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Winslow v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections

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

July 17, 2018

DARREN WINSLOW, Petitioner,
v.
SECRETARY, FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Respondents.

          ORDER

          TIMOTHY J. CORRIGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. Status

         Petitioner Darren Winslow, an inmate of the Florida penal system, initiated this action with the assistance of counsel by filing a Petition Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody (Doc. 1, Petition) on February II, 2015. Winslow challenges a 2012 state court (Nassau County, Florida) conviction for sexual battery of a child twelve years of age or older but less than eighteen years of age by a person in familial or custodial authority. The circuit court sentenced Winslow to incarceration for a term of twelve years, followed by a ten-year term of sex offender probation.

         Respondents filed a Response to the Petition. See Answer to Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Doc. 10; Resp.) with exhibits (Resp. Ex.). Winslow, through counsel, filed a Reply. See Petitioner Darren Winslow's Reply to Respondents' Answer to Winslow's Petition for Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Doc. 12; Reply). In compliance with the Court's inquiry, see Doc. 16, Winslow, through counsel, notified the Court that he was not requesting an evidentiary hearing on his Petition, but was suggesting that the Court conduct a non-evidentiary oral argument. See Doc. 17. As such, over Respondents' objection, see Doc. 18, the Court conducted a non-evidentiary oral argument on March 12, 2018, in which the Court heard argument from counsel for both parties, the transcript of which is incorporated herein. See Doc. 19; Doc. 23. This case is ripe for review.

         II. Relevant Procedural History

         On October 15, 2010, the state of Florida filed an amended information charging Winslow with five counts of sexual battery of a child twelve years of age or older but less than eighteen years of age by a person in familial or custodial authority (counts one-five), and two counts of lewd or lascivious molestation (counts six and seven). Resp. Ex. 2 at 3-4. On March 29, 2011, Winslow's trial attorney, Assistant Public Defender Thomas E. Townsend, Jr., filed a “suggestion of mental incompetence to proceed and motion for examination” alleging that on March 21, 2011, Dr. William R. Meadows conducted a competency evaluation on Winslow and found Winslow “incompetent to proceed” based upon a diagnosis of acute stress disorder. Resp. Ex. 3.

         In consideration of Dr. Meadows' conclusion, Mr. Townsend requested that the circuit court issue an order for further evaluation pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.210. Id. On April 8, 2011, the circuit court granted Mr. Townsend's request and appointed Dr. Larry Neidigh as a disinterested, qualified expert to conduct a second competency examination on Winslow. Resp. Ex. 4. Dr. Neidigh conducted his evaluation on April 13, 2011, and found Winslow competent, but explained that Winslow engaged in “symptom exaggeration and malingering.” Resp. Ex. 5.

         Thereafter, Mr. Townsend filed a “motion for appointment of expert to conduct a third competency examination.” Resp. Ex. 6. The circuit court granted the motion and appointed Dr. Umesh Mhatre to perform a third competency assessment on Winslow. Resp. Ex. 7. Dr. Mhatre conducted his examination on May 14, 2011, and found that Winslow was competent, though he was engaging in an “elaborate plan to malinger.” Resp. Ex. 8. Despite this conclusion, Dr. Mhatre recommended that Winslow “be committed to the State Hospital to get 100% confirmation of a diagnosis of malingering” because the charges pending against him were so severe. Id.

         Upon review of the circuit court's docket, however, it appears that on or about May 6, 2011, before Dr. Mhatre's evaluation, Mr. Townsend filed a motion to withdraw as counsel and a notification of attorney conflict.[1] See State v. Winslow, 2010-CF-722 (Fla. 4th Cir. Ct.). It appears that the circuit court appointed another attorney on or about May 9, 2011. Id. However, it seems Winslow's second appointed counsel withdrew on or about October 14, 2011, and the circuit court appointed a third attorney, Ms. S. Nicole Jamieson (Ms. Jamieson).[2] Id.; see also Resp. Ex. 9.

         On March 15, 2012, Ms. Jamieson filed a motion to appoint Dr. Stephen Bloomfield as a mental health expert to conduct a confidential examination of Winslow in preparation for a defense. Resp. Ex. 9. The circuit court granted Ms. Jamieson's request and appointed Dr. Bloomfield; however, it is unclear if Dr. Bloomfield conducted an evaluation. Resp. Ex. 10. On June 26, 2012, Ms. Jamieson filed a motion to appoint Dr. Neidigh to conduct a confidential psychosexual examination of Winslow in preparation for a defense. Resp. Ex. 12. The circuit court granted Ms. Jamieson's request. Resp. Ex. 13. Upon review of the circuit court docket, it appears a third motion to appoint a mental health expert for a psychosexual examination was filed on or about August 17, 2012, and the circuit court entered an order on this third request on August 30, 2012. See Winslow, 2010-CF-722. It is unclear if a third psychosexual examination was conducted.

         On September 6, 2012, Winslow entered a negotiated plea of guilty to count one. See Ex. 14. That same day, in accordance with his negotiated plea, the circuit court sentenced Winslow to incarceration for a term of twelve years, followed by a ten-year term of sex offender probation. Resp. Ex. 15 at 10. Pursuant to the plea agreement, the state nolle prossed counts two through seven and waived all costs associated with Winslow's sex offender probation monitoring and costs of supervision for the first twelve months of probation. Resp. Ex. 14. Winslow did not seek a direct appeal of his judgment and sentence.

         III. Winslow's Allegation and Analysis

         In this action, Winslow raises one ground for relief claiming that counsel was ineffective for failing to request a competency hearing. See Reply at 1. Winslow contends that counsel's failure to request a competency hearing deprived Winslow of his fundamental right to be tried while competent. See Doc. 12 at 4. Winslow further avers that counsel was ineffective because he was required under Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure 3.210 and 3.212 to request a competency hearing after Dr. Meadows and Dr. Mhatre recommended that Winslow undergo further treatment or testing. Id. at 8. According to Winslow, counsel's failure to request a competency hearing prejudiced him because there was a reasonable probability that he would have been found incompetent to enter a guilty plea if such a hearing was held. Id. at 11.[3]

         Winslow raised a similar ineffective assistance of counsel claim in his state court motion for postconviction relief filed through counsel pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850. See Resp. Ex. 27. The circuit court ultimately denied the claim, finding in pertinent part:

Ground 3 and 4: Defendant alleges that because two examiners had recommended defendant go to a mental hospital a competency hearing should have been held. Attached hereto are copies of the examiners' reports referred to by defendant:
Report of Umesh M. Mhatre, M.D.: “In my opinion, Darren Robert Winslow, is competent to proceed, but is choosing to play games.” See page 6.
Report of Larry Neidigh, Ph.D.: [“]Darren Robert Winslow, appears to be a person of normal intelligence who is not experiencing any significant mental health difficulties or underlying psychopathology.” See page 6.

         Resp. Ex. 28. Winslow appealed the circuit court's denial, see Resp. Ex. 30, and the First District Court of Appeal (First DCA) per curiam affirmed the denial without issuing a written opinion. Resp. Ex. 32.

         A. Standards Under AEDPA and Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         The 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 ...


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