United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
TIMOTHY J. CORRIGAN, United States District Judge.
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). He challenges
his 2008 state court (Duval County) judgment of conviction
for conspiracy to traffic in heroin and trafficking in
heroin. Petitioner was sentenced to a total term of
imprisonment of 30 years. Respondents filed an Answer (Doc.
13) (Answer),  and Petitioner filed a Reply (Doc. 16)
(Reply). Petitioner then obtained counsel, who sought a stay
of the case to review the docket and pleadings (Doc. 24).
Counsel subsequently filed a Memorandum of Law in Support of
the Petition (Doc. 27) (Memorandum). Respondents notified the
Court that they would rely on the arguments previously made
in the Answer (Doc. 30). The case is ripe for
Governing Legal Principles
Standard of Review
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (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, 773
(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. [at 102] (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, 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
Bishop v. Warden, GDCP, 726 F.3d 1243, 1253-54 (11th
Cir. 2013) (internal citations modified).
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.
Exhaustion and Procedural Default
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). This means that 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
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 v. Hall, 592
F.3d 1144, 1157 (11th Cir. 2010) (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
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 496. 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).
asserts that newly discovered evidence proves his actual
innocence. After Petitioner's trial, his codefendant
(Anthony Sweeting) signed an affidavit stating that
Petitioner (1) “did not have anything to do with the
narcotics that w[ere] found in the rental car;” (2)
“had no knowledge of the narcotics and no dealings of
anything illegal;” and (3) “was only a passenger
along for the ride.” Ex. Z at 18. In his counseled
Memorandum, Petitioner argues that his freestanding actual
innocence claim is a colorable claim that can be raised on
federal habeas review.
federal habeas petitioner may allege actual innocence to
overcome a procedural bar or the application of the one-year
limitations period, the Supreme Court has “not resolved
whether a prisoner may be entitled to habeas relief based on
a freestanding claim of actual innocence.”
McQuiggin v. Perkins, 133 S.Ct. 1924, 1931 (2013)
(citing Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390, 404-05
(1993)). However, the Eleventh Circuit, which this Court must
follow, “forbids granting habeas relief based upon a
claim of actual innocence, anyway, at least in non-capital
cases.” Jordan v. Sec'y, Dep't of
Corr., 485 F.3d 1351, 1356 (11th Cir. 2007) (citations
omitted); see also Cunningham v. Dist. Attorney's
Office for Escambia Cty., 592 F.3d 1237, 1272 (11th Cir.
2010) (recognizing that “this Court's own precedent
does not allow habeas relief on a freestanding innocence
claim in non-capital cases”). Therefore,
Petitioner's claim is not cognizable on federal habeas
Petitioner could raise a freestanding actual innocence claim,
he would be required to show that “in light of the new
evidence, no juror, acting reasonably, would have voted to
find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Schlup, 513 U.S. at 329. Petitioner cannot meet this
following is a summary of the evidence adduced at trial
(taken from the state's response to Petitioner's
state court post-conviction motion).
The Defendant's activities were revealed as part of a
wiretap investigation. A wiretap was placed in his
codefendant's cellular telephone. The electronic
surveillance and other testimony given at trial revealed the
following: the Defendant was part of a group of individuals
involved in the trafficking of heroin from Miami to
Jacksonville, FL. The Defendant's purpose in the
organization was to serve as a body guard for his
codefendant, Anthony Sweeting. The Defendant accompanied his
codefendant on numerous trips from Miami to a Jacksonville
residence, referred to as the “Trap, ” to deliver
heroin. The Defendant and Sweeting participated in the
bagging of heroin for distribution at the Defendant's
residence. The Defendant received proceeds from the sale of
heroin. The Defendant received a phone call from his
codefendant acknowledging that “they keep calling,
” which is code for needing an additional supply of
heroin. The Defendant was stopped in Jacksonville on his way
to the Trap with heroin in the car, but released in an effort
to obtain more information about the organization. The day
after the stop, the Defendant engaged in a conversation with
other codefendants regarding law enforcement's
acquisition of the dope and questioned whether the officers
were “dirty.” The heroin that was taken when the
Defendant was stopped in Jacksonville was supposed to be
supplied to the Trap. The Defendant came to Jacksonville to
Ex. Z at 127-28 (citations omitted). Considering the evidence
adduced at trial along with the “new affidavit, ”
the Court finds that Petitioner has not shown “that it
is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have
convicted him” if the information in the affidavit had
been presented at his trial. Even if Petitioner could raise a
freestanding actual innocence claim, he would not be entitled
to federal habeas relief.