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Flowers v. Secretary, DOC

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

May 19, 2017

MICHAEL FLOWERS, Petitioner,
v.
SECRETARY, DOC, et al., Respondents.

          ORDER

          BRIAN J. DAVIS United States District Judge.

         I. STATUS

         Petitioner challenges a 2010 (Duval County) conviction for armed robbery. Petition Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody (Petition) (Doc. 1) at 1. He filed the Petition on December 16, 2014, pursuant to the mailbox rule.[1] He raises three grounds in the Petition. Respondents filed a Motion to Dismiss Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus as Untimely and, Alternatively, Answer to Petition (Response) (Doc. 11), and they calculate that the Petition is untimely filed. In support of the Response, they submitted an Appendix (Doc. 11).[2] Petitioner filed a Reply to the State's Response (Doc. 14). See Order (Doc. 5).

         Pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), there is a one-year period of limitation:

(d)(1) A 1-year period of limitation shall apply to an application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court. The limitation period shall run from the latest of--
(A) the date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review;
(B) the date on which the impediment to filing an application created by State action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed, if the applicant was prevented from filing by such State action;
(C) the date on which the constitutional right asserted was initially recognized by the Supreme Court, if the right has been newly recognized by the Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review; or
(D) the date on which the factual predicate of the claim or claims presented could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence.
(2) The time during which a properly filed application for State post-conviction or other collateral review with respect to the pertinent judgment or claim is pending shall not be counted toward any period of limitation under this subsection.

28 U.S.C. § 2244(d).

         To adequately address Respondents' contention that Petitioner has failed to comply with the limitation period, the Court will provide a brief procedural history. Petitioner was charged by amended information with armed robbery. Ex. A at 19. A jury returned a verdict of guilty as charged. Id. at 50; Ex. B at 481.

         On March 3, 2010, the trial court sentenced Petitioner to 25 years in prison. Ex. A at 112-13, 130-56. Petitioner appealed. Id. at 124; Ex. C; Ex. D; Ex. E; Ex. F; Ex. G. On March 21, 2011, the First District Court of Appeal (1st DCA) affirmed per curiam. Ex. H. The mandate issued on May 27, 2011. Ex. K. The conviction became final on June 19, 2011 (90 days after March 21, 2011) ("According to rules of the Supreme Court, a petition for certiorari must be filed within 90 days of the appellate court's entry of judgment on the appeal or, if a motion for rehearing is timely filed, within 90 days of the appellate court's denial of that motion.").

         The limitation period began to run on June 20, 2011, and ran for a period of 269 days, until Petitioner, on March 15, 2012, filed a Petition Alleging Ineffective Assistance of Appellate Counsel in the 1st DCA.[3] Ex. L. This post conviction motion tolled the limitation period until the April 13, 2012 denial of the petition alleging ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. Ex. M. The limitation period began to run on April 14, 2012, and ran for a period of 95 days, until Petitioner filed a Rule 3.850 motion on July 18, 2012. Ex. N. This motion tolled the limitation period, and it remained tolled until the mandate issued on December 30, 2014. Ex. V. Petitioner timely filed his federal petition on December 16, 2014, prior to the issuance of the mandate.

         Based on all of the foregoing, the Petition, filed on December 16, 2014, pursuant to the mailbox rule, is timely. Therefore, Respondents' Motion to Dismiss Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus as Untimely is due to be denied.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The 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), cert. denied, 2017 WL 1199485 (U.S. Apr. 3, 2017). "'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, 132 S.Ct. 38, 43 (2011)).

Under AEDPA, when a state court has adjudicated the petitioner's claim on the merits, a federal court may not grant habeas relief unless the state court's decision was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, " 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), or "was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding, " id. § 2254(d)(2). A state court's factual findings are presumed correct unless rebutted by clear and convincing evidence.[4] Id. § 2254(e)(1); Ferrell v. Hall, 640 F.3d 1199, 1223 (11th Cir. 2011).
..."It bears repeating that even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable." [Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011)] (citing Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75, 123 S.Ct. 1166, 155 L.Ed.2d 144 (2003)). The Supreme Court has repeatedly instructed lower federal courts that an unreasonable application of law requires more than mere error or even clear error. See, e.g., Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 18, 124 S.Ct. 7, 157 L.Ed.2d 263 (2003); Lockyer, 538 U.S. at 75 ("The gloss of clear error fails to give proper deference to state courts by conflating error (even clear error) with unreasonableness."); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 410, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000) ("[A]n unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of federal law.").

Bishop v. Warden, GDCP, 726 F.3d 1243, 1253-54 (11th Cir. 2013), cert. denied, 135 S.Ct. 67 (2014).

         In applying AEDPA deference, the first step is to identify the last state court decision that evaluated the claim on its merits. Marshall v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 828 F.3d 1277, 1285 (11th Cir. 2016).[5] 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, 133 S.Ct. 1088, 1096 (2013). "The presumption may be overcome when there is reason to think some other explanation for the state court's decision is more likely." Richter, 562 U.S. at 99-100 (citing Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 803 (1991)).

         Where the last adjudication on the merits is unaccompanied by an explanation, the petitioner must demonstrate there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief. Id. at 98. "[A] habeas court must determine what arguments or theories supported or, as here, could have supported, the state court's decision; and then it must ask whether it is possible fairminded jurists could disagree that those arguments or theories are inconsistent with the holding in a prior decision of [the] Court." Richter, 562 U.S. at 102; Marshall, 828 F.3d at 1285.

         Although the § 2254(d) standard is difficult to meet, it was meant to be difficult. Indeed, in order to obtain habeas relief, "a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented . . . was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement." Richter, 562 U.S. at 103.

         III. FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

         A. Ground One

         Petitioner, in his first ground, asserts that the trial court erred by excluding evidence relevant to the alibi defense, resulting in the denial of Petitioner's constitutional rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Petition at 5. Respondents first claim that Petitioner did not adequately exhaust this ground in the state court system. Response at 12, 19-20. On direct appeal, Petitioner presented the following issue: "[t]he trial court committed reversible error in excluding the invitation when the invitation was properly authenticated and relevant to appellant's alibi defense and the court failed to consider any alternative sanctions." Ex. C at i (capitalization omitted). Under the Table of Authorities in his brief, Petitioner references the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Id. at iii. In the brief, Petitioner states the following:

The trial court's ruling denied appellant his due process right under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and Article I Section 9 of the Florida Constitution to defend against the State's evidence. See, generally, Chambers v. Mississippi, 41 ...

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