Eppes #192747 v. Mackie
OPINION; signed by District Judge Paul L. Maloney (Judge Paul L. Maloney, cmc)
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
JAMES CARNELL EPPES,
Case No. 1:17-cv-599
Honorable Paul L. Maloney
This is a habeas corpus action brought by a state prisoner under 28 U.S.C. § 2254.
Promptly after the filing of a petition for habeas corpus, the Court must undertake a preliminary
review of the petition to determine whether “it plainly appears from the face of the petition and
any exhibits annexed to it that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court.” Rule 4,
RULES GOVERNING § 2254 CASES; see 28 U.S.C. § 2243. If so, the petition must be summarily
dismissed. Rule 4; see Allen v. Perini, 424 F.2d 134, 141 (6th Cir. 1970) (district court has the
duty to “screen out” petitions that lack merit on their face). A dismissal under Rule 4 includes
those petitions which raise legally frivolous claims, as well as those containing factual allegations
that are palpably incredible or false. Carson v. Burke, 178 F.3d 434, 436-37 (6th Cir. 1999). After
undertaking the review required by Rule 4, the Court concludes that the petition must be dismissed
because it fails to raise a meritorious federal claim.
Petitioner James Carnell Eppes is presently incarcerated with the Michigan
Department of Corrections at the Oaks Correctional Facility. Petitioner is serving concurrent
sentences of 17 to 45 years and 5 to 10 years, consecutive to a sentence of 2 years, following his
August 25, 2014, plea of nolo contendere in the Kent County Circuit Court to charges of armed
robbery, MICH. COMP. LAWS § 750.529, felon in possession of a firearm, MICH. COMP. LAWS
§ 750.224f, and felony firearm, MICH. COMP. LAWS § 750.227b. On September 29, 2014, the court
Petitioner’s charges arose from his alleged participation in a three-man crime spree
on January 5, 2014. (Br. in Supp. of Appl. for Leave to Appeal, ECF No. 2-1, PageID.79.)
According to the trial court’s factual findings, on that date there was a massive snowstorm. (Plea
Hr’g Tr., ECF No. 2-1, PageID.57.) Petitioner and his co-defendants, Smith and Brown, were
driving around Kent County in a four-wheel drive pick-up. (Id.) They robbed three individuals at
gunpoint: Aaron Hoadley, Oscar Gonzalez, and Latarsha Horsley. (Pet’r’s Br., ECF No. 2,
Petitioner’s co-defendants reported that Mr. Brown “actually robbed” Mr.
Hoadley while Petitioner was driving; Mr. Smith robbed Mr. Gonzalez while Petitioner was
driving; and Petitioner robbed Ms. Horsley while Mr. Smith was driving.1 (Plea Hr’g Tr., ECF
No. 2-1, PageID.60.) Based on that conduct, Petitioner was charged with three counts of armed
There are handwritten notes, presumably Petitioner’s, on the plea transcript that Petitioner filed along with
his brief. See (Plea Hr’g Tr., ECF No. 2-1, PageID.60.) The notes indicate that Petitioner did not wield the gun when
Ms. Horsley was robbed; instead, he drove the car. (Id.) This is an interesting admission in that Petitioner elsewhere
claims that he had lent his truck to Smith and Brown. (Pet’r’s Br., ECF No. 2, PageID.30) Petitioner claims that he
just happened to be with them, he was simply dropping them off after they returned the truck, when the police stopped
the vehicle. (Id.)
robbery (one for each victim), one count of felon in possession of a firearm, and one count of
Petitioner was on his fourth counsel2 on August 14, 2014, the date scheduled for
Petitioner’s jury trial. (Plea Hr’g Tr., ECF No. 2-1, PageID.44.) Nonetheless, Petitioner asked the
trial court to permit that attorney to withdraw and postpone the trial. The trial court denied the
motion. The trial court then explored the status of plea negotiations. The prosecutor offered to
dismiss armed robbery counts 2 (relating to Mr. Gonzalez) and 3 (relating to Ms. Horsley), to
reduce Petitioner’s habitual offender status from fourth offense to third offense, and to stipulate to
a guidelines range of 135 to 337 months, if Petitioner would enter a plea on count 1 (relating to
Mr. Hoadley), count 4, felony firearm, and count 5, felon in possession of a firearm. (Plea Hr’g
Tr., ECF No. 2-1, PageID.15.) Petitioner and his counsel asked for a break to discuss the offer.
After a twenty minute break, Petitioner returned to enter his plea.
The trial court recited the terms of the plea agreement on the record, the parties
acknowledged the terms, and the oath was administered to Petitioner. The trial court established
Petitioner’s ability to read the documents relating to his plea and to understand the proceedings.
The court made sure Petitioner understood the nature of the crimes charged and the maximum
penalties attendant to each crime. Petitioner acknowledged that he understood the terms of the
agreement and that no other promises or inducements had been made. The court then inquired
regarding Petitioner’s understanding of the rights he would be waiving:
Did you have a chance to review this document called the
Advice of Rights Form?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
Petitioner convinced the trial court to replace Petitioner’s first appointed counsel, Mr. Pyrski. Petitioner’s
second appointed counsel, Mr. Milanowski, was forced to withdraw because of a conflict. Petitioner replaced his third
appointed counsel, Mr. Adams, with retained counsel, Mr. Danian, during July of 2014. See (Plea Hr’g Tr., ECF No.
Did you read through it before you signed it?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
Did you understand if you entered a plea of either guilty or
a plea of no contest you would waive or give up all of these
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
Do you also understand, and is that your signature on the
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
Did you also fill out, and I’m sorry, did you also review the
plea agreement form that I’m holding in my right hand?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
And did it contain all the essential terms that exist between
you and the People regarding the resolution of this case?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
And is that your signature in the lower right-hand side?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
All right. In addition, do you understand, Mr. Eppes, if I
accept your plea of guilty, you’ll be giving up any claim
that the plea is the result of any promise, inducement, or
plea agreement, unless I am told what it is here on the
record. Do you understand that?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
(Plea Hr’g Tr., ECF No. 2-1, PageID.55-56.) The Michigan Advice of Rights Form states as
You have offered to plead guilty or nolo contendere in this matter. Before accepting
your plea, the court must be convinced that you understand the following.
1. If your plea is accepted, you will not have a trial of any kind and you will be
giving up the rights you would have at a trial, including the right:
(a) to be tried by a jury;
(b) to be presumed innocent until proved guilty;
(c) to have the prosecutor prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are
(d) to have the witnesses against you appear at the trial;
(e) to question the witnesses against you;
(f) to have the court order any witnesses you have for the defense to
appear at the trial;
(g) to remain silent during the trial;
(h) to not have that silence used against you; and
(i) to testify at the trial if you want to testify.
2. If your plea is accepted, any appeal from your conviction and sentence pursuant
to this plea will be by application for leave to appeal and not by right.
Michigan SCAO Advice of Rights (Circuit Court Plea) CC291 (3/15). The trial court accepted
Petitioner’s plea, deriving a factual basis for the plea from the prior proceedings relating to
Petitioner’s co-defendants. On September 29, 2014, the court sentenced Petitioner.
Subsequently, Petitioner filed a motion in the trial court to withdraw his plea raising
two issues: (1) Petitioner’s plea was not knowing and voluntary; and (2) counsel rendered
ineffective assistance when he failed to inform Petitioner that the plea would waive Petitioner’s
right to challenge evidentiary issues on appeal. The court denied that motion on November 6,
2015. Petitioner then filed a delayed application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Court of
Appeals raising the same two issues he raised in the trial court in his motion to withdraw plea. The
court of appeals denied leave by order entered January 13, 2016. Petitioner then sought leave to
appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court. That court denied leave by order entered June 28, 2016.
On or about June 30, 2017, Petitioner filed his petition seeking habeas corpus relief
in this Court, raising the same issues he raised in the Michigan appellate courts.
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 omitted).
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).
Petitioner has failed to show his plea is invalid
It has long been the case that a valid guilty plea bars habeas review of most nonjurisdictional claims alleging antecedent violations of constitutional rights.
See Tollett v.
Henderson, 411 U.S. 258, 267 (1973). Among claims not barred are those that challenge “the very
power of the State to bring the defendant into court to answer the charge against him,” Blackledge
v. Perry, 417 U.S. 21, 30 (1974), and those that challenge the validity of the guilty plea itself. See
Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 58 (1985); Haring v. Prosise, 462 U.S. 306, 320 (1983); Tollett, 411
U.S. at 267. A plea not voluntarily and intelligently made has been obtained in violation of due
process and is void. See McCarthy v. United States, 394 U.S. 459, 466 (1969). Petitioner’s claim
does not challenge the power of the state to bring him into court. Instead he contends that his plea
is invalid, i.e., it was not knowingly and voluntarily entered into. See Mabry v. Johnson, 467 U.S.
504, 508 (1984) (“It is well-settled that a voluntary and intelligent plea of guilty made by an
accused person, who has been advised by competent counsel, may not be collaterally attacked.”).
In order to find constitutionally valid guilty plea, several requirements must be met.
The defendant pleading guilty must be competent, see Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742, 756
(1970), and must have notice of the nature of the charges against him, see Henderson v. Morgan,
426 U.S. 637, 645 n.13 (1976); Smith v. O’Grady, 312 U.S. 329, 334 (1941). The plea must be
entered “voluntarily,” i.e., not be the product of “actual or threatened physical harm, or . . . mental
coercion overbearing the will of the defendant” or of state-induced emotions so intense that the
defendant was rendered unable to weigh rationally his options with the help of counsel. Brady,
397 U.S. at 750; Machibroda v. United States, 368 U.S. 487, 493 (1962) (“A guilty plea, if induced
by promises or threats which deprive it of the character of a voluntary act, is void.”). The defendant
must also understand the consequences of his plea, including the nature of the constitutional
protection he is waiving. Henderson, 426 U.S. at 645 n.13; Brady, 397 U.S. at 755; Machibroda,
368 U.S. at 493 (“Out of just consideration for persons accused of crime, courts are careful that a
plea of guilty shall not be accepted unless made voluntarily after proper advice and with full
understanding of the consequences.”) (internal quotations and citation omitted). Finally, the
defendant must have available the advice of competent counsel. Tollett, 411 U.S. at 267-68; Brady,
397 U.S. at 756; McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 771 & n.14 (1970).
When a state defendant brings a federal habeas petition challenging the
voluntariness of his plea, the state generally satisfies its burden of showing a voluntary and
intelligent plea by producing a transcript of the state-court proceeding. Garcia v. Johnson, 991
F.2d 324, 326 (6th Cir. 1993); see also McAdoo v. Elo, 365 F.3d 487, 494 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing
Garcia, 991 F.3d at 326). Where the transcript is adequate to show that the plea was voluntary
and intelligent, a presumption of correctness attaches to the state court findings of fact and to the
judgment itself. Garcia, 991 F.3d at 326. A satisfactory state-court transcript, containing findings
after a proper plea colloquy, places upon petitioner a “heavy burden” to overturn the state findings.
Id. at 328; see also Parke v. Raley, 506 U.S. 20, 29 (1992) (holding that the factual findings of
voluntariness made by the state court are entitled to a presumption of correctness); Blackledge v.
Allison, 431 U.S. 63, 73 (1977) (a solemn plea of guilty presents a “formidable barrier” to a
subsequent claim to the contrary).
Petitioner raises two separate but related challenges to the validity of his plea. First,
he contends his plea was unknowing because he was not aware that his plea would foreclose an
appeal on “evidentiary issues.” Second, he argues he did not have the advice of competent counsel
because counsel failed to inform Petitioner that the plea would foreclose an appeal on evidentiary
issues and because counsel affirmatively represented that Petitioner would be able to “raise his
issues” on appeal. Each challenge is addressed below.
Petitioner’s plea was entered knowingly
Petitioner’s state court appellate briefs do not shed any light on which “evidentiary
issues” he hoped to raise in the appellate courts. See (Pet’r’s Mich. Ct. App. Appl. for Leave to
Appeal, ECF No. 2-1, PageID.72-87; Pet’r’s Mich. Appl. for Leave to Appeal, ECF No. 2-1,
PageID.68-83.) He has been more forthcoming in his federal court filings. For example, Petitioner
Officer Vakertzis alleged that victim Ms. Horsley identified Petitioner Eppes as
being the person that robbed her. This officer was obviously lying because, when
given the opportunity to speak for herself in identifying the person who robbed her,
Ms. Horsley did not hesitate in her absolute certainty that Mr. Eppes was not the
person who robbed her.
For one, victim Oscar Gonzalez who claimed approximately $100 dollars was
taken, said that, he was positive that none of them was the suspect who had the gun
and that none of them was the front passenger in the truck (the one with the
dredlocks ). He stated he never got a good look at the driver of the truck so he was
unable to say if any of the three had been driving the truck . . . .
At the preliminary examination, Ms. Horsley identified Mr. Smith as the guy who
pulled the gun on her and robbed her of $5 dollars. Victim Horsley was adamant
about her surety that Keith Smith was the man who robbed her. The following
excerpts highlight the testimony: “And he was like, Bitch! Give me your money.”
And I was so scared, so I threw my five dollars in your face. And then you told me
to turn around. It’s not funny. You told me to turn around. I took a look at you, and
I already seen you, and I kept walking. And then you was like, “Don't turn around,
Bitch! Don’t you turn around . . . ” (Preliminary Tr. 29-30); “Q. So the defendant
is-you saw a-a gun. How many guns did you see? A. That one gun in his hand. I
swear to the livin’ God, on my mom, got right down-( sic )-yes, you did. Yes, you
did. And you said, “Bitch, turn around. Don’t look at me. Don’t look at me.” And
I already seen you (sic) you, and you know I’m not lying. Q. So, it was this-- you
saw one gun, and it was being held by this defendant? A. Yeah. And the other guys
was just sittin’ there. (Preliminary Tr. 30-31 ). (see Appendix E for preliminary
Also important is that during cross-exam Ms. Horsley said she told officers who
had the gun and it was not the defendant (see Preliminary Tr. 38-39).
The fact that both co-defendants pointed blame at the defendant during their plea
hearing is nothing new and clearly not reliable. The evidence shows that from the
very beginning both Smith and Brown lied about their involvement and literally
tried to frame the defendant.
This is critical because the two co-defendants claimed it was defendants’ gun.
Defendant claimed it was not his and that he never saw anyone with a gun.
Defendant contends that had this firearm been reported stolen, more likely than not
the MSP report would have specified so. Though not verified, but also not
disproved, this gun could possibly be linked to one of the codefendants if the owner
was shown to be an associate, relative or friend.
Victim Horsley was approached very near to midnight, it was dark, it was a
highstress situation and the confrontation time frame was limited. According to Ms.
Horsleys' preliminary testimony, she seemed to be adamantly focused on the
passenger who robbed her. Though she claimed the defendant was the driver, the
prosecution suggestively presented a singular photo as an exhibit for the victim to
identify, clearly insinuating that the guy in the photo was arrested along with the
other suspects. Also, no officer expressed that defendant was wearing clothing
consistent with those identified by the victim. Defendant contends that he was
misidentified simply because he was with two individuals who had been positively
identified. Case in point: Officer Vakertzis report has victim Horsley positively
identifying the defendant as the armed robber. (see Appendix D), yet, shows up at
the preliminary examination two weeks later and emphatically, with conviction,
claims Smith was the one who robbed her.
See (Pet’r’s Br., ECF No. 2, PageID.23-31.) Thus, Petitioner’s habeas petition and supporting
brief indicate that he hoped to raise issues regarding the sufficiency of the prosecution’s evidence.
There may be some consequences of entering a plea that are not obvious; but, the
consequence that the plea waives the prosecutor’s burden to present sufficient evidence of the
charged crime is not one of them.3 That point came up early in the August 14 hearing. After the
court described the co-defendant testimony that had been introduced at prior hearings, Petitioner
began to offer the arguments regarding Ms. Horsley that are quoted above. (Plea Hr’g Tr., ECF
No. 2-1, PageID.38.) The Court indicated that if Petitioner wanted to present his contrary
arguments and evidence, the place to do that was at trial. (Id. (“And that’s why we have trials, Mr.
Eppes.”).) That point was also driven home in the Advice of Rights form: “If your plea is accepted,
you will not have a trial of any kind and you will be giving up the rights you would have at a trial,
including the right: . . . to have the prosecutor prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty
. . . . ’ Petitioner indicated that he read and understood that point.
Under settled Sixth Circuit authority, Petitioner’s responses to the trial judge, given
under oath at the plea hearing, preclude a subsequent assertion that the circumstances were
different than he represented at the hearing. In Baker v. United States, 781 F.2d 85 (6th Cir. 1986),
the trial court inquired concerning the terms of any plea bargain, received a response from the
prosecutor on the record, and received denials from defense counsel, the prosecutor, and the
defendant concerning the existence of any other terms. The Sixth Circuit held that where the trial
court has scrupulously followed the required procedure, “the defendant is bound by his statements
in response to that court’s inquiry.” 781 F.2d at 90 (quoting Moore v. Estelle, 526 F.2d 690, 69697 (5th Cir. 1976)). The Sixth Circuit, noting the obvious, observed that a trial judge cannot
possibly administer a plea agreement, if it consists of “secret terms known only to the parties.” Id.
at 90. Furthermore, because defendant’s later claim of a secret agreement was negated by the trial
Petitioner’s own experience with the criminal process would have made him aware of that point. This was
Petitioner’s fourth criminal prosecution. According to the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) Offender
Tracking Information System (OTIS), Petition had entered pleas in two cases prior to this one and proceeded to trial
in another. See http://mdocweb.state.mi.us/otis2/otis2profile.aspx?mdocNumber=192747. This Court takes judicial
notice of the information provided by a search of the MDOC OTIS website with regard to Petitioner. See, i.e.
Carpenter v. Mich. Dep’t of Corr. Time Computation Unit, No. 1:13-cv-313, 2013 WL 1947249 *1 n.1 (W.D. Mich.
May 9, 2013); Ward v. Wolfenbarger, 323 F.Supp.2d 818, 821–22 n. 3 (E.D.Mich. 2004).
record, no evidentiary hearing was required. Id. at 92. The court again addressed this issue in
Warner v. United States, 975 F.2d 1207 (6th Cir. 1992), and United States v. Todaro, 982 F.2d
1025 (6th Cir. 1993), also section 2255 cases. In Todaro, the defendant attempted to attack his
guilty plea, claiming that his attorney had promised him that he would be sentenced to probation
if he pled guilty. The defendant had testified at the plea colloquy, however, that no other promises
had been made to him, other than those stated in the plea agreement. 982 F.2d at 1026.
Consequently, the Sixth Circuit was again faced with a situation in which a defendant’s postconviction allegations were directly contrary to his statements at the plea hearing. Relying on
Baker, the court reiterated its earlier holding, under which a defendant is bound by his statements
in response to the trial court’s inquiry, where there has been a careful plea colloquy. In Warner,
the Sixth Circuit likewise rejected claims of attorney promises in the face of defendant’s flat denial
of promises at the plea, holding that the petitioner’s statements “estopped” him from relying on
undisclosed promises. 975 F.2d at 1210. See also Ramos v. Rogers, 170 F.3d 560, 565 (6th Cir.
1999) (concluding that “a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel predicated on allegedly
misleading information given by counsel about the terms of a plea agreement can never constitute
an ‘extraordinary circumstance’ under Baker when the court conducts a proper, clear, and thorough
Petitioner’s statements at the plea hearing similarly bind him now and belie his
claim that he was unaware his plea foreclosed challenges to the sufficiency of the prosecution’s
case. The trial court so concluded when it rejected Petitioner’s claim: “Rather, the record and file
indicate that Eppes understood the plea offer, and signed his plea agreement and Advice of Rights
form. . . . The record reflects that Eppes[’] plea was knowing and voluntary.” (Kent Cty. Cir. Ct.
Op. & Ord., ECF No. 2-1, PageID.91.) The state court’s determinations of fact in support of that
conclusion are reasonable on the record and its determination that Petitioner’s plea was knowing
and voluntary is consistent with, not contrary to, clearly established federal law. Accordingly,
Petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief.
If Petitioner’s counsel rendered ineffective assistance, Petitioner
suffered no prejudice
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 two-part Strickland test applies to challenges of guilty pleas based on
ineffective assistance of counsel.4 Hill, 474 U.S. at 58. Regarding the first prong, the court applies
Petitioner’s ineffective assistance claim in the state courts and in his habeas petition is centered on his guilty
plea; however, there are statements in his petition and brief that indicate he believed his counsel rendered ineffective
assistance by failing to properly investigate and prepare Petitioner’s case. A knowing and voluntary guilty plea waives
the same standard articulated in Strickland for determining whether counsel’s performance fell
below an objective standard of reasonableness. Id. In analyzing the prejudice prong, the focus is
on whether counsel’s constitutionally deficient performance affected the outcome of the plea
process. “[I]n order to satisfy the ‘prejudice’ requirement, the defendant must show that there is a
reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would
have insisted on going to trial.” Id. at 59. “When deciding ineffective-assistance claims, courts
need not address both components of the inquiry ‘if the defendant makes an insufficient showing
on one.’” Campbell v. United States, 364 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2004) (quoting Strickland, 466
U.S. at 697). “If it is easier to dispose of an ineffectiveness claim on the ground of lack of sufficient
prejudice, which we expect will often be so, that course should be followed.” Strickland, 466 U.S.
Petitioner claims Mr. Danian rendered ineffective assistance during the 20 minute
break on August 14, 2014, as they discussed the plea offer, because Mr. Danian told Petitioner he
would be able to “raise his issues” even if he entered the plea. (Pet’r’s Mich. Ct. App. Appl. for
Leave to Appeal, ECF No. 2-1, PageID.85.) There is no record regarding what Mr. Danian meant
by that statement; however, even if counsel had told Petitioner that after pleading guilty Petitioner
could challenge the sufficiency of the prosecution’s evidence on an appeal as of right, thereby
demonstrating performance far below an objective standard of reasonableness, Petitioner would
not be entitled to habeas relief because Petitioner cannot show prejudice.
all nonjurisdictional defects in the proceedings, including a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel that does not
relate to the voluntariness of the plea. See U.S. v. Stiger, 20 F. App’x 307, 308–09 (6th Cir. 2001). Petitioner’s claims
of ineffective assistance do not attack the voluntary or intelligent nature of his plea by showing that counsel’s advice
was inadequate, but instead relate to earlier alleged constitutional deprivations. Such claims have been waived by his
subsequent guilty plea. See Stiger, 20 F. App’x at 308-09; see also United States v. Bohn, 956 F.2d 208, 209 (9th Cir.
1992) (pre-plea ineffective assistance of counsel claims are waived).
If counsel’s hypothetical misstatement of the law had caused Petitioner any
misperceptions regarding the impact of Petitioner’s plea, the trial court corrected those
misperceptions at the plea hearing. Ramos v. Rogers, 170 F.3d 560, 565 (6th Cir. 1999) (“[T]he
state trial court’s proper colloquy can be said to have cured any misunderstanding Ramos may
have had about the consequences of his plea.”) Petitioner’s self-serving averment that he would
have proceeded to trial if he had only known he would not be able to challenge the sufficiency of
the prosecution’s evidence after entering his plea is utterly unconvincing. (Pet’r’s Mich. Ct. App.
Appl. for Leave to Appeal, ECF No. 2-1, PageID.88.) Where a defendant indicates on the record
that he understands the specific consequences of his plea, he is “‘bound by his statements[.]’”
Ramos, 170 F.3d at 566 (quoting Baker v. United States, 781 F.2d 85, 90 (6th Cir. 1986)). To hold
otherwise would “[render] the plea process meaningless . . . .” Id. Indeed, “the plea colloquy
process exists in part to prevent petitioners . . . from making the precise claim that is today before”
the Court. Id. Accordingly, Petitioner has failed to show that he suffered any prejudice as a result
of counsel’s alleged ineffectiveness.
The trial court’s resolved the issue the same way: “Even if the Court were to agree
that Eppes received substandard legal advice, Eppes has not established that a different outcome
would have likely resulted.” (Kent Cty. Cir. Ct. Op. and Ord., ECF No. 2-1, PageID.91.) That
determination is consistent with, not contrary to, Strickland and is reasonable on this record.
Accordingly, Petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief on his ineffective assistance of counsel
In light of the foregoing, the Court will summarily dismiss Petitioner’s application
pursuant to Rule 4 because it fails to raise 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). This Court’s
dismissal of Petitioner’s action under Rule 4 of the Rules Governing § 2254 Cases is a
determination that the habeas action, on its face, lacks sufficient merit to warrant service. It would
be highly unlikely for this Court to grant a certificate, thus indicating to the Sixth Circuit Court of
Appeals that an issue merits review, when the Court has already determined that the action is so
lacking in merit that service is not warranted. See Love v. Butler, 952 F.2d 10 (1st Cir. 1991) (it
is “somewhat anomalous” for the court to summarily dismiss under Rule 4 and grant a certificate);
Hendricks v. Vasquez, 908 F.2d 490 (9th Cir. 1990) (requiring reversal where court summarily
dismissed under Rule 4 but granted certificate); Dory v. Comm’r of Corr. of New York, 865 F.2d
44, 46 (2d Cir. 1989) (it was “intrinsically contradictory” to grant a certificate when habeas action
does not warrant service under Rule 4); Williams v. Kullman, 722 F.2d 1048, 1050 n.1 (2d Cir.
1983) (issuing certificate would be inconsistent with a summary dismissal).
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
The Court finds that reasonable jurists could not conclude that this Court’s
dismissal of Petitioner’s claims was debatable or wrong. Therefore, the Court will deny Petitioner
a certificate of appealability.
A Judgment and Order consistent with this Opinion will be entered.
Dated: August 21, 2017
/s/ Paul L. Maloney
Paul L. Maloney
United States District Judge
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