Smith v. Hoffner
OPINION and ORDER Denying 1 Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus and Denying Certificate of Appealability. Signed by District Judge Judith E. Levy. (SBur)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
Case No. 15-cv-11648
Judith E. Levy
United States District Judge
Mag. Judge Anthony P. Patti
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF
HABEAS CORPUS AND DENYING CERTIFICATE OF
Michigan prisoner Kahri Smith (“Petitioner”) filed this habeas
corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner, who is proceeding
pro se, was convicted of second-degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws §
750.317, and sentenced to 20 to 40 years imprisonment.
seeks habeas relief on the ground that he was denied his right to
present a defense and to a fair trial when the trial court barred
presentation of a self-defense theory in the case.
For the reasons that follow, the Court denies the petition for a
writ of habeas corpus.
The Court also denies a certificate of
Petitioner’s convictions arise from the beating death of Petitioner’s
uncle, Eric Smith.
The Michigan Court of Appeals summarized the
evidence adduced at trial leading to Petitioner’s convictions as follows:
On August 4, 2010, defendant beat his uncle, Eric Smith, to
death. Smith had locked defendant out of his house and
defendant was attempting to break in to Smith’s house.
While Smith was telephoning people requesting help,
defendant kicked in a basement window, and then he kicked
in a door, entered Smith’s house, and beat him in the head
and face. When Smith’s son and daughter arrived minutes
later, they found Smith bleeding from his face and
unconscious near an open side door to the house. When
Smith’s son asked defendant what happened to his dad,
defendant answered: “I killed that motherfucker.” Smith
was taken to the hospital where he died.
The medical examiner testified that Smith died from several
blunt-force head wounds.
Smith had two black eyes,
abrasions on his forehead, and both ears were bruised and
had extensive swelling. He also had bruises on the top of
both shoulders and on the backs of both wrists. The mucous
membranes in Smith’s mouth had multiple tears. An
internal examination revealed that Smith had extensive
hemorrhagic infiltration of the soft tissues of the scalp, his
brain was extensively swollen, and he had a subdural
hemorrhage, as well as multiple patches of hemorrhage
scattered throughout the surface of his brain. The medical
examiner testified that Smith’s injuries were consistent with
being struck by fists and that Smith “suffered extensive
blows throughout the left side of his head.” Defendant’s
defense to the charge was legal insanity, which the jury
Defendant had requested a self-defense jury
instruction, which the trial court denied.
People v. Smith, No. 309407, 2013 WL 6670897, *1 (Mich. Ct. App. Dec.
Petitioner filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan
Court of Appeals, raising claims that the trial court denied him his
right to present a defense and that the trial court incorrectly scored
several offense variables.
The Michigan Court of Appeals denied
Petitioner’s application for leave to appeal “for lack of merit in the
grounds presented.” People v. Smith, No. 309407 (Mich. Ct. App. Nov.
28, 2012). Petitioner then filed an application for leave to appeal in the
Michigan Supreme Court. The Michigan Supreme Court, in lieu of
granting leave to appeal, remanded the case to the Michigan Court of
Appeals for further consideration.
People v Smith, 494 Mich. 874
On remand, the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner’s
conviction, but vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing.
People v. Smith, No. 309407, 2013 WL 6670897 (Mich. Ct. App. Dec. 17,
Petitioner filed an application for leave to appeal in the
Michigan Supreme Court, raising the claim that he was denied his right
to present a defense. The Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to
People v. Smith, 496 Mich. 859 (2014).
On July 30, 2014,
Petitioner was resentenced in the trial court. The trial court imposed
the same sentence of 20 to 40 years imprisonment.
Petitioner then filed this habeas corpus petition.
He raises a
The trial court reversibly erred in barring the defense from
presenting a self-defense theory in the case, and thus
effectively precluding any request for an instruction on that
defense theory, contrary to Mr. Smith’s constitutional rights
to present a defense and to a fair jury trial.
Title 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), as amended by the Antiterrorism and
Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), Pub. L. No. 104-132,
110 Stat. 1214, imposes the following standard of review for habeas
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.
A decision of a state court is “contrary to” clearly established
federal law if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that
reached by the Supreme Court on a question of law, or if the state court
decides a case differently than the Supreme Court has on a set of
materially indistinguishable facts. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362,
405-406 (2000). An “unreasonable application” occurs when “a statecourt decision unreasonably applies the law of [the Supreme Court] to
the facts of a prisoner’s case.” Id. at 409. A federal habeas court may
not “issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its
independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied
clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly.” Id. at 411.
The Supreme Court has explained that a “federal court’s collateral
review of a state-court decision must be consistent with the respect due
state courts in our federal system.” Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322,
340 (2003). Thus, the AEDPA “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). 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). The Supreme Court has emphasized
“that even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court’s
contrary conclusion was unreasonable.” Id. at 102.
Furthermore, 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
Habeas relief is not appropriate unless each
ground that supported the state-court's decision is examined and found
to be unreasonable under the AEDPA. See Wetzel v. Lambert, 565 U.S.
520, 525 (2012).
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 of correctness only with clear and
convincing evidence. Id.; Warren v. Smith, 161 F.3d 358, 360-361 (6th
Cir. 1998). Moreover, habeas review is “limited to the record that was
before the state court.” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011).
Petitioner claims that the trial court denied him his right to
present a defense and to a fair trial by denying his request to present
evidence of self-defense and declining to instruct the jury on selfdefense.
The right of a defendant to present a defense has long been
recognized as “a fundamental element of due process of law.”
Washington v. Texas, 388 U.S. 14, 19 (1967). It is one of the “minimum
essentials of a fair trial.” Chambers v. Mississippi, 410 U.S. 284, 294
(1973). But the Supreme Court also recognizes that “state and federal
rulemakers have broad latitude under the Constitution to establish
rules excluding evidence from criminal trials.” Nevada v. Jackson, 569
U.S. 505, 133 S. Ct. 1990, 1992 (2013) (quotation omitted). A defendant
“does not have an unfettered right to offer evidence that is incompetent,
privileged, or otherwise inadmissible under standard rules of evidence.”
Montana v. Egelhoff, 518 U.S. 37, 42 (1996).
State rules excluding
evidence from criminal trials “do not abridge an accused’s right to
present a defense so long as they are not arbitrary or disproportionate
to the purposes they are designed to serve.” United States v. Scheffer,
523 U.S. 303, 308 (1998) (internal quotation omitted). “A defendant’s
interest in presenting...evidence may thus bow to accommodate other
legitimate interest in the criminal trial process.” Id. The exclusion of
evidence has been found to be “unconstitutionally arbitrary or
disproportionate only where it has infringed upon a weighty interest of
the accused.” Id.
Petitioner raised his claim that he was denied the right to present
a defense on direct appeal in state court.
The Michigan Court of
Appeals, in a comprehensive and well-reasoned opinion, found no
Smith, 2013 WL 6670897 at *1-*2.
Michigan Court of Appeals held, in pertinent part:
[A] defendant must conform to the rules of procedure and
evidence in presenting his defense. Id. Michigan’s selfdefense law is set forth at MCL 780.972, which provides in
(1) An individual who has not or is not engaged in the
commission of a crime at the time he or she uses deadly
force may use deadly force against another individual
anywhere he or she has the legal right to be with no
duty to retreat if the following applies:
(a) The individual honestly and reasonably believes
that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent the
imminent death of or imminent great bodily harm to
himself or herself or to another individual.
The defendant bears the burden of producing some evidence
to establish a prima facie case of self-defense. People v.
Dupree, 486 Mich. 693, 709-710; 788 N.W.2d 399 (2010).
In this case, the undisputed evidence included that
defendant did not have the legal right to be in [Eric] Smith’s
house, [Eric] Smith did not want defendant in his house, and
defendant kicked in a door in order to enter [Eric] Smith’s
house at which time he beat [Eric] Smith, inflicting fatal
injuries. Further, there was no evidence to support a claim
that defendant honestly and reasonably believed that the
use of deadly force against [Eric] Smith was necessary to
prevent defendant’s imminent death or imminent great
bodily harm. [Eric] Smith had defensive injuries on the
backs of his wrists, was 5’ 10” tall, and weighed 114 pounds,
and was found unconscious near a side door to the house.
Defendant was 5’ 9” tall and weighed 190 pounds. There
was no evidence that [Eric] Smith had any weapon or
threatened defendant with a weapon. Because the evidence
did not support a self-defense theory, defendant was not
denied his constitutional right to present this defense and
the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it precluded
defendant from raising the defense and in refusing to
provide a self-defense instruction to the jury. See Gillis, 474
Mich. at 113; Hine, 467 Mich. at 250; Kurr, 253 Mich. App.
at 327. Thus, this issue is without merit.
Smith, 2013 WL 6670897 at *1-2.
The state court’s decision is neither contrary to Supreme Court
precedent nor an unreasonable application of federal law or the facts.
First, Petitioner argues that the trial court did not allow him to explore
his uncle’s reputation for aggressiveness to support a self-defense
(Dkt. 1, at 8-9).
Defense counsel questioned Edith Smith,
Petitioner’s grandmother and Eric Smith’s mother, about his reputation
as an “agitator” and an altercation that Eric Smith had with his own
son. (Dkt. 7-7, at 46-47; Dkt. 7-8, at 32-33). After allowing defense
counsel some leeway in this questioning, the trial court sustained the
State’s objection and limited this line of questioning. (Dkt. 7-8, 33-34).
The trial court reasoned that the testimony did not support a selfdefense theory because no relevant evidence had been presented. (Id. at
There is no evidence that Eric Smith’s mother would have
provided testimony favorable to the defense if the defense questioning
had continued. In her limited testimony on this subject, she testified
that Eric Smith had required hospitalization after being beaten by his
own son. (Dkt. 7-7, at 46). This hardly supports a theory that Eric
Smith himself was aggressive and was therefore irrelevant to
The limitations placed on this testimony,
therefore, did not infringe on a weighty interest of the accused.
With respect to a self-defense jury instruction, the defense
presented an insanity defense.
Petitioner’s brief reference in his
custodial statement to “possibly” having been assaulted by his uncle did
not present a defense of self-defense under Michigan law, particularly
in light of Petitioner’s statement that he could not clearly remember
what had happened because he had been drinking and using drugs
before the altercation.
As pointed out by the state appellate court,
Petitioner forced entry into Smith’s home, Smith indicated his need for
immediate help in phone calls to his mother and his son, and there was
no indication that Smith attempted to use a weapon against Petitioner.
The trial court was reasonable in concluding that the evidence did not
warrant a self-defense instruction and therefore did not deprive
Petitioner of his constitutional right to defend himself. The Michigan
Court of Appeals’ decision on this claim was not objectively
unreasonable and habeas relief is denied.
For the reason set forth above, the Court will deny the petition for
a writ of habeas corpus.
Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 22 provides that an appeal
may not proceed unless a certificate of appealability (“COA”) is issued
under 28 U.S.C. § 2253. Rule 11 of the Rules Governing Section 2254
Proceedings requires that the Court “must issue or deny a certificate of
appealability when it enters a final order adverse to the applicant.”
A COA may be issued “only if the applicant has made a
substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right.” 28 U.S.C.
A 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.”
McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484 (2000) (citation omitted).
The Court finds that jurists of reason would not debate the
conclusion that the petition fails to state a claim upon which habeas
corpus relief should be granted, and denies a certificate of appealability.
The Court further concludes that Petitioner will not be granted
leave to proceed on appeal in forma pauperis because any appeal would
be frivolous. See Fed. R. App. P. 24(a).
Accordingly, the Court DENIES WITH PREJUDICE the petition
for a writ of habeas corpus. (Dkt. 1.)
The Court further DENIES a certificate of appealability and leave
to appeal in forma pauperis.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated: November 28, 2017
Ann Arbor, Michigan
s/Judith E. Levy
JUDITH E. LEVY
United States District Judge
CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE
The undersigned certifies that the foregoing document was served
upon counsel of record and any unrepresented parties via the Court’s
ECF System to their respective email or First Class U.S. mail addresses
disclosed on the Notice of Electronic Filing on November 28, 2017.
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