United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
MORALES HOWARD United States District Judge.
Freddie Lawrence, an inmate of the Florida penal system,
initiated this action on September 21, 2015, by filing a pro
se Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Petition; Doc. 1)
under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In the Petition, Lawrence
challenges a 2008 state court (Duval County, Florida)
judgment of conviction for second degree murder. Respondents
have submitted a memorandum in opposition to the Petition.
See Respondents' Answer in Response to Order to
Show Cause and Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Response;
Doc. 15) with exhibits (Resp. Ex.). On November 3, 2015, the
Court entered an Order to Show Cause and Notice to Petitioner
(Doc. 4), admonishing Lawrence regarding his obligations and
giving Lawrence a time frame in which to submit a reply.
Lawrence submitted a brief in reply. See
Petitioner's Reply to the State's Response (Reply;
Doc. 18). This case is ripe for review.
5, 2007, the State of Florida charged Lawrence with second
degree murder. Resp. Ex. A at 8, Information. Lawrence
proceeded to a jury trial in April 2008, at the conclusion of
which, on April 18, 2008, the jury found him guilty, as
charged. See id. at 76-77, Verdict; 932-33,
Transcript of the Jury Trial (Tr.). On May 20, 2008, the
court sentenced Lawrence to a term of imprisonment of
thirty-five years. Id. at 103-08, Judgment.
direct appeal, Lawrence, with the benefit of counsel, filed
an amended initial brief, raising the following issues:
whether Lawrence's theory of self-defense, coupled with
testimony by independent witnesses of the decedent possessing
and pointing a gun, was overcome and sufficiently rebutted by
the State's pyramiding of circumstantial evidence (ground
one); whether Lawrence unequivocally invoked his right to
remain silent and have an attorney present during questioning
(ground two); whether the prosecutor's characterization
of the sequences concerning Lawrence's arrest implying
flight and thus evidence of guilt created an improper
inference of guilt (ground three); whether a trial judge may
comment on the trial's progress in front of the jury
(ground four); and whether the prosecutor's numerous
misstatements of law and fact, comments on Lawrence's
right to remain silent, improper shifting of the burden of
proof, bolstering of the State's witnesses, denigrating
Lawrence, and inflammatory argument constituted prosecutorial
misconduct and violated Lawrence's right to a fair trial
and due process of law (ground five). Resp. Ex. C. The State
filed an answer brief, see Resp. Ex. D, and Lawrence
filed a reply brief, see Resp. Ex. E. On September
29, 2009, the appellate court affirmed Lawrence's
conviction and sentence without issuing a written opinion,
see Resp. Ex. G, and the mandate issued on October
15, 2009, see Resp. Ex. H.
January 5, 2010, Lawrence 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. I
at 1-41. He amended the Rule 3.850 motion on December 10,
2010, August 22, 2011, and March 26, 2012. See id.
at 53-67, 152-54, 170-83. In his request for post-conviction
relief, he asserted that counsel (Debra Billard) was
ineffective because she failed to: object to the legally
insufficient Information that charged Lawrence with second
degree murder (ground one); discover the State's failure
to properly disclose its agreements with witnesses in
exchange for their testimony at trial (ground three); convey
the State's plea offer for the lesser-included offense of
manslaughter (ground four); conduct an adequate pretrial
investigation (ground five); properly investigate and call
Janett Richard, Denard Jones, and Victoria Reed as defense
witnesses at trial (ground six); properly argue and file a
motion for new trial (ground seven); and request an
evidentiary hearing to determine if he was immune from
prosecution under stand-your-ground law (ground ten). He also
stated that the trial court erred when it failed to reduce
the second degree murder charge to justifiable homicide
(ground eight), and when it adjudicated him guilty of second
degree murder because the verdict was contrary to the law and
the weight of the evidence (ground nine). Additionally, he
asserted that the trial court lacked subject matter
jurisdiction because the Information was legally insufficient
(ground two), and committed fundamental error when it
improperly instructed the jury that the crime of manslaughter
required that he intentionally caused the victim's death
(ground eleven). The circuit court held an evidentiary
hearing on grounds six and ten on January 3, 2013. See
id. at 481-545. On September 26, 2013, the circuit court
denied his Rule 3.850 motion. See id. at 345-57.
Lawrence appealed the circuit court's denial as to
grounds four and eleven. On October 23, 2014, the appellate
court partially affirmed the circuit court's denial of
post-conviction relief, reversed the court's denial of
relief as to ground four, and remanded with instructions that
the circuit court hold an evidentiary hearing on the claim or
attach portions of the record conclusively refuting the
claim. See Lawrence v. State, 149 So.3d 1162 (Fla.
1st DCA 2014) (per curiam); Resp. Ex. J. As to ground eleven,
the appellate court stated:
As for Ground 11, in which Appellant claimed that, pursuant
to Montgomery v. State, 70 So.3d 603 (Fla. 1st DCA
2009), the trial court committed fundamental error during his
trial by giving an erroneous manslaughter by act jury
instruction, we agree with the State's contention that
the claim was untimely and that none of the exceptions to the
two-year time limitation in rule 3.850 are applicable to this
claim. See Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.850(b)
(providing for a two-year time limitation in which to file a
postconviction claim); see also Surinach v. State,
110 So.3d 95, 95 (Fla. 2d DCA 2013) ("Amended motions
for postconviction relief are subject to the two-year time
limit for filing rule 3.850 motions unless they merely
enlarge an issue or issues raised in the original
motion."). To the extent that Appellant argues in this
proceeding that his appellate counsel was ineffective in
failing to raise the erroneous jury instruction issue in his
direct appeal, we dismissed Appellant's habeas corpus
petition raising that argument because it too was untimely.
See Lawrence v. State, 92 So.3d 855 (Fla. 1st DCA
Lawrence, 149 So.3d at 1163 (footnote omitted).
Additionally, the appellate court noted:
[Lawrence]'s direct appeal was pending when we issued our
decision in Montgomery,  holding that intent to kill
is not an element of manslaughter by act and that it was
fundamental error to give an instruction suggesting that the
State was required to prove intent to kill to prove the crime
of manslaughter. See 70 So.3d at 604-07.
Id. at n.1. On remand, the circuit court held an
evidentiary hearing as to ground four. See Resp. Ex.
K at 283-375. On May 15, 2015, the court denied
Lawrence's Rule 3.850 motion as to ground four. See
id. at 276-78. Lawrence later filed a motion for
voluntary dismissal of his appeal, see
http://jweb.flcourts.org, No. 1D15-2573, and the appellate
court dismissed his appeal under Florida Rule of Appellate
Procedure 9.350(b) on September 22, 2015, see Resp.
his Rule 3.850 proceeding was pending, Lawrence filed a pro
se petition for writ of habeas corpus on April 29, 2012.
See Resp. Ex. M. In the petition, he asserted that
the trial court committed fundamental error when it gave the
standard jury instruction for the lesser-included offense of
manslaughter by act (ground one), and appellate counsel was
ineffective because he failed to raise the issue of the trial
court's fundamental error (ground two) on direct appeal.
On May 22, 2012, the appellate court dismissed the petition
as untimely, , see Lawrence v. State, 92 So.3d
855 (Fla. 1st DCA 2012); Resp. Ex. N, and later denied his
motion for rehearing on August 1, 2012, see Resp.
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
[Lawrence's] claim[s] without further factual
development, " Turner v. Crosby, 339 F.3d 1247,
1275 (11th Cir. 2003), an evidentiary hearing will not be
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, 138 S.Ct. 1188, 1192 (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 1192, 1196.
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 Lawrence'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 ...