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Bryant v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections

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

May 7, 2018




         Petitioner initiated this case by filing a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (ECF No. 1.) Respondent filed a response, ECF No. 10, along with relevant portions of the state-court record. (ECF No. 10-1-10-4.) Upon due consideration of the petition, response, and state-court record, the undersigned recommends that the petition be denied.[1]

         Summary of State-Court Proceedings

         On September 20, 2010, Petitioner was charged by information with possession of cocaine and tampering with physical evidence. (ECF No. 10-1 at 26.) Petitioner then pleaded nolo contendere on January 26, 2012, to possession of cocaine and felony battery, and he was sentenced to twelve months of probation on each charge, to run concurrently. (Id. at 77-97.)

         While on probation Petitioner was arrested during a traffic stop in Lake County, Florida on charges of possession of a controlled substance and trafficking in a controlled substance. (Id. at 99-102.) An amended affidavit of violation of probation was filed on May 8, 2012, alleging that Petitioner violated Condition Five, failure to refrain from violating the law; Condition Three, leaving his county of residence without consent of the probation officer; and Condition Six, association with persons engaged in criminal activity. (Id. at 109-10.) The circuit court revoked Petitioner's probation on March 27, 2013, and he received two consecutive sentences of five years in prison. (Id. at 154-59.)

         On July 22, 2013, Petitioner filed a Motion to Correct Sentencing Error Pursuant to Rule 3.800(b)(2), Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure. (ECF No. 10-2 at 201-05.) The circuit court granted in part and denied in part this motion on July 25, 2013, amending the credit for time served. (Id. at 224-26.)

         Petitioner then appealed his revocation of probation to the First District Court of Appeal (“First DCA”). (Id. at 272-86.) Petitioner argued that the evidence presented at the hearing was “insufficient to prove a willful and substantial violation of probation.” (Id.) The First DCA per curiam affirmed without written opinion on February 24, 2014, and the mandate followed on March 24, 2014. (Id. at 318, 320.) Petitioner then filed a pro se motion for rehearing, which the First DCA denied on April 25, 2014. (Id. at 322-25; ECF No. 10-3 at 18.)

         On April 17, 2014, Petitioner filed a pro se motion to the circuit court for modification of sentence under Rule 3.800(c) of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure. (ECF No. 10-3 at 20-26.) The circuit court denied Petitioner's motion on April 24, 2014. (Id. at 33-34.)

         Petitioner then filed a pro se motion to correct illegal sentence under Rule 3.800(a) on January 7, 2015. (Id. at 38-40.) The circuit court denied this motion on January 13, 2015. (Id. at 69-71.) Petitioner appealed, and on April 29, 2015, the First DCA per curiam affirmed without written opinion. (Id. at 118.) The mandate followed on May 27, 2015. (Id. at 120.)

         Then on June 22, 2015, Petitioner filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus to the First DCA, alleging ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. (Id. at 122-29.) Petitioner argued that the First DCA's panel lacked jurisdiction to enter a per curiam affirmance and deprived him of his rights, and that because his appellate counsel failed to raise these arguments, his appellate counsel was ineffective. (Id.) The First DCA denied the petition on the merits without written opinion on July 9, 2015. (Id. at 132.) The First DCA then denied Petitioner's motion for clarification and written opinion on August 21, 2015. (Id. at 134-37, 139.)

         Also on June 22, 2015, Petitioner filed a pro se motion to correct sentence under Rule 3.800(a). (Id. at 231-34.) The circuit court denied Petitioner's motion on July 1, 2015. (Id. at 236-37.) Petitioner appealed. (Id. at 281; ECF No. 10-4 at 1-13.)

         Petitioner also filed a pro se motion to the trial court for post-conviction relief under Rule 3.850 on July 1, 2015. (ECF No. 10-3 at 143-61.) The trial court denied the motion with a written opinion on July 17, 2015. (Id. at 163-69.) Petitioner then filed a notice of appeal to the First DCA on July 21, 2015. (Id. at 225.) The First DCA per curiam affirmed without written opinion on October 9, 2015. (ECF No. 10-4 at 51.) The mandate followed on November 4, 2015. (Id. at 53.)[2]

         Petitioner submitted this petition for a writ of habeas corpus to prison officials for mailing on July 28, 2015. (ECF No. 1.)

         Section 2254 Standard of Review

         The role of a federal habeas court when reviewing a state prisoner's application pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 is limited. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 403-04 (2000). Under section 2254(a), federal courts “shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgement of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.”

         Additionally, federal courts must give deference to state court adjudications unless the state court's adjudication of the claim is “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, ” or unless the adjudication “was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

         With regard to factual findings, under § 2254(e)(1), the petitioner must advance clear and convincing evidence that the state court's factual determination was “objectively unreasonable” to rebut the presumption that the determination was correct. Gill v. Mecusker, 633 F.3d 1272, 1287 (11th Cir. 2011); 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). “‘[A] state-court factual determination is not unreasonable merely because the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.'” Burt v. Titlow, 134 S.Ct. 10, 15 (2013) (quoting Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301 (2010)).

         As to legal findings, “under § 2254(d)(1)'s ‘contrary to' clause, we grant 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.'” Jones v. GDCP Warden, 753 F.3d 1171, 1182 (11th Cir. 2014) (alterations in original) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 413). “Under § 2254(d)(1)'s ‘unreasonable application' clause, we grant 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.'” Jones, 753 F.3d at 1182 (alteration in original) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 413).

         Additionally, “clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, ” refers only to holdings (rather than dicta) of the Supreme Court, but decisions of lower federal courts may be considered to the extent that they demonstrate how those courts applied Supreme Court holdings. Hawkins v. Alabama, 318 F.3d 1302, 1309 (11th Cir. 2003); see also Carey v. Musladin, 549 U.S. 70, 74-77 (2006).

         The Supreme Court has interpreted § 2254(d) as requiring that “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 (2011). “[A]n ‘unreasonable application' of [Supreme Court] holdings must be ‘objectively unreasonable,' not merely wrong; even ‘clear error' will not suffice.” Woodall, 134 S.Ct. at 1702. In other words, Petitioner must establish that no fairminded jurist would have reached the Florida court's conclusion. See Richter, 562 U.S. at 102-03; Holsey v. Warden, Ga. Diagnostic Prison, 694 F.3d 1230, 1257-58 (11th Cir.2012). “If this standard is difficult to meet, that is because it was meant to be.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 102.

         Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         Because some of Petitioner's claims allege ineffective assistance of counsel, a review of the applicable law is necessary. Under Strickland v. Washington, to prevail on a constitutional claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant must demonstrate that (1) his counsel's performance was below an objective and reasonable professional norm, and (2) he was prejudiced by this inadequacy. Strickland, 466 U.S. 668, 686-96 (1984). The court may dispose of the claim if a defendant fails to carry his burden of proof on either the performance or the prejudice prong. Id. at 697.

         To show counsel's performance was unreasonable, a defendant must establish that “no competent counsel would have taken the action that his counsel did take.” Grayson v. Thompson, 257 F.3d 1194, 1216 (11th Cir. 2001) (emphasis omitted). “The relevant question is not whether counsel's choices were strategic, but whether they were reasonable.” Roe v. Flores-Ortega, 528 U.S. 470, 481 (2000). There are no “absolute rules” for determining whether counsel's actions were indeed reasonable, as “[a]bsolute rules would interfere with counsel's independence-which is also constitutionally protected-and would restrict the wide latitude counsel have in making tactical decisions.” Putnam v. Head, 268 F.3d 1223, 1244 (11th Cir. 2001). “To uphold a lawyer's strategy, [the Court] need not attempt to divine the lawyer's mental processes underlying the strategy.” Chandler v. United States, 218 F.3d 1305, 1314 n.16 (11th Cir. 2000) (en banc). “No lawyer can be expected to have considered all of the ways [to provide effective assistance].” Id.

If a defense lawyer pursued course A, it is immaterial that some other reasonable courses of defense (that the lawyer did not think of at all) existed and that the lawyer's pursuit of course A was not a deliberate choice between course A, course B, and so on. The lawyer's strategy was course A. And [the Court's] inquiry is limited to whether this strategy, that is, course A, might have been a reasonable one.


         To show prejudice, a defendant must show more than simply that counsel's unreasonable conduct might have had “some conceivable effect on the outcome of the proceeding.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 693. Instead, a defendant must show a “reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Id. at 694. A “reasonable probability is defined as a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.” Id.

         Section 2254 Exhaustion Requirement

         Before bringing a habeas action in federal court, a petitioner must exhaust all state court remedies that are available for challenging his conviction, either on direct appeal or in a state post-conviction motion. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1), (c). Exhaustion requires that prisoners give the state courts a “full and fair opportunity” to resolve all federal constitutional claims by “invoking one complete round of the State's established appellate review process.” O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845 (1999). To properly exhaust a federal claim, a petitioner must fairly present the claim in each appropriate state court, thereby affording the state courts a meaningful “opportunity to pass upon and correct ...

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