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San-Miguel v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections

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

May 10, 2018





         Petitioner Benito San-Miguel, challenges a 2013 Putnam County conviction for sexual battery on a person less than twelve years of age in his Petition Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody (Petition) (Doc. 1).[1] In this Petition, he raises five grounds for habeas relief. Respondents filed a Response to Petition (Response) (Doc. 10). Petitioner filed a Response to State's Response (Reply) (Doc. 14). See Order (Doc. 8).


         Petitioner raises five grounds in the Petition: (1) the trial court erred by allowing Misty Powers to testify as a Williams[2] Rule witness; (2) the ineffective assistance of counsel for allowing Petitioner to enter a plea to a defective information; (3) the ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to object to a defective information; (4) the ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to investigate or depose law enforcement and for failure to object to the probable cause affidavit; and (5) the ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to demand a speedy trial.


         A district court is not required to hold an evidentiary hearing if the record refutes the asserted factual allegations or otherwise precludes habeas relief. Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 474 (2007). It is a petitioner's burden to establish the need for a federal evidentiary hearing, and here, Petitioner has not met the burden. Chavez v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 647 F.3d 1057, 1060 (11th Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 565 U.S. 1120 (2012). The pertinent facts are fully developed in this record or the record otherwise precludes habeas relief. In this case, the Court is able to "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).

         Thus, the Court will review the five grounds raised in the Petition, see Long v. United States, 626 F.3d 1167, 1169 (11th Cir. 2010) ("The district court must resolve all claims for relief raised on collateral review, regardless of whether relief is granted or denied.") (citing Clisby v. Jones, 960 F.2d 925, 936 (11th Cir. 1992) and Rhode v. United States, 583 F.3d 1289, 1291 (11th Cir. 2009)), but no evidentiary proceeding will be conducted.


         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). This narrow scope of review under AEDPA provides for habeas relief only if there are extreme malfunctions, certainly not to be used as a means to correct state court errors. Ledford, 818 F.3d at 642 (quoting Greene v. Fisher, 565 U.S. 34, 38 (2011)).

         Federal courts may grant habeas relief if:

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).
A state court's decision rises to the level of an unreasonable application of federal law only where the ruling is "objectively unreasonable, not merely wrong; even clear error will not suffice." Virginia v. LeBlanc, 582 U.S. __, __, 137 S.Ct. 1726, 1728, 198 L.Ed.2d 186 (2017) (per curiam) (quoting Woods v. Donald, 575 U.S. __, __, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376, 191 L.Ed.2d 464 (2015) (per curiam)). This standard is "meant to be" a difficult one to meet. Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102, 131 S.Ct. 770, 786, 178 L.Ed.2d 624 (2011).

Rimmer v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 876 F.3d 1039, 1053 (11th Cir. 2017), petition for cert. docketed by (U.S. Mar. 9, 2018) (No. 17-8046).

         "We also must presume that 'a determination of a factual issue made by a State court [is[ correct, ' and the petitioner 'ha[s] the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence.' 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1)." Morrow v. Warden, 886 F.3d 1138, 1147 (11th Cir. 2018). Additionally, "[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).

         Recently, in Wilson v. Sellers, 138 S.Ct. 1188, 1194 (2018), the Supreme Court concluded there is a "look through" presumption in federal habeas law, as silence implies consent. See Kernan v. Hinojosa, 136 S.Ct. 1603, 1605-606 (2016) (per curiam) (adopting the presumption silence implies consent, but refusing to impose an irrebutable presumption). This presumption is employed when a higher state court provides no reason for its decision; however, it is just a presumption, not an absolute rule. Wilson, 138 S.Ct. at 1196. "Where there are convincing grounds to believe the silent court had a different basis for its decision than the analysis followed by the previous court, the federal habeas court is free, as we have said, to find to the contrary." Id. at 1197.

         Being mindful of the Supreme Court's recent guidance, this Court will undertake its review. If the last state court to decide a prisoner's federal claim provides an explanation for its merits-based decision in a reasoned opinion, "a federal habeas court simply reviews the specific reasons given by the state court and defers to those reasons if they are reasonable." Id. at 1192. But, if the relevant state-court decision on the merits is not accompanied by a reasoned opinion, for example the decision simply states affirmed or denied, a federal court "should 'look through' the unexplained decision to the last related state-court decision that does provide a relevant rationale." Id. At this stage, the federal court presumes the unexplained decision adopted the same reasoning as the lower court; however, the presumption is not irrebutable. Id. See Hinojosa, 136 S.Ct. at 1606 (strong evidence may refute the presumption). Indeed, the state may rebut the presumption by showing the higher state court relied or most likely relied on different grounds than the lower state court, "such as alternative grounds for affirmance that were briefed or argued to the state supreme court or obvious in the record it reviewed." Wilson, 138 S.Ct. at 1192.

         Although the § 2254(d) standard is difficult to meet, the standard is meant to be difficult. Rimmer, 876 F.3d at 1053 (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). When applying the stringent AEDPA standard, state court decisions must be given the benefit of the doubt. Trepal v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 684 F.3d 1088, 1107 (11th Cir. 2012) (quotation and citations omitted), cert. denied, 568 U.S. 1237 (2013).


         In order to prevail on his Sixth Amendment claims, Petitioner must satisfy the two-pronged test set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688 (1984), requiring that he show both deficient performance (counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness) and prejudice (there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different). A counsel's performance is deficient only if counsel's "identified acts or omissions were outside the wide range of professionally competent assistance." Id. at 690. And importantly, with regard to the establishment of prejudice requirement, the reasonable probability of a different result must be "a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Id. at 694.

         Finally, in order to prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, both parts of the Strickland test must be satisfied. Bester v. Warden, Att'y Gen. of the State of Ala., 836 F.3d 1331, 1337 (11th Cir. 2016) (citing Holladay v. Haley, 209 F.3d 1243, 1248 (11th Cir. 2000)), cert. denied, 137 S.Ct. 819 (2017). However, a court need only address one prong, and if it is found unsatisfied, the court need not address the other prong. Id.


         Petitioner initiated this action by filing his Petition. The Court Clerk file-stamped the Petition on July 11, 2016. Petition at 1. The Petition has a date stamp showing it was turned over to the prison authorities for mailing on July 5, 2016. Id.

         Under AEDPA, there is a one-year period of limitation:

(d)(1) A 1-year period of limitation shall apply to an application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court. The ...

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