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Stocker v. Jones

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

April 6, 2018

JULIE JONES, Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections, Respondent.



         On December 8, 2016, Petitioner Brandon Michael Stocker, a state inmate proceeding pro se, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. ECF No. 1. On January 21, 2018, Respondent filed an answer, with exhibits. ECF No. 26. Petitioner has not filed a reply, although given the opportunity to do so. See ECF No. 25.

         The matter was referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Northern District of Florida Local Rule 72.2(B). After careful consideration, the undersigned has determined no evidentiary hearing is required for the disposition of this matter. See Rule 8(a), R. Gov. § 2254 Cases. The pleadings and attachments before the Court show the petition should be denied.

         Procedural Background

         By information filed March 14, 2012, the State of Florida charged Petitioner Brandon Stocker with five counts in connection with events that occurred on or about March 8, 2012: (1) carjacking with a firearm or deadly weapon (knife), in violation of sections 812.133(2)(a) and 775.087, Florida Statutes; (2) driving while license cancelled, suspended, or revoked, in violation of section 322.34(2)(c), Florida Statutes; (3) attempted burglary of a structure while armed with explosives or dangerous weapon (knife), in violation of sections 810.02(1)(b) and (2)(b), Florida Statutes; (4) aggravated fleeing or attempting to elude a law enforcement officer by leaving the scene of an accident, causing injury or damage, in violation of section 316.1935(4), Florida Statutes; and (5) resisting an officer without violence, in violation of section 843.02, Florida Statutes. Ex. A at 46-47.[1]On February 13, 2013, the State filed an amended information, reordering the counts and changing the carjacking charge, in Count 1, to carjacking without a weapon, in violation of section 812.133(2)(b), Florida Statutes. Id. at 93-94.

         The next day, February 14, 2013, a hearing took place in circuit court on a motion to withdraw. Id. at 175, 185. During the hearing, Petitioner Stocker's court-appointed counsel, Martin Knopes, indicated he had filed a motion to withdraw from representing Stocker at Stocker's direction “based upon a conversation I had with him on Thursday” and “once that's addressed, then if it's denied, [counsel would] need some additional time today to talk to [Stocker] before [he was] prepared to definitely say we don't have a deal or we might have a deal.” Id. at 176; see id. at 180. The judge responded that, because counsel was court-appointed, he could not grant a bare-bones motion to withdraw. Id. at 177-78. Stocker then asked to speak and was sworn in as a witness. Id. at 178-79. Stocker stated that he felt counsel was not effective and was not doing anything for him. Id. at 179. The judge indicated Stocker would “have to file a motion for Mr. Knopes to not represent [him] anymore because he's ineffective, ” and once he filed such motion, a hearing would occur on it. Id. at 179-80. Stocker stated, “I did wrong, but I just want justice.” Id. at 182. The judge ruled he was “not going to grant the motion to withdraw as it's drafted, ” because it was filed by counsel at Stocker's direction. Id. at 184, 186. The judge explained how things would proceed: “Either we - we go to trial on February 25th, or we can go to trial if the State - if their witnesses can be here for March 4th, that's the next week, and then we can have an evidentiary hearing on February - probably February 26th, which would be that Tuesday, if Mr. Stocker files a motion for ineffective assistance of counsel.” Id. at 184-85. The following then transpired:

MS. MASON [prosecutor]: I do have a murder trial set with Judge Stone that week, but I'm not (unintelligible) - I'll know tomorrow for sure if that's going.
But since the Court is currently denying the motion to withdraw, could we pass this until later in the docket, for Mr. Stocker and Mr. Knopes to discuss how they want to proceed, whether it's of benefit -
THE COURT: Okay. Because the only thing before the Court is the motion to withdraw -
MS. MASON: Right.
THE COURT: - that's denied.
MR. STOCKER: Your Honor -
MS. MASON: Judge, I'm sorry, one other thing. The State did file an amended Information yesterday in Case Number 12CF485. That is the case that would proceed to trial on the 25th. I provided a copy of that to Mr. Knopes. We sent one over to the clerk, but I'm happy to give her my copy. It could aid in their discussions this morning, so I wanted to go ahead and put that on the record.
. . . .
THE COURT: Okay. Mr. Stocker, it's my understanding that you're going to meet with Mr. Knopes. If Mr. Knopes wants to bring you back before the Court, then I'll certainly do that. Otherwise, I'll see you on - on March - I'm sorry - on February 25th.

Id. at 185-86. Stocker disagreed with the prosecutor's statement that Knopes was diligently representing him and indicated he wanted to represent himself “if you ain't going to let me get another attorney” because he was “not going to trial with this man representing me.” Id. at 187. Stocker stated he would “rather do my own law work if you're going to give me somebody who basically - this man came in there and cussed me out without cuss words. He fussed me out -- . . . told me he's aggravated and tired of dealing with this case.” Id. The judge then indicated he would “set it for a hearing” at the end of that day and instructed Stocker that “[i]f you wish to file a motion for ineffective assistance of counsel, you'll need to do that in writing.” Id. at 188-89.

         The transcript reflects that “other court matters were discussed, and, after a recess, ” additional proceedings took place in Stocker's case later that same day. Id. at 189. In particular, Knopes explained that, earlier that day, he had filed a motion to withdraw, but “[a]t this point in time, based upon discussions with Mr. Stocker, we are going to withdraw that” and “[t]here's no need for a hearing at this point.” Id. at 189-90. Knopes further explained “we've entered into some plea negotiations with the State.” Id. at 190.

MR. KNOPES: . . . In reality, what's going to happen, in exchange for our plea to Count II, III, -- II, III, and IV, in 12CF485 -
MS. MASON: And a lesser included Count I.
MR. KNOPES: Right. The lesser included of robbery in Count I - the State's going to nolle pros the other two case numbers, which are 12-586 and 11-2347, with the understanding - and, Judge, I know you don't have this in front of you, but I'm going to read it and then hand it to you, and then we'll - if we got to cover it again, we will but -
MR. KNOPES: - with the understanding that Mr. Stocker understands that - that he's going to be classified a PRR, and that he's going to be classified an HFO offender; that he will receive a 15-year sentence, which is day-for-day minimum mandatory, and then it's left up to the Court at a sentencing hearing to decide what to do with the next 15 years. It's - it's a total cap of 30, 15 as a PRR, minimum mandatory, and then the Court could give him 15 years of probation following that 15-year sentence, or the Court could give him 15 years DOC. It's up to the Court, as a result of the sentencing hearing.
MR. KNOPES: And I just wanted to make sure that was clear on the record. . . .

Id. at 189-91.

         The court then proceeded with the plea colloquy and accepted the plea. Id. at 192-201. During the course of the colloquy, the judge confirmed that Stocker felt able to make judgments and decisions. Id. at 193. The judge confirmed Stocker understood the possible sentence he could receive under the plea agreement:

THE COURT: Okay. So if I accept this plea, Mr. Stocker, what - tell me what you may be sentenced to, or tell me what the agreement is with the Sate as far as the Department of Corrections.
MR. STOCKER: PRR, 15 years, and then the HFO is at your discretion. I mean, that's my understanding of it.
THE COURT: Okay. The - from what I understood is that the HFO would be part of the plea, as far as what - from my understanding is that you'd be sentenced to 15 years with the Department of Corrections, and that would be a minimum mandatory, right? So that would be - you'd serve it time - day for day.
MR. STOCKER: Correct.
THE COURT: And then there would be a cap of 30 years. So the Court could sentence you to - to up to 30 years, in addition to the 15-year minimum mandatory.
MR. STOCKER: I wasn't aware of that. That's 45.
THE COURT: Am I misinterpreting that?
MR. KNOPES: Additional 15.
MS. MASON: It could be 15 plus 15, sir -
MS. MASON: - for a total of 30.
THE COURT: Correct.
MS. MASON: Okay. Not a total of 45.
THE COURT: It's a - it's a 30-year cap, which is included within - I mean, the 15-year minimum mandatory is included in that 15. So you could be sentence up to an additional 15 years, with a 30 - you could be ...

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