United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
TIMOTHY J. CORRIGAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
an inmate of the Florida penal system, initiated this case by
filing a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254 (Doc. 1) (Petition). On October 25, 2011, after
pleading nolo contendere to DUI manslaughter, DUI resulting
in serious bodily injury, and DUI with injury or property
damage, Petitioner was sentenced to fifteen years
imprisonment to be followed by five years of probation. He
challenges his judgment of conviction (Baker County) by
raising four claims of ineffective assistance of trial
counsel. Respondents filed an Amended Answer (Doc. 22) with
exhibits (Docs. 22-1 through 22-5) (Ex.). Petitioner filed a
Reply (Doc. 26). This case is ripe for review.
Governing Legal Principles
Standard of Review
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) governs
a state prisoner's federal habeas corpus petition.
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)).
first task of the federal habeas court is to identify the
last state court decision, if any, that adjudicated the
petitioner's claims 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 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
reasoning. But the State may rebut the presumption by showing
that the unexplained affirmance relied or most likely did
rely on different grounds than the lower state court's
decision, such as alternative grounds for affirmance that
were briefed or argued to the state supreme court or obvious
in the record it reviewed.
Wilson v. Sellers, 138 S.Ct. 1188, 1192 (2018).
state court has adjudicated a petitioner's claims on the
merits, a federal court cannot grant habeas relief unless the
state court's adjudication of the claim 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)(1), (2). A state court's
factual findings are “presumed to be correct”
unless rebutted “by clear and convincing
evidence.” Id. § 2254(e)(1).
AEDPA “imposes a highly deferential standard for
evaluating state court rulings” and “demands that
state-court decisions be given the benefit of the
doubt.” Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773
(2010) (internal quotation marks omitted). “A state
court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes
federal habeas relief so long as fairminded jurists could
disagree on the correctness of the state court's
decision.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86,
101 (2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). “It
bears repeating that even a strong case for relief does not
mean the state court's contrary conclusion was
unreasonable.” Id. [at 102] (citing
Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003)). The
Supreme Court has repeatedly instructed lower federal courts
that an unreasonable application of law requires more than
mere error or even clear error. See, e.g.,
Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12');">540 U.S. 12, 18 (2003);
Lockyer, 538 U.S. at 75 (“The gloss of clear
error fails to give proper deference to state courts by
conflating error (even clear error) with
unreasonableness.”); Williams v. Taylor, 529
U.S. 362, 410 (2000) (“[A]n unreasonable application of
federal law is different from an incorrect application of
Bishop v. Warden, GDCP, 726 F.3d 1243, 1253-54 (11th
Cir. 2013) (internal citations modified).
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); Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S.
668, 687 (1984)).
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. 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. 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.
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. It is not enough
“to show that the errors had some conceivable effect on
the outcome of the proceeding.” Id. at 693.
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.
Richter, 562 U.S. at 104; Marshall, 828
F.3d at 1284 (recognizing that to proceed on a claim of
ineffective assistance of trial counsel, “the
petitioner has to show both that his counsel's
performance was deficient and that that deficient performance
was prejudicial-that is, that there is a ‘reasonable
probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional
errors, the result of the proceeding would have been
different.'” (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S.
At 687, 694)). 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.” Ward v. Hall, 592 F.3d
1144, 1163 (11th Cir. 2010) (citing Holladay v.
Haley, 209 F.3d 1243, 1248 (11th Cir. 2000)).
Strickland test also applies to challenges to guilty
pleas. “‘[C]ounsel owes a lesser duty to a client
who pleads guilty than to one who decides to go to trial, and
in the former case counsel need only provide his client with
an understanding of the law in relation to the facts, so that
the accused may make an informed and conscious choice between
accepting the prosecution's offer and going to
trial.'” Stano v. Dugger, 921 F.2d 1125,
1151 (11th Cir. 1991) (quoting Wofford v.
Wainwright, 748 F.2d 1505, 1508 (11th Cir.1984) (per
curiam)). “An attorney's responsibility is to
investigate and to evaluate his client's options in the
course of the subject legal proceedings and then to advise
the client as to the merits of each.” Id. The
prejudice prong “focuses on whether counsel's
constitutionally ineffective performance affected the outcome
of the plea process. In other words, . . . to satisfy the
‘prejudice' requirement, the defendant must show
that there is a reasonable probability that, but for
counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and
would have insisted on going to trial.” Hill v.
Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985); see Lynch v.
Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 776 F.3d 1209, 1218
(11th Cir. 2015).
standards created by Strickland and § 2254(d)
are both highly deferential, and when the two apply in
tandem, review is doubly so.'” Marshall,
828 F.3d at 1285 (quoting Overstreet v. Warden, 811
F.3d 1283, 1287 (11th Cir. 2016)).
“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 (2009) (quotation marks omitted). If there is
“any reasonable argument that counsel satisfied
Strickland's deferential standard, ” ...