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Braddy v. Secretary, DOC

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

June 15, 2017

ARTHUR L. BRADDY, Petitioner,
SECRETARY, DOC, et al., Respondents.


          BRIAN J. DAVIS United States District Judge

         I. STATUS

         Petitioner Arthur L. Braddy challenges a 2007 (Duval County) conviction for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. 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 February 3, 2015, pursuant to the mailbox rule.[1] In the Petition, he raises six grounds for habeas relief. Respondents filed an Answer in Response to Order to Show Cause and Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Response) (Doc. 14). Exhibits are appended to the Response (Doc. 14).[2] Petitioner submitted a Reply Brief (Doc. 15). See Order (Doc. 5).

         The Court provides a brief procedural history for historical context. Petitioner was charged by information with multiple offenses, including possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Ex. A at 11-12. After a jury trial on the possession of a firearm charge, the jury returned a verdict of guilty as charged. Id. at 57. On December 10, 2007, the trial court sentenced Petitioner to twenty-five years in prison as an habitual violent felony offender. Id. at 65-67.

         Petitioner appealed. Id. at 72; Ex. B; Ex. C; Ex. D. On April 8, 2009, the First District Court of Appeal (1st DCA) affirmed per curiam. Ex. E. The mandate issued on April 24, 2009. Ex. F.

         On December 4, 2009, pursuant to the mailbox rule, Petitioner filed a Motion for Post Conviction Relief 3.850. Ex. G. He amended his motion (Rule 3.850 Motion). Id. The state responded. Id. The trial court conducted an evidentiary hearing on three of the grounds. Ex. H at 325-77. On January 6, 2014, the circuit court entered an Order Denying Defendant's Motion for Post Conviction Relief. Id. at 157-319. Petitioner appealed. Id. at 320; Ex. I; Ex. J;; Ex. K. On November 17, 2014, the 1st DCA affirmed per curiam. Ex. L. The mandate issued on December 15, 2014. Ex. M.

         On March 21, 2011, Petitioner filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in the 1st DCA. Ex. N. The 1st DCA denied the petition alleging ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. Ex. O.


         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (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, 137 S.Ct. 1432 (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.[3] 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');">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).[4] 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.


         A. Ground One

         In his first ground, Petitioner raises a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel for failure to raise an objection to "three false statements" made by Officer Richard C. Santoro, Jr., or for failure to make some attempt to impeach Officer Santoro with his deposition testimony. Petition at 6. The first statement at issue is:

A Ah, as I got him in a headlock, my door -- my patrol car was actually open, the doors. As I got him in the headlock, I could just like see his arm go back behind his back area and he brings out a weapon, a pistol, and then brings it up.
Q At the point where you see a pistol in the defendant's hand from reaching from his back area, what do you do in response at that point?
A I immediately like -- basically, like I said, my door was open, and I then throw him into my car, and myself and the defendant actually go into the car, and the guy ended up -- just took the gun out of his hand.

Ex. H at 199.

         The second statement at issue is:

Q Okay. And so the gun that was on the ground, did you -- you said that he was in custody, so those people there were still there on the ground, they were still sitting there; correct?
A I told them to move away from the gun as I saw the gun fall to the ground.
. . . .
Q So you are telling us that this gun that you found on the street -- but you're not sure if it's the same gun that fell from his hands; are you? Because you don't know if the people that were sitting there switched it out, or you don't know if Mr. Lugo switched it out? Because you didn't know Mr. Lugo; did you?
A When the gun fell from his hand, I told Deas and Henderson to move away from the gun. They moved clear away from the gun, more towards the corner of the place. They never went back towards that area.

Id. at 210, 213.

         The third statement at issue is:

Q When -- did that gun, from the point where it left Mr. Braddy's hand onto the ground, did it ever leave your control or out of your vision before it was stored in the Jacksonville Sheriff's property room?
A No.

Id. at 201.

         In order to prevail on this Sixth Amendment claim, Petitioner must satisfy the two-pronged test set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688 (1984), requiring that he show both deficient performance (counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness) and prejudice (there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different).

         Petitioner exhausted this ground by raising it in his Rule 3.850 motion. Ex. G. The trial court denied relief, Ex. H, and the 1st DCA per curiam affirmed. Ex. L.

         Upon review of the circuit court's order, it set forth the applicable two-pronged Strickland standard as a preface to addressing the claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Ex. H at 158-59. The court provided this explanation for denying the claim of ineffective assistance of counsel with respect to the first statement:

As to the first set of statements, Defendant contends Officer Santoro's response implies that the officer took the gun out of Defendant's hand and, therefore, contradicts both the officer's deposition testimony, wherein he stated he "threw the Defendant into the side of his car door and the slam of hitting the car door dislodged the gun from his hand, " (Def.'s Am. Mot. 7), and the officer's later trial testimony that he did not actually take the gun out of Mr. Braddy's hand but that it fell to the ground while he was physically struggling with Defendant. (Def.'s Am. Mot. 7.) A careful review of the record, however, reveals that Officer Santoro's deposition and trial testimonies were not inconsistent. During his deposition, Officer Santoro actually stated, "So I guess by the time I slammed him into the car door . . . basically, I dislodged the gun from his hands." (Ex. E at 16.) Later in the deposition, Officer Santoro indicated that the gun fell to the floor as a result of Defendant slamming into the car door. (Ex. E at 17.) Both statements were consistent with Officer Santoro's trial testimony; indeed, Officer Santoro never testified that he physically took the gun out of Defendant's hand, instead he testified that during a physical struggle, he threw Defendant against the open door of his patrol car, thereby dislodging the gun from Defendant's hand. (Exs. D at 27, 48; E at 16-17.) Because Officer Santoro's statements were not inconsistent and did not amount to perjury, counsel was not deficient for failing to object to them or to impeach the officer based on his responses.

Ex. H at 162 (citations omitted).

         Although Santoro's response that the struggle just took the gun out of Petitioner's hand was not a model of clarity, on cross examination Santoro stated that he saw the gun fall out of Petitioner's hands. Id. at 209. Through his questioning, defense counsel brought forth a more precise response:

Q Okay. And so at some point did he -and that's when you took the gun out of his hand?
A That's when I threw him against my patrol car, and that's when the gun ...

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