United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division
OPINION AND ORDER
E. STEELE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on Petitioner, Miguel
Pedraza's Petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ
of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody (Doc. #1),
filed on May 5, 2016. The Respondent, Julie Jones, Secretary
of the Department of Corrections, filed her Response in
Opposition (Doc. #12) on October 25, 2016. Pedraza filed his
Reply Brief to the Respondent's Opposition (Doc. #15) on
November 16, 2016. The Petition is fully briefed and ripe for
the Court's review.
after midnight on November 24, 2005, Pedraza and his
Co-defendants unlawfully entered the house located at 18060
Nalle Road in North Fort Myers, Florida. (Ex. 5, at 3).
According to the record before the Court, Pedraza was driving
the vehicle that transported the individuals to the Nalle
Road residence with the express purpose of robbing the men
inside. (Ex. 5, at 3). The owner of the Nalle Road residence
was Pedraza's uncle, Rafael Tinco. (Ex. 5, at 3). Tinco
used the North Fort Myers residence to house construction
workers employed by his Miami based construction company.
(Ex. 5, at 3-4). During the course of the robbery shots were
fired and one man, Jose Gomez, was killed. (Ex. 5, at 5-6).
February 1, 2006, the Grand Jury for the Twentieth Judicial
Circuit in and for Lee County, Florida, indicted Pedraza on
charges of felony murder in the death of Jose Gomez in
violation of Fla. Stat. § 782.04(1), 775.87(2)(a), and
777.011. (Ex. 5, at 1). On January 23, 2009, the jury found
Pedraza guilty of felony murder. (Ex. 3). Pedraza filed a
motion for a new trial on April 2, 2009, which was denied by
the trial court on October 13, 2009. Pedraza appealed the
trial court's denial of his motion for a new trial on
October 19, 2009. Florida's Second District Court of
Appeals per curiam affirmed the trial court's
ruling on July 1, 2011. (Ex. 8).
April 27, 2012, Pedraza filed a motion to correct illegal
sentence pursuant to Fla. R. Crim. P. § 3.800. He was
ordered to file an amended petition because his original
petition was not filed under oath. (Ex. 13). On October 16,
2013, he filed his amended petition. The § 3.800
petition was denied on October 16, 2013. (Ex. 14).
23, 2013, Pedraza filed a motion for post-conviction relief
pursuant to Fla. R. Crim. P. § 3.850. That petition was
denied on March 17, 2014. (Ex. 17). The Second District Court
of Appeals affirmed the denial without opinion and the
appeals court's Mandate was issued on May 18, 2016. (Ex.
23); Pedraza v. State, 190 So.3d 72 (Fla. 2d DCA
now files the instant motion for habeas corpus relief
pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act
of 1996 (AEDPA) 28 U.S.C. § 2254.
Standards of Review
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
(“AEDPA”), Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214
(1996), governs this action. Abdul-Kabir v.
Quarterman, 550 U.S. 233, 246 (2007). Respondent
concedes that the Petition is timely filed in this Court, and
this Court agrees. (Doc. #12, at 3-4).
AEDPA, the standard of review is greatly circumscribed and
highly deferential to the state courts. Alston v. Fla.
Dep't of Corr., 610 F.3d 1318, 1325 (11th Cir. 2010)
altered the federal court's role in reviewing state
prisoner applications in order to “prevent federal
habeas ‘retrials' and to ensure that state-court
convictions are given effect to the extent possible under
law.” Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693 (2002).
The following legal principles apply to this case.
Deference to State Court Decisions
federal court must afford a high level of deference to the
state court's decision. Ferguson v. Culliver,
527 F.3d 1144, 1146 (11th Cir. 2008). 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 co1ntrary to, or involved
an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal
law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States;
(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); Cullen v. Pinholster, 563
U.S. 170, 181(2011). “This is a difficult to meet, and
highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court
rulings, which demands that the state-court decisions be
given the benefit of the doubt.” Id. (internal
quotations and citations omitted). See also Harrington v.
Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011) (pointing out that
“if [§ 2254(d)'s] standard is difficult to
meet, that is because it was meant to be.”).
the Eleventh Circuit and the Supreme Court broadly interpret
what is meant by an “adjudication on the merits.”
Childers v. Floyd, 642 F.3d 953, 967-68 (11th Cir.
2011). Thus, a state court's summary rejection of a
claim, even without explanation, qualifies as an adjudication
on the merits that warrants deference by a federal court.
Id.; see also Ferguson v. Culliver, 527
F.3d 1144, 1146 (11th Cir. 2008). Indeed, “unless the
state court clearly states that its decision was based solely
on a state procedural rule [the Court] will presume that the
state court has rendered an adjudication on the merits when
the petitioner's claim ‘is the same claim
rejected' by the court.” Childers v.
Floyd, 642 F.3d at 969 (quoting Early v.
Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002)).
legal principle is ‘clearly established' within the
meaning of this provision only when it is embodied in a
holding of [the United States Supreme] Court.”
Thaler v. Haynes, 559 U.S. 43, 47 (2010); see
also Carey v. Musladin, 549 U.S. 70, 74 (2006) (citing
Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000))
(recognizing “[c]learly 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 issues its
decision). “A state court decision involves an
unreasonable application of federal law when it identifies
the correct legal rule from Supreme Court case law but
unreasonably applies that rule to the facts of the
petitioner's case, or when it unreasonably extends, or
unreasonably declines to extend, a legal principle from
Supreme Court case law to a new context.”
Ponticelli v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr.,
690 F.3d 1271, 1291 (11th Cir. 2012) (internal quotations and
citations omitted). The “unreasonable
application” inquiry requires the Court to conduct the
two-step analysis set forth in Harrington v.
Richter, 562 U.S. at 86. First, the Court determines
what arguments or theories support the state court decision;
and second, the Court must determine whether
“fairminded jurists could disagree that those arguments
or theories are inconsistent with the holding in a
prior” Supreme Court decision. Id. (citations
omitted). Whether a court errs in determining facts “is
even more deferential than under a clearly erroneous standard
of review.” Stephens v. Hall, 407 F.3d 1195,
1201 (11th Cir. 2005). The Court presumes the findings of
fact to be correct, and petitioner bears the burden of
rebutting the presumption by clear and convincing evidence.
28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).
Supreme Court has held that review “is limited to the
record that was before the state court that adjudicated the
claim on the merits.” Cullen, 131 S.Ct. at
1398. Thus, the Court is limited to reviewing only the record
that was before the state court at the time it rendered its
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
assistance of counsel claims are reviewed under the standards
established by 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Newland v.
Hall, 527 F.3d 1162, 1183 (11th Cir. 2008). Post-AEDPA,
the standard set forth in Strickland v. Washington,
466 U.S. 668 (1984), remains applicable to the claims of
ineffective assistance of counsel raised in this case.
Newland, 527 F.3d at 1184. In Strickland,
the Supreme Court established a two-part test to determine
whether a convicted person is entitled to habeas relief on
the grounds that his or her counsel rendered ineffective
assistance: (1) whether counsel's representation was
deficient, i.e., “fell below an objective
standard of reasonableness” “under prevailing
professional norms, ” which requires a showing that
“counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not
functioning as the ‘counsel' guaranteed the
defendant by the Sixth Amendment”; and (2) whether the
deficient performance prejudiced the defendant,
i.e., there was a reasonable probability that, but
for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the
proceeding would have been different, which “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 688;
see also Bobby Van Hook, 558 U.S. 4, 8 (2009);
Cullen v. Pinholster, 131 S.Ct. at 1403 (2011).
may “impose whatever specific rules . . . to ensure
that criminal defendants are well represented, ” but
“the Federal Constitution imposes one general
requirement: that counsel make objectively reasonable
choices.” Bobby Van Hook, 130 S.Ct. at 17
(internal quotations and citations omitted). It is petitioner
who 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, ” Roe v. Flores-Ortega, 528 U.S. 470,
477 (2000) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690),
applying a “highly deferential” level of judicial
scrutiny. Id. A court must adhere to a strong
presumption that “counsel's conduct falls within
the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.”
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689. An attorney is not
ineffective for failing to raise or preserve a meritless
issue. Ladd v. Jones, 864 F.2d 108, 109-10 (11th
Cir. 1989); United States v. Winfield, 960 F.2d 970,
974 (11th Cir. 1992) (“a lawyer's failure to
preserve a meritless issue plainly cannot prejudice a
client”). “To state the obvious: the trial
lawyers, in every case, could have done something more or
something different. So, omissions are inevitable. But, the
issue is not what is possible or ‘what is prudent or
appropriate, but only what is constitutionally
compelled.'” Chandler v. United States,
218 F.3d 1305, 1313 (11th Cir. 2000) (quoting Burger v.
Kemp, 483 U.S. 776, 794 (1987)).
Exhaustion of State Remedies and Procedural
a district court can grant habeas relief to a state prisoner
under § 2254, the petitioner must exhaust all state
court remedies that are available for challenging his
conviction, either on direct appeal or in a state
post-conviction motion. See § 2254(b)1)(A);
O'Sullivan v. Boerckel,526 U.S. 838, 842 (1999)
(“[T]he state prisoner must give the state courts an
opportunity to act on his claims before he presents those
claims to a federal court in a habeas petition.”). A
state prisoner “‘must give the state courts one
full opportunity to resolve any constitutional issues by
invoking one complete round of the State's established