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Robinson v. Secretary, Department of Corrections

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

March 4, 2017

SHIRLEY ROBINSON, Petitioner,
v.
SECRETARY OF THE FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Respondents.

          ORDER

          TIMOTHY J. CORRIGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Status

         Petitioner, an inmate of the Florida penal system, initiated this action by filing a pro se Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Doc. 1) (Petition)[1] 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.[2] 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).[3] Petitioner replied. See Petitioner's Traverse to Response to Order to Show Cause (Doc. 22) (Reply). The case is ripe for review.

         II. Evidentiary Hearing

         “In 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.

         III. Standard of Review

         “A 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.[4] Id. § 2254(e)(1); Ferrell v. Hall, 640 F.3d 1199, 1223 (11th Cir. 2011).
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 federal law.”).

Bishop v. Warden, GDCP, 726 F.3d 1243, 1253-54 (11th Cir. 2013).

         “[A] 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.

         IV. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         Regarding 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).

         A state 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).

         V. Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law

         A. ...


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