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Austin v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections

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

May 12, 2017

JOHN MATTHEW AUSTIN, Petitioner,
v.
SECRETARY, FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Respondents.

          ORDER

          MARCIA MORALES HOWARD United Stales District Judge.

         I. Status

         Petitioner John Matthew Austin, an inmate of the Florida penal system, initiated this action by filing a pro se Petition Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for a Writ of Habeas Corpus By a Person in State Custody (Petition, Doc. 1). In the Petition, Austin challenges a 2009 state court (Duval County, Florida) judgment of conviction for leaving the scene of a crash involving injury or death. Respondents have submitted an Answer to Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Response, Doc. 12) with exhibits (Resp. Ex.). Despite sufficient time and multiple notices from this Court (see Order (Doc. 14); Order (Doc. 15)), Austin did not file a reply to the Response. As such, this case is ripe for review.

         II. Procedural History

         The State of Florida charged Austin by information in count one with leaving the scene of a crash involving death and in count two with driving while license suspended, cancelled or revoked, resulting in serious injury or death. Resp. Ex. 2. Prior to trial, the State nolle prossed count two, and Austin proceeded to trial on count one. Resp. Ex. 3. The jury found Austin guilty of leaving the scene of a crash involving death, as charged. Resp. Ex. 5. Through counsel, Austin filed a motion for new trial, which the state court denied by written order. Resp. Exs. 6, 7. The court sentenced Austin to fifteen years incarceration with credit for 190 days time served. Resp. Exs. 8, 9.

         Austin filed a notice of appeal to the First District Court of Appeal (First DCA). Resp. Ex. 10. With the benefit of counsel, Austin filed an initial brief (Resp. Ex. 11), and the State filed an answer brief (Resp. Ex. 12). The First DCA affirmed Austin's conviction and sentence per curiam, without written opinion. Resp. Ex. 13; Austin v. State, 50 So.3d 1138 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011) (table).

         Austin next filed a pro se motion for postconviction relief in the state circuit court pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850. Resp. Ex. 14. Without an evidentiary hearing, the court summarily denied Austin's Rule 3.850 motion. Resp. Ex. 15. Austin filed a pro se motion for rehearing, which the circuit court summarily denied. Resp. Ex. 16. Austin appealed the denial to the Florida First DCA (Resp. Ex. 17), filing a pro se initial brief in the appellate court (Resp. Ex. 18). The State filed notice that it would not file an answer brief. Resp. Ex. 19. The First DCA affirmed the circuit court's summary denial of postconviction relief per curiam, without written opinion. Resp. Ex. 20. Austin v. State, 130 So.3d 229 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014) (table).

         III. Evidentiary Hearing

         In a habeas corpus proceeding, the burden is on the petitioner to establish the need for a federal evidentiary hearing. See Chavez v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 647 F.3d 1057, 1060 (11th Cir. 2011). “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); Jones v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 834 F.3d 1299, 1318-19 (11th Cir. 2016). “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.” Schriro, 550 U.S. at 474. The pertinent facts of this case are fully developed in the record before the Court. Because this Court can “adequately assess [Austin's] claim[s] without further factual development, ” Turner v. Crosby, 339 F.3d 1247, 1275 (11th Cir. 2003), an evidentiary hearing will not be conducted.

         IV. Limits of Habeas Relief, Exhaustion and Procedural Default

         A. Limits of Habeas Relief

         Federal habeas review “is limited to deciding whether a conviction violated the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 68 (1991) (citations omitted). As such, federal habeas “does not lie for errors of state law.” Id. at 67 (quotations omitted). “[I]t is not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determinations on state-law questions.” Id. at 67-68. As such, federal courts may not review claims based exclusively on state law issues even if the claims are “couched in terms of equal protection and due process.” Branan v. Booth, 861 F.2d 1507, 1508 (11th Cir. 1988) (quotation omitted).

         B. Exhaustion

         Before bringing a § 2254 habeas action in federal court, a petitioner must exhaust all state court remedies that are available for challenging his state conviction. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b), (c). To exhaust state remedies, the petitioner must “fairly present[ ]” every issue raised in his federal petition to the state's highest court, either on direct appeal or on collateral review. Castille v. Peoples, 489 U.S. 346, 351 (1989) (emphasis omitted). As the United States Supreme Court has explained:

Before seeking a federal writ of habeas corpus, a state prisoner must exhaust available state remedies, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1), thereby giving the State the “‘“opportunity to pass upon and correct” alleged violations of its prisoners' federal rights.'” Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364, 365, 115 S.Ct. 887, 130 L.Ed.2d 865 (1995) (per curiam) (quoting Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275, 92 S.Ct. 509, 30 L.Ed.2d 438 (1971)). To provide the State with the necessary “opportunity, ” the prisoner must “fairly present” his claim in each appropriate state court (including a state supreme court with powers of discretionary review), thereby alerting that court to the federal nature of the claim. Duncan, supra, at 365-366, 115 S.Ct. 887; O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845, 119 S.Ct. 1728, 144 L.Ed.2d 1 (1999).

Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 29 (2004); see also O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845 (1999) (“[S]tate prisoners must give the state courts one full opportunity to resolve any constitutional issues by invoking one complete round of the State's established appellate review process.”)

         To fairly present a claim, the petitioner must present it to the state courts as a federal, constitutional claim rather than as a matter of state law. See Duncan, 513 U.S. at 365-66; Preston v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 785 F.3d 449, 456-59 (11th Cir. 2015). To do so, a petitioner can include “the federal source of law on which he relies or a case deciding such a claim on federal grounds, or by simply labeling the claim ‘federal.'” Baldwin, 541 U.S. at 32. But raising a state law claim that “is merely similar to the federal habeas claim is insufficient to satisfy the fairly presented requirement.” Duncan, 513 U.S. at 366. Likewise, merely citing to the federal constitution is insufficient to exhaust a claim in state court. Anderson v. Harless, 459 U.S. 4, 7 (1983); see also McNair v. Campbell, 416 F.3d 1291, 1302 (11th Cir. 2005) (“‘The exhaustion doctrine requires a habeas applicant to do more than scatter some makeshift needles in the haystack of the state court record.'”) (quoting Kelley v. Sec'y for the Dep't of Corr., 377 F.3d 1317, 1343-44 (11th Cir. 2004)). As explained by the Eleventh Circuit:

To “fairly present” a claim, the petitioner is not required to cite “book and verse on the federal constitution.” Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 278, 92 S.Ct. 509, 30 L.Ed.2d 438 (1971) (quotation omitted). Nevertheless, a petitioner does not “fairly present” a claim to the state court “if that court must read beyond a petition or a brief (or a similar document) that does not alert it to the presence of a federal claim in order to find material, such as a lower court opinion in the case, that does so.” Baldwin, 541 U.S. at 32, 124 S.Ct. 1347. In other words, “to exhaust state remedies fully the petitioner must make the state court aware that the claims asserted present federal constitutional issues.” Jimenez v. Fla. Dep't of Corr., 481 F.3d 1337, 1342 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Snowden v. Singletary, 135 F.3d 732, 735 (11th Cir.1998)) (concluding that the petitioner's claims were raised where the petitioner had provided enough information about the claims (and citations to Supreme Court cases) to notify the state court that the challenges were being made on both state and federal grounds).

Lucas v. Sec'y, Dep't of Corr., 682 F.3d 1342, 1352 (11th Cir. 2012). “The crux of the exhaustion requirement is simply that the petitioner must have put the state court on notice that he intended to raise a federal claim.” Preston, 785 F.3d at 457 (11th Cir. 2015); see also French v. Warden, Wilcox State Prison, 790 F.3d 1259, 1270-71 (11th Cir. 2015), cert. denied, 136 S.Ct. 815 (2016).

         C. Procedural Default and Exceptions

         “[W]hen ‘the petitioner fails to raise the [federal] claim in state court and it is clear from state law that any future attempts at exhaustion would be futile, ” a procedural default occurs. Owen v. Sec'y, Dep't of Corr., 568 F.3d 894, 908 n.9 (11th Cir. 2009) (quotation omitted); see also Smith v. Jones, 256 F.3d 1135, 1138 (11th Cir. 2001) (“The teeth of the exhaustion requirement comes from its handmaiden, the procedural default doctrine.”). In such circumstances, federal habeas review of the claim is typically precluded. Pope v. Sec'y for Dep't of Corr., 680 F.3d 1271, 1284 (11th Cir. 2012); Smith, 256 F.3d at 1138. Nevertheless, a federal court may still consider the claim if a state habeas petitioner can show either (1) cause for and actual prejudice from the default; or (2) a fundamental miscarriage of justice. See Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750 (1991); Ward v. Hall, 592 F.3d 1144, 1157 (11th Cir. 2010).

         To show cause for a procedural default, “the petitioner must demonstrate ‘some objective factor external to the defense' that impeded his effort to raise the claim properly in state court.” Ward, 592 F.3d at 1157 (quoting Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 488 (1986)). “[T]o show prejudice, a petitioner must demonstrate that ‘the errors at trial actually and substantially disadvantaged his defense so that he was denied fundamental fairness.'” Id. (quoting McCoy v. Newsome, 953 F.2d 1252, 1261 (11th Cir. 1992) (per curiam)).

         Generally, “[n]egligence on the part of a prisoner's postconviction attorney does not qualify as ‘cause.'” Maples v. Thomas, 565 U.S. 266, 280 (2012) (citing Coleman, 501 U.S. at 753). However,

[w]hen a State requires a prisoner to raise an ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim in a collateral proceeding, a prisoner may establish cause for a default of an ineffective-assistance claim in two circumstances. The first is where the state courts did not appoint counsel in the initial-review collateral proceeding for a claim of ineffective assistance at trial. The second is where appointed counsel in the initial-review collateral proceeding, where the claim should have been raised, was ineffective under the standards of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.E.2d 674 (1984). To overcome the default, a prisoner must also demonstrate that the underlying ineffective-assistance-of- trial-counsel claim is a substantial one, which is to say that the prisoner must demonstrate that the claim has some merit. Cf. Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 123 S.Ct. 1029, 154 L.Ed.2d 931 (2003) (describing standards for certificates of appealability to issue).

Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1, 14 (2012). The Eleventh Circuit has explained that this narrow exception to the procedural default rule

applies only where (1) a state requires a prisoner to raise ineffective-trial-counsel claims at the initial-review stage of a state collateral proceeding and precludes those claims during direct appeal; (2) the prisoner failed to properly raise ineffective-trial-counsel claims during the initial collateral proceeding; (3) the prisoner either did not have counsel or his counsel was ineffective during those initial state collateral proceedings; and (4) failing to excuse the prisoner's procedural default would result in the loss of a “substantial” ineffective-trial-counsel claim.

Lambrix v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 851 F.3d 1158, 1164 (11th Cir. 2017) (emphasis in original) (citations omitted); see also Arthur v. Thomas, 739 F.3d 611, 629 (11th Cir. 2014).

         In the absence of a showing of cause and prejudice, a petitioner may obtain consideration on the merits of a procedurally defaulted claim if he can establish that a failure to consider the claim will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice. Coleman, 501 U.S. at 724. This exception has been described as “exceedingly narrow in scope as it concerns a petitioner's ‘actual' innocence rather than his ‘legal' innocence.” Johnson v. Alabama, 256 F.3d 1156, 1171 (11th Cir. 2001). “To meet this standard, a petitioner must ‘show that it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted him' of the underlying offense.” Id. (quoting Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 327 (1995)), cert. denied, 535 U.S. 926 (2002)). Additionally, “'[t]o be credible, ' a claim of actual innocence must be based on reliable evidence not presented at trial.” Calderon v. Thompson, 523 U.S. 538, 559 (1998) (quoting Schlup, 513 U.S. at 324). With the rarity of such evidence, in most cases, allegations of actual innocence are ultimately summarily rejected. Schlup, 513 U.S. at 324.

         V. Standard of Review

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) governs a state prisoner's federal petition for habeas corpus. See 28.U.S.C. § 2254; 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, 565 U.S. 34, 38 (2011)). As such, federal habeas review of final state court decisions is “'greatly circumscribed' and ‘highly deferential.'” Id. (quoting Hill v. Humphrey, 662 F.3d 1335, 1343 (11th Cir. 2011)).

         The first task of the federal habeas court is to identify the last state court decision, if any, that adjudicated the claim on the merits. See Wilson v. Warden, Ga. Diagnostic Prison, 834 F.3d 1227, 1235 (11th Cir. 2016) (en banc), cert. granted, Wilson v. Sellers, 137 S.Ct. 1203 (2017); Marshall v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 828 F.3d 1277, 1285 (11th Cir. 2016). Regardless of whether the last state court provided a reasoned opinion, “it may be presumed that the state court adjudicated the claim on the merits in the absence of any indication or state-law procedural principles to the contrary.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 99 (2011); see also Johnson v. Williams, ___U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 1088, 1096 (2013).[1] Thus, the state court need not issue an opinion explaining its rationale in order for the state court's decision to qualify as an adjudication on the merits. See Richter, 562 U.S. at 100; Wright v. Sec'y for the Dep't of Corr., 278 F.3d 1245, 1255 (11th Cir. 2002).

         If the claim was “adjudicated on the merits” in state court, § 2254(d) bars relitigation of the claim, unless the state court's decision (1) “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) “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); Richter, 562 U.S. at 98. As the Eleventh Circuit has explained:

First, § 2254(d)(1) provides for federal review for claims of state courts' erroneous legal conclusions. As explained by the Supreme Court in Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000), § 2254(d)(1) consists of two distinct clauses: a “contrary to” clause and an “unreasonable application” clause. The “contrary to” clause allows for relief only “if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the Supreme] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.” Id. at 413, 120 S.Ct. at 1523 (plurality opinion). The “unreasonable application” clause allows for relief only “if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.” Id.
Second, § 2254(d)(2) provides for federal review for claims of state courts' erroneous factual determinations. Section 2254(d)(2) allows federal courts to grant relief only if the state court's denial of the petitioner's claim “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)(2). The Supreme Court has not yet defined § 2254(d)(2)'s “precise relationship” to § 2254(e)(1), which imposes a burden on the petitioner to rebut the state court's factual findings “by clear and convincing evidence.” See Burt v. Titlow, 571 U.S.___, ___, 134 S.Ct. 10, 15, 187 L.Ed.2d 348 (2013); accord Brumfield v. Cain, 576 U.S. ___, ___, 135 S.Ct. 2269, 2282, 192 L.Ed.2d 356 (2015). Whatever that “precise relationship” may be, “‘a state-court factual determination is not unreasonable merely because the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.'”[2] Titlow, 571 U.S. at___ 134 S.Ct. at 15 (quoting Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301, 130 S.Ct. 841, 849, 175 L.Ed.2d 738 (2010)).

Tharpe v. Warden, 834 F.3d 1323, 1337 (11th Cir. 2016); see also Daniel v. Comm'r, Ala. Dep't of Corr., 822 F.3d 1248, 1259 (11th Cir. 2016). Also, deferential review under Section 2254(d) generally is limited to the record that was before the state court that adjudicated the claim on the merits. See Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011) (regarding § 2254(d)(1)); Landers v. Warden, ...


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