United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
MORALES HOWARD UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Jannette Ramos, an inmate of the Florida penal system,
initiated this action on July 13, 2015, by filing a pro se
Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Petition; Doc. 1) under
28 U.S.C. § 2254. In the Petition, Ramos challenges a
2011 state court (Duval County, Florida) judgment of
conviction for aggravated manslaughter of a child.
Respondents have submitted a memorandum in opposition to the
Petition. See Respondents' Answer to Petition
for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Response; Doc. 17) with exhibits
(Resp. Ex.). On June 29, 2016, the Court entered an Order to
Show Cause and Notice to Petitioner (Doc. 12), admonishing
Ramos regarding her obligations and giving Ramos a time frame
in which to submit a reply. Ramos submitted a brief in
reply. See Petitioner's Motion to
Show Cause (Doc. 23). This case is ripe for review.
October 7, 2010, the State of Florida charged Ramos with
aggravated manslaughter of a child. See Resp. Ex. 1
at 14, Information. Ramos proceeded to a jury trial in August
2011, at the conclusion of which, on August 4, 2011, the jury
found her guilty, as charged. See id. at 106,
Verdict; Resp. Exs. 3; 4; 5, Transcripts of the Jury Trial
(Tr.), at 457-58. On August 4, 2011, the court sentenced
Ramos to a term of imprisonment of fifteen years to be
followed by seven years of probation. See Resp. Exs.
1 at 110-14, Judgment; 2 at 324.
direct appeal, Ramos, with the benefit of counsel, filed an
initial brief, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to
convict her of manslaughter by culpable negligence, and the
trial court erred when it denied her motions for judgment of
acquittal (ground one). Additionally, she asserted that the
trial court erred when it: (a) allowed the State to
cross-examine the child victim's father about the
wrongful death lawsuit he filed against the apartment
complex, and (b) instructed the jury that it could consider
whether a witness was offered or received any money,
preferred treatment, or other benefit in order to get the
witness to testify (ground two). See Resp. Ex. 6.
The State filed an answer brief, see Resp. Ex. 7,
and Ramos filed a reply brief, see Resp. Ex. 8. On
June 14, 2012, the appellate court affirmed Ramos's
conviction and sentence in a written opinion, see Ramos
v. State, 89 So.3d 1119 (Fla. 1st DCA 2012); Resp. Ex.
9, and the mandate issued on July 2, 2012, see Resp. Ex. 9.
February 12, 2013, Ramos filed a pro se motion for
post-conviction relief pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal
Procedure 3.850 (Rule 3.850 motion). See Resp. Ex.
10 at 1-19. In her request for post-conviction relief, she
asserted that counsel (Alfonso Perkins) was ineffective
because he: failed to object to the State's
cross-examination of the child victim's father relating
to the wrongful death suit filed against the apartment
complex (ground one); failed to depose or call the apartment
complex manager as a witness at trial (ground two); and
advised her not to testify at trial (ground three). The
circuit court struck ground two as facially insufficient, and
granted her leave to file an amended motion. See id.
at 23-25. Ramos filed an amended Rule 3.850 motion and raised
the above-stated grounds. See id. at 26-43. The
circuit court directed the State to respond to ground two.
See id. at 44-46. The State responded, see
id. at 48-90, and Ramos filed a pro se reply, see
id. at 91-94. On December 16, 2014, the circuit court
denied her Rule 3.850 motion. See id. at 95-141. On
April 23, 2015, the appellate court affirmed the court's
denial of post-conviction relief per curiam, and the mandate
issued on May 19, 2015. See Resp. Ex. 11.
One-Year Limitations Period
Petition appears to be timely filed within the one-year
limitations period. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d).
habeas corpus proceeding, the burden is on the petitioner to
establish the need for a federal evidentiary hearing. See
Chavez v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 647 F.3d
1057, 1060 (11th Cir. 2011). "In deciding whether to
grant an evidentiary hearing, a federal court must consider
whether such a hearing could enable an applicant to prove the
petition's factual allegations, which, if true, would
entitle the applicant to federal habeas relief."
Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 474 (2007);
Jones v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 834
F.3d 1299, 1318-19 (11th Cir. 2016), cert.
denied, 137 S.Ct. 2245 (2017). "It follows that
if the record refutes the applicant's factual allegations
or otherwise precludes habeas relief, a district court is not
required to hold an evidentiary hearing."
Schriro, 550 U.S. at 474. The pertinent facts of
this case are fully developed in the record before the Court.
Because this Court can "adequately assess [Ramos's]
claim[s] without further factual development, "
Turner v. Crosby, 339 F.3d 1247, 1275 (11th Cir.
2003), an evidentiary hearing will not be conducted.
Governing Legal Principles
Standard of Review
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA)
governs a state prisoner's federal petition for habeas
corpus. 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)
(quotation marks omitted)). As such, federal habeas review of
final state court decisions is "'greatly
circumscribed' and 'highly deferential.'"
Id. (quoting Hill v. Humphrey, 662 F.3d
1335, 1343 (11th Cir. 2011) (quotation marks omitted)).
first task of the federal habeas court is to identify the
last state court decision, if any, that adjudicated the claim
on the merits. See Marshall v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't
of Corr., 828 F.3d 1277, 1285 (11th Cir. 2016). The
state court need not issue an opinion explaining its
rationale in order for the state court's decision to
qualify as an adjudication on the merits. See
Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 100 (2011).
Where the state court's adjudication on the merits is
unaccompanied by an explanation, the United States Supreme
Court recently stated:
[T]he federal court should "look through" the
unexplained decision to the last related state-court decision
that does provide a relevant rationale. It should then
presume that the unexplained decision adopted the same
Wilson v. Sellers, No. 16-6855, 2018 WL 1800370, at
*3 (U.S. Apr. 18, 2018). The presumption may be rebutted by
showing that the higher state court's adjudication most
likely relied on different grounds than the lower state
court's reasoned decision, such as persuasive alternative
grounds that were briefed or argued to the higher court or
obvious in the record it reviewed. Id. at *3, 7.
claim was "adjudicated on the merits" in state
court, § 2254(d) bars relitigation of the claim 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 of the United
States;" 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); Richter, 562 U.S. at 97-98. As the Eleventh
Circuit has explained:
First, § 2254(d)(1) provides for federal review for
claims of state courts' erroneous legal conclusions. As
explained by the Supreme Court in Williams v.
Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389
(2000), § 2254(d)(1) consists of two distinct clauses: a
"contrary to" clause and an "unreasonable
application" clause. The "contrary to" clause
allows for relief only "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." Id. at
413, 120 S.Ct. at 1523 (plurality opinion). The
"unreasonable application" clause allows for relief
only "if the state court identifies the correct
governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court's
decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the
facts of the prisoner's case." Id.
Second, § 2254(d)(2) provides for federal review for
claims of state courts' erroneous factual determinations.
Section 2254(d)(2) allows federal courts to grant relief only
if the state court's denial of the petitioner's claim
"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 Supreme
Court has not yet defined § 2254(d)(2)'s
"precise relationship" to § 2254(e)(1), which
imposes a burden on the petitioner to rebut the state
court's factual findings "by clear and convincing
evidence." See Burt v. Titlow, 571 U.S. ___,
___, 134 S.Ct. 10, 15, 187 L.Ed.2d 348 (2013); accord
Brumfield v. Cain, 576 U.S. ___, ___, 135 S.Ct. 2269,
2282, 192 L.Ed.2d 356 (2015). Whatever that "precise
relationship" may be, "'a state-court factual
determination is not unreasonable merely because the federal
habeas court would have reached a different conclusion in the
first instance.'" Titlow, 571 U.S. at ___, 134
S.Ct. at 15 (quoting Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290,
301, 130 S.Ct. 841, 849, 175 L.Ed.2d 738 (2010)).
Tharpe v. Warden, 834 F.3d 1323, 1337 (11th Cir.
2016), cert. denied, 137 S.Ct. 2298 (2017).
Also, deferential review under § 2254(d) generally is
limited to the record that was before the state court that
adjudicated the claim on the merits. See Cullen v.
Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 182 (2011) (stating the
language in § 2254(d)(1)'s "requires an
examination of the state-court decision at the time it was
"AEDPA erects a formidable barrier to federal habeas
relief for prisoners whose claims have been adjudicated in
state court." Burt v. Titlow, 134 S.Ct. 10, 16
(2013). "Federal courts may grant habeas relief only
when a state court blundered in a manner so 'well
understood and comprehended in existing law' and 'was
so lacking in justification' that 'there is no
possibility fairminded jurists could disagree.'"
Tharpe, 834 F.3d at 1338 (quoting Richter,
562 U.S. at 102-03). This standard is "meant to be"
a "difficult" one to meet. Richter, 562
U.S. at 102. Thus, to the extent that Ramos's claims were
adjudicated on the merits in the state courts, they must be
evaluated under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).
are prerequisites to federal habeas review. Before bringing a
§ 2254 habeas action in federal court, a petitioner must
exhaust all state court remedies that are available for
challenging his state conviction. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254(b)(1)(A). To exhaust state remedies, the
petitioner must "fairly present" every issue
raised in his federal petition to the state's highest
court, either on direct appeal or on collateral review.
Castille v. Peoples, 489 U.S. 346, 351 (1989)
(emphasis omitted). Thus, to properly exhaust a claim,
"state prisoners 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).
addressing exhaustion, the United States Supreme Court
Before seeking a federal writ of habeas corpus, a state
prisoner must exhaust available state remedies, 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, 115 S.Ct. 887, 130 L.Ed.2d 865 (1995) (per curiam)
(quoting Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275, 92
S.Ct. 509, 30 L.Ed.2d 438 (1971)). To provide the State with
the necessary "opportunity, " the prisoner must
"fairly present" his claim in each appropriate
state court (including a state supreme court with powers of
discretionary review), thereby alerting that court to the
federal nature of the claim. Duncan, supra,
at 365-366, 115 S.Ct. 887; O'Sullivan v.
Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845, 119 S.Ct. 1728, 144 L.Ed.2d
Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 29 (2004).
prisoner's failure to properly exhaust available state
remedies results in a procedural default which raises a
potential bar to federal habeas review. The United States
Supreme Court has explained the doctrine of procedural
default as follows:
Federal habeas courts reviewing the constitutionality of a
state prisoner's conviction and sentence are guided by
rules designed to ensure that state-court judgments are
accorded the finality and respect necessary to preserve the
integrity of legal proceedings within our system of
federalism. These rules include the doctrine of procedural
default, under which a federal court will not review the
merits of claims, including constitutional claims, that a
state court declined to hear because the prisoner failed to
abide by a state procedural rule. See,
e.g., Coleman,  supra, at 747-748,
111 S.Ct. 2546; Sykes,  supra, at 84-85, 97
S.Ct. 2497. A state court's invocation of a procedural
rule to deny a prisoner's claims precludes federal review
of the claims if, among other requisites, the state
procedural rule is a nonfederal ground adequate to support
the judgment and the rule is firmly established and
consistently followed. See, e.g.,
Walker v. Martin, 562 U.S. --, --, 131 S.Ct. 1120,
1127-1128, 179 L.Ed.2d 62 (2011); Beard v. Kindler,
558 U.S. --, --, 130 S.Ct. 612, 617-618, 175 L.Ed.2d 417
(2009). The doctrine barring procedurally defaulted claims
from being heard is not without exceptions. A prisoner may
obtain federal review of a defaulted claim by showing cause
for the default and prejudice from a violation of federal
law. See Coleman, 501 U.S., at 750, 111 S.Ct. 2546.
Martinez v. Ryan, 132 S.Ct. 1309, 1316 (2012). Thus,
procedural defaults may be excused under certain
circumstances. Notwithstanding that a claim has been
procedurally defaulted, a federal court may still consider
the claim if a state habeas petitioner can show either (1)
cause for and actual prejudice from the default; or (2) a
fundamental miscarriage of justice. Ward v. Hall,
592 F.3d 1144, 1157 (11th Cir. 2010).
absence of a showing of cause and prejudice, a petitioner may
receive consideration on the merits of a procedurally
defaulted claim if the petitioner can establish that a
fundamental miscarriage of justice, the continued
incarceration of one who is actually innocent, otherwise
would result. The Eleventh Circuit has explained:
[I]f a petitioner cannot show cause and prejudice, there
remains yet another avenue for him to receive consideration
on the merits of his procedurally defaulted claim. "[I]n
an extraordinary case, where a constitutional violation has
probably resulted in the conviction of one who is actually
innocent, a federal habeas court may grant the writ even in
the absence of a showing of cause for the procedural
default." Carrier, 477 U.S. at 496, 106 S.Ct.
at 2649. "This exception is exceedingly narrow in scope,
" however, and requires proof of actual innocence, not
just legal innocence. Johnson v. Alabama, 256 F.3d
1156, 1171 (11th Cir. 2001).
Ward, 592 F.3d at 1157. "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." Johnson v. Alabama, 256
F.3d 1156, 1171 (11th Cir. 2001) (quoting Schlup v.
Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 327 (1995)). Additionally,
"'[t]o be credible, ' a claim of actual
innocence must be based on reliable evidence not presented at
trial." Calderon v. Thompson, 523 U.S. 538, 559
(1998) (quoting Schlup, 513 U.S. at 324). With the
rarity of such evidence, in most cases, allegations of actual
innocence are ultimately summarily rejected. Schlup,
513 U.S. at 324.
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
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), and Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668,
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, 104 S.Ct. 2052. 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, 104
S.Ct. 2052. 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, 104 S.Ct.
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, 104 S.Ct. 2052. It is
not enough "to show that the errors had some conceivable
effect on the outcome of the proceeding." Id.,
at 693, 104 S.Ct. 2052. Counsel's errors must be "so
serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial
whose result is reliable." Id., at 687, 104
Richter, 562 U.S. at 104. The Eleventh Circuit has
recognized "the absence of any iron-clad rule requiring
a court to tackle one prong of the Strickland test
before the other." Ward v. Hall, 592 F.3d 1144,
1163 (11th Cir. 2010). Since both prongs of the two-part
Strickland test must be satisfied to show a Sixth
Amendment violation, "a court need not address the
performance prong if the petitioner cannot meet the prejudice
prong, and vice-versa." Id. (citing
Holladay v. Haley, 209 F.3d 1243, 1248 (11th Cir.
2000)). As stated in Strickland: "If it is
easier to dispose of an ineffectiveness claim on the ground
of lack of sufficient prejudice, which we expect will often
be so, that course should be followed."
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697.
court's adjudication of an ineffectiveness claim is
accorded great deference.
"[T]he standard for judging counsel's representation
is a most deferential one." Richter, - U.S. at
-, 131 S.Ct. at 788. But "[e]stablishing that a state
court's application of Strickland was
unreasonable under § 2254(d) is all the more difficult.
The standards created by Strickland and §
2254(d) are both highly deferential, and when the two apply
in tandem, review is doubly so." Id. (citations
and quotation marks omitted). "The question is not
whether a federal court believes the state court's
determination under the Strickland standard was
incorrect but whether that determination was unreasonable -a
substantially higher threshold." Knowles v.
Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, 123, 129 S.Ct. 1411, 1420, 173
L.Ed.2d 251 (2009) (quotation marks omitted). If there is
"any reasonable argument that counsel satisfied
Strickland's deferential standard, " then a
federal court may not disturb a state-court decision denying
the claim. Richter, - U.S. at -, 131 S.Ct. at 788.
Hittson v. GDCP Warden, 759 F.3d 1210, 1248 (11th
Cir. 2014); Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, 123
(2009). "In addition to the deference to counsel's
performance mandated by Strickland, the AEDPA adds
another layer of deference--this one to a state court's
decision--when we are considering whether to grant federal
habeas relief from a state court's decision."
Rutherford v. Crosby, 385 F.3d 1300, 1309 (11th Cir.
2004). As such, "[s]urmounting Strickland's
high bar is never an easy task." Padilla v.
Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356, 371 (2010).
Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law A. Ground
ground one, Ramos asserts that the State's evidence was
insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she
committed the aggravated manslaughter of a child, and the
trial court erred in denying her motions for judgment of
acquittal in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth
Amendments. See Petition at 5. Respondents argue
that Ramos did not present this claim as a federal due
process violation on direct appeal, and thus Ramos's
federal due process claim has not been exhausted and
therefore is procedurally barred. See Response at
14-25. On this record, the Court agrees that the federal due
process claim has not been exhausted and is therefore
procedurally barred since Ramos failed to raise the claim in
a procedurally correct manner. Ramos has not shown either
cause excusing the default or actual prejudice resulting from
the bar. Moreover, she has failed to identify any fact
warranting the application of the fundamental miscarriage of
assuming that Ramos's federal due process claim is not
procedurally barred, Ramos is not entitled to relief. As
previously stated, Ramos argued this issue on direct appeal,
see Resp. Exs. 6; 8, and the State filed an Answer
Brief, see Resp. Ex. 7. The appellate court
ultimately affirmed Ramos's conviction and sentence per
curiam in a written opinion as to this issue, stating in
Jannette Ramos appeals her conviction and sentence for
aggravated manslaughter of a child following the drowning
death of her infant son in a retention pond close to her
apartment. We affirm.
The only issue meriting discussion is whether the totality of
Ramos's acts, and failures to act, establish the culpable
negligence necessary to sustain her conviction for
manslaughter of a child.
Florida imposes upon parents the responsibility to supervise
and protect their children who are too young to care for
themselves. Machin v. Walgreen Co., 835 So.2d 284
(Fla. 3d DCA 2002). Here, the legal responsibility for the
care of the youngest of Ramos's five children, Nathan
Cook, nineteen months old at the time he drowned, fell
squarely upon her as his immediate caregiver. Mere negligence
in the care of one's young child doesn't necessarily
amount to culpable negligence. Things happen in the
care of young children that are unexpected even by
experienced parents; a one-time accident or misfortune that
could not be reasonably expected to result in serious harm,
without more, does not generally transform a parent into a
culpably negligent criminal. Close legal questions arise,
however, because each tragic case involves the confluence of
an innocent child's death and a bereaved parent, whose
degree of care, neglect, indifference, or callous disregard
is measured against societal norms and expectations under the
circumstances. What some judges might deem culpable
negligence by a parent might be insufficiently egregious to
others. See, e.g., Edwards v.
State, 755 So.2d 443 (Miss. App. 1999) (reversing, over
a dissent, the culpable negligence manslaughter conviction of
parents in the death of their four-year-old who drowned
during [a] camping trip due to insufficient evidence of
culpable negligence). For this reason, we have reviewed the
record closely to determine whether the jury was presented
with sufficient evidence to believe Ramos was culpably
negligent under the law.
In Florida, culpable negligence is a "gross and
flagrant" violation of a duty of care that causes
injury, a course of conduct showing "reckless disregard
of human life, " "such wantonness or
recklessness" as to equal the intentional violation of
the rights of others, or an "entire want of care"
raising "the presumption of indifference to
consequences." Preston v. State, 56 So.2d 543,
544 (Fla. 1952); Fla. Std. Jury Instr. (Crim.) 7.7. We
evaluate the totality of the circumstances, as reflected in
the record, in determining whether the facts presented
constitute culpable negligence. Behn v. State, 621
So.2d 534, 537 (Fla. 1st DCA 1993). If the evidence is
sufficient to establish a jury question regarding whether
Ramos was culpably negligent, we must affirm. State v.
Nowlin, 50 So.3d 79, 81 (Fla. 1st DCA 2010) (existence
of a jury question precludes dismissal).
The initial impression of the detective investigating
Nathan's death was that it was accidental. But that
impression was quickly erased. Several of Ramos's
neighbors came forward to tell of many repeated instances of
Ramos's failure to supervise Nathan in the months
preceding his death. The neighbors were not surprised to