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Lancaster v. Secretary Department of Corrections

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

May 9, 2017

JOHN HENRY LANCASTER, Petitioner,
v.
SECRETARY, FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al, Respondents.

          ORDER

          JOHN ANTOON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Petitioner initiated this action by filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. 1). Respondents filed a response (Doc. 7), to which Petitioner replied. (Doc. 11). For the reasons set forth below, the petition is denied.

         I. Procedural History

         Petitioner was charged with robbery and with trafficking in illegal drugs. (Doc. 8-1 at 5). The charges arose out of a robbery at a CVS pharmacy in Rockledge, Florida involving one hundred oxycodone pills with a total weight of approximately fifteen grams. (Doc. 8-1 at 30; Doc. 8-4 at 41).[1]

         Prior to trial, the court asked the State about plea negotiations and the following exchange ensued:

Mr. Loughran: The plea offer is 15 years Department of Corrections. Trafficking is a mandatory minimum. . . . Trafficking is a mandatory minimum 15 years and that's what the offer is - He's also facing on Count I, robbery, habitual felony offender possibly, you know the -
The Court: Which would be up to 30 years.
Mr. Loughran: That would include - increase it to 30 years. And, of course, Court II is already 30 years because it's a first degree felony.

(Doc. 8-1 at 13-14). The court then asked whether counsel had an opportunity to discuss the plea with Petitioner. Counsel responded:

I did relay the 15-year minimum mandatory as attached to the drug trafficking to Mr. Lancaster. . . . My client does not want to go to trial. He wants to resolve this case, but as I informed him, unless the State is willing to waive the minimum mandatory, this Court's hands are tied. You don't have any discretion to give him anything other than 15 years. So Mr. Lancaster's position is that, you know, he thinks that that's a little steep My client doesn't want to plea to the 15.
The issue obviously is the first degree felony. If the HFO does apply to that, then that would bump his exposure from 30 to a 60, potentially, if not a life, based on the qualifications. I would think the Court would agree that if it has to impose the HFO sentence, that it has to be at least 15 years.... But I think that - we've had this conversation and he -

(Doc. 8-1 at 14-15). The court then asked Petitioner whether he understood the "nature of the charges and the maximum penalties that could be imposed." Petitioner answered, under oath, "Yes, sir, I believe so." (Doc. 8-1 at 15). Petitioner also acknowledged, under oath, that he had a "meaningful discussion" with counsel about the charges and penalties; that counsel answered all of his questions "to the best of his ability;" and that he "pretty much" understood what counsel explained to him. (Doc. 8-1 at 15-16). Petitioner ultimately rejected the plea offer, stating "I would reject it on I don't feel that it meets - it just doesn't seem right." (Doc. 8-1 at 17). Petitioner acknowledged he made the decision to reject the plea freely, voluntarily and without any threats, coercion or promises. (Doc. 8-1 at 17).

         The case proceeded to trial before a jury, at the conclusion of which Petitioner was found guilty of both robbery and trafficking. (Doc. 8-5 at 17-18). The court sentenced Petitioner to concurrent terms of twenty years, with a fifteen-year minimum mandatory sentence for trafficking. (Doc. 8-5 at 41-42, 48-50).

         Petitioner appealed and his court-appointed counsel filed an Anders brief. (Doc. 8-5 at 95). The Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal (the "Fifth DCA") affirmed per curiam. (Doc. 8-5 at 195).

         Petitioner then filed a motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Rule 3.850 of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure. (Doc. 8-5 at 123). The court denied the motion. (Doc. 8-5 at 134). Petitioner appealed (Doc. 8-5 at 144), and the Fifth DCA affirmed per curiam. (Doc. 8-5 at 178). Petitioner made a motion for rehearing (Doc. 8-5 at 180), but the Fifth DCA denied the motion. (Doc. 8-5 at 184).

         II. Legal Standards

         A. Habeas Relief Under the Antiterrorism Effective Death Penalty Act

         The Antiterrorism Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA") provides that habeas relief cannot be granted with respect to a claim adjudicated on the merits in a state court unless the adjudication:

(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. ยง 2254(d). AEDPA thus provides three avenues for relief: one based on a determination that the outcome was itself contrary to clearly established federal law; another based on a determination that the outcome was infected by an unreasonable application of the law to the facts; and a third based on an unreasonable determination of the ...


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