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Alderman v. Secretary Department of Corrections

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

March 24, 2017

LARRY G. ALDERMAN, Petitioner,
v.
SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS and ATTORNEY GENERAL, STATE OF FLORIDA, Respondents.[1]

          OPINION AND ORDER [2]

          SHERI POLSTER CHAPPELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court upon a pro se petition for habeas corpus relief filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 by Larry G. Alderman (“Petitioner”) (Doc. 1, filed June 12, 2014). Petitioner, a prisoner of the Florida Department of Corrections, attacks the convictions entered by the Twentieth Judicial Circuit Court in and for Collier County, Florida for grand theft of a motor vehicle; burglary of a structure; and possession of a concealed weapon by a convicted felon (Doc. 1 at 1).[3] Respondent filed a response to the petition (Doc. 11). Petitioner filed a reply (Doc. 16), and the petition is now ripe for review.

         Petitioner raises four claims in his petition. Upon due consideration of the pleadings and the state court record, the Court concludes that each claim must be denied. Because the petition may be resolved on the basis of the record, an evidentiary hearing is not warranted. See Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 474 (2007) (if the record refutes the factual allegations in the petition or otherwise precludes habeas relief, a district court is not required to hold an evidentiary hearing).

         I. Background and Procedural History[4]

         On March 24, 2009, the State of Florida charged Petitioner with grand theft of an automobile, in violation of Florida Statute § 812.014 (count one); burglary of a structure, in violation of Florida Statute § 810.02 (count two); and possession of a concealed weapon by a convicted felon, in violation of Florida Statute § 790.23 (count three).

         Prior to trial, defense counsel (“Counsel”) moved to dismiss count three on the ground that the “concealed weapon” at issue was actually a pocket knife (Ex. 2). After a short hearing was held on the motion, it was denied because the state had filed a traverse in which in contested Petitioner's factual assertions regarding the characterization of the knife (Ex. 5). Counsel then moved for a bifurcated trial on count three to prevent the jury from learning of Petitioner's prior convictions (Ex. 6). The second motion was granted (Ex. 7 at 10-18).

         On October 22, 2009, a jury found Petitioner guilty as charged on count one and guilty of the lesser-included offense of trespass in a structure on count two. He was also found guilty of carrying a concealed weapon (Ex. 8). On the second part of the bifurcated trial on count three, Petitioner waived a jury, and the trial court found him guilty of carrying a concealed weapon by a convicted felon (Ex. 7 at 408-25). After a sentencing hearing, the trial court sentenced Petitioner to a total term of fifteen years in prison as a habitual felony offender (Ex. 9; Ex. 10). Florida's Second District Court of Appeal affirmed Petitioner's convictions without a written opinion (Ex. 13); Alderman v. State, 60 So.3d 393 (Fla. 2d DCA 2011).

         On December 1, 2011, Petitioner moved for post-conviction relief pursuant to Rule 3.850 of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure (“Rule 3.850 motion”) (Ex. 14). The state filed a response (Ex. 16). On December 5, 2012, the post-conviction court adopted the state's response and denied each claim in Petitioner's Rule 3.850 motion (Ex. 18). Florida's Second District Court of Appeal affirmed without a written opinion (Ex. 20).

         Petitioner signed the instant federal habeas petition on June 9, 2014 (Doc. 1).

         II. Governing Legal Principles

         a. Standard of Review Under the Antiterrorism Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”)

         Under the AEDPA, federal habeas relief may not be granted regarding a claim adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the adjudication of the claim:

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). This standard is both mandatory and difficult to meet. White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014). A state court's summary rejection of a claim, even without explanation, qualifies as an adjudication on the merits which warrants deference. Ferguson v. Culliver, 527 F.3d 1144, 1146 (11th Cir. 2008). Notably, a state court's violation of state law is not sufficient to show that a petitioner is in custody in violation of the “Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); Wilson v. Corcoran, 562 U.S. 1, 16 (2010).

         “Clearly established federal law” consists of the governing legal principles, rather than the dicta, set forth in the decisions of the United States Supreme Court at the time the state court issued its decision. White, 134 S.Ct. at 1702; Carey v. Musladin, 549 U.S. 70, 74 (2006) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000)). That said, the Supreme Court has also explained that “the lack of a Supreme Court decision on nearly identical facts does not by itself mean that there is no clearly established federal law, since ‘a general standard' from [the Supreme Court's] cases can supply such law.” Marshall v. Rodgers, 133 S.Ct. 1446, 1449 (2013) (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). State courts “must reasonably apply the rules ‘squarely established' by [the Supreme] Court's holdings to the facts of each case.” White, 134 S.Ct. at 1706 (quoting Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, 122 (2009)).

         Even if clearly established federal law is on point, habeas relief is only appropriate if the state court decision was “contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, ” that federal law. 29 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). A decision is “contrary to” clearly established federal law if the state court either: (1) applied a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth by Supreme Court case law; or (2) reached a different result from the Supreme Court when faced with materially indistinguishable facts. Ward v. Hall, 592 F.3d 1144, 1155 (11th Cir. 2010); Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 16 (2003).

         A state court decision involves an “unreasonable application” of the Supreme Court's precedents if the state court correctly identifies the governing legal principle, but applies it to the facts of the petitioner's case in an objectively unreasonable manner, Brown v. Payton, 544 U.S. 133, 134 (2005); Bottoson v. Moore, 234 F.3d 526, 531 (11th Cir. 2000), or “if the state court either unreasonably extends a legal principle from [Supreme Court] precedent to a new context where it should not apply or unreasonably refuses to extend that principle to a new context where it should apply.” Bottoson, 234 F.3d at 531 (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 406). The petitioner must show that the state court's ruling was “so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” White, 134 S.Ct. at 1702 (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86 (2011)). Moreover, “it is not an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law for a state court to decline to apply a specific legal rule that has not been squarely established by [the Supreme] Court.” Knowles, 556 U.S. at 122.

         Finally, when reviewing a claim under § 2254(d), a federal court must remember any “determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct[, ]” and the petitioner bears “the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Burt v. Titlow, 134 S.Ct. 10, 15 (2013) (“[A] state-court factual determination is not unreasonable merely because the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.”) (quoting Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 293 (2010)).

         b. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         In Strickland v. Washington, the Supreme Court established a two-part test for determining whether a convicted person is entitled to relief on the ground that his counsel rendered ineffective assistance. 466 U.S. 668, 687-88 (1984). A petitioner must establish that counsel's performance was deficient and fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. Id. This is a “doubly deferential” standard of review that gives both the state court and the petitioner's attorney the benefit of the doubt. Burt, 134 S.Ct. at 13 (citing Cullen v. Pinholster, 131 S.Ct. 1388, 1403 (2011)).

         The focus of inquiry under Strickland's performance prong is “reasonableness under prevailing professional norms.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688-89. In reviewing counsel's performance, a court must adhere to a strong presumption that “counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.” Id. at 689. The petitioner bears the heavy burden to “prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that counsel's performance was unreasonable[.]” Jones v. Campbell, 436 F.3d 1285, 1293 (11th Cir. 2006). A court must “judge the reasonableness of counsel's conduct on the facts of the particular case, viewed as of the time of counsel's conduct, ” applying a “highly deferential” level of judicial scrutiny. Roe v. Flores-Ortega, 528 U.S. 470, 477 (2000) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690).

         On the prejudice prong of the Strickland standard, Petitioner's burden to demonstrate prejudice is high. Wellington v. Moore, 314 F.3d 1256, 1260 (11th Cir. 2002). Prejudice “requires showing that counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. That is, “[t]he defendant must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Id. at 694. A reasonable probability is “a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694.

         III. Analysis

         In its response to Petitioner's Rule 3.850 motion, the state briefly summarized the facts ...


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