United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
J. DAVIS United States District Judge.
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.
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
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.
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.
Standard of Review
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)).
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.
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).
is unclear whether AEDPA deference applies, “[c]ourts
can . . . deny writs of habeas corpus under § 2254 by
engaging in de novo review.” 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).
Cognizability, Exhaustion, and Procedural
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.
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
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
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.
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)
“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.
Henderson v. Campbell, 353 F.3d 880, 892 (11th Cir.
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.
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
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
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
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
“that counsel made errors so serious that ...