United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
STEVEN R. BAKER, Petitioner,
SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Respondents.
J. DAVIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Steven R. Baker 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.
In this Petition, he raises seven grounds for habeas relief.
Respondents filed a Response to Petition (Response) (Doc.
Petitioner filed Petitioner's Reply (Reply) (Doc. 13).
See Order (Doc. 10).
CLAIMS OF PETITION
raises seven grounds in the Petition: (1) the trial court
erred by allowing similar fact evidence (the nine-minute
video confession from Petitioner's 2006 arrest) to be
admitted as Williams Rule evidence, in violation of
Petitioner's due process rights; (2) the ineffective
assistance of counsel for failure to properly advise
Petitioner of the details of the plea offer; (3) the
ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to call Deputy
Julie Walker as an exculpatory witness; (4) the ineffective
assistance of counsel for failure to call an expert witness
or request a physical examination of the victim; (5) the
ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to impeach the
state's eyewitness, Joshua S. Rosario; (6) the
ineffective assistance of counsel based on the cumulative
errors of counsel, resulting in a due process violation; and
(7) the trial court and Fifth District Court of Appeal (5th
DCA) erred in denying Petitioner's motion alleging newly
discovered evidence and motion to produce favorable or
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).
case at bar, the Court will review the seven grounds raised
in the Petition, see Long v. United States, 626 F.3d
1167, 1169 (11th Cir. 2010) (per curiam) ("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.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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), petition for cert.
filed, (U.S. May 18, 2018) (No. 17-9015). 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)).
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. §
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), cert.
denied, No. 17-8046, 2018 WL 1278461 (U.S. June 11,
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).
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
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.
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).
INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL
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.
making its determination as to whether counsel gave adequate
assistance, "counsel is strongly presumed to have
rendered adequate assistance and made all significant
decisions in exercise of reasonable professional judgment.
Id. at 690. When analyzing a claim of ineffective
assistance of counsel, "[t]he question is whether there
is any reasonable argument that counsel satisfied
Strickland's deferential standard."
Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 105 (2011). 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." Strickland, 466
U.S. at 694. Of note, some conceivable effect on the outcome
does not constitute a reasonable probability. Id. at
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).
Indeed, failure to demonstrate either prong is fatal, making
it unnecessary to consider the other. Id.
Petition is timely filed. See Response at 7.
two through six were exhausted in the state court system.
See Response at 9. Respondents contend, however,
that grounds one and seven are procedurally barred.
Id. at 7-9.
first ground for habeas relief, Petitioner claims the trial
court erred by allowing similar fact evidence (the
nine-minute video confession from Petitioner's 2006
arrest) to be admitted as Williams Rule evidence, in
violation of Petitioner's due process rights. Petition at
5. Respondents aver that ground one is procedurally defaulted
because Petitioner never presented his federal constitutional
claim to the state court, and any attempt to do so now would
be barred. Response at 7-8.
Court must ask whether the constitutional claim was raised in
the state court proceedings and whether the state court was
alerted to the federal nature of the claim. Baldwin v.
Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 32 (2004). The record demonstrates
the following. On direct appeal, in his pro se brief,
Petitioner claimed the trial court erred in allowing the
Williams rule evidence to become a feature of the
trial, and "[i]n allowing these things to happen, the
court violated the Appellant's U.S. and state
constitutional due process rights to a fair trial." Ex.
M at 9. In his brief, Petitioner referred to his federal
constitutional rights and asserted a due process violation.
Thus, he did not rely solely upon Florida case law and
statutes to challenge his conviction on direct appeal.
review, the record demonstrates Petitioner raised a due
process claim in his appeal brief. Ex. M. The Court finds he
fairly presented a federal claim to the state courts. As
such, the federal claim is deemed to be exhausted and is not
procedurally defaulted, and ground one will be addressed.
ground seven, Petitioner claims the trial court and 5th DCA
erred in denying Petitioner's motion alleging newly
discovered evidence and motion to produce favorable or
exculpatory evidence, depriving him of due process of law.
Petitioner raised this ground in a successive Rule 3.850
post-conviction motion. Ex. EE. The circuit court, in
reviewing this claim, found Petitioner did not meet the newly
discovered evidence test, refused to consider the evidence as
newly discovered, and denied the motion. Ex. FF. On August
16, 2016, the 5th DCA affirmed per curiam. Ex. JJ.
on the state courts' rulings, it is quite apparent that
ground seven is procedurally barred. There are, however,
allowable exceptions to the procedural default doctrine;
"[a] prisoner may obtain federal review of a defaulted
claim by showing cause for the default and prejudice from a
violation of federal law." Martinez v. Ryan,
566 U.S. 1, 10 (2012) (citing Coleman v. Thompson,
501 U.S. 722, 750 (1991)). To demonstrate cause, a petitioner
must show that some objective factor external to the defense
impeded his effort to properly raise the claim in state
court. Wright v. Hopper, 169 F.3d 695, 703 (11th
Cir.), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 934 (1999).
Petitioner fails to point to any factor external to the
defense. If cause is established, a petitioner is also
required to demonstrate prejudice. In order to demonstrate
prejudice, he must show "that there is at least a
reasonable probability that the result of the proceeding
would have been different had the constitutional violation
not occurred." Owen v. Sec'y for Dep't of
Corr., 568 F.3d 894, 908 (11th Cir. 2009),
cert. denied, 558 U.S. 1151 (2010).
considering the pleadings before the Court, Petitioner has
failed to show cause. In addition, he does not meet the
prejudice or manifest injustice exceptions. Although a
petitioner may obtain review of the merits of a procedurally
barred claim if he satisfies the actual innocence
"gateway" established in Schlup v. Delo,
513 U.S. 298 (1995), Petitioner has not done so. The gateway
is meant to prevent a constitutional error at trial from
causing a miscarriage of justice and "'the
conviction of one who is actually innocent of the
crime.'" Kuenzel v. Comm'r, Ala. Dep't
of Corr., 690 F.3d 1311, 1314 (11th Cir. 2012) (per
curiam) (quoting Schlup, 513 U.S. at 324),
cert. denied, 569 U.S. 1004 (2013). The
fundamental miscarriage of justice exception is only
available in extraordinary cases upon a showing of
"'actual' innocence" rather than mere
"'legal' innocence." Johnson v.
Ala., 256 F.3d 1156, 1171 (11th Cir. 2001) (citations
omitted), cert. denied, 535 U.S. 926
(2002). With respect to ground seven, Petitioner has failed
to identify any fact warranting the application of the
fundamental miscarriage of justice exception.
conclusion, the Court finds ground seven is barred in federal
court. As Petitioner has failed to establish cause and
prejudice or any factors warranting the application of the
fundamental miscarriage of justice exception to overcome the
default, ground seven is due to be denied as procedurally
alternative, this claim is not cognizable in this habeas
proceeding. Petitioner urges this Court to find that the
state circuit and appellate court erred in denying
Petitioner's successive Rule 3.850 motion alleging newly
discovered evidence. Petition at 15. He claims the circuit
court's denial of post conviction relief and the
appellate court's refusal to correct the trial
court's error in denying relief deprived him of due
process of law. Id.
noted previously, Petitioner filed a successive Rule 3.850
motion, and the trial court denied the motion in its Order
Denying Defendant's Motion to Vacate and Set Aside
Judgment and Sentence Alleging Newly Discovered Evidence. Ex.
EE; Ex. FF. Petitioner appealed the trial court's
decision to the 5th DCA, and the state appellate court
affirmed the decision of the trial court. Ex. GG; Ex. HH; Ex.
II; Ex. JJ.
Court finds Petitioner's claim raised in ground seven is
not cognizable in a federal habeas proceeding. Any challenge
to the effectiveness of Florida's state court collateral
proceedings does not undermine the legality of the conviction
itself; therefore, Petitioner is not entitled to habeas
relief on this ground. An explanation follows.
seven is not cognizable on habeas corpus review as the
purpose of a federal habeas proceeding is review of the
lawfulness of Petitioner's custody to determine whether
that custody is in violation of the Constitution or laws or
treaties of the United States, not to consider a challenge to
state court deficiencies. See Coleman v. Thompson,
501 U.S. 722 (1991). The writ of habeas corpus under 28
U.S.C. § 2254 "was not enacted to enforce
State-created rights." Cabberiza v. Moore, 217
F.3d 1329, 1333 (11th Cir. 2000) (citing Branan v.
Booth, 861 F.2d 1507, 1508 (11th Cir. 1988)), cert.
denied, 531 U.S. 1170 (2001). The Eleventh Circuit
allows that only in cases of federal ...