Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Espinosa-Montes v. Secretary, Doc

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

June 2, 2017

MIGUEL ESPINOSA-MONTES, Petitioner,
v.
SECRETARY, DOC and FLORIDA ATTORNEY GENERAL, Respondents.[1]

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN E. STEELE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This 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.

         Upon 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).

         I. Background [2]

         On July 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 (Ex. 6).

         On 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. 10).

         On February 8, 2015, Espinoza-Montes filed the instant 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition (Doc. 1).

         II. Legal Standards a. The Antiterrorism Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”)

         Pursuant 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; 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. § 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).

         “Clearly 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)).

         Even if 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).

         A state 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.

         Notably, 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.

         Finally, 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).

         b. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         In 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)).

         The 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 690).

         As to 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).

         c. Exhaustion and Procedural Default

         The 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 ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.