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Reinheimer v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections

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

September 13, 2017




         Petitioner Delmar Reinheimer, an inmate of the Florida penal system, initiated this action by filing a pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 with attached exhibits. See Doc. 1 (Petition; Pet. Ex.). Reinheimer challenges both his 2010 state court (Clay County, Florida) conviction for lewd or lascivious battery of a victim between 12 and 16 years and his 2010 violation of probation imposed in 1995. Respondents filed a response with attached exhibits. See Doc. 11 (Response; Resp. Ex.) Reinheimer replied. See Doc. 13 (Reply). With the Court's permission, see Doc. 22, Reinheimer later filed a supplement to his petition and attached exhibits. See Doc. 23 (Supp. Petition; Supp. Pet. Ex.). Respondents filed a response to the supplement and attached exhibits. See Doc. 32 (Supp. Response; Supp. Resp. Ex.). Reinheimer replied. See Doc. 33 (Supp. Reply). This case is ripe for review.[1]

         I. Procedural History[2]

         Following a guilty plea (Resp. Ex. L at 214-20), Reinheimer was convicted on September 16, 2010, of lewd or lascivious battery of a victim between 12 and 16 years Id. at 221-32. On the same day, Reinheimer also pled guilty to violation of probation imposed in 1995.[3] Id. at 234. On the new conviction, the court sentenced Reinheimer to thirteen years imprisonment to be followed by two years probation. Id. at 225. For the violation of probation, the court sentenced him to five years for each of the four counts of attempted sexual battery. Id. at 233-38. The court imposed concurrent sentences in both cases. Id. at 227, 238. Reinheimer did not take a direct appeal.

         Reinheimer filed a motion for postconviction relief pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850, which he later amended. Resp. Ex. K at 1-11; 101-25. The state court held an evidentiary hearing on ground one, at which five witnesses testified. Resp. Ex. L at 239-352. On January 3, 2012, the court denied Reinheimer's motion in a twenty-three page order, accompanied by 254 pages of exhibits. Resp. Ex. K at 190-200; Resp. Ex. L at 201-400; Resp. Ex. M at 401-468. Following briefing in the appeal, the First DCA affirmed without opinion (Resp. Ex. S); denied rehearing (Resp. Ex. T); and issued the mandate on June 2, 2014 (Resp. Ex. U). Reinheimer v. State, 138 So.3d 443 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014).

         II. 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)).

         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). 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, 301 (2013). 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, AEDPA bars relitigation of the claim, subject only to the exceptions in § 2254(d)(1) and (d)(2). Richter, 562 U.S. at 98. As the Eleventh Circuit 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.'”[4] 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). Also, deferential review under § 2254(d) 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.[5] 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. “[E]ven a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 102; see also Tharpe, 834 F.3d at 1338 (“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.'”) (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.

         III. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         “The Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant the effective assistance of counsel at ‘critical stages of a criminal proceeding, ' including when he enters a guilty plea.” Lee v. United States, 137 S.Ct. 1958, 1964 (2017) (quoting Lafler v. Cooper, 566 U.S. 156');">566 U.S. 156, 165 (2012); Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 58 (1985)). “To demonstrate that counsel was constitutionally ineffective, a defendant must show that counsel's representation ‘fell below an objective standard of reasonableness' and that he was prejudiced as a result.” Id. (quoting Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688 (1984)). Because a petitioner must satisfy both prongs of the two-part Strickland test 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.” Ward v. Hall, 592 F.3d 1144, 1163 (11th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).

         The Supreme Court has summarized the two-part Strickland standard:

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. 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. 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.
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.

Richter, 562 U.S. at 104 (internal citations modified). In the context of guilty pleas, the prejudice prong requires the defendant to show “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.” Hill, 474 U.S. at 59; see also Lee, 137 S.Ct. at 1965; Premo v. Moore, 562 U.S. 115, 131-32 (2011).[6]

         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 (quotations omitted). “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); cf. Tharpe, 834 F.3d at 1338-39 (explaining that a federal court may grant relief only if counsel's representation fell below Strickland's highly deferential standard of objectively reasonable performance and the state court's contrary decision would be untenable to any fairminded jurist).

         “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, 129 S.Ct. 1411, 1420, 173 L.Ed.2d 251 (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 105. As such, “[s]urmounting Strickland's high bar is never an easy task.” Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356, 371 (2010).

         IV. Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law

         A. AEDPA Deference

         With respect to grounds one, two, four, five, and six, the Court presumes that the First DCA's per curiam affirmance of the denial of Reinheimer's Rule 3.850 motion was on the merits. See Williams, 568 U.S. at 301; Richter, 562 U.S. at 99. As such, the Court applies AEDPA deference in reviewing these claims.[7] See Richter, 562 U.S. at 99. To determine which theories could have supported the First DCA's per curiam decision without written opinion, the Court may look to the state circuit court's previous opinion as an example of a reasonable application of law or determination of fact. Wilson, 834 F.3d at 1239; see also Butts, 850 F.3d at 1204.

         1. Ground One

         Reinheimer asserts that his counsel was constitutionally ineffective by refusing to interview five witnesses: Brandi Mosley, Eric Johnson, Mike Gregg, Krista Mosley and Debra Crews. He asserts that these witnesses would have testified that the victim fabricated her allegations and had a general inclination to lie. Petition at 4. Reinheimer asserted this claim on collateral review in both the state circuit and appellate courts. See Resp. Ex. K at 102-05; P at 4-13. The state court held an evidentiary hearing on this claim. At the evidentiary hearing, witnesses Michael Gregg, Brandi Mosley, and Eric Johnson testified, as well as Reinheimer and his former counsel.[8]

         The state court concluded that Reinheimer failed to show Strickland prejudice from counsel's failure to contact or depose Brandi Mosely, Mike Gregg, or Eric Johnson. Id. at 193-96. In sum, the state court found that Brandi would not have been a credible witness, which could have negatively affected a jury's perception if Reinheimer had gone to trial. Id. at 195. The state court also found that any testimony provided by Gregg or Johnson would not have substantially benefitted Reinheimer nor impacted the trial. Id. at 195-96. As such, the state court concluded that there was no reasonable probability that the outcome of the proceeding would have been different had these witnesses been deposed or called as a witness. Id.

         With respect to counsel's performance, counsel testified that the prosecution could not locate Brandi Mosley at the time. She did not seek to contact Brandi, who was a minor, because it could have exposed Reinheimer to additional charges. The state court concluded that “counsel made a reasonable and informed strategic decision not to contact Brandi [Mosley] and as such, cannot be deemed to have provided ineffective assistance.”[9] Id. at 193.

         Applying deference under AEDPA and Strickland, the Court finds that the state court's decision was neither contrary to nor an unreasonable application of Strickland, and it did not result from an unreasonable determination of the facts as presented to the state court. The claim in ground one is denied.

         2. Ground Two

         Reinheimer contends that his counsel refused to pursue a defense based on impeaching the victim's credibility with an expert opinion regarding his medication-induced impotence. Petition at 4-5. He further contends that the state court denied this claim by using an uncharged offense as reason to summarily deny his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Id. at 5. Reinheimer exhausted this claim in state court by raising it in ...

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