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 a petition for habeas corpus
relief filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 by Miguel
Espinosa-Montes (“Petitioner” or
“Espinosa-Montes”), a prisoner of the Florida
Department of Corrections (Doc. 1, filed February 9, 2015).
Espinoza-Montes, proceeding pro se, attacks the convictions
and sentences entered against him by the Twentieth Judicial
Circuit Court in Lee County, Florida for false imprisonment
and attempted sexual battery. Id. Respondent filed a
response to the petition (Doc. 8). Espinoza-Montes filed a
reply (Doc. 11), and the matter is now ripe for review.
due consideration of the pleadings and the state court
record, the Court concludes that each claim must be dismissed
or denied. Because the petition is resolved on the record, an
evidentiary hearing is not warranted. See Schriro v.
Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 474 (2007) (if the record
refutes the factual allegations in the petition or otherwise
precludes habeas relief, a district court is not required to
hold an evidentiary hearing).
9, 2009, the State of Florida charged Espinoza-Montes by
amended information with kidnaping, in violation of Florida
Statute § 787.01 (count one), and attempted sexual
battery with a deadly weapon, in violation of Florida Statute
§§ 794.011(3) and 777.04 (count two). After a
three-day trial, the jury found Espinoza-Montes guilty of the
lesser-included offense of false imprisonment in count one
and guilty as charged in count two (Ex. 3). The trial court
sentenced Espinoza-Montes to an enhanced sentence of
twenty-five years in prison on count two, and to a concurrent
sentence of five years in prison on count one (Ex. 3).
Florida's Second District Court of Appeal affirmed
Petitioner's convictions, but remanded for resentencing
because the trial court was not authorized to enhance the
sentence on count two. Espinoza- Montes v.
State, 113 So.3d 847 (Fla. 2d DCA 2011). Espinoza-Montes
was re-sentenced to fifteen years in prison on count two (Ex.
3). Florida's Second District Court of Appeal affirmed
January 15, 2014, Espinoza-Montes filed a motion for
post-conviction relief pursuant to Rule 3.850 of the Florida
Rules of Criminal Procedure (“Rule 3.850 motion”)
(Ex. 7). The post-conviction court denied the motion (Ex. 8).
Florida's Second District Court of Appeal affirmed
without a written opinion. Espinoza-Montes v. State,
156 So.3d 1089 (Fla. 2d DCA 2014). Espinoza-Montes'
motion for rehearing was denied on November 21, 2014 (Ex.
February 8, 2015, Espinoza-Montes filed the instant 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254 petition (Doc. 1).
Legal Standards a. The Antiterrorism Effective Death Penalty
to the AEDPA, federal 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 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). This standard is both mandatory and
difficult to meet. White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697,
1702 (2014). Notably, a state court's violation of
state law is not sufficient to show that a
petitioner is in custody in violation of the
“Constitution or laws or treaties of the United
States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); Wilson v.
Corcoran, 562 U.S. 1, 16 (2010).
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 issued its decision. White, 134
S.Ct. at 1702; Carey v. Musladin, 549 U.S. 70, 74
(2006) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412
(2000)). That said, the Supreme Court has also explained that
“the lack of a Supreme Court decision on nearly
identical facts does not by itself mean that there is no
clearly established federal law, since ‘a general
standard' from [the Supreme Court's] cases can supply
such law.” Marshall v. Rodgers, 133 S.Ct.
1446, 1449 (2013) (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado,
541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). State courts “must
reasonably apply the rules ‘squarely established'
by [the Supreme] Court's holdings to the facts of each
case.” White, 134 S.Ct. at 1706 (quoting
Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, 122 (2009)).
there is clearly established federal law on point, habeas
relief is only appropriate if the state court decision was
“contrary to, or an unreasonable application of,
” that federal law. 29 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). A
decision is “contrary to” clearly established
federal law if the state court either: (1) applied a rule
that contradicts the governing law set forth by Supreme Court
case law; or (2) reached a different result from the Supreme
Court when faced with materially indistinguishable facts.
Ward v. Hall, 592 F.3d 1144, 1155 (11th Cir. 2010);
Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 16 (2003).
court decision involves an “unreasonable
application” of the Supreme Court's precedents if
the state court correctly identifies the governing legal
principle, but applies it to the facts of the
petitioner's case in an objectively unreasonable manner,
Brown v. Payton, 544 U.S. 133, 134 (2005);
Bottoson v. Moore, 234 F.3d 526, 531 (11th Cir.
2000), or “if the state court either unreasonably
extends a legal principle from [Supreme Court] precedent to a
new context where it should not apply or unreasonably refuses
to extend that principle to a new context where it should
apply.” Bottoson, 234 F.3d at 531 (quoting
Williams, 529 U.S. at 406). The petitioner must show
that the state court's ruling was “so lacking in
justification that there was an error well understood and
comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for
fairminded disagreement.” White, 134 S.Ct. at
1702 (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86
(2011)). Moreover, “it is not an unreasonable
application of clearly established Federal law for a state
court to decline to apply a specific legal rule that has not
been squarely established by [the Supreme] Court.”
Knowles, 556 U.S. at 122.
even when the opinion of a lower state post-conviction court
contains flawed reasoning, the federal court must give the
last state court to adjudicate the prisoner's
claim on the merits “the benefit of the doubt.”
Wilson v. Warden, Ga. Diagnostic Prison, 834 F.3d
1227, 1235 (11th Cir. 2016), cert. granted Wilson v.
Sellers, No. 16-6855, -- S.Ct. ---, 2017 WL 737820 (Feb.
27, 2017). A state court's summary rejection of a claim,
even without explanation, qualifies as an adjudication on the
merits which warrants deference. Ferguson v.
Culliver, 527 F.3d 1144, 1146 (11th Cir. 2008).
Therefore, to determine which theories could have supported
the state appellate court's decision, the federal habeas
court may look to a state post-conviction court's
previous opinion as one example of a reasonable application
of law or determination of fact; however, the federal court
is not limited to assessing the reasoning of the lower court.
Wilson, 834 F.3d at 1239.
when reviewing a claim under § 2254(d), a federal court
must bear in mind that any “determination of a factual
issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct[,
]” and the petitioner bears “the burden of
rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and
convincing evidence.” 28 U.S.C. §
2254(e)(1); Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S.
322, 340 (2003) (“a decision adjudicated on the merits
in a state court and based on a factual determination will
not be overturned on factual grounds unless objectively
unreasonable in light of the evidence presented in the
state-court proceeding”) (dictum); Burt v.
Titlow, 134 S.Ct. 10, 15-16 (2013) (same).
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
Strickland v. Washington, the Supreme Court
established a two-part test for determining whether a
convicted person is entitled to relief on the ground that his
counsel rendered ineffective assistance. 466 U.S. 668, 687-88
(1984). A petitioner must establish that counsel's
performance was deficient and fell below an objective
standard of reasonableness and that the deficient performance
prejudiced the defense. Id. This is a “doubly
deferential” standard of review that gives both the
state court and the petitioner's attorney the benefit of
the doubt. Burt, 134 S.Ct. at 13 (citing Cullen v.
Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170 (2011)).
focus of inquiry under Strickland's performance prong is
“reasonableness under prevailing professional
norms.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688-89. In reviewing
counsel's performance, a court must adhere to a strong
presumption that “counsel's conduct falls within
the wide range of reasonable professional
assistance[.]” Id.at 689. Indeed, the petitioner 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, ” applying a “highly deferential”
level of judicial scrutiny. Roe v. Flores-Ortega,
528 U.S. 470, 477 (2000) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at
the prejudice prong of the Strickland standard,
Petitioner's burden to demonstrate prejudice is high.
Wellington v. Moore, 314 F.3d 1256, 1260 (11th Cir.
2002). Prejudice “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 687. That is, “[t]he defendant must show
that there is a reasonable probability that, but for
counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the
proceeding would have been different.” Id. At
694. A reasonable probability is “a probability
sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.”
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. In the guilty plea context, to
show prejudice Petitioner must show that “there is a
reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he
would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on
going to trial.” Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S.
52, 59 (1985).
Exhaustion and Procedural Default
AEDPA precludes federal courts, absent exceptional
circumstances, from granting habeas relief unless a
petitioner has exhausted all means of available relief under
state law. Exhaustion of state remedies requires that the
state prisoner “fairly presen[t] federal claims to the
state courts in order to give the State the opportunity to
pass upon and correct alleged violations of its
prisoners' federal rights[.]” Duncan v.
Henry, 513 U.S. 364, 365 (1995) (citing Picard v.
Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275-76 (1971)). The petitioner
must apprise the state court of the ...