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Daniels v. Secretary, Department of Corrections

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division

February 3, 2017



          BRIAN J. DAVIS United States District Judge.

         I. Status

         Petitioner Anthony Daniels, an inmate of the Florida penal system, challenges his 2011 state court (Baker County) conviction for DUI/manslaughter. Petition Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody (Petition) (Doc. 1). Respondents filed an Answer in Response to Order to Show Cause (Response) (Doc. 15), with exhibits in support thereof. Petitioner filed a Reply to State's Response to § 2254 Petition (Reply) (Doc. 21). In response to the Court's orders (Docs. 22, 26), Respondents obtained and filed copies of the transcripts of the plea colloquy and sentencing proceeding in the underlying state case (Docs. 25, 27). Respondents also supplemented their appendix (Doc. 15-1) with the postconviction appellate briefs and record (Doc. 29).[1]

         II. Procedural History

         Daniels entered a plea of guilty to DUI manslaughter. Ex. B; Plea Tr. The state court sentenced him to ten years in prison with a four-year minimum mandatory to be followed by five years of drug offender probation. Ex. C. He did not file a direct appeal.

         Daniels filed an initial motion for postconviction relief in state court on January 30, 2012 (Ex. D) and two amended motions on February 6, 2012 (Ex. E), and February 18, 2013 (Ex. F). In his motions, Daniels claimed that the trial court abused its discretion in sentencing him to the statutory maximum and that the state failed to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Ex. E. He also argued that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to present mitigating factors for departure sentencing. Ex. F. The trial court summarily denied Daniels' motions for postconviction relief on April 10, 2013. Ex. G.

         Daniels appealed the state trial court's denial of postconviction relief to the First District Court of Appeal on April 22, 2013. Supp. Ex. B. The First District affirmed per curiam without a written opinion on October 30, 2013. Ex. H. Daniels moved for reconsideration and clarification, but his motions were denied. Supp. Exs. E, F, G, H. The mandate issued on February 18, 2014. Supp. Ex. I.

         III. Standard of Review

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) governs a state prisoner's federal petition for habeas corpus. See 28.U.S.C. § 2254; Ledford v. Warden, Ga. Diagnostic & Classification Prison, 818 F.3d 600, 642 (11th Cir. 2016).

Under AEDPA, a federal court may not grant a habeas corpus application “with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings, ” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), unless the state court's decision “was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, ” § 2254(d)(1), or “was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding, ” § 2254(d)(2). See Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, __, 129 S.Ct. 1411, 1412, 173 L.Ed.2d 251 (2009).

Berghuis v. Thompkins, 560 U.S. 370, 380 (2010); see also Bester v. Warden, 836 F.3d 1331, 1336 (11th Cir. 2016). Deferential review under Section 2254 is limited to the record that was before the state court that adjudicated the claim on the merits. See Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011) (regarding § 2254(d)(1)); Landers v. Warden, Att'y Gen. of Ala., 776 F.3d 1288, 1295 (11th Cir. 2015) (regarding § 2254(d)(2)).

         “Because the requirements of § 2254(d) are difficult to meet, it is important whether a federal claim was ‘adjudicated on the merits in State court.'” Johnson v. Williams, __U.S.__, 133 S.Ct. 1088, 1091 (2013). Thus, the first task of the federal habeas court is to identify the last state court decision, if any, that adjudicated the claim on the merits. See Wilson v. Warden, Ga. Diagnostic Prison, 834 F.3d 1227, 1235 (11th Cir. 2016) (en banc); Marshall v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 828 F.3d 1277, 1285 (11th Cir. 2016). Regardless of whether the last state court provided a reasoned opinion, “it may be presumed that the state court adjudicated the claim on the merits in the absence of any indication or state-law procedural principles to the contrary.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 99 (2011); see also Williams, 133 S.Ct. at 1096 (“When a state court rejects a federal claim without expressly addressing that claim, a federal habeas court must presume that the federal claim was adjudicated on the merits - but that presumption can in some limited circumstances be rebutted.”). The presumption is rebuttable and may be overcome “when there is reason to think some other explanation for the state court's decision is more likely.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 99-100; see also Williams, 133 S.Ct. at 1096-97. However, “the Richter presumption is a strong one that may be rebutted only in unusual circumstances.” Williams, 133 S.Ct. at 1096.

         “To determine whether the presumption has been rebutted, we look to the state court's decision and the record in the case to determine whether ‘the evidence leads very clearly to the conclusion that [the] federal claim was inadvertently overlooked in state court.” Childers v. Floyd, 736 F.3d 1331, 1334 (11th Cir. 2013) (en banc) (quoting Williams, 133 S.Ct. at 1097) (footnote omitted). Where the presumption has been rebutted, AEDPA deference does not apply, and the claim is reviewed de novo. Williams, 133 S.Ct. at 1097 (“When the evidence leads very clearly to the conclusion that a federal claim was inadvertently overlooked in state court, § 2254(d) entitles the prisoner to an unencumbered opportunity to make his case before a federal judge.”); Bester, 836 F.3d at 1336-37 (finding that the presumption was rebutted and reviewing the claim de novo).

         When it is unclear whether AEDPA deference applies, “[c]ourts can . . . deny writs of habeas corpus under § 2254 by engaging in de novo review.”[2] Thompkins, 560 U.S. at 390; see also Mirzayance, 556 U.S. at 114 (“Whether reviewed under the standard of review set forth in § 2254(d)(1) or de novo, [the petitioner] failed to establish that his counsel's performance was ineffective.”); Hitchcock v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 745 F.3d 476, 484 (11th Cir. 2014) (“whether the issue is reviewed de novo or under AEDPA's deferential standards, [the petitioner] is not entitled to federal habeas relief on his Eighth Amendment claim”); Tanzi v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 772 F.3d 644, 661, n.3 (11th Cir. 2014) (“Because it is unclear whether AEDPA deference applies under these circumstances, we follow the Thompkins Court's instructions and conduct de novo review of the prejudice element of [the petitioner's] Brady claim); Reese v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 675 F.3d 1277, 1291 (11th Cir. 2012) (explaining that, even when it is clear that AEDPA deference applies, the federal appellate court may affirm the denial of habeas relief based solely on de novo review); Allen v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 611 F.3d 740, 753 (11th Cir. 2010) (“Alternatively, even if no deference were due the state collateral trial court's decision on the performance element, we would conclude on de novo review that [the petitioner] had failed to establish it.”). This is “because a habeas petitioner will not be entitled to a writ of habeas corpus if his or her claim is rejected on de novo review, see § 2254(a), ” which is a more favorable standard of review for the petitioner. Thompkins, 560 U.S. at 390. As such, a federal court need not resolve whether AEDPA deference applies if de novo review results in denial of habeas corpus relief. Id.; Conner v. GDCP Warden, 784 F.3d 752, 767, n.16 (listing cases).

         IV. Cognizability, Exhaustion, and Procedural Default

         Federal habeas review “is limited to deciding whether a conviction violated the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 68 (1991) (citations omitted). As such, federal habeas “does not lie for errors of state law.” Id. at 67 (quotations omitted). “[I]t is not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determinations on state-law questions.” Id. at 67-68. “In the area of state sentencing guidelines in particular, . . . federal courts can not review a state's alleged failure to adhere to its own sentencing procedures.” Branan v. Booth, 861 F.2d 1507, 1508 (11th Cir. 1988). “This limitation on federal habeas review is of equal force when a petition, which actually involves state law issues, is couched in terms of equal protection and due process.” Id. (quotation omitted).

         Before bringing a § 2254 habeas action in federal court, a petitioner must exhaust all state court remedies that are available for challenging his state conviction. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b), (c). To exhaust state remedies, the petitioner must “fairly present[ ]” every issue raised in his federal petition to the state's highest court, either on direct appeal or on collateral review. Castille v. Peoples, 489 U.S. 346, 351 (1989) (emphasis omitted). As the United States Supreme Court has explained:

Before seeking a federal writ of habeas corpus, a state prisoner must exhaust available state remedies, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1), thereby giving the State the “‘“opportunity to pass upon and correct” alleged violations of its prisoners' federal rights.'” Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364, 365, 115 S.Ct. 887, 130 L.Ed.2d 865 (1995) (per curiam) (quoting Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275, 92 S.Ct. 509, 30 L.Ed.2d 438 (1971)). To provide the State with the necessary “opportunity, ” the prisoner must “fairly present” his claim in each appropriate state court (including a state supreme court with powers of discretionary review), thereby alerting that court to the federal nature of the claim. Duncan, supra, at 365-366, 115 S.Ct. 887; O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845, 119 S.Ct. 1728, 144 L.Ed.2d 1 (1999).

Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 29 (2004); see also Boerckel, 526 U.S. at 845 (“[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.”).

         “The crux of the exhaustion requirement is simply that the petitioner must have put the state court on notice that he intended to raise a federal claim.” Preston v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 785 F.3d 449, 457 (11th Cir. 2015); see also French v. Warden, Wilcox State Prison, 790 F.3d 1259, 1270-71 (11th Cir. 2015), cert. denied, 136 S.Ct. 815 (2016) To do so, petitioners must “present their claims to the state courts such that the reasonable reader would understand each claim's particular legal basis and specific factual foundation.” Kelley v. Sec'y for Dep't of Corr., 377 F.3d 1317, 1344-45 (11th Cir. 2004) (citing Picard, 404 U.S. at 277).

It is not sufficient merely that the federal habeas petitioner has been through the state courts, Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275-76, 92 S.Ct. 509, 512, 30 L.Ed.2 438 (1971), nor is it sufficient that all the facts necessary to support the claim were before the state courts or that a somewhat similar state-law claim was made, Anderson v. Harless, 459 U.S. 4, 6, 103 S.Ct. 276, 277, 74 L.Ed.2d 3 (1982) (citations omitted). The petitioner must present his claims to the state courts such that they are permitted the “opportunity to apply controlling legal principles to the facts bearing upon (his) constitutional claim.” Picard, 404 U.S. at 277, 92 S.Ct. at 513 (alteration in original).

Id. at 1344. “In sum, to preserve a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel for federal review, the habeas petitioner must assert this theory of relief and transparently present the state courts with the specific acts or omissions of his lawyers that resulted in prejudice.” Id. Thus,

[f]ederal habeas petitioners are undoubtedly on their strongest footing with regard to the exhaustion requirement when their federal claims are carbon copies of the claims they presented to the state courts. Such reproduction leaves no question that the claims presented to the federal court are the same as those that were presented to the state court. But we do not demand exact replicas. We recognize that habeas petitioners are permitted to clarify the arguments presented to the state courts on federal collateral review provided that those arguments remain unchanged in substance.


         “[W]hen a petitioner has failed to exhaust his claim by failing to fairly present it to the state courts and the state court remedy is no longer available, the failure also constitutes a procedural bar.” McNair v. Campbell, 416 F.3d 1291, 1305 (2005) (citing Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 735 n.1 (1991)); see also Boerckel, 526 U.S. at 848; Vazquez v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 827 F.3d 964, 966 (11th Cir. 2016). Notwithstanding a procedural default, a federal court may still consider the claim if a state habeas petitioner can show either (1) cause for and actual prejudice from the default; or (2) a fundamental miscarriage of justice. Maples v. Thomas, 132 S.Ct. 912, 922 (2012) (citations omitted).

“To establish ‘cause' for procedural default, a petitioner must demonstrate that some objective factor external to the defense impeded the effort to raise the claim properly in the state court.” Wright v. Hopper, 169 F.3d 695, 703 (11th Cir. 1999). To establish “prejudice, ” a petitioner must show that there is at least a reasonable probability that the result of the proceeding would have been different. Id.; Crawford v. Head, 311 F.3d 1288, 1327-28 (11th Cir. 2002).

Henderson v. Campbell, 353 F.3d 880, 892 (11th Cir. 2003).

         Although states can waive procedural bar defenses such as exhaustion in federal habeas proceedings, the waiver must be express, see 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(3), and a “deliberate decision to proceed straightaway to the merits.” Wood v. Milyard, -- U.S. --, 132 S.Ct. 1826, 1834 (2012); Vazquez, 827 F.3d at 966. Federal habeas courts abuse their discretion if they disregard a state's deliberate waiver of a procedural defense, see Wood, 132 S.Ct. at 1834; Day v. McDonough, 547 U.S. 198, 210 n.11, but they also “have discretion, in ‘exceptional cases, ' to consider a nonexhaustion argument ‘inadverten[tly]' overlooked by the State in the District Court.” Wood, 132 S.Ct. at 1833 (quoting Granberry v. Greer, 481 U.S. 129, 132 (1987)); see also Day, 547 U.S. at 201.

         Where the federal habeas court determines that the state inadvertently overlooked a procedural defense rather than strategically decided to withhold or relinquish the defense, the court may consider sua sponte the procedural defense. Day, 547 U.S. at 209, 211. Addressing the procedural defense of untimeliness, the Supreme Court explained:

[o]f course, before acting on its own initiative, a court must accord the parties fair notice and an opportunity to present their positions. . . . Further, the court must assure itself that the petitioner is not significantly prejudiced by the delayed focus on the limitation issue, and “determine whether the interests of justice would be better served: by addressing the merits or by dismissing the petition as time barred.” See Granberry, 481 U.S., at 136, 107 S.Ct. 1671.

Id. at 210; see also Wood, 132 S.Ct. at 1833-34.

         V. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, Petitioner “must meet both the deficient performance and prejudice prongs of Strickland.” Wong v. Belmontes, 558 U.S. 15, 16 (2009) (per curiam) (citing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984)).

To establish deficient performance, a person challenging a conviction must show that “counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” [Strickland], 466 U.S. at 688, 104 S.Ct. 2052. A court considering a claim of ineffective assistance must apply a “strong presumption” that counsel's representation was within the “wide range” of reasonable professional assistance. Id., at 689, 104 S.Ct. 2052. The challenger's burden is to show ‚Äúthat counsel made errors so serious that ...

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