
charged nor unfairly surprise Petitioner. The amendment did not violate Petitioner’s constitutional
rights. Habeas relief is not warranted on this claim.
Absence of Counsel (Habeas Claim V)
Petitioner also asserts that he is entitled to habeas relief because trial counsel was absent
during jury “re-instruction.” The state trial court denied relief on this claim on collateral review,
finding that the jury was not re-instructed during counsel’s absence, but merely provided with
exhibits, copies of previously read instructions, and the official chart of elements. The court also
noted that discretionary communications with the jury were postponed until the prosecutor and
defense counsel were present. Johnson, No. 04-006744-01 at pp. 3-5. The Michigan appellate
courts denied leave to appeal.
The state court’s denial of relief is neither contrary to Supreme Court precedent nor an
unreasonable application of federal law or the facts. The Sixth Amendment to the United States
Constitution provides for the right to counsel in criminal prosecutions. U.S. CONST. AMEND. VI.
Consequently, a criminal defendant has a right to counsel during the critical stages of his criminal
proceedings. See, e.g., Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 695-96 (2002); Roe v. Flores-Ortega, 528 U.S.
470, 483 (2000); United States v. Cronic, 466 U.S. 648, 659 (1984); United States v. Wade, 388
U.S. 218, 227 (1967); see also Van v. Jones, 475 F.3d 292, 311-12 (6th Cir. 2007).
The complete denial or absence of counsel at a critical stage of the proceedings is a per se
Sixth Amendment violation which mandates a presumption of prejudice and is generally not subject
to harmless error review. See Holloway v. Arkansas, 435 U.S. 475, 489 (1978) (ruling that reversal
is automatic when a defendant is denied counsel during a critical stage or throughout the
prosecution of a capital offense); see also Cronic, 466 U.S. at 659-60; Van, 475 F.3d at 312. A
partial denial of counsel or the absence of counsel at a non-critical stage of the proceedings,
however, is not such a structural error. Rather, such a trial-type error requires an inquiry into the
prejudicial effect and/or harmlessness of the error. See Satterwhite v. Texas, 486 U.S. 249, 256-58
(1988); Rushen v. Spain, 464 U.S. 114, 117-18 (1983); Coleman v. Alabama, 399 U.S. 1, 11 (1970);
Wade, 388 U.S. at 239-40; Hereford v. Warren, 536 F.3d 523, 532-33 (6th Cir. 2008).
Initial jury instructions, supplemental instructions, and certain instances of re-instruction
constitute critical stages of a trial. See, e.g., Valentine v. United States, 488 F.3d 325, 335 (6th Cir.
2007); Caver v. Straub, 349 F.3d 340, 350 (6th Cir. 2003). However, the re-reading of identical
jury instructions does not. Hudson v. Jones, 351 F.3d 212, 217 (6th Cir. 2003). Providing the jury
with a written copy of instructions that have already been delivered orally is also not a critical
phase of a trial. Phillips v. Bradshaw, 607 F.3d 199, 224 (6th Cir. 2010). It is more of an
administrative communication, one that is “outside of the class of ‘critical stage’ jury instructions
that subjects a defendant to prejudice if made without counsel.” Peoples v. Lafler, 734 F.3d 503,
519 (6th Cir. 2013) (citing Coleman v. Alabama, 399 U.S. 1, 9 (1970)).
In this case, the record indicates that the trial court merely provided the jury with
instructions that had already been given, as well as exhibits and the elements list, while counsel was
not present. Given such circumstances, such communication was not a critical stage of the
proceedings – and prejudice is not presumed. Moreover, Petitioner has not shown that he was
prejudiced by counsel’s absence during the trial court’s communication with the jury. Petitioner
has failed to establish a constitutional violation. Habeas relief is not warranted on this claim.
Effectiveness of Trial Counsel (Habeas Claim VI)
Petitioner also asserts that he is entitled to habeas relief because trial counsel was ineffective
in failing to prepare for trial. In particular, he claims that trial counsel was ineffective for failing
to properly object to the bind-over decision and the amendment to the information, for failing to
object to the jury “re-instruction,” and for failing to contest the fourth habitual offender
enhancement. The state trial court denied relief on this claim as to the bindover/amendment and
jury re-instruction issues, but found that counsel was ineffective as to sentencing for failing to
object to the habitual offender enhancement. Johnson, No. 04-006744-01 at pp. 5-7. The Michigan
appellate courts denied leave to appeal.
The state court’s decision is neither contrary to Supreme Court precedent nor an
unreasonable application of federal law or the facts. In Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668
(1984), the United States Supreme Court set forth a two-prong test for determining whether a
habeas petitioner has received the ineffective assistance of counsel. First, a petitioner must prove
that counsel’s performance was deficient. This requires a showing that counsel made errors so
serious that he or she was not functioning as counsel as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. Second, the petitioner must establish that counsel’s deficient
performance prejudiced the defense. Counsel’s errors must have been so serious that they deprived
the petitioner of a fair trial or appeal. Id.
As to the performance prong, a petitioner must identify acts that were “outside the wide
range of professionally competent assistance” in order to prove deficient performance. Id. at 690.
The reviewing court’s scrutiny of counsel’s performance is highly deferential. Id. at 689. Counsel
is strongly presumed to have rendered adequate assistance and made all significant decisions in the
exercise of reasonable professional judgment. Id. at 690. The petitioner bears the burden of
overcoming the presumption that the challenged actions were sound trial strategy. Id. at 689.
To satisfy the prejudice prong under Strickland, a petitioner must show that “there is a
reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding
would have been different.” Id. at 694. A reasonable probability is one that is sufficient to
undermine confidence in the outcome. Id. “On balance, the benchmark for judging any claim of
ineffectiveness must be whether counsel’s conduct so undermined the proper functioning of the
adversarial process that the [proceeding] cannot be relied on as having produced a just result.”
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 686.
The Supreme Court has recently confirmed that a federal court’s consideration of ineffective
assistance of counsel claims arising from state criminal proceedings is quite limited on habeas
review due to the deference accorded trial attorneys and state appellate courts reviewing their
performance. “The standards created by Strickland and § 2254(d) are both ‘highly deferential,’ and
when the two apply in tandem, review is ‘doubly’ so.” Harrington, 131 S. Ct. at 788 (internal and
end citations omitted). “When § 2254(d) applies, the question is not whether counsel’s actions
were reasonable. The question is whether there is any reasonable argument that counsel satisfied
Strickland’s deferential standard. Id. at 788.
In this case, Petitioner cannot establish that trial counsel erred or that he was prejudiced by
counsel’s conduct as to the bind-over decision, the amendment to the information, or the jury “reinstruction” given the state court’s ruling that the bind-over and amendment were proper and that
the jury was not “re-instructed” in counsel’s absence. Trial counsel cannot be deemed deficient for
failing to make a futile objection or motion. Coley, 706 F.3d at 752; Steverson, 230 F.3d at 225.
Additionally, as to trial counsel’s failure to object to the sentencing enhancement, the trial court
found that trial counsel erred, ordered re-sentencing, and re-sentenced Petitioner without the
enhancement. There is no additional remedy that this Court can provide. Habeas relief is not
warranted on this claim.
Effectiveness of Appellate Counsel on Direct Appeal (Habeas Claim VII)
Lastly, Petitioner asserts that he is entitled to habeas relief because appellate counsel on
direct appeal was ineffective for failing to raise more meritorious issues. Given the state court’s
and this Court’s determination that the bind-over/information amendment and jury re-instruction
issues lack merit and do not warrant habeas relief, Petitioner cannot establish that appellate counsel
was deficient and/or that he was prejudiced by appellate counsel’s conduct with respect to those
matters as required under Strickland. As to appellate counsel’s failure to raise the sentencing
enhancement issue on direct appeal, the trial court found that appellate counsel erred, ordered resentencing, and re-sentenced Petitioner without the enhancement. Again, there is no additional
remedy that this Court can provide. Habeas relief is not warranted on this claim.
For the reasons stated, the Court concludes that Petitioner is not entitled to federal habeas
relief on the claims contained his petition. Accordingly, the Court denies and dismisses with
prejudice the petition for a writ of habeas corpus.
Before Petitioner may appeal the Court’s decision, a certificate of appealability must issue.
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). When a court relief on the merits, the substantial showing threshold is met if the
petitioner demonstrates that reasonable jurists would find the court’s assessment of the claim
debatable or wrong. 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). In
applying this standard, a court may not conduct a full merits review, but must limit its examination
to a threshold inquiry into the underlying merits. Id. at 336-37.
Having conducted the requisite review, the Court concludes that Petitioner has not made
a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right as to his habeas claims. Accordingly,
the Court denies a certificate of appealability. The Court also denies leave to proceed in forma
pauperis on appeal because an appeal cannot be taken in good faith. See FED. R. APP. P. 24(a).
This case is closed.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/John Corbett O’Meara
United States District Judge
Date: April 14, 2014
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing document was served upon the parties of record
on this date, April 14, 2014, using the ECF system and/or ordinary mail.
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