United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
MORALES HOWARD United States District Judge
Christopher Timmons, an inmate of the Florida penal system,
initiated this action on June 24, 2014, by filing through
counsel, a Petition Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of
Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody (Petition; Doc.
1). In the Petition, Timmons challenges a 2003 state court
(Duval County, Florida) judgment of conviction for first
degree murder. On May 6, 2016, Respondent Secretary for the
Florida Department of Corrections submitted a response in
opposition to the Petition. See Respondent's
Answer in Response to Order to Show Cause and Petition for
Writ of Habeas Corpus (Response; Doc. 9) with exhibits (Resp.
Ex.). Timmons filed a reply and an amended reply on December
27, 2016. See Petitioner's Amended Reply to
State's Response to Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus
(Amended Reply; Doc. 16). This case is ripe for review.
December 5, 2002, a grand jury returned an indictment
charging Timmons with the first degree murder of Raul Cruz
Valentin (victim). Resp. Ex. A at 19. Timmons proceeded to
trial, and a jury found him guilty of first degree murder on
August 14, 2003. Id. at 78-79. On September 3, 2003,
the state trial court sentenced Timmons to life imprisonment
with a twenty-five year minimum mandatory term of
imprisonment. Id. at 86-91. Timmons appealed,
Id. at 97, and on January 28, 2005, the First
District Court of Appeal (First DCA) per curiam affirmed
Timmons's judgment and sentence without opinion. Resp.
Ex. J. The First DCA denied Timmons's motion for
rehearing and written opinion, Resp. Ex. L, on March 7, 2005,
and issued its mandate on March 23, 2005. Resp. Ex. M;
Timmons v. State, 895 So.3d 1072 (Fla. 1st DCA
November 29, 2005, Timmons filed a pro se petition
for writ of habeas corpus alleging ineffective assistance of
appellate counsel with the First DCA (State Habeas Petition;
Resp. Ex. P). The First DCA denied the State Habeas Petition
on the merits without opinion on December 30, 2005. Resp. Ex.
Q. On December 27, 2005, prior to the ruling on the State
Habeas Petition, Timmons filed a pro se motion to
allow credit for county jail time pursuant to Rule 3.800(a),
Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure. Resp. Ex. N. The state
trial court denied the motion on January 10, 2006. Resp. Ex.
March 8, 2006, Timmons, through counsel, filed a motion for
post-conviction relief pursuant to Rule 3.850, Florida Rules
of Criminal Procedure (3.850 Motion) raising ten claims of
ineffective assistance of counsel. Resp. Ex. T at 1-26. The
state trial court held an evidentiary hearing on May 20,
2011, on grounds four, seven, eight, and nine of the 3.850
Motion. Resp. Ex. U. Thereafter, the state trial court denied
the 3.850 Motion on April 11, 2013. Id. Timmons
appealed, see Resp. Ex. V, and the First DCA per
curiam affirmed the state trial court's denial of the
3.850 motion without opinion on March 28, 2014. Resp. Ex. Y.
The First DCA issued its mandate on April 15, 2014. Resp. Ex.
Z; Timmons v. State, 134 So.3d 957 (Fla. 1st DCA
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 [Timmons'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.
Standard of Review
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)).
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, 301, 133
S.Ct. 1088, 1096 (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).
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.'” 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, 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)).
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. 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, 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.
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
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,
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.
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.
“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.
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 105. As such,
“[s]urmounting Strickland's high bar is
never an easy task.” Padilla v. Kentucky, 559
U.S. 356, 371 (2010).
Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law
Petition, Timmons asserts nine constitutionally ineffective
assistance of counsel claims. Timmons exhausted these claims
by raising them in his 3.850 motion. See Resp. Ex.
T. The state trial court denied Timmons's claims in a
lengthy opinion. See Resp. Ex. U. The First DCA
affirmed without written opinion. See Resp. Exs. Y,
Court affords the state court decision the deference it is
due under §2254(d). See Butts, 850 F.3d at 1204
(citing Richter, 562 U.S. at 100). Because reviewing
the state trial court's decision denying relief leads to
the same conclusion under §2254(d) as reviewing the
First DCA's affirmance, the Court will review the state
trial court's written explanation for its rejection of
Timmons's claim. See Butts, 850 F.3d at 1204 &
1205, n.2. Applying the deference the Court owes state courts
under AEDPA, the Court asks “whether any fairminded
jurist could agree with the state trial court's decision
denying [Timmons] habeas relief.” Id. at 1205
(citations omitted). “If some fairminded jurists could
agree with the state court's decision, although others
might disagree, federal habeas relief must be denied.”
Id. (quotations and citation omitted).
Ground One, Timmons contends that his trial counsel was
ineffective for failing to object to an improper jury
instruction on self-defense. Timmons asserts that the
instruction provided to the jury on aggravated battery was
“extremely misleading, improperly shifted the burden of
proof, and had the effect of negating Mr. Timmons'[s]
sole defense.” Petition at 11.
state trial court denied the claim, stating:
Defendant argues that counsel was ineffective because he
failed to object to the jury instruction on aggravated
battery. Defendant claims the instruction improperly shifted
the burden to him to establish the victim was attempting to
commit aggravated battery and thus Defendant was justified to
use deadly force to defend himself. For support, Defendant
cites Montijo v. State, 61 So.3d 42 (Fla. 5th DCA
2011). In that case, the court found fundamental error in an
instruction that provided: “To prove the crime of
Aggravated Battery, two elements must be proven beyond a
reasonable doubt.” Id. at 427. The Court
finds no conflict with Montijo. In Montijo,
the issue was whether the jury instruction improperly shifted
the burden to the defendant to prove aggravated battery
beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. at 425. That
instruction did not clarify that the state had that burden.
Id. at 426. In the instant case, when charging the
jury, the Court stated: “To prove the crime of
aggravated battery, the State must prove the
following two elements beyond a reasonable doubt.” (Ex.
D. at 850-51.) Moreover, the printed jury instruction used
identical language. (Ex. E.) Defendant is thus unable to
demonstrate that counsel was ineffective for failing to
object to this instruction. His grounds for the objection are
mistaken. Defendant is not entitled to relief.
Resp. Ex. U at 201. The First DCA affirmed.
review of the record and the applicable law, the Court finds
that Timmons fails to meet his burden that there was no
reasonable basis for the state appellate court to deny
relief. The state appellate court's adjudication of this
claim was not contrary to clearly established federal law,
did not involve an unreasonable application of clearly
established federal law, and was not based on an unreasonable
determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented
in the state court proceedings. Timmons is not entitled to
relief on ground one.
Ground Two, Timmons contends that trial counsel was
ineffective for failing to call Michael Winegar as a witness
at trial. Winegar previously lived with Timmons and the
victim. Timmons alleges that Winegar's testimony would
have corroborated his self-defense claim. Id.
state trial court held an evidentiary hearing regarding this
claim and noted the following exchange between the prosecutor
and Timmons in its order denying the claim:
Q: And you said that Mr. Winegar observed altercations
between yourself and [the victim] on previous occasions; is
A: Yes, sir.
Q: Any fists between the two of you?
A: [The victim] took me outside one time and put me up
against the wall, but I don't think [Mr. Winegar] went
outside with us. We went outside to, quote, resolve the issue
so if we did get into a fight we didn't destroy the
property inside the apartment?
Q: Is that a no?
A: [Mr. Winegar] didn't see [the victim] put his hands on
me. No, sir.
Resp. Ex. U at 190; 244. Further, the state trial court noted
that Timmons's trial counsel testified that “after
interviewing Micheal Winegar, he believed the ‘witness
was not that helpful' because the witness could testify
at best only that the victim ‘bullied'
Defendant.” Id. at 191; 268 (citation
omitted). Timmons's trial counsel also “testified
that [Winegar] told him, ‘that he knew of no specific
incidents of violence that he either witnessed or heard about
where the [victim] had actually done anything violent towards
[Timmons]” and “‘despite considerable'
effort by counsel and his investigator he could not locate
Winegar when it came time for trial.” Id. The
state trial court concluded:
counsel's reasons for not calling Michael Winegear as a
witness [not only were] sound trial strategy, but also that
counsel's reasons were also valid because the witness was
not available for trial. As such, Defendant fail[ed] to
demonstrate that counsel's performance was deficient or
that counsel's failure to call Winegear prejudiced the
outcome of the proceedings.
Resp. Ex. U at 191. The First DCA affirmed.
Court defers to the state trial court's decision and
concludes that it and the state appellate court's
affirmance are neither contrary to nor an unreasonable
application of Strickland, and they did not rely on
an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the
evidence presented in the state court proceedings. Timmons is
not entitled to relief on ground two.
Ground Three, Timmons contends that trial counsel was
ineffective for failing to introduce evidence of his
unmedicated bipolar condition and voluntary intoxication in
order to rebut the State's evidence regarding his
demeanor at the time of the shooting or shortly thereafter.
Timmons states that the prosecutor used witnesses'
testimony that Timmons appeared “calm and cool”
at the time of the shooting or shortly thereafter to
demonstrate that Timmons killed the victim with
premeditation. Petition at 16. Timmons asserts that Dr. Krop
would have rebutted the other witnesses' testimony by
testifying that “although Mr. Timmons may have appeared
calm, cool, and collected, he may have been in a dissociative
state in which his appearance masked the fact that he was in
substantial distress.” Petition at 16.
state trial court denied relief stating:
At the evidentiary hearing, Defendant testified that he
suffers from “Manic Depressant Bipolar Disorder.”
(Ex. F. at 9.) He further testified that he did not take his
prescribed medication regularly and that he had not taken his
medication for a week before he killed the victim. (Ex. F. at
10-11.) Moreover, Defendant stated that in the hours leading
up to the shooting, he drank “about 10 to 12 beers over
the course of an hour, hour and a half.” (Ex. F. at
11.) Defendant testified that he informed his counsel of
these facts. (Ex. F. at 11-12.) On cross-examination,
however, Defendant revealed that his drinking was voluntary
and that he neglected to take his prescribed medication. (Ex.
F. at 16-17.) At the hearing, trial counsel testified that
his strategy was to avoid the potential problem that using
Defendant's bipolar condition could create:
I described the potential problem of putting in evidence
about his bipolar condition if he wasn't taking his