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 2010 state court (Duval County) judgment of conviction
for trafficking in cocaine. Petitioner was sentenced to a
term of imprisonment of 50 years. Respondents filed an Answer
(Doc. 16),  and Petitioner filed a Reply (Doc. 18) and
an Amended Reply (Doc. 22). 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');">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) (quoting
Richter, 562 U.S. at 98), cert. granted,
137 S.Ct. 1203 (2017). 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).
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 ...