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Eddins v. Jones

United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Pensacola Division

March 1, 2018

JULIE L. JONES, Respondent.



         Before the court is a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. 1). Respondent filed an answer, providing relevant portions of the state court record. (Doc. 12). Petitioner did not reply although invited to do so. (See Doc. 13). The matter is referred to the undersigned magistrate judge for report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and N.D. Fla. Loc. R. 72.2(B). After careful consideration, the undersigned concludes that no evidentiary hearing is required for the disposition of this matter. Rule 8(a) of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts. The undersigned further concludes that the pleadings and attachments before the court show that petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief, and that the petition should be denied.


         On the evening of January 21, 2012, petitioner broke into 69-year old Archie Lucas' home while Lucas was asleep in his bedroom. Lucas awoke when he heard a noise, and saw petitioner walk into a spare bedroom across the hall and turn on the light. Lucas picked up a hammer lying on his dresser, went into the spare bedroom and observed petitioner picking through and gathering up items belonging to Lucas. Lucas approached petitioner and hit him on the left side of the head with the hammer. A fight ensued, where petitioner gained control of the hammer and beat Lucas with it on his head and body. Petitioner then pulled out a knife and tried to cut Lucas' throat, but Lucas closed the blade. The fight continued in the bedroom and down the hallway, with petitioner in primary control of the hammer. Lucas eventually fled his home and contacted a neighbor (James Holt), who called 911. Petitioner stole Lucas' wallet containing approximately $200 and then fled out the back door. Mr. Lucas was transported to a hospital and treated for advanced blunt force trauma to his head, requiring 44 stitches. Lucas was also treated for injuries to his right hand. Lucas sustained permanent injuries and disfigurement from petitioner's attack. (Doc. 12, Exs. B-C (trial transcript)).[1] Mr. Lucas identified petitioner as the sole perpetrator. (Ex. B, pp. 111-12 (trial testimony); Ex. A, p. 78 (photo line-up)). During processing of the crime scene, law enforcement took a sample of blood from a box in Lucas' spare bedroom. A complete DNA profile was obtained from the sample, and that profile matched petitioner's DNA profile. As the State's DNA expert described it, the probability of a random person having the same DNA profile as the blood on the box was one in 33 quadrillion. (Ex. C, pp. 245-47).

         Petitioner was charged in Escambia County Circuit Court No. 2012-CF-752, with burglary of a dwelling with assault or battery (Count 1) and aggravated battery on a person 65 years of age or older with great bodily harm (Count 2). (Ex. A, pp. 1, 3, 13). The burglary was a first degree felony punishable by life, and the aggravated battery was a first degree felony punishable by 30 years' imprisonment. A jury found petitioner guilty as charged, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment for the burglary and to a concurrent term of 30 years imprisonment with a 3-year mandatory minimum for the aggravated battery. (Ex. A, pp. 43-45 (verdict) and pp. 50-57 (judgment)). On February 12, 2014, the Florida First District Court of Appeal (First DCA) affirmed the judgment per curiam without opinion. Eddins v. State, 132 So.3d 226 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014) (Table) (copy at Ex. F).

         On April 28, 2014, petitioner filed a pro se motion for reduction or modification of sentence under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.800(c). (Ex. O). The state circuit court denied relief on May 2, 2014. (Ex. P). Petitioner did not appeal.

         On September 9, 2014, petitioner filed a pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus in the First DCA alleging ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. (Ex. K). The First DCA denied relief on the merits on October 10, 2014. Eddins v. State, 148 So.3d 541 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014) (copy at Ex. L). Petitioner's motion for rehearing was denied on December 2, 2014. (Ex. N).

         On September 24, 2014, petitioner filed a pro se motion for postconviction relief under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850, (Ex. H, pp. 1-48), which he later amended (id., pp. 52-79). The state circuit court denied relief (Ex. I, pp. 80-275), and the First DCA affirmed per curiam without opinion. Eddins v. State, 194 So.3d 1023 (Fla. 1st DCA 2016) (Table) (copy at Ex. J). The mandate issued August 2, 2016. (Ex. J).

         Petitioner filed his federal habeas petition on October 21, 2016, raising ten grounds for relief. (Doc. 1). Respondent asserts that two claims are procedurally defaulted and that the remaining claims are without merit because the state court's rejection of them was consistent with clearly established federal law. (Doc. 12).


         Exhaustion and Procedural Default

         Before bringing a § 2254 habeas action in federal court, a petitioner must exhaust all available state court remedies for challenging his conviction, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1), thereby giving the State the “‘opportunity to pass upon and correct' alleged violations of its prisoners' federal rights.” Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364, 365 (1995) (quoting Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275 (1971) (citation omitted)). The petitioner “must give the state courts one full opportunity to resolve any constitutional issues by invoking one complete round of the State's established appellate review process.” O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845 (1999); Picard, 404 U.S. at 277-78. A claim that was not presented to the state court and can no longer be litigated under state procedural rules is considered procedurally defaulted, i.e., procedurally barred from federal review. See Boerckel, 526 U.S. at 839-40, 848; Hittson v. GDCP Warden, 759 F.3d 1210, 1260 n.56 (11th Cir. 2014) (“Where a return to state court would be futile - because the petitioner's claims would clearly be barred by state procedural rules - a federal court can ‘forego the needless judicial ping-pong' and treat unexhausted claims as procedurally defaulted.” (quoting Snowden v. Singletary, 135 F.3d 732, 736 (11th Cir. 1998))).

         A petitioner seeking to overcome a procedural default must “demonstrate cause for the default and actual prejudice as a result of the alleged violation of federal law, or demonstrate that failure to consider the claims will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice.” Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750 (1991). “For cause to exist, an external impediment, whether it be governmental interference or the reasonable unavailability of the factual basis for the claim, must have prevented petitioner from raising the claim.” McCleskey v. Zant, 499 U.S. 467, 497 (1991) (citing Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 488 (1986)). “To establish ‘prejudice, ' a petitioner must show that there is at least a reasonable probability that the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Henderson v. Campbell, 353 F.3d 880, 892 (11th Cir. 2003).

         The miscarriage of justice exception requires the petitioner to show that “a constitutional violation has probably resulted in the conviction of one who is actually innocent.” Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 327 (1995). “‘[A]ctual innocence' means factual innocence, not mere legal insufficiency.” Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 624 (1998). The Schlup standard is very difficult to meet:

[A] substantial claim that constitutional error has caused the conviction of an innocent person is extremely rare. To be credible, such a claim requires [a] petitioner to support his allegations of constitutional error with new reliable evidence - whether it be exculpatory scientific evidence, trustworthy eyewitness accounts, or critical physical evidence - that was not presented at trial.

513 U.S. at 327. “To establish the requisite probability, the petitioner must show that it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted him.” Id.

         Section 2254 Standard of Review

         Federal courts are precluded from granting a habeas petition on a claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court 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, ” 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). A state court's factual determinations are presumed correct, unless the petitioner rebuts the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

         The United States Supreme Court explained the framework for § 2254 review in Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000).[2] Justice O'Connor described the appropriate test:

Under 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 this court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than this Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Under the “unreasonable application” clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from this Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.

Id., 529 U.S. at 412-13 (O'Connor, J., concurring).

         Under the Williams framework, the federal court must first ascertain the “clearly established Federal law, ” namely, “the governing legal principle or principles set forth by the Supreme Court at the time the state court render[ed] its decision.” Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 71-72 (2003). The law is “clearly established” only when a Supreme Court holding at the time of the state court decision embodies the legal principle at issue. See Thaler v. Haynes, 559 U.S. 43, 47 (2010); Woods v. Donald, 575 U.S. __, __, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015) (“We have explained that clearly established Federal law for purposes of § 2254(d)(1) includes only the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of this Court's decisions.” (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)).

         After identifying the governing legal principle(s), the federal court determines whether the state court adjudication is contrary to the clearly established Supreme Court case law. The adjudication is not contrary to Supreme Court precedent merely because it fails to cite to that precedent. Rather, the adjudication is “contrary” only if either the reasoning or the result contradicts the relevant Supreme Court cases. See Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002) (“Avoiding th[e] pitfalls [of § 2254(d)(1)] does not require citation to our cases - indeed, it does not even require awareness of our cases, so long as neither the reasoning nor the result of the state-court decision contradicts them.”). Where there is no Supreme Court precedent on point, the state court's conclusion cannot be contrary to clearly established federal law. See Woods, 135 S.Ct. at 1377 (holding, as to claim that counsel was per se ineffective in being absent from the courtroom for ten minutes during testimony concerning other defendants: “Because none of our cases confront the specific question presented by this case, the state court's decision could not be contrary to any holding from this Court.” (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)). If the state court decision is contrary to clearly established federal law, the federal habeas court must independently consider the merits of the petitioner's claim. See Panetti v. Quarterman, 551 U.S. 930, 954 (2007).

         If the “contrary to” clause is not satisfied, the federal habeas court next determines whether the state court “unreasonably applied” the governing legal principles set forth in the Supreme Court's cases. The federal court defers to the state court's reasoning unless the state court's application of the legal principle(s) was “objectively unreasonable” in light of the record before the state court. See Williams, 529 U.S. at 409; Holland v. Jackson, 542 U.S. 649, 652 (2004). The Supreme Court described the “unreasonable application” standard this way:

When reviewing state criminal convictions on collateral review, federal judges are required to afford state courts due respect by overturning their decisions only when there could be no reasonable dispute that they were wrong. Federal habeas review thus exists as “a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal.” Harrington, supra, at 102-103, 131 S.Ct. 770 (internal quotation marks omitted).

Woods, 135 S.Ct. at 1376 (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86 (2011)). The § 2254(d) standard “is difficult to meet . . . because it was meant to be.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 102.

         Section 2254(d) also allows federal habeas relief for a claim adjudicated on the merits in state court where that adjudication “resulted in a decision that 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 “unreasonable determination of the facts” standard is implicated only to the extent the validity of the state court's ultimate conclusion is premised on unreasonable fact finding. See Gill v. Mecusker, 633 F.3d 1272, 1292 (11th Cir. 2011). As with the “unreasonable application” clause, the federal court applies an objective test. See Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003) (holding that a state court decision based on a factual determination “will not be overturned on factual grounds unless objectively unreasonable in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding.”). Federal courts “may not characterize . . . state-court factual determinations as unreasonable merely because we would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.” Brumfield v. Cain, 576 U.S. __, __, 135 S.Ct. 2269, 2277 (2015) (quotation marks omitted).

         Only if the federal habeas court finds that the petitioner satisfied AEDPA and § 2254(d), does the court take the final step of conducting an independent review of the merits of the petitioner's claims. See Panetti, 551 U.S. at 954. Even then, the writ will not issue unless the petitioner shows that he is in custody “in violation of the Constitution or laws and treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a).


         Ground OneThe Trial Court Violated Petitioner's Right to Due Process When It Prohibited Petitioner from Presenting Evidence Relevant to His Defense.” (Doc. 1, p. 5).

         This claim involves petitioner's attempt to introduce out-of-court statements of Robert Odom acknowledging that he was in Mr. Lucas' home during the burglary. Petitioner hoped to introduce Robert's statements through Gerald Odom's testimony (Robert's brother). During the defense proffer of Gerald's testimony, however, Gerald denied Robert made the statements. When confronted with his (Gerald's) prior sworn statement to law enforcement describing Robert's statements, Gerald claimed the sworn statement was inaccurate and the product of intoxication. Defense counsel then proposed that he be allowed to call Gerald for the purpose of impeaching him with his prior sworn statement. The State objected, and the trial court ruled that petitioner could not call Gerald Odom for that purpose.

         Petitioner now challenges that evidentiary ruling, advancing two theories why Robert's out-of-court statements were admissible. First, he says the statements fall under Florida's hearsay exception for excited utterances, Section 90.803(2), Florida Statutes. (Doc. 1, p. 5; see also Doc. 12, Ex. D, pp. 20-28 (counseled direct appeal brief)). Second, the statements are admissible regardless of any hearsay issue, because due process “requires that any relevant evidence that tends to establish reasonable doubt or supports a defendant's theory of defense must be admitted.” (Doc. 1, p. 6; Doc. 12, Ex. D, pp. 20-28 (citing Chambers v. Mississippi, 410 U.S. 284 (1973))). Petitioner does not address the admissibility of Gerald's prior sworn statement to law enforcement.

         The parties agree that petitioner presented this claim to the First DCA in his direct appeal. (Doc. 1, p. 6; Doc. 12, pp. 19-20). The First DCA summarily affirmed without explanation. (Ex. F). The First DCA's decision is entitled to deference under § 2254(d). See Richter, 562 U.S. at 99 (holding that § 2254(d) applies when a state court's opinion is unaccompanied by an explanation of the reasons relief was denied: “When a federal claim has been presented to a state court and the state court has denied relief, 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.”).

         The First DCA's decision was not contrary to, or an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent. Petitioner's defense strategy was to raise reasonable doubt about the State's proof that it was he who committed the burglary and battery. The defense argued that although the State's DNA evidence placed petitioner inside Mr. Lucas' home, the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that petitioner, as opposed to Robert Odom, assaulted and beat Mr. Lucas. (See Ex. B, pp. 91-94 (defense opening statements); Ex. C, pp. 305-13 (defense closing statements). This strategy, if successful, could have reduced petitioner's sentence exposure on Count 1 and eliminated Count 2. The following describes the development of Gerald Odom's testimony.

         Approximately one week after the crime, Gerald was interviewed by Escambia County Sheriff's Office Investigator Robert Norman. Gerald gave a sworn statement to Investigator Norman on January 28, 2012, which was later transcribed. (Ex. A, pp. 93-96). According to the transcript, Gerald Odom stated that his brother Robert Odom called him the day after the crimes and told him that he (Robert) was at a friend's house cleaning petitioner up because petitioner had been beaten with a hammer. Robert said “they” had been “hiding” ever since, and that both he and petitioner were inside Mr. Lucas' home the night of the burglary and battery. (Id., pp. 94-95). According to the transcript, Gerald Odom went on to describe that, “My brother, my brother got out of the house before he [petitioner] got attacked or whatever and Junior [petitioner] had attacked the man supposedly and the man took the hammer back from Junior and attacked him and beat his [expletive] with it.” (Id., p. 96).

         At a later pretrial deposition (which are allowed in Florida in all state criminal cases), Gerald Odom denied the statements attributed to him in the transcribed statement, and described his statement to Investigator Norman this way:

A [Gerald Odom]: “I did say that I overheard a conversation with somebody that was talking to Robyn saying that Junior [petitioner] was being cleaned up because he was bloody. I never said anything about my brother.
. . . .
. . . All I heard was that Robyn was cleaning up Junior Eddins because he was bleeding everywhere.
Q [Defense Counsel Dosher]: You said that you overheard someone talking to Robyn?
A: Yeah. I don't know who it was. I was drinking that night. But, yeah, I did overhear a conversation about Junior being cleaned up.
Q: And Robyn said this?
A: Yeah.
Q: About Junior being cleaned up and is Junior George Eddins?
A: Yes, ma'am.
Q: And you know him as Junior?
A: Yeah. . . .

(Ex. A, pp. 102-03).

         During trial, outside the presence of the jury, defense counsel proffered Gerald's testimony. Gerald gave yet another version. Gerald testified he was drunk when he gave the statement to Investigator Norman and that the statement was coerced and incorrect; that he told Norman he overheard a phone conversation where a girl (not his brother Robert) talked about cleaning petitioner up because petitioner was bleeding; that he never told Norman he spoke to his brother the night of the incident or that Robert had reported cleaning petitioner up; and that he (Gerald) never said anything about a hammer to Investigator Norman. (Ex. C, pp. 281-84).

         Following the proffer, defense counsel lamented the predicament he was in. (Ex. C, pp. 284-90). Defense counsel argued:

MR. CRAWFORD [Defense Counsel]: I'm in an interesting situation now, Your Honor. The individual [Gerald Odom] gave a sworn statement to Investigator Norman, was recorded, and it was transcribed.
I tried to impeach him just - up there with this statement. He said that he didn't make that statement. Under 96.14 when an individual has a prior inconsistent statement, and they do not admit, the language is interesting. I'm trying to pull it up in my head.
When the statement - when the individual is confronted with that statement, and they do not entirely admit that statement was made, I get to put that statement into evidence, 96.29, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Ms. Brodersen.
MS. BRODERSEN [Prosecutor]: Your Honor, I would have to look at the rule. That's not my understanding of - THE COURT: I still think we have the same issue that was raised earlier by the State. . . . That you can't call somebody simply to impeach them, but let me see - see, here's this is 96.14. I'm not reading the actual language of the statute. I'm reading Erhardt's comment underneath.
Credibility may be attacked by showing that the witness made a statement prior to trial that is inconsistent with the testimony of the witness at trial.
So that's our starting sentence. I'm trying to think this through, but if you call the witness to say, did your brother - first of all, I'm still back at my original hearsay issue, too, but let's say you called him in front of the jury and said, did your brother call you that night? And he says no, and then you publish the inconsistent statement, it's really just calling him to get the prior inconsistent statement in, and that's where I think the problem is.
He's not a witness in the case. In any other sense you would call him and ask him that one question, I believe, or questions like that.
MR. CRAWFORD: Let's say that he said yes.
THE COURT: Okay, but he didn't say yes.
MR. CRAWFORD: I understand, and that's the problem that we're at. Let's just say he did say yes because at one point in time, in the event of time, he did say yes. He did give this story.
So let's say I just called him and ask him, hey, did your brother call you that night and he said yes. I would have been able to develop - may have been able to develop a hearsay exception because I could ask him, what did his brother say to him, and what fashion did his brother say it to him.
Did it sound like his brother was still under stress or excitement? I could have developed a hearsay exception in either 803.1 or 803.2, but then he denied it, so now, this fact that at one point in time he testified to, will never reach the jury because he denied it. That's the reason that we have 96.14.
THE COURT: Okay. And then this is another part that Erhardt says, the prior statement is admissible to impeach only if it is, in fact, inconsistent, i.e., it directly contradicts an in-court testimony or there is ...

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