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Stoddart v. Secretary, Doc

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

March 31, 2017




         I. Status

         Petitioner Bruce Paul Douglas Stoddart (hereinafter “Petitioner, ” “Stoddart, ” or “Defendant”) initiated this action with the assistance of counsel by filing a 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition for writ of habeas corpus (Doc. #1, “Petition”). Petitioner challenges his jury-based judgment and conviction of premeditated murder entered in the Twentieth Judicial Circuit Court in Collier County, Florida.

         Respondent filed a Response (Doc. #9, Response) opposing all grounds and attached supporting exhibits (Doc. #16, Exhs. 1-23) consisting of the record on direct appeal and the postconviction record. Inter alia, Respondent argues that Petitioner has not satisfied 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) (1)-(2).[2] Petitioner filed a Reply (Doc. #13). This matter is ripe for review.

         II. Background

         Petitioner Stoddart was charged with premeditated murder of his girlfriend at her apartment on New Year's Eve of 2003 (case number 03CF27A). Exh. 1; see also Exh. 22, Vol. 4 at 602 (transcript of Stoddart's statement to law enforcement); Exh. 22 Vol. 2 at 304-305 (victim's daughter's testimony). On August 8, 2005, the three-day trial commenced before the Honorable William Blackwell, Senior Circuit Judge for the Twentieth Judicial Circuit. The jury heard testimony including, but not limited to, several responding law enforcement officers, the victim's children who witnessed the shooting, and the victim's sister. The jury also heard the recording of Petitioner's 911 call, wherein he admitted he killed his girlfriend. Additionally, the jury heard a tape recorded admission of guilt from Petitioner to law enforcement officials, which the trial court determined Petitioner provided after a knowing and voluntary waiver of his Miranda rights. In the recording, Petitioner explained that he and his girlfriend were fighting that evening and admitted that he shot her with a handgun once in the abdomen and multiple times in the head. Exh. 22, Vol. 4 at 597-739. The jury also heard testimony from Petitioner. Exh. 22, Vol. 5 at 851. The theory of the defense, based solely on Petitioner's testimony, was self-defense. Id. Petitioner claimed that the victim and he wrestled with the handgun, the handgun went off, and the victim landed in her closet. Exh. 22, Vol. 5 at 872. Petitioner testified that he turned and saw the victim's daughter, after which he turned back around and the victim was pointing a shotgun at him. Id. at 873. Petitioner further testified that he then “fired in her direction.” Id. Notably, Petitioner's trial testimony greatly differed from the admission of guilt he provided to law enforcement officials. Exh. 22, Vol. 4 at 640-649, 648. The jury returned a verdict finding Petitioner guilty of premeditated murder. Exh. 2.

         On February 9, 2007, Petitioner filed a direct appeal with the assistance of counsel raising three grounds:

(1) whether Stoddart was denied a fair trial when the family members who were testifying were permitted to remain in the courtroom after the sequestration rule was invoked;
(2) whether Stoddart was denied his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution because neither the jury venire nor the trial jury reflected a fair cross-section of the community; and
(3) whether the court abused its discretion when it failed to conduct a proper Richardson hearing when a discovery violation was revealed.

Exh. 3. The state responded. Exh. 4. The appellate court per curiam affirmed Petitioner's conviction and sentence on November 25, 2009. Exh. 6.

         On December 28, 2010, Petitioner then filed a petition raising four claims of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel:

(1) appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to argue the trial court erred in denying the defense motion to suppress statements obtained in violation of Miranda rights;
(2) appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to argue that the administration of the jury instruction on forcible-felony exception to self-defense in first degree murder prosecution in which no other independent forcible felonies were charged was fundamental error;
(3) appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to argue the trial court's error of denying the defense motion for judgment of acquittal where the state failed to present sufficient evidence to warrant the trial court's submission of Stoddart's case to the jury on the theory of premeditation; and
(4) appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to argue that the trial court committed reversible fundamental error when at the very beginning of the trial the court itself instructed the jurors that Mr. Stoddart had pled guilty of first-degree premeditated murder.

Exh. 8. The state responded. Exh. 9. The appellate court denied Petitioner's petition alleging ineffective assistance of appellate counsel on November 4, 2011. Exh. 10.

         Petitioner then filed a motion for postconviction relief under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850 and an amended Rule 3.850 motion. Exhs. 12, 13. Petitioner's Rule 3.850 motions raised the following two claims:

(1) Ineffective assistance of trial counsel for failing to object to trial court's erroneous inclusion of the forcible-felony instruction to the jury; and
(2) Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to move for judgment of acquittal on grounds that the State's evidence was legally insufficient to rebut the Defendant's prima facie case of self-defense.

Exhs. 12-13. The state responded. Exh. 13. The postconviction court summarily denied Petitioner relief on both claims, incorporating by reference the state's response in its order. Exh. 14. Petitioner appealed. Exh. 15. The appellate court per curiam affirmed the postconviction court's order. Exh. 17.

         Petitioner then filed a petition for habeas corpus for manifest injustice concerning the forcible-felony jury instruction. Exh. 19. Specifically, Petitioner argued that his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection of the law were violated as a result of the Florida courts' contradictory and opposite holdings affirming the denial of the 3.850 motion and denial of the 9.114 motion. Id. at 7-8. The appellate court denied Petitioner's state petition for writ of habeas corpus. Exh. 20. Petitioner then moved for rehearing, which the appellate court denied. Exh. 21.

         Proceeding with counsel, Petitioner then initiated the instant § 2254 Petition raising five grounds for relief. Doc. #1.

         III. Applicable § 2254 Law

         A. Deferential Review Required By AEDPA

         Petitioner filed his Petition after the effective date of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (1996). Abdul-Kabir v. Quarterman, 550 U.S. 233, 246 (2007); Penry v. Johnson, 532 U.S. 782, 792 (2001). Consequently, post-AEDPA law governs this action. Abdul-Kabir, 550 U.S. at 246; Penry, 532 U.S. at 792; Davis v. Jones, 506 F.3d 1325, 1331, n.9 (11th Cir. 2007).

         Under the deferential review standard, habeas relief may not be granted with respect to 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 ...

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