Reset A A Font size: Print

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

CHARLES LEWIS, Petitioner-Appellant, v. BONITA J. HOFFNER, Respondent-Appellee.

No. 16-2226

Decided: April 07, 2017


Charles Lewis, a Michigan prisoner proceeding pro se, appeals the district court's judgment dismissing his 28 U.S.C. § 2254 habeas corpus petition. This court construes Lewis's notice of appeal as an application for a certificate of appealability (COA). See Fed. R. App. P. 22(b).

In 1977, a jury convicted Lewis—a juvenile at the time—of first-degree murder. The trial court imposed a mandatory life term of imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction and sentence, and the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal. Lewis has since filed multiple state post-conviction motions. In 2011, Lewis filed a motion for state post-conviction relief, claiming that the trial court had entered an order on April 3, 2000, dismissing his conviction and sentence. The matter was heard by the Hon. Gershwin A. Drain, who denied the motion on the basis that the order and record of actions that Lewis submitted in support of his claim were fraudulent. Specifically, the trial court found that the signature on the order purporting to dismiss Lewis's conviction and sentence—which appeared to be Judge Drain's—was a forgery and that a list of Lewis's state post-conviction actions showed that Judge Drain had never presided over any of Lewis's motions. The Michigan Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal for lack of merit, and on February 17, 2010, the Michigan Supreme Court declined leave to appeal because Lewis's claim was raised in an unauthorized successive state post-conviction motion. See Mich. Ct. R. 6.502(G).

In 2012, Lewis sought state post-conviction relief in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), which held that mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole constitutes cruel and unusual punishment when imposed on those under the age of eighteen at the time of their crime. The trial court granted Lewis's motion for resentencing, but the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's order, relying on state law that held that Miller was not retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review. See People v. Carp, 828 N.W.2d 685 (Mich. Ct. App. 2012). The Michigan Supreme Court initially denied leave to appeal, but on May 24, 2016, after that order was vacated by the United States Supreme Court, the Michigan Supreme Court vacated the Michigan Court of Appeals' order and remanded the matter to the trial court for resentencing in light of Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718 (2016).

On March 2, 2015, Lewis, proceeding with the assistance of counsel, filed a habeas corpus petition pursuant to § 2254, claiming that he was entitled to resentencing under Miller. But after his habeas petition was filed, Lewis fired his counsel and submitted a letter requesting to be released from incarceration in light of the state court order that purportedly dismissed his conviction and sentence. The government filed a motion to dismiss, which the district court granted, reasoning that Lewis had already received resentencing relief, thereby mooting his Miller claim. The district court also concluded that the trial court had not made an unreasonable factual determination under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2) when it found that the order purportedly dismissing his conviction and sentence was fraudulent.

A COA may issue “only if the applicant has made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right.” 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). “Where a district court has rejected the constitutional claims on the merits, the showing required to satisfy § 2253(c) is straightforward: The petitioner must demonstrate that reasonable jurists would find the district court's assessment of the constitutional claims debatable or wrong.” Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484 (2000).

Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, the district court may not grant habeas relief on a claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court “unless the state court's decision ‘was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law,’ meaning Supreme Court precedent, or ‘was based on an unreasonable determination of facts in light of the evidence presented’ during the state court proceedings.” Railey v. Webb, 540 F.3d 393, 397 (6th Cir. 2008) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)-(2)). “[A] determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct. The applicant shall have the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); see Warren v. Smith, 161 F.3d 358, 360-61 (6th Cir. 1998).

Reasonable jurists would not debate the district court's rejection of Lewis's claims. The Michigan Supreme Court ordered that Lewis's sentence for first-degree murder be vacated and that his case be remanded to the trial court for resentencing—the precise relief that Lewis requested. People v. Lewis, 878 N.W.2d 479 (Mich. 2016) (mem.); see Chafin v. Chafin, 133 S. Ct. 1017 (2013); Thomas Sysco Food Servs. v. Martin, 983 F.2d 60, 62 (6th Cir. 1993) (a case becomes moot when the requested relief is granted). In addition, Lewis has not presented any evidence, much less clear and convincing evidence, to rebut the presumption of correctness afforded to Judge Drain's factual findings regarding the fraudulent state-court order. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Skaggs v. Parker, 235 F.3d 261, 266 (6th Cir. 2000). Absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, the state court's decision was not based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2). Reasonable jurists would not debate the district court's rejection of these claims.

Accordingly, we DENY Lewis's application for a COA.


Deborah S. Hunt, Clerk

Copied to clipboard