Johnson #753595 v. Curtin
OPINION; signed by District Judge Paul L. Maloney (Judge Paul L. Maloney, cmc)
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
DARREN DEON JOHNSON,
Case No. 1:13-cv-338
Honorable Paul L. Maloney
CINDI S. CURTIN,
This is a habeas corpus action brought by a state prisoner pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254. On December 11, 2009, following a jury trial in the Kent County Circuit Court, Petitioner
Darren Deon Johnson was convicted of one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, MICH.
COMP. LAWS § 750.520b(1)(c), and one count of first-degree home invasion, MICH. COMP. LAWS
§ 750.110a(2). On January 21, 2010, Petitioner was sentenced to consecutive terms of imprisonment
of: (1) 20 to 60 years on the first-degree criminal sexual conduct conviction; and (2) 10 to 30 years
on the first-degree home invasion conviction. The trial court also ordered that Petitioner’s state
sentences be served consecutively to a federal term of imprisonment that had been imposed
following the revocation of his federal supervised release. See United States v. Johnson, 1:04-cr-219
(W.D. Mich.) (J., ECF No. 68).1 Petitioner began serving his state sentences on September 23, 2011.
Petitioner’s supervised release was revoked because of the criminal sexual conduct he challenges in this
petition. Johnson, 1:04-cr-219 (W.D. Mich.) (Mar. 5, 2009 Tr., ECF No. 70, PageID.275) (“I find by a preponderance
of the evidence, and if the standard were beyond a reasonable doubt, I would find beyond a reasonable doubt that the
defendant, Darren Johnson, did commit the offense of – it would be rape in my judgment, certainly sexual assault; and
if not sexual assault, assault, and I base that on my opportunity to observe the witnesses. The testimony of Ms. Fleming
in and of itself would be sufficient to convict the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt . . . .”).
In his pro se amended petition Petitioner raises six issues:
I was denied a fair and impartial trial when the trial court didn’t allow my
alibi witness to appear in civilian clothing.
I was denied my right to effective assistance of counsel because my trial
attorney was unprepared for trial, missed discovery deadlines, and misstated
I was denied a fair and impartial trial when the complaining witness perjured
herself about the persons authorized on the lease for the apartment at 1039
I was denied a fair and impartial trial because of prosecutorial [mis]conduct
when the prosecutor knew the complaining witness was perjuring herself.
I was denied a fair and impartial trial when my trial counsel failed to
introduce mitigating evidence.
I was denied a fair and impartial trial when my trial attorney failed to properly
cross-examine witnesses for the prosecution.
( Am. Pet., ECF No. 25, Page ID.345-353.) Petitioner raised all six of these issues in the briefs he
filed in the Michigan Court of Appeals. (ECF No. 36, Def.-Appellant’s Br., p. i; Def.-Appellant’s
Standard 4 Br., p. 4 .) In an unpublished opinion issued June 28, 2011, the court of appeals affirmed
the convictions. Petitioner sought leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, raising the issues
he had raised in the court of appeals except for two distinct claims. (Def.-Appellant Appeal Br., ECF
No. 37, p. 2.) In his application for leave to appeal, Petitioner did not raise the claim that his counsel
was ineffective because he misstated facts (part of issue II) or his claim that he was denied a fair and
impartial trial when his trial attorney failed to properly cross-examine witnesses for the prosecution
(issue VI).2 The supreme court denied leave to appeal on December 28, 2011.
Petitioner also raised several claims in the Michigan Supreme Court for the first time, issues challenging the
Michigan Court of Appeals’ decisions permitting the prosecution to file a late reply brief and denying Petitioner the
opportunity to file a sur-reply brief, as well as issues challenging the effective assistance of his trial counsel because: (1)
Petitioner timely filed his initial petition on March 22, 2013. He filed his amended
petition on November 20, 2013. On October 29, 2013, Respondent filed an answer to the petition,
(ECF No. 22), which addressed all of the issues in the amended petition. Respondent’s answer
argues that the habeas petition should be denied because the grounds upon which it is based are
procedurally defaulted or without merit. On November 25, 2013, Respondent filed the state-court
record, pursuant to Rule 5, RULES GOVERNING § 2254 CASES. (ECF Nos. 27 - 37.)3
Upon review and applying the AEDPA standards, the Court finds that all habeas
grounds are procedurally defaulted or meritless. Accordingly, the Court will deny the petition.
Procedural and Factual Background
The home that Petitioner invaded was the upstairs apartment at 1039 Bridge Street
in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The apartment was the residence of Karima Fleming, the woman that
Petitioner sexually assaulted. The crimes occurred in the early morning hours of December 30,
2008. Petitioner’s testimony regarding his activities that morning, the evening before, and the
preceding months, differs irreconcilably from the testimony offered by Ms. Fleming. The jury
apparently found Ms. Fleming’s account to be the credible one.
counsel did not investigate, present testimony, or argue that Petitioner was not injured, swollen, or bruised even though
his victim testified that she kicked and pushed Petitioner away in her defense; or (2) that counsel permitted Petitioner
to go through the jury selection in jail clothing. He does not expressly include those issues in his habeas petition.
The Rule 5 materials include several transcripts of the trial court proceedings. The transcripts shall be
referenced as follows:
March 24, 2009 Preliminary Examination
December 7, 2009 Trial Transcript (Volume 1)
December 8, 2009 Trial Transcript (Volume 2)
December 9, 2009 Trial Transcript (Volume 3)
December 10, 2009 Trial Transcript (Volume 4)
December 11, 2009 Trial Transcript (Volume 5)
January 21, 2010 Sentencing Transcript
(Prelim. Examination Tr., ECF No. 28, p.__)
(Trial Tr. I, ECF No. 30, p.__)
(Trial Tr. II, ECF No. 31, p.__)
(Trial Tr. III, ECF No. 32, p.__)
(Trial Tr. IV, ECF No. 33, p.__)
(Trial Tr. V, ECF No. 34, p.__)
(Sentencing Tr., ECF No. 35, p.__).
Ms. Fleming’s testimony
Ms. Fleming testified that she, along with her four children, moved to Grand Rapids
from Benton Harbor in March of 2008. (Trial Tr. II, ECF No. 31, pp. 36-37.) She moved in with
her cousin, creating a household of two adults and eleven children. (Id., p. 38.) Ms. Fleming
eventually left that residence and moved into a hotel. (Id., pp. 40-41.)
Ms. Fleming was introduced to Petitioner a few weeks after she arrived in Grand
Rapids. (Id. pp. 38-39.) Petitioner invited Ms. Fleming and her children to move in with him. (Id.,
p. 40). He resided in a three-bedroom home. (Id.) Ms. Fleming accepted Petitioner’s invitation.
Petitioner behaved in a controlling manner in his relationship with Ms. Fleming. (Id.,
pp. 41-45 .) After a time he became verbally and physically abusive. (Id., pp. 45-46.) In September
of 2008, Ms. Fleming and her children moved out. (Id., p. 46.) They went initially to a shelter, but
after about a week, they moved into the upper apartment at 1039 Bridge Street. (Id.)
After a time, Petitioner moved some of his things into the apartment at 1039 Bridge
Street. (Id., p. 49.) Ms. Fleming had the only key to the apartment, but had a key made for Petitioner
at his request. (Id., p. 52.)
By the end of October, Petitioner’s time at the apartment became increasingly
sporadic. (Id., p. 53.) He would be there briefly to change clothes in between work shifts at his two
part-time jobs, but otherwise stayed out all day and night. (Id.) Ms. Fleming asked him to leave.
(Id.) Petitioner took his things, returned his key to the apartment, and left. (Id.)
Even after Petitioner moved out, he and Ms. Fleming continued to talk. (Id., pp. 5456.) They discussed the prospect of renewing their relationship as well as a business opportunity
they might pursue together. (Id.)
On Christmas day, as Ms. Fleming was preparing food for a family gathering,
Petitioner arrived at the apartment uninvited. (Id., pp. 60-62.) Petitioner asked for money for the
joint business venture. (Id.) They talked for a while. (Id.) As Petitioner got ready to leave, two of
Ms. Fleming’s invited guests, including Kala Sanders, arrived. (Id., pp. 62-63.) Petitioner was upset
that Ms. Fleming had male guests. (Id.) He demanded Ms. Fleming dress more modestly and
threatened to physically harm Ms. Fleming and her guests. (Id.)
Ms. Fleming left the apartment to pick up her cousin and her cousin’s children. (Id.,
p. 67.) When she returned, Petitioner was still there, but her other guests had left. (Id., pp. 67-68.)
Eventually Petitioner left as well. (Id.) Later that night, Petitioner returned. (Id., pp. 69-70.) When
Ms. Fleming did not answer Petitioner’s knocks at the locked door, he kicked the door in, ranted for
a while, and then left. (Id., 69-71.)
On December 28, Ms. Fleming drove to Benton Harbor with Kala Sanders, for the
purpose of dropping her children off with their grandmother. (Id., pp. 72-73.) Petitioner called her
while she was driving home. (Id., p. 73.) Upon her return to Grand Rapids, she visited with Kala
and his mother at Kala’s mother’s house. (Id., p. 74.) Petitioner continued to call her, suggesting
that he had purposely damaged her van. (Id., p. 75.) Ms. Fleming did not answer his persistent
telephone calls. (Id.)
Around 1:00 a.m. on December 30, Ms. Fleming returned to her apartment. (Id.,
pp. 75-76.) She removed her clothing, put on pajamas, and began watching a movie on the living
room couch. (Id., p. 76.)
The next thing Ms. Fleming remembers is a blow to her face. (Id., p. 77.) She awoke
to a beating at the hands of Petitioner.4 (Id., p. 80.) He instructed Ms. Fleming to remove her clothes
so they could have intercourse. (Id., pp. 81-82.) She refused. (Id., p. 82.) He removed her clothing
and forced her to engage in penile/vaginal intercourse, first on her back and then again on her
stomach. (Id.) Afterwards her phone rang, it was Kala Sanders. (Id., pp. 82-83.) Petitioner became
infuriated and began hitting Ms. Fleming again. (Id.) When Petitioner went in the bathroom to wash
up, Ms. Fleming fled the apartment. (Id., p. 84.)
Ms. Fleming went to her cousin’s home. (Id., pp. 85-86.) From there, she eventually
called the police. (Id.) She received treatment for her injuries at the hospital and then went to the
YWCA for a sexual assault examination. (Id., pp. 88-94.)
Ms. Fleming was initially reluctant to press charges. (Id., p. 95.) She cared about
Petitioner and she was afraid he might do it again. (Id.) He continued to call her even after the
assault. (Id., pp. 96-99.) He again broke into her apartment. (Id., pp. 99-101.) She then decided
to press charges. (Id., p. 101.)
Petitioner’s chronology of the events is generally consistent with Ms. Fleming’s
testimony: when they met, when they moved in to Petitioner’s home, when Ms. Fleming and her
During the incident, Ms. Fleming saw that her clock read 5:55 a.m. (Id., p. 86.)
children moved in to 1039 Bridge Street,5 when he and Ms. Fleming “broke up,” when he visited on
Christmas, and when she reported the sexual assault. There were only a few key differences.
Petitioner testified that he never beat Ms. Fleming, or hit her or threatened her. (Trial Tr. IV, ECF
no. 33, p. 41.) Petitioner testified that Ms. Fleming was the “threatening” presence in the
relationship. (Id.) Petitioner testified that Ms. Fleming threatened to falsely accuse him of a crime
if he did not stop talking to other women. (Id., pp. 41-45, 55-57.) Petitioner’s characterization of
his visit(s) to 1039 Bridge Street on Christmas day was also markedly different from Ms. Fleming’s
and more favorable to Petitioner. (Id., pp. 62-64.)
With respect to the night of December 29 and the following morning, Petitioner
testified that he was initially with his girlfriend Leotie Makura at his home on Bates Street. (Id., p.
58.) He stayed with her until she went to bed. (Id.) Then, Petitioner slipped out, drove to a park,
met Ms. Fleming there, and had consensual sex in her minivan. (Id., pp. 58-60.) Petitioner then
returned to Leotie, who was still sleeping. (Id., p. 60.) He then slept at the Bates Street home with
Leotie until he awoke and showered and Leotie drove him to work.6 (Id.) He arrived at work at 7:55
Although that was Petitioner’s trial testimony, it differed significantly from the
account he had given to police. In his first interview, Petitioner told Detective Forner he had not had
sexual intercourse with Ms. Fleming since the beginning of December. (Id., pp. 65-66.) In a
Petitioner’s story differs in that he testified they (Petitioner, Ms. Fleming, and her children) all moved into the
1039 Bridge Street apartment at the same time. (Trial Tr. IV, ECF No. 33, p. 40.)
Leotie Makura testified that she awoke at 5:15 a.m. on December 30. (Trial Tr. IV, ECF No. 33, pp. 4-5.) She
went upstairs to use the shower they shared with the landlord. Before she got to the room with the shower, she heard
it running. (Id., pp. 5-6) She “figured” it was Petitioner and went back downstairs. (Id., p. 6.) She remained there until
Petitioner woke her and told her it was time to go to work. (Id., pp. 6-8.)
subsequent interview on March 10, 2009, Petitioner told Detective Forner that he had sexual
intercourse with Ms. Fleming when he visited her apartment on Christmas day. (Id., pp. 68-69.)
Before Petitioner testified, the prosecution had elicited testimony from Sarah Thibaut
and Ann Hunt, forensic scientists with the Michigan State Police. Ms. Hunt testified that it was
overwhelmingly likely that the samples of sperm collected from the victim’s body were from
Petitioner. (Trial Tr. III, ECF No. 32, p. 103-104.) Ms. Thibaut testified that it was very unlikely
that the sample tested was five days old when it was collected and very likely that it was much more
recently deposited. (Id., pp. 88-91.) Only after that testimony did Petitioner offer his account
regarding consensual sexual activity with Ms. Fleming on December 29.
After a Monday jury selection followed by three days of testimony, arguments and
instructions, the jury began deliberating first thing in the morning on Friday, December 11, 2009.
They returned their verdicts of guilty on all counts before lunch.
Standard of Review
This action is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996,
PUB. L. 104-132, 110 STAT. 1214 (AEDPA). See Penry v. Johnson, 532 U.S. 782, 792 (2001). The
AEDPA “prevents federal habeas ‘retrials’” and ensures that state court convictions are given effect
to the extent possible under the law. Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693-94 (2002). The AEDPA has
“drastically changed” the nature of habeas review. Bailey v. Mitchell, 271 F.3d 652, 655 (6th Cir.
2001). An application for writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person who is incarcerated pursuant
to a state conviction cannot be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits
in state court unless the adjudication: “(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 upon an unreasonable determination
of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).
This standard is “intentionally difficult to meet.” Woods v. Donald, 575 U.S. __, 135 S. Ct. 1372,
1376 (2015) (internal quotation marks omitted).
The AEDPA limits the source of law to cases decided by the United States Supreme
Court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). This Court may consider only the “clearly established” holdings, and
not the dicta, of the Supreme Court. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000); Bailey, 271 F.3d
at 655. In determining whether federal law is clearly established, the Court may not consider the
decisions of lower federal courts. Lopez v. Smith, 135 S. Ct. 1, 3 (2014); Bailey, 271 F.3d at 655.
Moreover, “clearly established Federal law” does not include decisions of the Supreme Court
announced after the last adjudication of the merits in state court. Greene v. Fisher, 132 S. Ct. 38
(2011). Thus, the inquiry is limited to an examination of the legal landscape as it would have
appeared to the Michigan state courts in light of Supreme Court precedent at the time of the statecourt adjudication on the merits. Miller v. Stovall, 742 F.3d 642, 644 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Greene,
132 S. Ct. at 44).
A federal habeas court may issue the writ under the “contrary to” clause if the state
court applies a rule different from the governing law set forth in the Supreme Court’s cases, or if it
decides a case differently than the Supreme Court has done on a set of materially indistinguishable
facts. Bell, 535 U.S. at 694 (citing Williams, 529 U.S. at 405-06). “To satisfy this high bar, a habeas
petitioner is required to ‘show that the state court’s ruling on the claim being presented in federal
court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in
existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.’” Woods, 2015 WL 1400852, at
*3 (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011)). In other words, “[w]here the precise
contours of the right remain unclear, state courts enjoy broad discretion in their adjudication of a
prisoner’s claims.” White v. Woodall, 572 U.S. ___, 134 S. Ct. 1697, 1705 (2014) (quotations marks
The AEDPA requires heightened respect for state factual findings. Herbert v. Billy,
160 F.3d 1131, 1134 (6th Cir. 1998). A determination of a factual issue made by a state court is
presumed to be correct, and the petitioner has the burden of rebutting the presumption by clear and
convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Lancaster v. Adams, 324 F.3d 423, 429 (6th Cir.
2003); Bailey, 271 F.3d at 656. This presumption of correctness is accorded to findings of state
appellate courts, as well as the trial court. See Sumner v. Mata, 449 U.S. 539, 546 (1981); Smith v.
Jago, 888 F.2d 399, 407 n.4 (6th Cir. 1989).
Before the court may grant habeas relief to a state prisoner, the prisoner must exhaust
remedies available in the state courts. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1); O’Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838,
842 (1999). Exhaustion requires a petitioner to “fairly present” federal claims so that state courts
have a “fair opportunity” to apply controlling legal principles to the facts bearing upon a petitioner’s
constitutional claim. See O’Sullivan, 526 U.S. at 842; Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275-77
(1971) (cited by Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364, 365 (1995) and Anderson v. Harless, 459 U.S. 4,
6 (1982)). To fulfill the exhaustion requirement, a petitioner must have fairly presented his federal
claims to all levels of the state appellate system, including the state’s highest court. Duncan, 513
U.S. at 365-66; Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 414 (6th Cir. 2009); Hafley v. Sowders, 902 F.2d
480, 483 (6th Cir. 1990). “[S]tate prisoners must give the state courts one full opportunity to resolve
any constitutional issues by invoking one complete round of the State’s established appellate review
process.” O’Sullivan, 526 U.S. at 845.
On his direct appeal, Petitioner failed to present the substance of his claim that
counsel was ineffective for misstating facts, or his claim that Petitioner’s trial was unfair and partial
because his counsel failed to properly cross-examine prosecution witnesses, to the Michigan
Supreme Court. Accordingly, he has failed to exhaust these issues. An applicant has not exhausted
available state remedies if he has the right under state law to raise, by any available procedure, the
question presented. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(c). If no further state remedy is available to the petitioner,
exhaustion does not present a problem, but the claim is procedurally defaulted and the federal court
must determine whether cause and prejudice exists to excuse the failure to properly present the claim
in state court. Id.
Under Michigan law effective August 1, 1995, after a defendant’s direct appeal is
complete, he may file one motion for relief from judgment under Michigan Court Rule 6.500 et. seq.
See MICH. CT. R. 6.502(G)(1). A defendant is not free to raise any ground for relief in such a
motion. For example, he may not raise a ground for relief that was decided against him in a prior
appeal unless there has been a retroactive change in the law, MICH. CT. R. 6.508(D)(2), nor may he
raise an issue that could have been raised on appeal unless he demonstrates good cause for the failure
to previously raise the issue and prejudice, MICH. CT. R. 6.508(D)(3).
It is beyond dispute that Petitioner raised these issues in his direct appeal and the
issues were decided against him. People v. Johnson, No. 296722, 2011 WL 2557481 (Mich. Ct.
App., Jun. 28, 2011). Moreover, it is beyond dispute that Petitioner failed to raise the issues to the
Michigan Supreme Court and he offers no cause to excuse the failure. Under these circumstances,
“[t]he [state] court may not grant relief . . . .” MICH. CT. R. 6.508(D).
Because no avenue for relief remains in the state courts, Petitioner has procedurally
defaulted his claims. At this juncture, the Court must consider whether there is cause and prejudice
to excuse Petitioner’s failure to present the claims in state court. See Gray v. Netherland, 518 U.S.
152, 161-62 (1996); Rust v. Zent, 17 F.3d 155, 160 (6th Cir. 1994). To show cause sufficient to
excuse a failure to raise claims on direct appeal, Petitioner must point to “some objective factor
external to the defense” that prevented him from raising the issue. Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478,
488 (1986); see McCleskey v. Zant, 499 U.S. 467, 497 (1991). A petitioner who fails to demonstrate
cause and prejudice cannot have a cognizable claim. Gray, 518 U.S. at 162. Further, where a
petitioner fails to show cause, the court need not consider whether he has established prejudice. See
Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107, 134 n.43 (1982); Leroy v. Marshall, 757 F.2d 94, 100 (6th Cir. 1985).
Petitioner offers no “cause” for his failure to raise these two issues in his application
for leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court. He was fully aware of the issues; he had
previously raised them in the Michigan Court of Appeals. Absent a demonstration of cause,
prejudice need not be considered. That part of Petitioner’s habeas issue II that relates to counsel’s
misstatement of facts and habeas issue VI regarding counsel’s failure to properly cross-examine
witnesses, are procedurally defaulted and, thus, will not be considered by this Court.
The alibi witness testified in jail clothing
Petitioner contends that he was denied due process, that his trial was neither fair nor
impartial, because his alibi witness, Ms. Makura, testified in jail garb. Before Ms. Makura testified,
the trial judge explained her attire to the jury:
Ladies and Gentlemen, the next witness, the first witness that the defense is calling,
is in custody at this point in time and will be here in jail greens. Don’t read into that
or discount her testimony in any way, shape or form. It is my understanding, as well
as the attorneys’ understanding, that she’s incarcerated at this point in time on some
misdemeanor traffic offense, and it’s a policy of the Sheriff that when someone is
incarcerated, other than–when they come in to testify in a case, they’re not allowed
to dress in this [sic] civvy clothes.
(Trial Tr. III, ECF No. 32, p. 207.)
The Michigan Court of Appeals flatly rejected Petitioner’s due process challenge:
Defendant first argues that the trial court erred when it permitted a witness,
Leotie-Jamillah Makura, to testify while wearing jail clothing. This error, he
maintains, infringed on the presumption of innocence and deprived him of a fair trial.
This Court reviews a trial court’s decision regarding witness attire for an abuse of
discretion. People v. Banks, 642 NW2d 351 (2002). However, because defendant
did not specifically challenge the trial court’s ruling on the ground that it infringed
the presumption of innocence, we review the unpreserved claim for plain error
affecting defendant’s substantial rights. People v. Carines, 597 NW2d 130 (1999).
This Court has held that “handcuffing or shackling of a defense witness” does
not “adversely and unfairly affect[ ] a criminal defendant’s presumption of
innocence, thereby undermining the fairness and impartiality of the trial.” Banks,
[642 N.W.2d at 358]. This is because the appearance of the witness does not suggest
that the defendant is predisposed to commit crimes, is dangerous, or cannot be
trusted. Id. Consequently, defendant’s claim that the trial court’s decision infringed
on his right to be presumed innocent is meritless.
In addition, we disagree that Makura’s attire prejudiced defendant’s trial.
Unlike the facts in Banks, [642 N.W.2d at 358-359], defendant’s entire defense was
not premised entirely on Makura’s testimony. Rather, Makura simply offered
testimony that suggested that defendant might have been home at the time of the
home invasion and rape at issue. Importantly, even if the jury believed Makura, it
could nevertheless have concluded that defendant committed the offenses. Makura
did not directly identify defendant as the person in the shower, may have been
mistaken about the time, and defendant’s theory of the case was that he did in fact
meet the victim and have sex with her, but that it was consensual. In addition, the
trial court took precautions to minimize the effect of the jury seeing the witness in
jail clothes; it told the jury that Makura was arrested for “some misdemeanor traffic
offense” and instructed it not to consider her attire. “Jurors are presumed to follow
their instructions, and instructions are presumed to cure most errors.” People v.
Abraham, 662 NW2d 836 (2003). Accordingly, any prejudice to defendant was not
outcome determinative. Banks, [642 N.W.2d at 358].
People v. Johnson, No. 296722, 2011 WL 2557481 *1 (Mich. Ct. App., Jun. 28, 2011) (parallel
To prevail on this issue, Petitioner must show that the Michigan court’s resolution
of his challenge was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established
federal law or was based upon an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence
presented in the state court proceeding. He has failed to meet his burden.
This Court has previously noted that there is no clearly established federal law that
supports the proposition that permitting an alibi witness to testify in jail clothing violates a federal
constitutional right. Taylor v. Jones, No. 1:04-cv-28, 2006 WL 3231260 *1 (W.D. Mich. Nov. 7,
2006) (“[T]he Magistrate Judge correctly concluded that no federal law supports petitioner’s claim
that permitting this rebuttal witness to testify in jail clothing violated his federal constitutional rights
as recognized by the United States Supreme Court.”) The Magistrate Judge’s analysis is compelling:
Petitioner’s claim is without merit. “The inference to be drawn from prison clothing
is that the witnesses were in prison, a fact that is not inadmissible.” United States v.
Adams, 1 F.3d 1566, 1584 (11th Cir.1993). While a criminal defendant’s appearance
at trial in prison clothes may implicate his due process right to the presumption of
innocence, the tactical decision to present witnesses in prison clothing does not
prejudice the defense. Johnson v. Spalding, 510 F.Supp. 164, 171 (E.D.Wash.1981).
“The potential harm of shackles-that they make the jury think the witnesses are
dangerous or violent-is not present when a witness merely wears prison clothing.”
Woods v. Thieret, 5 F.3d 244, 250 (7th Cir.1993). Cf. Cook v. Beto, 425 F.2d 1066,
1067 (5th Cir.1970) (the appearance of a co-defendant in jail clothing, to allow
witnesses to identify him as one of the men who committed the robbery with the
defendant, did not constitute grounds for federal habeas relief). Accordingly, there
is no basis for federal habeas relief on this claim.
Taylor, 2006 WL 3231260 at *21. Moreover, the court of appeals’ conclusion that any element of
unfairness that may have followed from Ms. Makura’s attire was promptly remedied by the trial
court’s corrective instruction is patently reasonable. The court of appeals’ conclusion regarding the
quality of Ms. Makura’s alibi testimony is also amply supported by the record. In short, Petitioner
has failed to establish any entitlement to habeas relief based on the fact that his alibi witness wore
jail clothing while she testified.
The 1039 Bridge Street lease
Petitioner’s habeas issues III, IV, and V have their foundation in a single document:
the 1039 Bridge Street lease. As explained fully below, the lease was not part of the trial record.
Petitioner attached to his appellate briefs, however, a document that he claimed was the lease.
(Appeal Br., Ex. A, ECF No. 37.)7 According to Petitioner, he was a party to the lease at 1039
Bridge Street as evidenced by that document. The document includes Petitioner’s name in two
places: hand printed, but squeezed in, on the line that designates the Lessee; and hand written, but
squeezed in, on the line for the Lessee’s signature.
Petitioner’s focus on the document would appear to be warranted. Certainly a
document that establishes Petitioner’s legal right to be on premises would seem to be relevant and
material to a claim that he unlawfully invaded those premises. The strategic benefit of the lease to
Petitioner’s defense, however, is not so clear cut.8
Petitioner also includes a copy of the five-page lease as part of his amended petition. (Residential Lease, ECF
No. 25-3, PageID.414-418.)
It is not clear from the record whether Petitioner’s rights under any lease would have survived being “kicked
out” in early December, 2008. Moreover, even if Petitioner retained some rights under the lease it is possible that his
entry into the home that night may have still been “without permission” as the home invasion statute requires. Neither
party has provided authorities on the issue of whether a lessee can unlawfully invade a home he is leasing. Ultimately,
however, a jury would not likely be sympathetic to an alternative defense that Petitioner had permission to enter the home
At the Petitioner’s preliminary examination, Ms. Fleming testified that no one else
was on the lease or authorized to enter the apartment on 1039 Bridge Street and that Petitioner did
not have permission to enter the apartment on December 30. (Prelim. Examination Tr., ECF No. 28,
pp. 5, 18.) On the second day of trial, after the jury was selected, but before opening argument and
testimony, the lease became an issue because Petitioner’s counsel had asked the trial judge to sign
a subpoena to compel production of the lease by the federal probation department. (Trial Tr. II, ECF
No. 31, pp. 8-10.) In the context of discussing that issue, Petitioner’s counsel learned that the
prosecution did not dispute the existence of the lease identifying Petitioner as a lessee, but that the
prosecutor contended the document did not reflect reality; rather, Ms. Fleming would testify, that
lease document was created after-the-fact, as a ruse to satisfy Petitioner’s probation officer with
regard to Petitioner’s residence. (Id., pp. 10-11.)
Under those circumstances, the trial court ruled, if Petitioner wished to delve into the
lease, the prosecution would be permitted to explore the fact that Petitioner was on federal
supervised release. (Id.) The trial court had previously ruled that the fact that Petitioner was on
supervised release was not to be presented to the jury. (Id., pp. 8-9.) Thus, counsel was left to weigh
the uncertain benefit of presenting the jury with a dispute as to whether Petitioner was on the lease
against the certainty that the jury would learn Petitioner was on federal supervised release for other
crimes. Counsel’s strategy was clearly to avoid exposing the jury to Petitioner’s federal criminal
where Ms. Fleming was raped, particularly when his primary defense was that he was never there. Petitioner’s counsel
made an attempt at the alternative argument. He argued that because there was no evidence of forced entry, Petitioner
either was there with permission or he was not there at all. (Trial Tr. IV, ECF No. 33, p. 125.) The fact that alternative
theories are legally permissible does not mean they are practically or strategically sound.
Despite the trial court’s decision regarding the lease and Petitioner’s counsel’s
expressed desire to avoid the lease issue for the purpose of avoiding the probation issue, the lease
came up anyway. During Ms. Fleming’s testimony, in recounting statements made by Petitioner on
December 25, 2008, she stated:
I said, “no, you don’t live here.” [Petitioner said] “Well, my name is on the lease.”
I said, “You don’t pay bills here, your name is not on the lease, it’s just on my
copy . . .”
(Id., p. 66.) A bench conference was held and the parties moved on. No further testimony regarding
the lease was offered.
Petitioner now supplies the contested lease and–presuming it authenticates itself,
conclusively explains the lessor/lessee relationship, and establishes his right to enter the
property–contends that Ms. Fleming perjured herself (habeas issue III), the prosecutor effectively
suborned perjury (habeas issue IV), and his trial was unfair because counsel failed to introduce the
lease into evidence (habeas issue V). Petitioner overstates the power of this document.
The Michigan Court of Appeals rejected Petitioner’s arguments regarding perjured
testimony: “The record contains clear evidence that defendant was not actually a party to the lease,
but was added to the victim’s copy in order to make it appear that defendant had met a condition of
his federal probation. Thus, the victim’s testimony about the lease was not inaccurate . . . .”
Johnson, 2011 WL 2557481 at *4. The court of appeals’ factual determinations regarding Ms.
Fleming’s testimony were not unreasonable; they find ample support in the record. Accordingly,
Petitioner’s constitutional challenges that are premised on perjured testimony (habeas issues III and
IV) have no merit.
Petitioner’s counsel’s failure to introduce the lease
In Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-88 (1984), the Supreme Court
established a two-prong test by which to evaluate claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. To
establish a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, the petitioner must prove: (1) that counsel’s
performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness; and (2) that counsel’s deficient
performance prejudiced the defendant resulting in an unreliable or fundamentally unfair outcome.
A court considering a claim of ineffective assistance must “indulge a strong presumption that
counsel’s conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.” Id. at 689. The
defendant bears the burden of overcoming the presumption that the challenged action might be
considered sound trial strategy. Id. (citing Michel v. Louisiana, 350 U.S. 91, 101 (1955)); see also
Nagi v. United States, 90 F.3d 130, 135 (6th Cir. 1996) (holding that counsel’s strategic decisions
were hard to attack). The court must determine whether, in light of the circumstances as they existed
at the time of counsel’s actions, “the identified acts or omissions were outside the wide range of
professionally competent assistance.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690. Even if a court determines that
counsel’s performance was outside that range, the defendant is not entitled to relief if counsel’s error
had no effect on the judgment. Id. at 691.
The Michigan Court of Appeals resolved the issue as follows:
To establish ineffective assistance of counsel, defendant must show that his trial
counsel’s representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness under
prevailing professional norms and, but for his counsel’s errors, there is a reasonable
probability that the results of his trial would have been different. People v. Toma,
613 NW2d 694 (2000).
Defendant . . . claims that defense counsel was ineffective for not adequately
impeaching the victim’s testimony with regard to the apartment lease and for not
introducing the lease into evidence as mitigating evidence. First, the record reflects
only that defendant’s name was written in on the victim’s copy of the lease so
defendant could provide a lease with his name on it to his federal probation officer.
Thus, the record does not support that defendant was a party to the lease with the
landlord. Second, introducing the lease on which defendant’s name appeared into
evidence would have undoubtedly resulted in the jury learning that defendant was on
federal probation, which defense counsel clearly wanted to avoid. Accordingly, it
was a matter of sound trial strategy to avoid introduction of the lease into evidence.
[People v.] Garza, [631 N.W.2d 764 (Mich. Ct. App. 2001)]. Accordingly, this
decision did not amount to ineffective assistance. [People v.] Toma, [613 N.W.2d
694 (Mich. 2000)].
Johnson, 2011 WL 2557481 at *3 (parallel citations omitted). Although the court of appeals relied
upon state court authority, Toma expressly cites the Strickland standard. Toma, 613 N.W.2d at 703704. Thus it cannot be said that the state court’s decision is contrary to clearly established federal
law as set forth in Strickland.
Moreover, the state court applied the test appropriately. Counsel was faced with a
difficult choice. He opted to avoid informing the jury about Petitioner’s federal criminal history.
That was clearly a strategic decision. Disagreement by a defendant with tactics and/or strategy will
not support a claim of ineffective assistance. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689.
Critically, counsel’s strategy paid off. The fact that Petitioner’s name was on at least
one copy of the lease came into evidence through the victim without the jury ever learning about
Petitioner’s federal criminal history or the ruse that Ms. Fleming claimed they perpetrated on the
federal probation department. Thus, even if it were error to not introduce the lease, Petitioner has
failed to demonstrate that the error had any effect on the verdicts. Petitioner’s ineffective assistance
claim related to the lease has no merit.
Other ineffective assistance of counsel claims
Plaintiff contends his counsel rendered ineffective assistance in other ways. He
argues that his counsel was unprepared and that his lack of preparedness impacted Petitioner’s ability
to present his alibi defense, other exculpatory witnesses, and exculpatory evidence in the form of text
messages from the victim to the Petitioner. Each argument is addressed below.
Failure to timely file a notice of alibi
Michigan imposes a statutory obligation on a felony defendant to file and serve a
notice of intention to claim an alibi defense at least ten days before trial. MICH. COMP. LAWS
§ 768.20. In this instance, counsel did not timely file and serve the notice. Nonetheless, the trial
court denied the prosecutor’s request to exclude the testimony of the alibi witness, Leotie Makura,
because she had testified as an alibi witness at the preliminary examination months before the trial.
Under those circumstances, the Michigan Court of Appeals acknowledged that failing to timely file
the notice might be objectively unreasonable, but because the trial court permitted the testimony
anyway, Petitioner had failed to demonstrate any prejudice. Johnson, 2011 WL 2557481 at *2. That
resolution is neither contrary to, nor an unreasonable application of, the Strickland standard, and the
factual determinations upon which it is based are well-supported by the record. Petitioner has failed
to establish that he is entitled to habeas relief because of the late-filed notice of alibi.
Failure to timely disclose witnesses
On Friday, December 4, 2008, Petitioner’s counsel gave the prosecutor a list of nine
possible defense witnesses. (Trial Tr. I, ECF No. 30, pp. 14-16.) The trial court excluded any of
Petitioner’s witnesses that were not otherwise listed on the information. (Id.) The record provided
to this Court does not include the list of witnesses that counsel faxed to the prosecutor three days
before trial nor does it include the information. Accordingly, it is impossible to ascertain the
identities of the witnesses who were excluded by the trial court’s order. Petitioner’s counsel
mentioned only one subject of testimony he was hoping to elicit from the witnesses: “the alleged
victim’s continuing a pattern of harrassment the defendant . . . .” (Id., p. 15.) Even though Petitioner
has not identified any of these witnesses, he suggests their exclusion decimated his defense.
The Michigan Court of Appeals was not swayed by Petitioner’s argument:
Defendant also asserts that defense counsel was ineffective for failing to provide a
witness list to the prosecutor in a timely manner, which resulted in the witness list
being excluded pursuant to MCR 6.201(A)(1). Defendant completely fails to argue
or support that any specific witness, much less a relevant and necessary witness, was
precluded from testifying. As such, defendant failed to establish the factual predicate
for his claim of error. See People v. Hoag, 594 NW2d 57, 59 (1999). In any event,
it is clear that defendant was able to fairly present his theory of the case at
trial—namely, that the victim fabricated the allegations because she was angry at
defendant—through other witnesses and there is no evidence that additional
witnesses would have lent decisive weight to this theory. Therefore, on this record,
even if defendant could show that defense counsel’s representation fell below an
objective standard of reasonableness under prevailing professional norms, defendant
cannot establish prejudice. Toma, 613 N.W.2d at 703-704.
Johnson, 2011 WL 2557481 at *2 (parallel citations omitted). Although Petitioner’s appellate brief
mentions that witnesses were excluded, it does not identify any of the excluded witnesses or what
their testimony might have been.9 Therefore, the court of appeals’ resolution of this issue is well-
In his application for leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, Petitioner identifies two allegedly
excluded witnesses: Miguel and Dora Estrada. (Appellant’s Br., ECF No. 25-5, PageID.441.) The Estradas were the
landlords on the lease for the upper apartment at 1039 Bridge Street. Petitioner claims the Estradas would have testified
he was a legitimate lessee of the property and his name was not simply placed on the lease as a ruse. There is no
evidence in the record to support Petitioner’s statement regarding what the Estradas would have said on the stand. More
importantly, although such testimony would have bolstered Petitioner’s claim with regard to the lease, it would not have
precluded the “ruse” argument; thus, proofs regarding the lease would have had the undesirable effect of informing the
jury about Petitioner’s federal criminal history. Given the testimony that was introduced regarding the fact that
Petitioner’s name was on the lease, there is simply no record support for Petitioner’s argument that more firmly
establishing his rights as a lessee would have likely had an effect on the verdicts. See Discussion § III, above.
supported by the record. Petitioner has failed to establish prejudice resulting from counsel’s failure
to timely file the witness list; accordingly, he is not entitled to habeas relief.
The text messages
After December 30, but before Ms. Fleming decided to press charges near the end of
February, she and Petitioner exchanged a series of text messages. The messages were stored on
Petitioner’s cellphone. Counsel knew they were on the cellphone and, more than two months before
the trial, had informed the prosecutor of his intent to introduce them as evidence at trial. (Trial Tr. I,
ECF No. 30, p. 3.) But, counsel failed to do so because he was unable to retrieve them until Leotie
Makura assisted him in that effort the day before trial began. (Id., pp. 5-7.) The court stated the text
messages would be suppressed and that no reference should be made to them unless the court had
cleared it beforehand. (Id., pp. 7-9.)
Counsel sought clarification (Id., pp. 16-19.) The court
ultimately permitted testimony regarding the fact that Ms. Fleming and Petitioner continued to
communicate after the crimes, and even the general topic of those conversations, but the court did
not permit Petitioner to introduce the word-for-word content of the text messages. (Id., p. 19; Trial
Tr. II, ECF No. 31, pp. 95-102, 136-137, 143-146; Trial Tr. IV, ECF No. 33, pp. 78-79.) Counsel
made an offer of proof with regard to the content of the messages (Trial Tr. IV, ECF No. 33, pp. 146,
147), and a transcription was attached as an exhibit to Petitioner’s appellate briefs (ECF No. 25-2,
Petitioner argues that the text messages were exculpatory and that counsel’s failure
to timely disclose them during discovery constituted ineffective assistance. The Michigan Court of
Defendant argues that the victim could not be effectively cross-examined after certain
text messages were excluded from evidence because of defense counsel’s discovery
violation. Defense counsel sought to use the text messages for several reasons
relevant to the offered defense. However, testimony relating to those particular
reasons was clearly set forth separate and apart from the text messages during the
trial. Accordingly, even if defendant could show that defense counsel’s
representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness under prevailing
professional norms, defendant cannot establish prejudice. Toma, 613 N.W.2d at 703704.
Johnson, 2011 WL 2557481 at *2 (parallel citation omitted).10
Once again, the state court employed the correct standard. The factual determination
that Petitioner was able to present evidence regarding the post-assault communications between Ms.
Fleming and Petitioner finds support in the record. (Trial Tr. II, ECF No. 31, pp. 95-102, 136-137,
143-146; Trial Tr. IV, ECF No. 33, pp. 78-79.) Indeed, Petitioner’s counsel elicited sworn testimony
from Ms. Fleming that even after the December 30 assault, she regularly talked to Petitioner, she still
loved him, and she discussed getting back together with him. (Id.) The text messages add nothing
to the obvious incongruity of her stated feelings for Petitioner with her status as a victim of his brutal
physical assault.11 Because Petitioner has failed to demonstrate prejudice, Petitioner has failed to
establish that he is entitled to habeas relief.
The “several reasons” referenced by the court of appeals included the argument that “that the victim fabricated
the allegations because she was angry at defendant[,]” Johnson, 2011 WL 2557481 at *2, as well as the argument that
Ms. Fleming’s post-assault behavior in the form of continued contact with Petitioner, was inconsistent with being a rape
victim, (Trial Tr. IV, ECF No. 33, p. 140).
The prosecution offered the testimony of social worker Erica Schnittdiel as an expert in the area of domestic
assault, specifically sexual assault in the context of domestic relationships, to help explain that incongruity. (Trial Tr.
II, ECF No. 31, pp. 165-188.)
In light of the foregoing, the Court will deny Petitioner’s application because certain
of Petitioner’s claims are procedurally defaulted and the remainder of his petition fails to present a
meritorious federal claim.
Certificate of Appealability
Under 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2), the Court must determine whether a certificate of
appealability should be granted. A certificate should issue if Petitioner has demonstrated a
“substantial showing of a denial of a constitutional right.” 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). The Sixth Circuit
Court of Appeals has disapproved issuance of blanket denials of a certificate of appealability.
Murphy v. Ohio, 263 F.3d 466 (6th Cir. 2001). Rather, the district court must “engage in a reasoned
assessment of each claim” to determine whether a certificate is warranted. Id. at 467. Each issue
must be considered under the standards set forth by the Supreme Court in Slack v. McDaniel, 529
U.S. 473 (2000). Murphy, 263 F.3d at 467. Consequently, this Court has examined each of
Petitioner’s claims under the Slack standard. Under Slack, 529 U.S. at 484, to warrant a grant of the
certificate, “[t]he petitioner must demonstrate that reasonable jurists would find the district court’s
assessment of the constitutional claims debatable or wrong.” Id. “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, the Court may not conduct a full merits review, but must limit its examination to a
threshold inquiry into the underlying merit of Petitioner’s claims. Id.
The Court finds that reasonable jurists could not conclude that this Court’s denial of
Petitioner’s claims was debatable or wrong. Therefore, the Court will deny Petitioner a certificate
A Judgment and Order consistent with this Opinion will be entered.
January 11, 2017
/s/ Paul L. Maloney
Paul L. Maloney
United States District Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?