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Lewis v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections

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

November 8, 2017

ROWAN LEWIS, Petitioner,
v.
SECRETARY, FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS and ATTORNEY GENERAL, STATE OF FLORIDA, Respondents.

          ORDER

          TIMOTHY J. CORRIGAN United States District Judge

         I. Status

         Petitioner, an inmate of the Florida penal system, initiated this case by filing a pro se Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Doc. 1) (Petition).[1]He challenges his 2010 state court (Duval County) judgment of conviction for one count of armed trespass (a lesser-included offense); two counts of assault (a lesser-included offense); one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon (with a specific jury finding that Petitioner actually possessed a firearm during the commission of the offense); and three counts of aggravated assault (each with a specific jury finding that Petitioner actually possessed a firearm during the commission of the offense).[2] Petitioner was sentenced to a total term of imprisonment of 20 years. Respondents filed a Response (Doc. 9) (Response), [3] and Petitioner filed a Reply (Doc. 12) (Reply). The case is ripe for review.[4]

         II. Governing Legal Principles

         A. Standard of Review Under the Antiterrorism Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA)

         AEDPA governs a state prisoner's federal habeas corpus petition. See Ledford v. Warden, Ga. Diagnostic & Classification Prison, 818 F.3d 600, 642 (11th Cir. 2016), cert. denied, 137 S.Ct. 1432 (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, 565 U.S. 34, 38 (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.[] Id. § 2254(e)(1); Ferrell v. Hall, 640 F.3d 1199, 1223 (11th Cir. 2011).
AEDPA “imposes a highly deferential standard for evaluating state court rulings” and “demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.” Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766 (2010) (internal quotation marks omitted). “A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as fairminded jurists could disagree on the correctness of the state court's decision.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). “It bears repeating that even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable.” Id. (citing Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (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 (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 (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).

         “[A] federal court reviewing the judgment of a state court must first identify the last adjudication on the merits. It does not matter whether that adjudication provided a reasoned opinion because section 2254(d) ‘refers only to a decision' and does not ‘requir[e] a statement of reasons.'” Wilson v. Warden, Ga. Diagnostic Prison, 834 F.3d 1227, 1235 (11th Cir. 2016), cert. granted, 137 S.Ct. 1203 (2017), (quoting Richter, 562 U.S. at 98). 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.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 99 (citation omitted). When the last 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). “‘[A] habeas court must determine what arguments or theories supported or . . . 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.'” Id. (quoting Richter, 562 U.S. at 102).

When the reasoning of the state trial court was reasonable, there is necessarily at least one reasonable basis on which the state supreme court could have denied relief and our inquiry ends. In this way, federal courts can use previous opinions as evidence that the relevant state court decision under review is reasonable. But the relevant state court decision for federal habeas review remains the last adjudication on the merits, and federal courts are not limited to assessing the reasoning of the lower court.

Id. at 1239.[5]

         B. Exhaustion and Procedural Default

         There are prerequisites to federal habeas review. Before filing a habeas petition in federal court, a petitioner must exhaust all available state court remedies. To exhaust state remedies, the petitioner must “fairly present[]” each issue raised in his federal petition to the state's highest court. Castille v. Peoples, 489 U.S. 346, 351 (1989) (emphasis omitted). To properly exhaust a claim, a “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.” O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 842 (1999); Raleigh v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 827 F.3d 938, 956 (11th Cir. 2016), cert. denied, Raleigh v. Jones, 137 S.Ct. 2160 (2017) (“The petitioner must have presented the claim in a manner that affords the State a full and fair opportunity to address and resolve the claim on the merits.” (quotations and citation omitted)). It is not “sufficient merely that the federal habeas petitioner has been through the state courts, nor is it sufficient that all the facts necessary to support the claim were before the state courts or that a somewhat similar state-law claim was made.” Preston v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 785 F.3d 449, 457 (11th Cir. 2015). Rather, “[t]he 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.” Id.

         Failure to exhaust results in a procedural default which raises a potential bar to federal habeas review. “A state prisoner may overcome the prohibition on reviewing procedurally defaulted claims if he can show ‘cause' to excuse his failure to comply with the state procedural rule and ‘actual prejudice resulting from the alleged constitutional violation.'” Davila v. Davis, 137 S.Ct. 2058, 2064-65 (2017) (citing Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72, 84 (1977); Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750 (1991)). 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.” Ward, 592 F.3d 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)).

         A petitioner may also obtain review of a federal habeas claim that is procedurally defaulted if he can show that a “constitutional violation has probably resulted in the conviction of one who is actually innocent[.]” Murray, 477 U.S. at 479-80. Actual innocence means factual innocence, not legal insufficiency. Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 623 (1998). 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. Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 327 (1995). “To be credible, a claim of actual innocence must be based on [new] reliable evidence not presented at trial.” Calderon v. Thompson, 523 U.S. 538, 559 (1998) (quoting Schlup, 513 U.S. at 324).

         C. Standard for Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         “The Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants the effective assistance of counsel. That right is denied when a defense attorney'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); 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. 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. at 694. It is not enough “to show that the errors had some conceivable effect on the outcome of the proceeding.” Id. at 693. 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.

Richter, 562 U.S. at 104; Marshall, 828 F.3d at 1284 (recognizing that to proceed on a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel, “the petitioner has to show both that his counsel's performance was deficient and that that deficient performance was prejudicial- that is, that there is a ‘reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.'” (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687, 694)). 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.” Ward v. Hall, 592 F.3d 1144, 1163 (11th Cir. 2010) (citing Holladay v. Haley, 209 F.3d 1243, 1248 (11th Cir. 2000)).

         “‘The standards created by Strickland and § 2254(d) are both highly deferential, and when the two apply in tandem, review is doubly so.'” Marshall, 828 F.3d at 1285(quoting Overstreet v. Warden, 811 F.3d 1283, 1287 (11th Cir. 2016)).

“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 86.

Hittson v. GDCP Warden, 759 F.3d 1210, 1248 (11th Cir. 2014); see Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, ...


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