United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
MORALES HOWARD, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Valentino Bernard Lee, an inmate of the Florida penal system,
initiated this action on January 29, 2015, pursuant to the
mailbox rule, by filing a pro se Petition for Writ of Habeas
Corpus (Petition; Doc. 1) under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In the
Petition, Lee challenges a 2011 state court (Duval County,
Florida) judgment of conviction for burglary of a structure
or conveyance. Respondents have submitted a memorandum in
opposition to the Petition. See Respondents'
Answer to Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Response; Doc.
10) with exhibits (Resp. Ex.). On May 1, 2015, the Court
entered an Order to Show Cause and Notice to Petitioner (Doc.
6), admonishing Lee regarding his obligations and giving Lee
a time frame in which to submit a reply. Lee submitted briefs
in reply. See Petitioner's Answer (Doc. 12);
Amended Answer (Doc. 13). This case is ripe for review.
29, 2010, the State of Florida charged Lee with burglary of a
structure or conveyance (count one). See Resp. Ex.
3, Amended Information. On April 27, 2011, Lee entered a
guilty plea to the burglary charge. See Resp. Exs.
5; 6, Transcript of the Plea Proceeding (Plea Tr.). In
handwritten letters addressed to the trial court,
see Resp. Exs. 7; 9A; 9B, Lee expressed his desire
to withdraw his plea and obtain additional discovery. With
the benefit of conflict counsel, Lee filed a motion to
withdraw his guilty plea pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal
Procedure 3.170(f) on June 27, 2011. See Resp. Ex.
8. The court held an evidentiary hearing on August 3, 2011.
See Resp. Ex. 10, Transcript of the Evidentiary
Hearing (EH Tr.). On August 11, 2011, the court denied his
motions to withdraw the plea. See Resp. Ex. 12. Lee
submitted another handwritten letter to the court on August
29, 2011. See Resp. Ex. 13. On August 30, 2011, the
court sentenced Lee to a term of imprisonment of ten years.
See Resp. Exs. 14, Transcript of the Sentencing
Hearing (Sentencing Tr.) at 11-12; 16, Judgment.
direct appeal, Lee, with the benefit of counsel, filed an
initial brief, arguing that the trial judge abused her
discretion when she denied Lee's motions to withdraw his
plea. See Resp. Ex. 18. The State filed an answer
brief. See Resp. Ex. 19. On August 23, 2012, the
appellate court affirmed Lee's conviction and sentence
per curiam, see Lee v. State, 103 So.3d 149 (Fla.
1st DCA 2012); Resp. Ex. 20, and the mandate issued on
January 10, 2013, see Resp. Ex. 20.
filed pro se motions for post-conviction relief pursuant to
Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850 (Rule 3.850 motions)
on November 30, 2012, see Resp. Ex. 21, March 1,
2013, see Resp. Ex. 22, and August 1, 2013,
see Resp. Ex. 23. In his Rule 3.850 motions, Lee
asserted that counsel (Scott D. Leemis) was ineffective
because he failed to file a motion to dismiss and a motion to
conduct an adversary preliminary hearing (ground six). He
also stated that the court promised to sentence him to no
more than ten years of imprisonment for both cases (the
instant case, 2010-CF-739, and his other case,
2010-CF-3684). On December 16, 2013, the court denied his
Rule 3.850 motions. See Resp. Ex. 24. On appeal, Lee
filed a pro se initial brief, see Resp. Ex. 26, and
the State filed its notice that it did not intend to file an
answer brief, see Resp. Ex. 27. On May 23, 2014, the
appellate court affirmed the court's denial of
post-conviction relief per curiam, see Lee v. State,
141 So.3d 185 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014); Resp. Ex. 28, and later
denied Lee's motion for rehearing, see Resp. Ex.
29. The mandate issued on July 23, 2014. See Resp.
the pendency of the post-conviction proceedings, on May 10,
2013, Lee filed a pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus.
See Resp. Ex. 30. In the petition, Lee asserted that
the State failed to establish probable cause for his arrest
and committed manifest error because the State failed to file
an information within twenty-one days of his arrest; he also
stated that his plea was not voluntary. The circuit court
denied the petition on January 16, 2014. See Resp.
Ex. 31. On appeal, Lee filed a pro se initial brief,
see Resp. Ex. 33, and the State filed its notice
that it did not intend to file an answer brief, see
Resp. Ex. 34. On May 1, 2014, the appellate court affirmed
the court's denial of post-conviction relief per curiam,
see Lee v. State, 139 So.3d 304 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014);
Resp. Ex. 35, and later denied Lee's motion for
rehearing, see Resp. Ex. 36. The mandate issued on
June 25, 2014. See Resp. Ex. 35. On August 13, 2014,
Lee filed a pro se notice to invoke discretionary
jurisdiction. See Resp. Ex. 37. The Florida Supreme
Court dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction on
August 26, 2014. See Resp. Ex. 38.
One-Year Limitations Period
Petition appears to be timely filed within the one-year
limitations period. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d).
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);
Jones v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 834
F.3d 1299, 1318-19 (11th Cir. 2016), cert.
denied, 137 S.Ct. 2245 (2017). "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 [Lee'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.
Governing Legal Principles
Standard of Review
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA)
governs a state prisoner's federal petition for habeas
corpus. 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)
(quotation marks omitted)). 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) (quotation marks omitted)).
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, 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) (citation omitted);
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.
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 97-98. As 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), cert. denied, 137 S.Ct. 2298 (2017);
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) 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, 182 (2011) (stating the
language in § 2254(d)(1)'s "requires an
examination of the state-court decision at the time it was
made"); Landers v. Warden, Att'y Gen. of
Ala., 776 F.3d 1288, 1295 (11th Cir. 2015) (regarding
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. 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 Butts v.
GDCP Warden, 850 F.3d 1201, 1204 (11th Cir. 2017),
petition for cert. filed, No. 17-512 (Sept.
29, 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,  559 U.S. at 773, 130 S.Ct. 1855 (quoting
Visciotti,  537 U.S. at 24, 123 S.Ct. 357), and
presume that it "follow[ed] the law, "
Donald,  135 S.Ct. at 1376 (quoting
Visciotti, 537 U.S. at 24, 123 S.Ct. 357).
Id. at 1238.
"AEDPA erects a formidable barrier to federal habeas
relief for prisoners whose claims have been adjudicated in
state court." Burt v. Titlow, 134 S.Ct. 10, 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). "This standard is 'meant to
be' a difficult one to meet." Rimmer v.
Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 864 F.3d 1261, 1274
(11th Cir. 2017) (quoting Richter, 562 U.S. at 102).
Thus, to the extent that Lee's claims were adjudicated on
the merits in the state courts, they must be evaluated under
28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
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), 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.
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.
Richter, 562 U.S. at 104. The Eleventh Circuit has
recognized "the absence of any iron-clad rule requiring
a court to tackle one prong of the Strickland test
before the other." Ward v. Hall, 592 F.3d 1144,
1163 (11th Cir. 2010). 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."
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697.
court's adjudication of an ineffectiveness claim is
accorded great deference.
"[T]he standard for judging counsel's representation
is a most deferential one." Richter, - U.S. at
-, 131 S.Ct. at 788. But "[e]stablishing that a state
court's application of Strickland was
unreasonable under § 2254(d) is all the more difficult.
The standards created by Strickland and §
2254(d) are both highly deferential, and when the two apply
in tandem, review is doubly so." Id. (citations
and quotation marks omitted). "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, - U.S. at -, 131 S.Ct. at 788.
Hittson v. GDCP Warden, 759 F.3d 1210, 1248 (11th
Cir. 2014), cert. denied, 135 S.Ct. 2126
(2015); Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, 123
(2009). "In addition to the deference to counsel's
performance mandated by Strickland, the AEDPA adds
another layer of deference--this one to a state court's
decision--when we are considering whether to grant federal
habeas relief from a state court's decision."
Rutherford v. Crosby, 385 F.3d 1300, 1309 (11th Cir.
2004). 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
ground one, Lee asserts that he involuntarily and
unintelligently entered his guilty plea. See
Petition at 5. He states:
Petitioner was charged in two separate cases. In the first
case,  which is not at issue here, he was
charged with armed burglary with assault or battery,
possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and aggravated
assault with a deadly weapon. In the second case, the one at
bar, Petitioner was charged with burglary of a structure or
conveyance. On 4/27/11 Petitioner pleaded guilty to all
counts in both cases. At the time of entering his pleas,
Petitioner had not been permitted to review discovery
materials, did not have time to fully consult with counsel,
and was relying on defense counsel's representations in
deciding to enter his pleas. As a result, Petitioner entered
his [plea without fully understanding the
significance of his plea, or the available alternatives. If
Petitioner would have been properly advised by defense
counsel as to available defenses, that he was pleading to all
offenses, or that he would receive such a harsh sentence as a
habitual offender, he would not have entered pleas of guilty
but instead [would have] insisted on proceeding to trial.
Id. at 5-6. Lee raised this claim in his pro se and
counseled motions to withdraw the plea, see Resp.
Exs. 7; 8, and the trial court held an evidentiary hearing on
the issue, see EH Tr., at which Lee and Leemis
(Lee's counsel who represented him at the time of the
plea) testified. The trial court denied the motions, stating
in pertinent part:
This cause came on to be heard on August 3, 2011 on
Defendant's Pro-Se Motion to Withdraw Plea of Guilty
filed on June 6, 2011 by Defendant and his conflict-free
counsel's Motion to Withdraw Plea of Guilty filed on June
27, 2011. Prior to the hearing, the Court reviewed both
Motions and found many of Defendant's assertions were
refuted by the record (Defendant's Plea of Guilty form
and the transcript of Defendant's Plea Colloquy from
April 27, 2011). The Court found the hearing would be
limited to those issues not clearly and conclusively refuted
by the record: that Defendant had not received discovery;
that Defendant was misled and misinformed as to the facts
surrounding his case; and, that Defendant was unable to
adequately review the documents in his case.
The Court having reviewed both motions, having heard the
testimony of Scott Leemis,  Esquire who represented
Defendant at the time of his plea, and for fifteen (15)
months prior to his plea and the testimony of the Defendant,
having observed the demeanor of the witnesses and evaluated
their credibility and relied upon those observations and
evaluations in determining the facts of this case, having
reviewed the Plea of Guilty form and the Plea Colloquy,
having heard the arguments of counsel,  having
reviewed the relevant rules, statutes and case law, and being
fully advised in the premises finds:
Defendant's plea was knowingly and voluntarily made with
a full understanding of the consequences of his plea,
Defendant had adequate time to consult with counsel,
Defendant was aware of the charges to which he was pleading
guilty, Defendant was not misled or misinformed as to the
charges and facts surrounding his case and Defendant was not
manipulated into pleading to all charges. Further, there was
no good cause shown by Defendant.
Resp. Ex. 12 at 1-2. On appeal, Lee argued that the trial
judge abused her discretion when she denied Lee's motion
to withdraw his plea; see Resp. Ex. 18; the State
filed an answer brief, see Resp. Ex. 19; and the
appellate court affirmed Lee's conviction ...