Courtland #545060 v. Woods
ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION 37 : Petitioner's petition and certificate of appealability are DENIED; case closed; signed by Judge Gordon J. Quist (Judge Gordon J. Quist, jmt)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
Case No. 2:12-CV-465
HON. GORDON J. QUIST
ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Petitioner, Samuel Courtland, has filed Objections to Magistrate Judge Timothy P. Greeley’s
September 3, 2015 Report and Recommendation (R & R) recommending that the Court deny
Petitioner’s habeas petition. Petitioner raised the following claims in his petition:
There was insufficient evidence to convict Petitioner of felony murder.
Petitioner was denied due process by the delay in charging him with the
Petitioner was denied the right to present a defense because of the
unconstitutional restriction on the presentation of evidence.
Petitioner was denied a fair trial due to ineffective assistance of counsel.
Ineffective assistance of appellate counsel.
(R & R at 1–2.)
The magistrate judge concluded that claims I, II, III, and V are without merit, and that claim
IV is procedurally defaulted. With regard to claim II, the magistrate judge also concluded that a
portion of the claim is procedurally defaulted.
Petitioner contends that the magistrate judge erred as to all of the claims, and he urges the
Court to reject the R & R. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), upon receiving objections to a report
and recommendation, the district judge “shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the
report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” After
conducting a de novo review of the R & R, Petitioner’s Objections, and the pertinent portions of the
record, the Court concludes that the R & R should be adopted and the petition denied.
Sufficiency of the Evidence
Petitioner contends that the magistrate judge erred in concluding that the Michigan Court of
Appeals’ determination that sufficient evidence supported Petitioner’s conviction for felony murder
was not contrary to, and did not involve an unreasonable application of, Supreme Court precedent.
See 28 U.S.C. § 2254((d). The Court disagrees. The state court reasonably determined that under
Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S. Ct. 2781 (1979), there was sufficient evidence to convict.
Contrary to Petitioner’s suggestion, the evidence was not limited to two arguably accidental
incidents in which Jalyn’s hand was crushed and his feet were burned. Instead, the record is replete
with evidence that Petitioner repeatedly inflicted blunt force on Jalyn and burned him with an iron,
resulting in abrasions, bruising, and third degree burns—all of which created the medical conditions
leading to Jalyn’s death. This same evidence would have allowed a reasonable jury to conclude that
Petitioner intended to inflict serious harm on Jalyn. Moreover, there was evidence that Petitioner
dissuaded Jalyn’s mother from seeking medical treatment for Jalyn on several occasions. Thus, the
magistrate judge did not err in concluding that Petitioner is not entitled to relief on this claim.
Citing cases pertaining to the right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment, Petitioner
argues that the magistrate judge erred in concluding that the pre-arrest delay was not long enough
to be prejudicial. The cases Petitioner cites are inapposite because Petitioner did not raise a Sixth
Amendment speedy trial claim in state court, and any such claim is therefore procedurally barred.
See Lott v. Coyle, 261 F.3d 594, 608–09 (6th Cir. 2001) (“Lott never presented the state courts with
an opportunity to review his ineffective-assistance-of-appellate-counsel claim as cause for the
default of his jurisdiction claim, and thus, is procedurally barred from making such an argument
now.”). Petitioner’s due process pre-arrest delay claim required Petitioner to demonstrate (1)
substantial prejudice to his right to a fair trial; and (2) that the government delayed the arrest in order
to gain a tactical advantage over Petitioner. United States v. Brown, 959 F.2d 63, 66 (6th Cir. 1992).
As the magistrate judge correctly observed, Petitioner failed to show that the delay, if any, occurred
for any reason other than investigative purposes. Moreover, Petitioner failed to show that delay
resulted in substantial prejudice to his right to a fair trial.
Petitioner also argues that the magistrate judge erred in concluding that Petitioner’s
argument that the prosecution waited until Cynthia Daniel changed her mind and sought to testify
against Petitioner is procedurally defaulted because Petitioner failed to raise such argument before
the Michigan Court of Appeals. Even if such argument is not procedurally defaulted, it does not aid
Petitioner in establishing his claim. Petitioner still cannot show that the prosecution gained an unfair
advantage or that his right to a fair trial was prejudiced. Moreover, as the Michigan Court of
Appeals noted, the differences in Daniel’s versions of events was addressed at trial. (R & R at 8.)
Thus, the Michigan Court of Appeals’ decision was not contrary to, and did not involve an
unreasonable application of, Supreme Court precedent or result in an unreasonable determination
of the facts in light of the evidence presented. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254((d).
Right to Present a Defense
Petitioner next takes issue with the magistrate judge’s conclusion that the trial court’s
exclusion of testimony from a witness to rebut Cynthia Daniel’s testimony that she had no contact
with her son, Sidney, after her children were taken away did not violate Petitioner’s constitutional
right to present a defense. Petitioner argues that the state court’s determination was objectively
unreasonable because Michigan case law permits a party to introduce rebuttal evidence if such
evidence contradicts a specific statement elicited from a witness during cross examination.
Petitioner contends that whether Daniels had improper contact with Sidney was central to
Petitioner’s assertion that Daniels had the opportunity to influence Sidney’s testimony.
A petitioner’s “due process rights are [not] violated any time a state court excludes evidence
that the petitioner believes is the centerpiece of his defense.” Alley v. Bell, 307 F.3d 380, 394 (6th
Cir. 2002). Rather, a violation occurs when “a state court excludes important evidence on the basis
of an arbitrary, mechanistic, or per se rule, or one that is disproportionate to the purposes it is
designed to serve.” Id. Petitioner has not made this showing, as the Michigan Court of Appeals
reasonably concluded that the evidence was inadmissible under Michigan Rule of Evidence 608(b).
Even if the Michigan Court of Appeals erred in concluding that the trial court properly excluded
Petitioner’s proffered evidence under Michigan law, such a showing is insufficient for Petitioner to
show that he is entitled to relief. Coburn v. Howes, 100 F. App’x 328, 329 (6th Cir. 2004) (noting
that “[a] habeas court will generally not question errors in the application of state law”). Instead,
Petitioner must show that he was deprived of a fair trial. Id. Petitioner has failed to demonstrate
a denial of fundamental fairness. Thus, the Michigan Court of Appeals’ decision was neither
contrary to, nor an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law as established by the
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
The magistrate judge concluded that Petitioner’s ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim
was procedurally defaulted and that Petitioner failed to overcome his procedural default by
demonstrating ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. Petitioner contends that the magistrate
judge erred in applying procedural default because Respondent concedes that the trial court
considered Petitioner’s ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim on the merits, and the magistrate
judge therefore should have conducted a merits analysis of this claim. Petitioner further argues that
a merits analysis would show that counsel’s failure to present a defense during his cross-examination
of Sidney constituted deficient performance under Strickland.
Although Respondent refers to the trial court’s “merits decision” in his response, (dkt. # 10
at Page ID#270), the magistrate judge nonetheless properly concluded that Petitioner’s ineffective
assistance of trial counsel claim is procedurally defaulted because the trial court’s merits analysis
was part of its consideration of Petitioner’s claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel,
which Petitioner raised as a means of overcoming the procedural default. However, even if
considered on the merits, Petitioner’s claim fails. In order to show ineffective assistance of counsel,
a petitioner must demonstrate: (1) deficient performance—“that counsel made errors so serious that
counsel was not functioning as the ‘counsel’ guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment”;
and (2) such performance resulted in prejudice, which “requires showing that counsel’s errors were
so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial who result is reliable.” Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687, 104 S. Ct. 2052, 2064 (1984)). Petitioner’s claim fails on the
prejudice prong alone. The evidence presented at trial established that Petitioner repeatedly beat
Jalyn, that Jalyn’s body had substantial blunt-force trauma bruising and abrasions from Petitioner’s
beatings, and that Jalyn had iron burns on his bottom in addition to his feet. There was no evidence
that the burns to Jalyn’s feet, alone, compromised Jalyn’s immune system, which led to his death.
Accordingly, Petitioner cannot show “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional
errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Id. at 694, 104 S. Ct. at 2068. For
the same reasons, the magistrate judge did not err in concluding that the state court’s decision on
Petitioner’s ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claim was contrary to, or an unreasonable
application of, Strickland.
Certificate of Appealability
Under 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2), the Court must also 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 has disapproved issuance of blanket denials of a certificate of appealability. Murphy v. Ohio,
263 F.3d 466, 467 (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,
120 S. Ct. 1595 (2000). Murphy, 263 F.3d at 467. Therefore, the Court has considered Petitioner’s
claims, including his objections, under the Slack standard.
Under Slack, 529 U.S. at 484, 120 S. Ct. at 1604, 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.” For the reasons stated above, the Court finds that
reasonable jurists could not find that this Court’s denial of Petitioner’s claims was debatable or
wrong. Thus, the Court will deny Petitioner a certificate of appealability. Therefore,
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation
issued September 3, 2015 (dkt. # 37) is APPROVED AND ADOPTED as the Opinion of this
Court, and Petitioner’s Objections (dkt. # 38) are OVERRULED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Petitioner’s habeas corpus petition is DENIED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that a certificate of appealability is DENIED by this Court.
A separate judgment will issue.
Dated: December 10, 2015
/s/ Gordon J. Quist
GORDON J. QUIST
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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