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Scott v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections

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

February 20, 2018

ALGIE SCOTT, Petitioner,
v.
SECRETARY, FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Respondents.

          ORDER

          BRIAN J. DAVIS, United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Petitioner Algie Scott filed a Petition for writ of habeas corpus (Petition) (Doc. 1) and a Memorandum of Law (Memorandum) (Doc. 2) on December 8, 2015. He presents two claims for this Court's review. Through these claims, he challenges a 2010 Putnam County conviction for sale of cocaine within 1000 feet of a place of worship. Respondents responded by submitting a Response to Petition (Response) (Doc. 12) and an Appendix (Doc. 13).[1] Petitioner filed a Reply to State's Response (Doc. 15). See Order (Doc. 10).

         II. CLAIMS OF PETITION

         Two claims are presented for this Court's review: (1) insufficiency of the evidence to prove the sale of cocaine occurred within 1000 feet of a church and the church regularly conducted services at the time that the crime took place; and (2) ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to inquire into Petitioner's competency prior to and during the trial.

         The Court will address the two grounds raised in the Petition. Clisby v. Jones, 960 F.2d 925, 936 (11th Cir. 1992). Respondents urge this Court to summarily deny the Petition. Response at 12. No. evidentiary proceedings are required as Petitioner has failed to establish the need for a federal evidentiary hearing. Chavez v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 647 F.3d 1057, 1060 (11th Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 565 U.S. 1120 (2012). It is noteworthy that the state court conducted an evidentiary hearing before addressing the relevant claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.

         It is important to recognize that if the record refutes the asserted factual allegations or otherwise precludes habeas relief, a district court is not required to hold an evidentiary hearing. Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 474 (2007). Upon review of the record before the Court, the pertinent facts are fully developed. As such, the Court can "adequately assess [Petitioner's] claim[s] without further factual development, " Turner v. Crosby, 339 F.3d 1247, 1275 (11th Cir. 2003), cert. denied, 541 U.S. 1034 (2004), and no evidentiary proceedings are required.

         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 parameters of review are as follows:

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., 876 F.3d 1039, 1053 (11th Cir. 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 fairminded disagreement." Richter, 562 U.S. at 103.

         IV. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         To provide context for review of the two grounds presented in the Petition, the Court provides a brief procedural history. Petitioner was charged by information with sale of cocaine within 1000 feet of place of worship or convenience business. Ex. A at 10. The state filed a notice of intent to seek habitual felony offender status. Id. at 53. On May 22, 2008, the trial court conducted a jury trial. Ex. B, Trial Transcript. The jury returned a verdict of guilty. Id. at 194. The court adjudicated Petitioner guilty. Id. at 197. On March 2, 2010, the court sentenced him to a term of ten years in prison, followed by five years drug offender probation. Ex. B, Sentencing Transcript, at 20. The court entered judgment and sentence. Ex. A at 138-43.

         Petitioner appealed his conviction. Id. at 149. Through a public defender, Petitioner filed an Anders brief raising one argument: the trial court erred in denying appellant's motion for judgment of acquittal because the state failed to show the sale occurred within 1000 feet of a church.[3] Ex. C. The Fifth District Court of Appeal (5th DCA) directed the state to file an answer brief addressing the issue of whether the state's evidence was legally sufficient to establish the distance element of the charged offense, the issue raised in the motion for judgment of acquittal at trial. Ex. D. The 5th DCA allowed the filing of a reply brief as well. Id. The state submitted an answer brief. Ex. E. Petitioner did not file a reply brief. On June 14, 2011, the 5th DCA affirmed per curiam. Ex. F. The mandate issued July 6, 2011. Id.

         On July 11, 2011, Petitioner filed a Rule 3.800(c) motion with the trial court. Ex. G at 1-3. The court denied the motion. Id. at 4-5.

         On September 1, 2011, Petitioner filed a Motion for Post-Conviction Relief pursuant to Rule 3.850, Fla. R. Crim. Proc. Id. at 6-20. The trial court summarily denied a sentencing issue and directed a response from the state on grounds 2, 3, and 4. Id. at 21-22. Petitioner sought leave to amend the motion. Id. at 23-24. The court granted leave to amend. Id. at 53. Petitioner proceeded on his Amended Motion for Post-Conviction Relief (amended Rule 3.850 motion). Id. at 25-49. The state filed a response to grounds 2, 3, and 4 of the amended motion, and requested an evidentiary hearing on these grounds. Id. at 54. The trial court denied grounds 4 and 5 of the amended motion and set grounds 2, 3, and 6 for an evidentiary hearing. Id. at 55-57.

         Petitioner sought and received the appointment of counsel for the post conviction proceedings. Id. at 62-72. The trial court conducted an evidentiary hearing on June 13, 2012. Ex. G-1. Thereafter, the court denied the amended Rule 3.850 motion. Ex. G at 77-82.

         Petitioner filed a Notice of Belated Appeal. Id. at 86. The 5th DCA, on October 26, 2012, ordered the notice be treated as a petition for belated appeal, and directed Petitioner to file an amended petition under oath. Id. at 103. On March 22, 2013, the 5th DCA granted the petition for belated appeal. Ex. H. Briefing followed. Ex. I; Ex. J; Ex. K.

         The 5th DCA affirmed the trial court's denial of relief on all grounds except issue one, reversing for either an evidentiary hearing on that ground or the attachment of records conclusively refuting that claim. Ex. L. The mandate issued on December 30, 2013. Id. Meanwhile, on December 10, 2013, the trial court entered an amended order denying ground one. Ex. M. The 5th DCA, on April 4, 2014, finding the trial court lacked jurisdiction to act prior to issuance of the mandate, reversed and remanded on that ground again. Id. The mandate issued April 28, 2014. Id.

         On appeal of the denial of ground one of the amended rule 3.850 motion, counsel filed an Anders brief. Ex. Q. On October 13, 2015, the 5th DCA affirmed per curiam. Ex. R. The mandate issued on November 6, 2015. Id.

         V. FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

         A. Ground One

         In the first ground of the Petition, Petitioner raises a claim of insufficiency of the evidence to prove the sale of cocaine occurred within 1000 feet of a church and the church regularly ...


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