United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
TIMOTHY J. CORRIGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
an inmate of the Florida penal system, initiated this action
by filing a pro se Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Doc.
1) (Petition) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.
Petitioner challenges her 2007 state court (Suwannee County,
Florida) judgment of convictions and sentences for
trafficking in cocaine (count one), possession of marijuana
(count two), and tampering with evidence (count three).
Petitioner was sentenced to ten years with a three-year
mandatory minimum term of imprisonment, followed by five
years of probation on count one; time served on count two;
and five years in prison on count three. Respondent
Secretary for the Florida Department of Corrections filed her
response. See Respondent's Answer in Response to
Order to Show Cause and Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus
(Doc. 19) (Response). Petitioner replied. See
Petitioner's Traverse to Response to Order to Show Cause
(Doc. 22) (Reply). The case is ripe for review.
a habeas corpus proceeding, the burden is on the petitioner
to establish the need for an evidentiary hearing.”
Jones v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 834
F.3d 1299, 1318 (11th Cir. 2016). “In deciding whether
to grant an evidentiary hearing, a federal court must
consider whether such a hearing could enable an applicant to
prove the petition's factual allegations, which, if true,
would entitle the applicant to federal habeas relief.”
Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 474 (2007)
(citation omitted). “It follows that if the record
refutes the applicant's factual allegations or otherwise
precludes habeas relief, a district court is not required to
hold an evidentiary hearing.” Id. The
pertinent facts of this case are fully developed in the
record before the Court. Because this Court can
“adequately assess [Petitioner's] claim without
further factual development, ” Turner v.
Crosby, 339 F.3d 1247, 1275 (11th Cir. 2003), an
evidentiary hearing will not be conducted.
Standard of Review
state prisoner's § 2254 habeas petition is governed
by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of
1996" (AEDPA). Ledford v. Warden, Ga. Diagnostic
& Classification Prison, 818 F.3d 600, 642 (11th
Cir. 2016). “‘The purpose of AEDPA is to ensure
that federal habeas relief functions as a guard against
extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems,
and not as a means of error correction.'”
Id. (quoting Greene v. Fisher, 132 S.Ct.
38, 43 (2011)).
Under AEDPA, when a state court has adjudicated the
petitioner's claim on the merits, a federal court may not
grant habeas relief 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, ” 28 U.S.C. §
2254(d)(1), or “was based on an unreasonable
determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented
in the State court proceeding, ” id. §
2254(d)(2). A state court's factual findings are presumed
correct unless rebutted by clear and convincing
evidence. Id. § 2254(e)(1);
Ferrell v. Hall, 640 F.3d 1199, 1223 (11th Cir.
AEDPA “imposes a highly deferential standard for
evaluating state court rulings” and “demands that
state-court decisions be given the benefit of the
doubt.” Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 130
S.Ct. 1855, 1862, 176 L.Ed.2d 678 (2010) (internal quotation
marks omitted). “A state court's determination that
a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long
as fairminded jurists could disagree on the correctness of
the state court's decision.” Harrington v.
Richter, __ U.S. __, __, 131 S.Ct. 770, 786, 178 L.Ed.2d
624 (2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). “It
bears repeating that even a strong case for relief does not
mean the state court's contrary conclusion was
unreasonable.” Id. (citing Lockyer v.
Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75, 123 S.Ct. 1166, 155 L.Ed.2d
144 (2003)). The Supreme Court has repeatedly instructed
lower federal courts that an unreasonable application of law
requires more than mere error or even clear error.
See, e.g., Mitchell v. Esparza,
540 U.S. 12, 18, 124 S.Ct. 7, 157 L.Ed.2d 263 (2003);
Lockyer, 538 U.S. at 75 (“The gloss of clear
error fails to give proper deference to state courts by
conflating error (even clear error) with
unreasonableness.”); Williams v. Taylor, 529
U.S. 362, 410, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000)
(“[A]n unreasonable application of federal law
is different from an incorrect application of
Bishop v. Warden, GDCP, 726 F.3d 1243, 1253-54 (11th
federal court reviewing the judgment of a state court must
first identify the last adjudication on the merits. It does
not matter whether that adjudication provided a reasoned
opinion because section 2254(d) ‘refers only to a
decision' and does not ‘requir[e] a statement of
reasons.'” Wilson v. Warden, Ga. Diagnostic
Prison, 834 F.3d 1227, 1235 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoting
Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 98 (2011)). When
the last adjudication on the merits “‘is
unaccompanied by an explanation, ' a petitioner's
burden under section 2254(d) is to ‘show[ ] there was
no reasonable basis for the state court to deny
relief.'” Id. (quoting Richter,
562 U.S. at 98). “‘[A] habeas court must
determine what arguments or theories supported or . . . could
have supported, the state court's decision; and then it
must ask whether it is possible fairminded jurists could
disagree that those arguments or theories are inconsistent
with the holding in a prior decision of [the]
Court.'” Id. (quoting Richter,
562 U.S. at 102).
When the reasoning of the state trial court was reasonable,
there is necessarily at least one reasonable basis on which
the state supreme court could have denied relief and our
inquiry ends. In this way, federal courts can use previous
opinions as evidence that the relevant state court decision
under review is reasonable. But the relevant state court
decision for federal habeas review remains the last
adjudication on the merits, and federal courts are not
limited to assessing the reasoning of the lower court.
Id. at 1239.
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, a 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. 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.
The challenger's burden is to show that counsel made
errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the
counsel guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment.
With respect to prejudice, a challenger must demonstrate a
reasonable probability that, but for counsel's
unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would
have been different. A reasonable probability is a
probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the
outcome. It is not enough to show that the errors had some
conceivable effect on the outcome of the proceeding.
Counsel's errors must be so serious as to deprive the
defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.
Richter, 562 U.S. at 104 (citations and quotations
omitted). Because both prongs of the two-part
Strickland test must be satisfied to show a Sixth
Amendment violation, “a court need not address the
performance prong if the petitioner cannot meet the prejudice
prong, and vice-versa.” Ward v. Hall, 592 F.3d
1144, 1163 (11th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).
court's adjudication of an ineffectiveness claim is
accorded great deference.
The question is not whether a federal court believes the
state court's determination under the Strickland
standard was incorrect but whether that determination was
unreasonable - a substantially higher threshold. And, because
the Strickland standard is a general standard, a
state court has even more latitude to reasonably determine
that a defendant has not satisfied that standard.
Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, 123 (2009)
(citations and quotations omitted). Thus, the standards
created by Strickland and § 2254(d) are both
highly deferential, “and when the two apply in tandem,
review is ‘doubly' so[.]”
Harrington, 562 U.S. at 105 (quoting
Knowles, 556 U.S. at 123). As such,
“[s]urmounting Strickland's high bar is
never an easy task.” Padilla v. Kentucky, 559
U.S. 356, 371 (2010).
Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law