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Adkins v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections

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

August 16, 2017

LAWTON CALVIN ADKINS, Petitioner,
v.
SECRETARY, FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, ET AL., Respondents.

          ORDER

          MARCIA MORALES HOWARD UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. Status

         Petitioner Lawton Calvin Adkins, an inmate of the Florida penal system, initiated this action by filing a pro se Petition Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for a Writ of Habeas Corpus By a Person in State Custody (Petition, Doc. 1). Adkins challenges a 2002 state court (Suwannee County, Florida) judgment of conviction for first degree premeditated murder. Respondents filed an Answer in Response to Order to Show Cause (Response, Doc. 30) with exhibits (Resp. Ex.). Adkins replied. See Reply in Response to Show Cause (Reply, Doc. 39). This case is ripe for review.

         II. Procedural History

         On January 19, 2001, the State of Florida charged Adkins by indictment with murder in the first degree. Resp. Ex. A at 1. A jury found Adkins guilty of first degree premeditated murder. Resp. Ex. B at 23. The court sentenced Adkins to life in prison. Id. at 49-54; Resp. Ex. D at 35.

         Adkins appealed his conviction to the First District Court of Appeal. Resp. Ex. L. On March 30, 2004, the First District Court of Appeal issued an opinion, which per curiam affirmed Adkins' conviction and sentence. The mandate issued on August 17, 2004. Resp. Ex. Q.

         On August 10, 2005, Adkins filed a motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850. Resp. Ex. R at 1-65. Thereafter, he filed a supplement to the motion on February 29, 2008 (id. at 66-78) and an amended supplement to the motion on March 12, 2008 (id. at 79-92). On August 10, 2009, the trial court partially denied Adkins' motion for postconviction relief and ordered the State to respond to grounds 12, 13, 14, 15, 18, 19 and 20. After finding that Adkins failed to allege prejudice in his original motion, the court indicated that it would consider only the grounds raised in the amended supplemental motion filed on February 29, 2008. It also summarily denied claims 1, 8 and 10. Id. at 94-97.

         Adkins filed a supplemental motion for postconviction relief on October 5, 2009 (id. at 126-30) and an amended supplemental motion on October 23, 2009 (id. at 131-36). Adkins's former defense counsel filed a response to his motion for postconviction relief with respect to grounds 12, 13, 14, 15, 18, 19 and 20. Id. at 137-47. Following an evidentiary hearing on those grounds, the trial court on August 6, 2013, entered a final order denying or dismissing each of Adkins's claims. Resp. Ex. S at 180-403.

         Adkins appealed the denial of his motion for postconviction relief to the First District Court of Appeal, which per curiam affirmed the trial court's order on July 7, 2014. Resp. Ex. W. Adkins filed a motion for rehearing, which the court denied on August 21, 2014. Resp. Ex. X. The mandate issued on September 8, 2014. Resp. Ex. Y.

         III. Evidentiary Hearing

         In a habeas corpus proceeding, the burden is on the petitioner to establish the need for a federal evidentiary hearing. See Chavez v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 647 F.3d 1057, 1060 (11th Cir. 2011). “In deciding whether to grant an evidentiary hearing, a federal court must consider whether such a hearing could enable an applicant to prove the petition's factual allegations, which, if true, would entitle the applicant to federal habeas relief.” Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 474 (2007) (citation omitted); Jones v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 834 F.3d 1299, 1318-19 (11th Cir. 2016). “It follows that if the record refutes the applicant's factual allegations or otherwise precludes habeas relief, a district court is not required to hold an evidentiary hearing.” Schriro, 550 U.S. at 474. The pertinent facts of this case are fully developed in the record before the Court. Because this Court can “adequately assess [Thompson's] claim[s] without further factual development, ” Turner v. Crosby, 339 F.3d 1247, 1275 (11th Cir. 2003), an evidentiary hearing will not be conducted.

         IV. Limits of Habeas Relief, Exhaustion and Procedural Default

         A. Limits of Habeas Relief

         Federal habeas review “is limited to deciding whether a conviction violated the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 68 (1991) (citations omitted). As such, federal habeas “does not lie for errors of state law.” Id. at 67 (quotations omitted). “[I]t is not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determinations on state-law questions.” Id. at 67-68. As such, federal courts may not review claims based exclusively on state law issues even if the claims are “couched in terms of equal protection and due process.” Branan v. Booth, 861 F.2d 1507, 1508 (11th Cir. 1988) (quotation omitted).

         B. Exhaustion

         Before bringing a § 2254 habeas action in federal court, a petitioner must exhaust all state court remedies that are available for challenging his state conviction. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b), (c). To exhaust state remedies, the petitioner must “fairly present[ ]” every issue raised in his federal petition to the state's highest court, either on direct appeal or on collateral review. Castille v. Peoples, 489 U.S. 346, 351 (1989) (emphasis omitted). As the United States Supreme Court has explained:

Before seeking a federal writ of habeas corpus, a state prisoner must exhaust available state remedies, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1), thereby giving the State the “‘“opportunity to pass upon and correct” alleged violations of its prisoners' federal rights.'” Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364, 365, 115 S.Ct. 887, 130 L.Ed.2d 865 (1995) (per curiam) (quoting Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275, 92 S.Ct. 509, 30 L.Ed.2d 438 (1971)). To provide the State with the necessary “opportunity, ” the prisoner must “fairly present” his claim in each appropriate state court (including a state supreme court with powers of discretionary review), thereby alerting that court to the federal nature of the claim. Duncan, supra, at 365-366, 115 S.Ct. 887; O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845, 119 S.Ct. 1728, 144 L.Ed.2d 1 (1999).

Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 29 (2004); see also O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845 (1999) (“[S]tate prisoners must give the state courts one full opportunity to resolve any constitutional issues by invoking one complete round of the State's established appellate review process.”).

         To fairly present a claim, the petitioner must present it to the state courts as a federal, constitutional claim rather than as a matter of state law. See Duncan, 513 U.S. at 365-66; Preston v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 785 F.3d 449, 456-59 (11th Cir. 2015). To do so, a petitioner can include “the federal source of law on which he relies or a case deciding such a claim on federal grounds, or by simply labeling the claim ‘federal.'” Baldwin, 541 U.S. at 32. But raising a state law claim that “is merely similar to the federal habeas claim is insufficient to satisfy the fairly presented requirement.” Duncan, 513 U.S. at 366. Likewise, merely citing to the federal constitution is insufficient to exhaust a claim in state court. Anderson v. Harless, 459 U.S. 4, 7 (1982); see also McNair v. Campbell, 416 F.3d 1291, 1302 (11th Cir. 2005) (“‘The exhaustion doctrine requires a habeas applicant to do more than scatter some makeshift needles in the haystack of the state court record.'”) (quoting Kelley v. Sec'y for the Dep't of Corr., 377 F.3d 1317, 1343-44 (11th Cir. 2004)). As explained by the Eleventh Circuit:

To “fairly present” a claim, the petitioner is not required to cite “book and verse on the federal constitution.” Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 278, 92 S.Ct. 509, 30 L.Ed.2d 438 (1971) (quotation omitted). Nevertheless, a petitioner does not “fairly present” a claim to the state court “if that court must read beyond a petition or a brief (or a similar document) that does not alert it to the presence of a federal claim in order to find material, such as a lower court opinion in the case, that does so.” Baldwin, 541 U.S. at 32, 124 S.Ct. 1347. In other words, “to exhaust state remedies fully the petitioner must make the state court aware that the claims asserted present federal constitutional issues.” Jimenez v. Fla. Dep't of Corr., 481 F.3d 1337, 1342 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Snowden v. Singletary, 135 F.3d 732, 735 (11th Cir.1998)) (concluding that the petitioner's claims were raised where the petitioner had provided enough information about the claims (and citations to Supreme Court cases) to notify the state court that the challenges were being made on both state and federal grounds).

Lucas v. Sec'y, Dep't of Corr., 682 F.3d 1342, 1352 (11th Cir. 2012). “The crux of the exhaustion requirement is simply that the petitioner must have put the state court on notice that he intended to raise a federal claim.” Preston, 785 F.3d at 457 (11th Cir. 2015); see also French v. Warden, Wilcox State Prison, 790 F.3d 1259, 1270-71 (11th Cir. 2015), cert. denied, 136 S.Ct. 815 (2016).

         C. Procedural Default and Exceptions

         “[W]hen ‘the petitioner fails to raise the [federal] claim in state court and it is clear from state law that any future attempts at exhaustion would be futile, ” a procedural default occurs. Owen v. Sec'y, Dep't of Corr., 568 F.3d 894, 908 n.9 (11th Cir. 2009) (quotation omitted); see also Smith v. Jones, 256 F.3d 1135, 1138 (11th Cir. 2001) (“The teeth of the exhaustion requirement comes from its handmaiden, the procedural default doctrine.”). In such circumstances, federal habeas review of the claim is typically precluded. Pope v. Sec'y for Dep't of Corr., 680 F.3d 1271, 1284 (11th Cir. 2012); Smith, 256 F.3d at 1138. Nevertheless, a federal court may still consider the claim if a state habeas petitioner can show either (1) cause for and actual prejudice from the default; or (2) a fundamental miscarriage of justice. See Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750 (1991); Ward v. Hall, 592 F.3d 1144, 1157 (11th Cir. 2010).

         To show cause for a procedural default, “the petitioner must demonstrate ‘some objective factor external to the defense' that impeded his effort to raise the claim properly in state court.” Id. at 1157 (quoting Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 488 (1986)). “[T]o show prejudice, a petitioner must demonstrate that ‘the errors at trial actually and substantially disadvantaged his defense so that he was denied fundamental fairness.'” Id. (quoting McCoy v. Newsome, 953 F.2d 1252, 1261 (11th Cir. 1992) (per curiam)).

         In the absence of a showing of cause and prejudice, a petitioner may obtain consideration on the merits of a procedurally defaulted claim if he can establish that a failure to consider the claim will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice. Coleman, 501 U.S. at 724. This exception has been described as “exceedingly narrow in scope as it concerns a petitioner's ‘actual' innocence rather than his ‘legal' innocence.” Johnson v. Alabama, 256 F.3d 1156, 1171 (11th Cir. 2001). “To meet this standard, a petitioner must ‘show that it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted him' of the underlying offense.” Id. (quoting Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 327 (1995)), cert. denied, 535 U.S. 926 (2002)). Additionally, “'[t]o be credible, ' a claim of actual innocence must be based on reliable evidence not presented at trial.” Calderon v. Thompson, 523 U.S. 538, 559 (1998) (quoting Schlup, 513 U.S. at 324). With the rarity of such evidence, in most cases, allegations of actual innocence are ultimately summarily rejected. Schlup, 513 U.S. at 324.

         V. Standard of Review

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (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). “‘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, 565 U.S. 34, 38 (2011)). As such, federal habeas review of final state court decisions is “'greatly circumscribed' and ‘highly deferential.'” Id. (quoting Hill v. Humphrey, 662 F.3d 1335, 1343 (11th Cir. 2011)).

         The first task of the federal habeas court is to identify the last state court decision, if any, that adjudicated the claim on the merits. See Wilson v. Warden, Ga. Diagnostic Prison, 834 F.3d 1227, 1235 (11th Cir. 2016) (en banc), cert. granted, Wilson v. Sellers, 137 S.Ct. 1203 (2017); Marshall v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 828 F.3d 1277, 1285 (11th Cir. 2016). 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, 568 U.S. 289, ___, 133 S.Ct. 1088, 1096 (2013).[1] Thus, the state court need not issue an opinion explaining its rationale in order for the state court's decision to qualify as an adjudication on the merits. See Richter, 562 U.S. at 100; Wright v. Sec'y for the Dep't of Corr., 278 F.3d 1245, 1255 (11th Cir. 2002).

         If the claim was “adjudicated on the merits” in state court, § 2254(d) bars relitigation of the claim, unless the state court's decision (1) “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) “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); Richter, 562 U.S. at 98. The Eleventh Circuit has explained:

First, § 2254(d)(1) provides for federal review for claims of state courts' erroneous legal conclusions. As explained by the Supreme Court in Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000), § 2254(d)(1) consists of two distinct clauses: a “contrary to” clause and an “unreasonable application” clause. The “contrary to” clause allows for relief only “if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the Supreme] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.” Id. at 413, 120 S.Ct. at 1523 (plurality opinion). The “unreasonable application” clause allows for relief only “if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.” Id.
Second, § 2254(d)(2) provides for federal review for claims of state courts' erroneous factual determinations. Section 2254(d)(2) allows federal courts to grant relief only if the state court's denial of the petitioner's claim “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)(2). The Supreme Court has not yet defined § 2254(d)(2)'s “precise relationship” to § 2254(e)(1), which imposes a burden on the petitioner to rebut the state court's factual findings “by clear and convincing evidence.” See Burt v. Titlow, 571 U.S.__, __, 134 S.Ct. 10, 15, 187 L.Ed.2d 348 (2013); accord Brumfield v. Cain, 576 U.S. __, __, 135 S.Ct. 2269, 2282, 192 L.Ed.2d 356 (2015). Whatever that “precise relationship” may be, “‘a state-court factual determination is not unreasonable merely because the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.'”[2] Titlow, 571 U.S. at__, 134 S.Ct. at 15 (quoting Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301, 130 S.Ct. 841, 849, 175 L.Ed.2d 738 (2010)).

Tharpe v. Warden, 834 F.3d 1323, 1337 (11th Cir. 2016); see also Daniel v. Comm'r, Ala. Dep't of Corr., 822 F.3d 1248, 1259 (11th Cir. 2016). Notably, the Supreme Court has instructed that “[i]n order for a state court's decision to be an unreasonable application of [that] Court's case law, the ruling must be ‘objectively unreasonable, not merely wrong; even clear error will not suffice.'” Virginia v. LeBlanc, 137 S.Ct. 1726, 1728 (2017) (quoting Woods v. Donald, 575 U.S. __, __, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks omitted)). Also, deferential review under § 2254(d) generally is limited to the record that was before the state court that adjudicated the claim on the merits. See Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011) (regarding § 2254(d)(1)); Landers v. Warden, Att'y Gen. of Ala., 776 F.3d 1288, 1295 (11th Cir. 2015) (regarding § 2254(d)(2)).

         Where the state court's adjudication on the merits is “‘unaccompanied by an explanation, ' a petitioner's burden under section 2254(d) is to ‘show [ ] there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief.'” Wilson, 834 F.3d at 1235 (quoting Richter, 562 U.S. at 98). Thus, “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; see also Wilson, 834 F.3d at 1235; Marshall, 828 F.3d at 1285. To determine which theories could have supported the state appellate court's decision, the federal habeas court may look to a state trial court's previous opinion as one example of a reasonable application of law or determination of fact. Wilson, 834 F.3d at 1239; see also Butts v. GDCP Warden, 850 F.3d 1201, 1204 (11th Cir. 2017). However, in Wilson, the en banc Eleventh Circuit stated that the federal habeas court is not limited to assessing the reasoning of the lower court.[3] 834 F.3d at 1239. As such,

even when the opinion of a lower state court contains flawed reasoning, [AEDPA] requires that [the federal court] give the last state court to adjudicate the prisoner's claim on the merits “the benefit of the doubt, ” Renico [v. Lett, 449 U.S. 766, 733 (2010)] (quoting [Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002)]), and presume that it “follow[ed] the law, ” [Woods v. Donald, __U.S.__, 135 U.S. 1372, 1376 (2015)] (quoting Visciotti, 537 U.S. at 24).

Id. at 1238; see also Williams, 133 S.Ct. at 1101 (Scalia, J., concurring). Thus, “AEDPA erects a formidable barrier to federal habeas relief for prisoners whose claims have been adjudicated in state court.” Titlow, 134 S.Ct. at 16 (2013). “Federal courts may grant habeas relief only when a state court blundered in a manner so ‘well understood and comprehended in existing law' and ‘was so lacking in justification' that ‘there is no possibility fairminded jurists could disagree.'” Tharpe, 834 F.3d at 1338 (quoting Richter, 562 U.S. at 102-03). “If this standard is difficult to meet, that is because it was meant to be.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 102.

         VI. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         “The Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants effective assistance of counsel. That right is denied when a defense counsel's performance falls below an objective standard of reasonableness and thereby prejudices the defense.” Yarborough v. Gentry, 540 U.S. 1, 5 (2003) (per curiam) (citing Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 521 (2003), and Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984)).

To establish deficient performance, a person challenging a conviction must show that “counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” [Strickland, ] 466 U.S. at 688, 104 S.Ct. 2052. A court considering a claim of ineffective assistance must apply a “strong presumption” that counsel's representation was within the “wide range” of reasonable professional assistance. Id., at 689, 104 S.Ct. 2052. The challenger's burden is to show “that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the ‘counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment.” Id., at 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052.
With respect to prejudice, a challenger must demonstrate “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.” Id., at 694, 104 S.Ct. 2052. It is not enough “to show that the errors had some conceivable effect on the outcome of the proceeding.” Id., at 693, 104 S.Ct. 2052. Counsel's errors must be “so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.” Id., at 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052.

Richter, 562 U.S. at 104.

         Notably, there is no “iron-clad rule requiring a court to tackle one prong of the Strickland test before the other.” Ward, 592 F.3d at 1163. Since both prongs of the two-part Strickland test must be satisfied to show a Sixth Amendment violation, “a court need not address the performance prong if the petitioner cannot meet the prejudice prong, and vice-versa.” Id. (citing Holladay v. Haley, 209 F.3d 1243, 1248 (11th Cir. 2000)). As stated in Strickland: “If it is easier to dispose of an ineffectiveness claim on the ground of lack of sufficient prejudice, which we expect will often be so, that course should be followed.” 466 U.S. at 697.

         Finally, “the standard for judging counsel's representation is a most deferential one.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 105. “Reviewing courts apply a ‘strong presumption' that counsel's representation was ‘within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.'” Daniel, 822 F.3d at 1262 (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689). “When this presumption is combined with § 2254(d), the result is double deference to the state court ruling on counsel's performance.” Id. (citing Richter, 562 U.S. at 105); see also Evans v. Sec'y, Dep't of Corr., 703 F.3d 1316, 1333-35 (11th Cir. 2013) (en banc) (Jordan, J., concurring); Rutherford v. Crosby, 385 F.3d 1300, 1309 (11th Cir. 2004).

         “The question is not whether a federal court believes the state court's determination under the Strickland standard was incorrect but whether that determination was unreasonable - a substantially higher threshold.” Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, 123 (2009) (quotation marks omitted). If there is “any reasonable argument that counsel satisfied Strickland's deferential standard, ” then a federal court may not disturb a state-court decision denying the claim. Richter, 562 U.S. at ...


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