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Paul v. Secretary, Department of Corrections

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

June 15, 2017

JUDY COLLEEN PAUL, Petitioner,
v.
SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Respondent.

          ORDER

          VIRGINIA M. HERNANDEZ COOVINGTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Judy Colleen Paul, a Florida prisoner, filed through counsel a second amended petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Doc. 14) and memorandum in support (Doc. 16). She challenges her conviction entered by the Circuit Court for the Twelfth Judicial Circuit, in and for Manatee County. Respondent filed a response (Doc. 33) and Paul filed a reply (Doc. 34). Upon consideration, the petition is denied.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Paul was convicted after a jury trial of one count of scheme to defraud. (Doc. 22, Ex. 1d, p. 822.)[1] She was sentenced to three years in prison, followed by ten years of probation. (Id., p. 887.) The state appellate court per curiam affirmed her conviction and sentence. (Doc. 22, Ex. 4.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”) governs this proceeding. Wilcox v. Florida Dep't of Corr., 158 F.3d 1209, 1210 (11th Cir. 1998), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 840 (2000). Habeas relief can only be granted if a petitioner is in custody “in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). A petitioner must demonstrate that the state court's adjudication of her federal claim resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, or 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)(1)-(2).

         DISCUSSION

         Grounds One, Five, and Six[2]

         In Ground One, Paul asserts that the State's evidence was insufficient to show that she committed an offense on July 3, 2006, the date alleged in the charging information. In Ground Six, she claims that the trial court erred in denying her motion for judgment of acquittal. In Ground Five, she argues that the “Sand Kay Condominium, ” listed as the “victim” in the information, was a “non-existent entity.” (Doc. 16, p. 18.)

         Paul has failed to raise a federal claim in her habeas petition or her memorandum with respect to any of these grounds. As addressed, habeas relief can only be granted if a petitioner is in custody “in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). See also Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991) (“[I]t is not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determinations on state-law questions. In conducting habeas review, a federal court is limited to deciding whether a conviction violated the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.”); Wainwright v. Goode, 464 U.S. 78, 83 (1983) (“[F]ederal courts may intervene in the state judicial process only to correct wrongs of a constitutional dimension.”). Accordingly, a claim that does not allege a federal constitutional violation is not cognizable in a federal habeas proceeding. See Branan v. Booth, 861 F.2d 1507, 1508 (11th Cir.1988) (affirming the dismissal of a state law claim as not cognizable in a federal habeas action and stating that “a habeas petition grounded on issues of state law provides no basis for habeas relief.”).

         Even liberally interpreting these grounds as raising federal claims, however, they would be procedurally defaulted. A federal habeas petitioner must exhaust her claims for relief by raising them in state court before presenting them in her petition. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A); O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 842 (1999) (“[T]he state prisoner must give the state courts an opportunity to act on his claims before he presents those claims to a federal court in a habeas petition.”). The requirement of exhausting state remedies as a prerequisite to federal review is satisfied if the petitioner “fairly presents” her claim in each appropriate state court and alerts that court to the federal nature of the claim. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1); Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275-76 (1971). See also Pearson v. Sec'y, Dep't of Corr., 273 Fed. App'x 847, 849-50 (11th Cir. 2008) (“The exhaustion doctrine requires the petitioner to ‘fairly present' his federal claims to the state courts in a manner to alert them that the ruling under review violated a federal constitutional right.”) (citing Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364, 365-66 (1995)).

         Paul asserted on direct appeal that the trial court erred in denying her motion for judgment of acquittal because the State did not prove that she committed any offense on July 3, 2006, against a victim “whose legal identity was never legally established by the State.” (Doc. 22, Ex. 2, pp. 21-24.) But Paul did not raise a federal claim, identify any federal constitutional provisions, or mention the federal standard for sufficiency of the evidence claims applied in Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (1979).[3] (Id.) Instead, she cited Florida law in asserting that “[t]he proof must not only be consistent with guilt, but also inconsistent with a reasonable hypothesis of innocence, ” and that “[a] conviction cannot stand unless the proof is inconsistent with any reasonable hypothesis of innocence.” (Id., pp. 22, 23.) Thus, she clearly relied on Florida's special standard for circumstantial evidence cases, which provides that “[w]here the only proof of guilt is circumstantial, no matter how strongly the evidence may suggest guilt, a conviction cannot be sustained unless the evidence is inconsistent with any reasonable hypothesis of innocence.” Preston v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 785 F.3d 449, 460 (11th Cir. 2015) (quoting Thorp v. State, 777 So.2d 385, 389 (Fla. 2000)). Because her claim concerned Florida's distinguishable and “unique” standard of review for circumstantial evidence cases and did not involve federal law, Paul failed to fairly present a federal claim to the state appellate court. See Id. at 461-62.

         Paul's failure to present the federal nature of the claims to the state court leaves the exhaustion requirement unsatisfied. She cannot return to state court to file a successive appeal. See Claughton v. Claughton, 393 So.2d 1061, 1062 (Fla. 1980) (“The general law and our procedural rules at both the trial and appellate levels are designed for one final judgment and one appeal.”); Fla. R. App. P. 9.140(b)(3) (a defendant must appeal a final judgment within 30 days following rendition of a written order imposing sentence). Therefore, any federal claims are procedurally defaulted. See Smith v. Jones, 256 F.3d 1135, 1138 (11th Cir. 2001) (the doctrine of procedural default provides that “[i]f the petitioner has failed to exhaust state remedies that are no longer available, that failure is a procedural default which will bar federal habeas relief, unless either the cause and prejudice or the fundamental miscarriage of justice exception is established.”).

         To establish cause for a procedural default, a petitioner “must demonstrate that some objective factor external to the defense impeded the effort to raise the claim properly in state court.” Wright v. Hopper, 169 F.3d 695, 703 (11th Cir. 1999). To show prejudice, a petitioner must demonstrate not only that the errors at her trial created the possibility of prejudice but that they worked to her actual and substantial disadvantage and infected the entire trial with error of constitutional dimensions. United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 170 (1982). A fundamental miscarriage of justice occurs in an extraordinary case where a constitutional violation has probably resulted in the conviction of someone who is actually innocent. Sch ...


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