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Jones v. Secretary, Department of Corrections

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

November 29, 2017

CHIEVY N. JONES, Petitioner,
v.
SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Respondents.

          ORDER

          BRIAN J. DAVIS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Petitioner Chievy N. Jones challenges a 1997 Duval County conviction for first degree felony murder (count 1), two counts of armed kidnaping (counts 2 & 3), and one count of armed robbery (count 4). Petitioner raises three claims for habeas relief in his Petition (Doc. 1). Respondents filed an Answer in Response to Order to Show Cause (Response) (Doc. 11) with supporting Exhibits (Docs. 11 & 14).[1] Petitioner filed a Reply to Respondents' Response (Reply) (Doc. 12). See Order (Doc. 4).

         II. CLAIMS OF PETITION

         Petitioner raises three grounds in his Petition: (1) the imposition of an invalid, unlawful and illegal sentence for felony murder; (2) the failure to reclassify armed robbery with a firearm, resulting in an illegal habitual violent felony offender (HVFO) designation; and (3) the trial court's error in failing to have a penalty phase hearing, preventing the jury from determining Petitioner's sentence.

         Respondents urge this Court to deny the Petition. Response at 35. The Court will address the three grounds raised in the Petition, see Clisby v. Jones, 960 F.2d 925, 936 (11th Cir. 1992), but no evidentiary proceedings are required in this Court.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (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), cert. denied, 137 S.Ct. 1432 (2017). "AEDPA limits the scope of federal habeas review of state court judgments[.]" Pittman v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 871 F.3d 1231, 1243 (11th Cir. 2017). As such, AEDPA ensures that federal habeas relief is limited to extreme malfunctions, and not used as a means to attempt to correct state court errors. Ledford, 818 F.3d at 642 (quoting Greene v. Fisher, 132 S.Ct. 38, 43 (2011)).

         The Eleventh Circuit recently outlined the parameters of review:

Thus, under AEDPA, a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court shall not be granted habeas relief on a claim "that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings" 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; or ... 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). "For § 2254(d), clearly established federal law includes only the holdings of the Supreme Court-not Supreme Court dicta, nor the opinions of this Court." Taylor v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 760 F.3d 1284, 1293-94 (11th Cir. 2014).
As for the "contrary to" clause, "a federal habeas court may grant the writ 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." Terry Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000). Under the "unreasonable application" clause, a federal habeas court may "grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme Court's] decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts." Id. at 413, 120 S.Ct. 1495. "In other words, a federal court may grant relief when a state court has misapplied a 'governing legal principle' to 'a set of facts different from those of the case in which the principle was announced.'" Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520, 123 S.Ct. 2527, 156 L.Ed.2d 471 (2003) (quoting Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 76, 123 S.Ct. 1166, 155 L.Ed.2d 144 (2003)). And "an 'unreasonable application of' [Supreme Court] holdings must be objectively unreasonable, not merely wrong; even clear error will not suffice." Woods v. Donald, ___ U.S. ___, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376, 191 L.Ed.2d 464 (2015) (per curiam) (quotation omitted). To overcome this substantial hurdle, "a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement." Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103, 131 S.Ct. 770, 178 L.Ed.2d 624 (2011). This is "meant to be" a difficult standard to meet. Id. at 102, 131 S.Ct. 770.

Pittman, 871 F.3d at 1243-44.

         There is a presumption of correctness of state court's factual findings, unless the presumption is rebutted with clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). The standard of proof is demanding, requiring that a claim be highly probable. Bishop v. Warden, GDCP, 726 F.3d 1243, 1258 (11th Cir. 2013), cert. denied, 135 S.Ct. 67 (2014). Also, the trial court's determination will not be superseded if reasonable minds might disagree about the factual finding. Brumfield v. Cain, 135 S.Ct. 2269, 2277 (2015). Also of note, "[t]his presumption of correctness applies equally to factual determinations made by the state trial and appellate courts." Pope v. Sec'y for Dep't of Corr., 680 F.3d 1271, 1284 (11th Cir. 2012) (quoting Bui v. Haley, 321 F.3d 1304, 1312 (11th Cir. 2003)), cert. denied, 568 U.S. 1233 (2013).

         In applying AEDPA deference, the first step is to identify the last state court decision that evaluated the claim on its merits. Marshall v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 828 F.3d 1277, 1285 (11th Cir. 2016).[2] Once identified, the Court reviews the state court's decision, "not necessarily its rationale." Pittman, 871 F.3d at 1244 (quoting Parker v. Sec'y for Dep't of Corr., 331 F.3d 764, 785 (11th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted)).

         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). "The presumption may be overcome when there is reason to think some other explanation for the state court's decision is more likely." Richter, 562 U.S. at 99-100 (citing Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 803 (1991)).

         Where the last adjudication on the merits is unaccompanied by an explanation, the petitioner must demonstrate there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief. Id. at 98. "[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; Marshall, 828 F.3d at 1285.

         Although the § 2254(d) standard is difficult to meet, it was meant to be difficult. Rimmer v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., No. 15-14257, 2017 WL 5476795, at *11 (11th Cir. Nov. 15, 2017) (opining that to reach the level of an unreasonable application of federal law, the ruling must be objectively unreasonable, not merely wrong or even clear error). Indeed, in order to obtain habeas relief, "a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented . . . was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fair minded disagreement." Richter, 562 U.S. at 103.

         IV. ...


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