Robinson v. Horton, No. 18-1979 (6th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Robinson was convicted of assault with intent to commit murder, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. Under Michigan’s complex sentencing scheme, the judge sentenced Robinson as a fourth habitual offender to “concurrent terms of 47-1/2 to 120 years’ imprisonment for the assault and felon-in-possession convictions, to be served consecutive to two years’ imprisonment for the felony-firearm conviction.” The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed; the Michigan Supreme Court denied review. Robinson then filed a federal habeas corpus petition, which was denied. On appeal, Robinson argued that Supreme Court and state decisions postdating his sentencing have established that his sentence was imposed in violation of the Sixth Amendment.
The Sixth Circuit vacated. Robinson’s sentencing claim undoubtedly has merit; the Supreme Court’s Alleyne decision clearly established the unconstitutionality of Michigan’s sentencing regime. However, Robinson did not “fairly present” his sentencing claim to the Michigan Supreme Court and failed to exhaust that claim in state court. On remand, the district court should decide whether to dismiss Robinson’s sentencing claim without prejudice for failure to exhaust or to stay the petition and hold it in abeyance while Robinson returns to state court to exhaust that claim. Stay and abeyance is appropriate only “when the district court determines there was good cause for the petitioner’s failure to exhaust his claims first in state court” and when the claims are not “plainly meritless.”