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Bryant v. Inch

United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Tallahassee Division

June 6, 2019

MARK S. INCH, [1]Respondent.



         This cause is before the court on Petitioner's petition for writ of habeas corpus filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (ECF No. 1). Respondent filed an answer and relevant portions of the state court record (ECF No. 25). Petitioner filed a reply (ECF No. 27).

         The case was referred to the undersigned for the issuance of all preliminary orders and any recommendations to the district court regarding dispositive matters. See N.D. Fla. Loc. R. 72.2(B); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), (C) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). After careful consideration of all issues presented by the parties, it is the opinion of the undersigned that no evidentiary hearing is required for the disposition of this matter, Rule 8(a), Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases. It is further the opinion of the undersigned that the pleadings and attachments before the court show that Petitioner is not entitled to relief.


         The relevant aspects of the procedural background of this case are established by the state court record (see ECF No. 25).[2] On June 7, 2013, Petitioner was indicted in the Circuit Court in and for Leon County, Florida, No. 2013-CF-1757, with one count of capital first degree premeditated murder (Ex. B1 at 6-7). On January 21, 2014, Petitioner filed, in open court, a waiver of her right to a twelve-peson jury, in exchange for the State's agreement not to seek the death penalty (see Id. at 44). On March 31, 2014, Petitioner entered a written plea agreement pursuant to which she agreed to enter a no contest plea to a reduced charge of second degree murder (a life felony) in exchange for a sentence of forty-five (45) years in prison with credit for 310 days (id. at 54-55). The same day, the court held a plea and sentencing hearing (id. at 83-97). The court conducted a colloquy, and found that Petitioner understood the nature of the charges against her and the consequences of her plea; that her decision to enter a plea was made freely and voluntarily; and that she was advised by a competent attorney (id. at 86-91). The trial court further found that there was a sufficient factual basis for the plea (id. at 91). The court accepted Petitioner's plea, adjudicated her guilty of second degree murder, and sentenced her in accordance with the plea agreement (id. at 56-64, 96).

         Petitioner, through counsel, appealed the judgment to the Florida First District Court of Appeal (“First DCA”), No. 1D14-1622 (Ex. B2). Petitioner's counsel filed a brief, pursuant to Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967), asserting that counsel was unable to make a good faith argument that reversible error occurred in the trial court (id.). The First DCA provided Petitioner an opportunity to file a pro se initial brief (Ex. B3), but she did not do so. The First DCA affirmed the judgment per curiam without written opinion on December 18, 2014 (Ex. B4). Bryant-Penny v. State, 152 So.3d 571 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014) (Table). The mandate issued January 13, 2015 (Ex. B5).

         On March 6, 2015, Petitioner filed a motion for post-conviction relief and supporting memorandum in the state circuit court, pursuant to Rule 3.850 of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure (Ex. C1 at 1-14). On February 19, 2015, the state circuit court dismissed Ground One as legally insufficient, without prejudice to Petitioner's amending the claim within sixty days (id. at 15). Petitioner filed a timely amendment to Ground One (id. at 16-19). On December 3, 2015, the state circuit court entered an order summarily denying Grounds One, Two, and Four, and setting an evidentiary hearing on Ground Three (id. at 21-38). At the conclusion of the evidentiary hearing, the court orally pronounced its denial of Ground Three (id. at 45-77). On February 23, 2016, the court issued a final order denying the Rule 3.850 motion (id. at 39). Petitioner appealed the decision to the First DCA, No. 1D16-1369 (Ex. C2). The First DCA affirmed the lower court's decision per curiam without written opinion on March 30, 2017 (Ex. C4). Bryant v. State, 224 So.3d 211 (Fla. 1st DCA 2017) (Table). The mandate issued April 25, 2017 (Ex. C5).

         Petitioner filed the instant federal habeas action on September 7, 2017 (ECF No. 1).


         Federal courts may grant habeas corpus relief for persons in state custody pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Section 2254(d) provides, in relevant part:

(d) An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim-
(1) resulted in a decision that 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) resulted in a decision that 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) (2011).

         The United States Supreme Court explained the framework for § 2254 review in Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000). The appropriate test was described by Justice O'Connor as follows:

Under the “contrary to” clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by this court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than this Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Under the “unreasonable application” clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from this Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.

Id., 529 U.S. at 412-13 (O'Connor, J., concurring).

         Employing the Williams framework, on any issue raised in a federal habeas petition upon which there has been an adjudication on the merits in a state court proceeding, the federal court must first ascertain the “clearly established Federal law, ” namely, “the governing legal principle or principles set forth by the Supreme Court at the time the state court render[ed] its decision.” Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 71-72, 123 S.Ct. 1166, 155 L.Ed.2d 144 (2003). The law is “clearly established” only when a Supreme Court holding at the time of the state court decision embodies the legal principle at issue. Thaler v. Haynes, 559 U.S. 43, 47, 130 S.Ct. 1171, 175 L.Ed.2d 1003 (2010); Woods v. Donald, - U.S. -, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376, 191 L.Ed.2d 464 (2015) (“We have explained that clearly established Federal law for purposes of § 2254(d)(1) includes only the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of this Court's decisions.” (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)).

         After identifying the governing legal principle(s), the federal court determines whether the state court adjudication is contrary to the clearly established Supreme Court case law. The adjudication is not contrary to Supreme Court precedent merely because it fails to cite to that precedent. Rather, the adjudication is “contrary” only if either the reasoning or the result contradicts the relevant Supreme Court cases. See Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8, 123 S.Ct. 362, 154 L.Ed.2d 263 (2002). Where there is no Supreme Court precedent on point, the state court's conclusion cannot be contrary to clearly established federal law. See Woods, 135 S.Ct. at 1377 (holding, as to claim that counsel was per se ineffective in being absent from the courtroom for ten minutes during testimony concerning other defendants: “Because none of our cases confront the specific question presented by this case, the state court's decision could not be contrary to any holding from this Court.” (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)). If the state court decision is contrary to clearly established federal law, the federal habeas court must independently consider the merits of the petitioner's claim. See Panetti v. Quarterman, 551 U.S. 930, 954, 127 S.Ct. 2842, 168 L.Ed.2d 662 (2007).

         If the “contrary to” clause is not satisfied, the federal habeas court next determines whether the state court “unreasonably applied” the governing legal principles set forth in the Supreme Court's cases. The federal court defers to the state court's reasoning unless the state court's application of the legal principle(s) was “objectively unreasonable” in light of the record before the state court. Williams, 529 U.S. at 409; see Holland v. Jackson, 542 U.S. 649, 652, 124 S.Ct. 2736, 159 L.Ed.2d 683 (2004) (per curiam). In applying this standard, the Supreme Court has emphasized:

When reviewing state criminal convictions on collateral review, federal judges are required to afford state courts due respect by overturning their decisions only when there could be no reasonable dispute that they were wrong. Federal habeas review thus exists as “a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal.” Harrington, supra, at 102-103, 131 S.Ct. 770 (internal quotation marks omitted).

Woods, 135 S.Ct. at 1376 (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 131 S.Ct. 770, 178 L.Ed.2d 624 (2011)).

         Section 2254(d) also allows federal habeas relief for a claim adjudicated on the merits in state court where that adjudication “resulted in a decision that 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 “unreasonable determination of the facts” standard is implicated only to the extent the validity of the state court's ultimate conclusion is premised on unreasonable fact finding. See Gill v. Mecusker, 633 F.3d 1272, 1292 (11th Cir. 2011). As with the “unreasonable application” clause, the federal court applies an objective test. Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340, 123 S.Ct. 1029, 154 L.Ed.2d 931 (2003) (holding that a state court decision based on a factual determination “will not be overturned on factual grounds unless objectively unreasonable in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding.”). Federal courts “may not characterize . . . state-court factual determinations as unreasonable merely because we would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.” Brumfield v. Cain, ___ U.S. ___, 135 S.Ct. 2269, 2277, 192 L.Ed.2d 356 (2015) (quotation marks omitted).

         When performing review under § 2254(d), the federal court presumes that all factual determinations made by the state court are correct. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). The petitioner bears “the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence.” Id.; see, e.g., Miller-El, 537 U.S. at 340 (explaining that a federal court can disagree with a state court's factual finding and, when guided by the AEDPA, “conclude the decision was unreasonable or that the factual premise was incorrect by clear and convincing evidence”). Neither the Supreme Court nor the Eleventh Circuit has interpreted how § 2254(d)(2) and § 2254(e)(1) interact in the context of fact-based challenges to state court adjudications. See Cave v. Sec'y for Dep't of Corr., 638 F.3d. 739 (11th Cir. 2011). However, the Eleventh Circuit has declined to grant habeas relief under § 2254(d)(2) in the context of a state appellate court's summary affirmance, where it found that the validity of the state court decision was not premised on the trial court's unreasonable fact finding, and that the petitioner failed to demonstrate “by clear and convincing evidence that the record reflect[ed] an insufficient factual basis for affirming the state court's decision.” Gill, 633 F.3d at 1292.

         Only if the federal habeas court finds that the petitioner satisfied § 2254(d), does the court take the final step of conducting an independent review of the merits of the petitioner's claim. See Panetti, 551 U.S. at 954. Even then, the writ will not issue unless the petitioner shows that he is in custody “in violation of the Constitution or laws and treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). “If this standard is difficult to meet, that is because it was meant to be.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 102.


         It is a long-standing prerequisite to the filing of a federal habeas corpus petition that the petitioner exhaust available state court remedies, see 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1), thereby giving the State the “‘opportunity to pass upon and correct' alleged violations of its prisoners' federal rights.” Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364, 365, 115 S.Ct. 887, 130 L.Ed.2d 865 (1995) (quoting Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275, 92 S.Ct. 509, 30 L.Ed.2d 438 (1971) (citation omitted)). To satisfy the exhaustion requirement, the petitioner must “fairly present” his claim in each appropriate state court, alerting that court to the federal nature of the claim. Duncan, 513 U.S. at 365-66; O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845, 119 S.Ct. 1728, 144 L.Ed.2d 1 (1999); Picard, 404 U.S. at 277-78.

         The Supreme Court has provided lower courts with guidance for determining whether a habeas petitioner has met the “fair presentation” requirement. In Picard v. Connor, the Court held that, for purposes of exhausting state remedies, a claim for relief in habeas corpus must include reference to a specific federal constitutional guarantee, as well as a statement of the facts which entitle the petitioner to relief. 404 U.S. at 277. In announcing that “the substance of a federal habeas corpus claim must first be presented to the state courts, ” id., 404 U.S. at 278, the Court rejected the contention in that case that the petitioner satisfied the exhaustion requirement by presenting the state courts only with the facts necessary to state a claim for relief.

         Additionally, the Court has indicated that it is not enough that a petitioner makes a general appeal to a constitutional guarantee as broad as due process to present the “substance” of such a claim to a state court. Anderson v. Harless, 459 U.S. 4, 103 S.Ct. 276, 74 L.Ed.2d 3 (1982). In Anderson, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals granted the habeas petition on the ground that a jury instruction violated due process because it obviated the requirement that the prosecutor prove all the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. 459 U.S. at 7 (citing Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510, 99 S.Ct. 2450, 61 L.Ed.2d 39 (1979)). The only manner in which the habeas petitioner cited federal authority was by referring to a state court decision in which “the defendant . . . asserted a broad federal due process right to jury instructions that properly explain state law.” Anderson, 459 U.S. at 7. On review by the Supreme Court, the Court expressed doubt that a defendant's citation to a state-court decision predicated solely on state law was sufficient to fairly apprise a reviewing court of a potential federal claim merely because the defendant in the cited case advanced a federal claim. Id., 459 U.S. at 7 and n.3. Furthermore, the Court clarified that such a citation was obviously insufficient when the record satisfied the federal habeas court that the federal claim asserted in the cited case was not the same as the federal claim on which federal habeas relief was sought. Id.

         Years later, the Supreme Court readdressed the “fair presentation” requirement in Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364. The Duncan Court strictly construed the exhaustion requirement so as to mandate that, if state and federal constitutional law overlap in their applicability to a petitioner's claim, the petitioner must raise his issue in terms of the applicable federal right in state court in order to obtain federal review of the issue.[3] The Supreme Court explained, “[i]f a habeas petitioner wishes to claim that an evidentiary ruling at a state court trial denied him the due process of law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, he must say so, not only in federal, but in state court.” Duncan, 513 U.S. at 365-66.

         In Baldwin v. Reese, the Supreme Court again focused upon the requirement of “fair presentation, ” holding that “ordinarily a state prisoner does not ‘fairly present' a claim to a state court if that court must read beyond a petition or a brief (or a similar document) that does not alert it to the presence of a federal claim in order to find material, such as a lower court opinion in the case, that does so.” 541 U.S. 27, 32, 124 S.Ct. 1347, 158 L.Ed.2d 64 (2004). The Baldwin court commented that “[a] litigant wishing to raise a federal issue can easily indicate the federal law basis for his claim in a state-court petition or brief, for example, by citing in conjunction with the claim the federal source of law on which he relies or a case deciding such a claim on federal grounds, or by simply labeling the claim ‘federal.'” Id., 541 U.S. at 32. With regard to this language, the Eleventh Circuit explained in McNair v. Campbell, 416 F.3d 1291 (11th Cir. 2005):

If read in a vacuum, this dicta might be thought to create a low floor indeed for petitioners seeking to establish exhaustion. However, we agree with the district court that this language must be “applied with common sense and in light of the purpose underlying the exhaustion requirement[:] ‘to afford the state courts a meaningful opportunity to consider allegations of legal error without interference from the federal judiciary.'” McNair [v. Campbell], 315 F.Supp.2d at 1184 (quoting Vasquez v. Hillery, 474 U.S. 254, 257, 106 S.Ct. 617, 620, 88 L.Ed.2d 598 (1986)). This is consistent with settled law established by the Supreme Court. . . . We therefore hold that “‘[t]he exhaustion doctrine requires a habeas applicant to do more than scatter some makeshift needles in the haystack of the state court record.'”

416 F.3d at 1302-03 (citations omitted).[4]

         An issue that was not properly presented to the state court and which can no longer be litigated under state procedural rules is considered procedurally defaulted, that is, procedurally barred from federal review. See Bailey v. Nagle, 172 F.3d 1299, 1302-03 (11th Cir. 1999). This court will also consider a claim procedurally defaulted if it was presented in state court and rejected on the independent and adequate state ground of procedural bar or default. See Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 734-35 and n.1, 111 S.Ct. 2546, 115 L.Ed.2d 640 (1991); Caniff v. Moore, 269 F.3d 1245, 1247 (11th Cir. 2001) (“[C]laims that have been held to be procedurally defaulted under state law cannot be addressed by federal courts.”); Chambers v. Thompson, 150 F.3d 1324, 1326-27 (11th Cir. 1998) (applicable state procedural bar should be enforced by federal court even as to a claim which has never been presented to a state court); accord Tower v. Phillips, 7 F.3d 206, 210 (11th Cir. 1993); Parker v. Dugger, 876 F.2d 1470 (11th Cir. 1990), rev'd on other grounds, 498 U.S. 308, 111 S.Ct. 731, 112 L.Ed.2d 812 (1991). In the first instance, the federal court must determine whether any future attempt to exhaust state remedies would be futile under the state's procedural default doctrine. Bailey, petitioner had never mentioned the federal standards regarding extraneous materials in his brief, but relied on state law for his arguments. Id. 172 F.3d at 1303. In the second instance, a federal court must determine whether the last state court rendering judgment clearly and expressly stated its judgment rested on a procedural bar. Id.

         A federal court is not required to honor a state's procedural default ruling unless that ruling rests on adequate state grounds independent of the federal question. See Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 109 S.Ct. 1038, 103 L.Ed.2d 308 (1989). The adequacy of a state procedural bar to the assertion of a federal question is itself a federal question. Lee v. Kemna, 534 U.S. 362, 122 S.Ct. 877, 885, 151 L.Ed.2d 820 (2002). The federal court “lacks jurisdiction to entertain a federal claim on review of a state court judgment, if that judgment rests on a state law ground that is both independent of the merits of the federal claim and an adequate basis for the court's decision.” Foster v. Chatman, - U.S. -, 136 S.Ct. 1737, 1745, 195 L.Ed.2d 1 (2016) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Even where a state court has ruled in the alternative, addressing both the independent state procedural ground and the merits of the federal claim, the federal court should apply the state procedural bar and decline to reach the merits of the claim. Alderman v. Zant, 22 F.3d 1541, 1549 (11th Cir. 1994) (citing Harris, 489 U.S. at 264 n.10).

         The Eleventh Circuit has set forth a three-part test to determine whether a state court's procedural ruling constitutes an independent and adequate state rule of decision. Judd v. Haley, 250 F.3d 1308, 1313 (11th Cir. 2001). First, the last state court rendering judgment must clearly and expressly state it is relying on state procedural rules to resolve the federal claim. Second, the state court's decision on the procedural issue must rest entirely on state law grounds and not be intertwined with an interpretation of federal law. Id. Third, the state procedural rule must be adequate. Id. The adequacy requirement has been interpreted to mean the rule must be firmly established and regularly followed, that is, not applied in an arbitrary or unprecedented fashion. Id.

         To overcome a procedural default, the petitioner must show cause for the default and prejudice resulting therefrom, or that the federal court's failure to reach the merits of the claim would result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice. Tower, 7 F.3d at 210; Parker, 876 F.2d 1470. “For cause to exist, an external impediment, whether it be governmental interference or the reasonable unavailability of the factual basis for the claim, must have prevented petitioner from raising the claim.” McCleskey v. Zant, 499 U.S. 467, 497, 111 S.Ct. 1454, 113 L.Ed.2d 517 (1991) (quoting Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 488, 106 S.Ct. 2639, 91 L.Ed.2d 397 (1986)). To satisfy the miscarriage of justice exception, the petitioner must show that “a constitutional violation has probably resulted in the conviction of one who is actually innocent.” Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 327, 115 S.Ct. 85, 130 L.Ed.2d 808 (1995). “To establish the requisite probability, the petitioner must show that it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted him.” Schlup, 513 U.S. at 327. Further:

a substantial claim that constitutional error has caused the conviction of an innocent person is extremely rare. To be credible, such a claim requires [a] petitioner to support his allegations of constitutional error with new reliable evidence-whether it be exculpatory scientific evidence, trustworthy eyewitness accounts, or critical physical evidence-that was not presented at trial.

Id. Although a habeas petitioner asserting a convincing claim of actual innocence need not prove diligence to overcome a procedural bar, timing is a factor relevant in evaluating the reliability of a petitioner's proof of innocence. See McQuiggin v. Perkins, 569 U.S. 383, 399, 133 S.Ct. 1924, 185 L.Ed.2d 1019 (2013). As the Court stated in Schlup, “[a] court may consider how the timing of the submission and the likely credibility of [a petitioner's] affiants bear on the probable reliability of . . . evidence [of actual innocence].” 513 U.S. at 332; see also House v. Bell, 547 U.S. 518, 537, 126 S.Ct. 2064, 165 L.Ed.2d 1 (2006).

         Within this framework, the court will review Petitioner's claims.


A. Ground One: “Petitioner's constitutional amendment right [sic] was violated where counsel failed to move for a continuance in order to determine Pet[itioner's] mental state.”
Ground Three: “Counsel was ineffective for failing to inform, investigate, and/or prepare defense [of] insanity, mental incompetence, thus denying her 6th U.S. Constitutional right.” [5]

         In Ground One, Petitioner alleges that at the beginning of the plea proceeding, the court “discussed the Defendant's struggle to stabalize [sic] her medication” (ECF No. 1 at 5).[6] Petitioner alleges she had not been taking her medication for some time (id.). Petitioner alleges the court asked her if she had taken any medication, and she responded that she was not taking any medication (id.). Petitioner alleges this was “a clear indication of the Defendant's mental incompetence and failure to understand simply asked questions” (id.). Petitioner contends defense counsel should have requested a continuance of the plea hearing to permit her to be evaluated for mental competence (see ECF No. 27 at 2).

         In Ground Three, Petitioner alleges she is diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which causes separation of thought process and emotion, disorientation of reality accompanied by delusion and hallucination, fragmentation of the personality, motor disturbances, and bizarre behavior (ECF No. 1 at 8). Petitioner alleges both of her mental disorders are extremely severe (id.). She alleges defense counsel failed to inform her that her mental disorders were a viable defense to the murder charge (id.).

         Respondent asserts Ground One is essentially the same claim Petitioner presented to the state courts as Amended Ground One of her Rule 3.850 motion, and it thus “appears” to be exhausted (ECF No. 25 at 7, 21-22). Respondent contends the state court's adjudication Ground One was not contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law (id. at 22-27).

         With respect to Ground Three, Respondent contends this claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel (“IATC”) is similar to the IATC claim presented as Ground Three in Petitioner's Rule 3.850 motion, but the claims are dissimilar in that Petitioner did not cite the Sixth Amendment in her Rule 3.850 motion (ECF No. 25 at 9-11) (emphasis in original). Respondent further contends Petitioner's citation to a Florida state case, which in turn cited Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984), was insufficient to fairly present her federal claim to the state courts (id.). Respondent contends Ground Three is thus unexhausted and procedurally defaulted (id.). Respondent argues even assuming Ground Three was not procedurally defaulted, Petitioner is not entitled to federal habeas relief, because the state court adjudicated the merits of the claim, and the court's adjudication was not contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law (id. at 34-41).

         In Petitioner's reply, she argues she fairly presented Ground Three as a federal claim in state court by arguing that her claim was a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, even though she did not expressly cite the Sixth Amendment in her argument of Ground Three (ECF No. 27 at 2).

         The court will first address Respondent's exhaustion defense as to Ground Three. The state court record shows that Petitioner's Rule 3.850 motion presented four IATC claims (Ex. C1 at 1-7). Petitioner argued counsel's conduct was deficient, and it prejudiced the outcome of her case (id.). In Petitioner's Amended Ground One, she cited Strickland, and in her argument of Ground Two, she contended counsel's ineffective assistance violated her Sixth Amendment right (id. at 3, 17). Petitioner did not mention federal law in her arguments of Grounds Three and Four (see Id. at 4-6). In the state court's written order denying three of Petitioner's four IATC claims (Grounds One, Two, and Four), the court cited Strickland as the applicable legal standard (id. at 21). On appeal to the First DCA, Petitioner abandoned two IATC claims (Grounds Two and Four), but with respect to Grounds One and Three, she argued that the lower court's adjudication of those claims was erroneous under Strickland (Ex. C2 at 6-7).

         The undersigned concludes that Petitioner alerted the state circuit court to the federal nature of all of her IATC claims, and she alerted the First DCA to the federal nature of those IATC claims she was appealing. Further, the state courts adjudicated the merits of the federal claims which Petitioner presented. Therefore, Petitioner satisfied the exhaustion requirement as to Grounds One and Three. The court will thus proceed with the next step of determining whether Petitioner has demonstrated that the last state court's adjudication of the merits of Grounds One and Three (in this case, it is the First DCA's decision in the post-conviction appeal) was based upon an unreasonable determination of the facts, or was contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law.

         1. Clearly Established Federal Law

         The two-part test articulated in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984) applies to claims that counsel was ineffective during the plea process. See Lafler v. Cooper, 566 U.S. 156, 162-63, 132 S.Ct. 1376, 182 L.Ed.2d 398 (2012) (applying Strickland's two-part test to federal habeas petitioner's claim that counsel was ineffective for advising him to reject a plea offer); Missouri v. Frye, 566 U.S. 133, 145, 132 S.Ct. 1399, 182 L.Ed.2d 379 (2012) (applying Strickland's two-part test to federal habeas petitioner's claim that counsel was ineffective for failing to communicate a prosecution plea offer before it lapsed); Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 48, 106 S.Ct. 366, 88 L.Ed.2d 203 (1985) (applying Strickland's two-part test to defendant's challenge to his guilty plea based on ineffective assistance of counsel). Strickland's first prong requires a defendant to show “‘that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.'” Hill, 474 U.S. at 57 (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688). The focus of inquiry under the performance prong of the Strickland standard is whether counsel's assistance was “reasonable considering all the circumstances.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 691. Strickland's second prong requires a defendant to show “that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. In the context of pleas, “[t]he . . . ‘prejudice' requirement . . . focuses on whether counsel's constitutionally ineffective performance affected the outcome of the plea process.” Hill, 474 U.S. at 59.

         When a district court considers a habeas petition, the state court's findings of historical facts in the course of evaluating an ineffectiveness claim are subject to the presumption of correctness, while the performance and prejudice components are mixed questions of law and fact. See Strickland, 466 U.S. at 698; Collier v. Turpin, 177 F.3d 1184, 1197 (11th Cir. 1999). “Surmounting Strickland's high bar is never an easy task.” Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356, 371, 130 S.Ct. 1473, 176 L.Ed.2d 284 (2010). “Establishing that a state court's application of Strickland was unreasonable under § 2254(d) is all the more difficult.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 105. As the court explained in Richter:

An ineffective-assistance claim can function as a way to escape rules of waiver and forfeiture and raise issues not presented at trial, and so the Strickland standard must be applied with scrupulous care, lest “intrusive post-trial inquiry” threaten the integrity of the very adversary process the right to counsel is meant to serve. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689-690, 104 S.Ct. 2052. Even under de novo review, the standard for judging counsel's representation is a most deferential one. . . . .
Establishing that a state court's application of Strickland was unreasonable under § 2254(d) is all the more difficult. The standards created by Strickland and § 2254(d) are both “highly deferential, ” id. at 689, 104 S.Ct. 2052; Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 333 n.7, 117 S.Ct. 2059, 138 L.Ed.2d 481 (1997), and when the two apply in tandem, review is “doubly” so, Knowles [v. Mirzayance], 556 U.S. [111, ] 123, 129 S.Ct. [1411, ] 1420[, 173 L.Ed.2d 251 (2009)]. The Strickland standard is a general one, so the range of reasonable applications is substantial. 556 U.S. at 123, 129 S.Ct. at 1420. Federal habeas courts must guard against the danger of equating unreasonableness under Strickland with unreasonableness under § 2254(d). When § 2254(d) applies, the question is not whether counsel's actions were reasonable. The question is whether there is any reasonable argument that counsel satisfied Strickland's deferential standard.

Richter, 562 U.S. at 105.

         The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits states from trying or convicting a defendant who is mentally incompetent. See Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375, 86 S.Ct. 836, 15 L.Ed.2d 815 (1966). The Supreme Court set the standard to be used in determining mental competency as whether a defendant “has sufficient present ability to consult with his [or her] lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding-and whether he [or she] has a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him [or her].” Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402, 402, 80 S.Ct. 788, 4 L.Ed.2d 824 (1960) (per curiam); Drope v. Missouri, 420 U.S. 162, 171, 95 S.Ct. 896, 43 L.Ed.2d 103 (1975); see also Indiana v. Edwards, 554 U.S. 164, 128 S.Ct. 2379, 171 L.Ed.2d 345 (2008).

         In Drope, the Court elaborated as follows:

The import of our decision in Pate v. Robinson is that evidence of a defendant's irrational behavior, his [or her] demeanor at trial, and any prior medical opinion on competence to stand trial are all relevant in determining whether further inquiry is required, but that even one of these factors standing alone may, in some circumstances, be sufficient. There are, of course, no fixed or immutable signs which invariably indicate the need for further inquiry to determine fitness to proceed; the question is often a difficult one in which a wide range of manifestations and subtle nuances are implicated. That they are difficult to evaluate is suggested by the varying opinions trained psychiatrists can entertain on the same facts.

Drope, 420 U.S. at 180.

         The Eleventh Circuit has applied and expounded upon these standards. “[N]either low intelligence, mental deficiency, nor bizarre, volatile, and irrational behavior can be equated with mental incompetence to stand trial.” Medina v. Singletary, 59 F.3d 1095, 1107 (11th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). A Pate analysis must focus on “what the trial court did in light of what it then knew, [and] whether objective facts known to the trial court were sufficient to raise a bona fide doubt as to the defendant's competency.” Fallada v. Dugger, 819 F.2d 1564, 1568 (11th Cir. 1987) (citations omitted). A petitioner who makes a substantive competency claim, contending that she was convicted while mentally incompetent, “is entitled to no presumption of incompetency and must demonstrate his or her incompetency by a preponderance of the evidence.” James v. Singletary, 957 F.2d 1562, 1571 (11th Cir. 1992). This standard is in contrast to a petitioner who makes a procedural competency claim alleging that the trial court failed to hold a competency hearing after her competency was put at issue. To prevail on a procedural competency claim, “a petitioner must establish that the state trial judge ignored facts raising a ‘bona fide doubt' regarding the petitioner's competency to stand trial.” Id. at 1572 n.15 (citing Fallada, 819 F.2d at 1568). A petitioner who presents “clear and convincing evidence” which creates a “real, substantial and legitimate doubt” as to her competence is entitled to an evidentiary hearing on her substantive competency claim. Medina, 59 F.3d at 1106 (quoting James, 957 F.2d at 1573). However, the standard of proof is high, and “the facts must positively, unequivocally, and clearly generate the legitimate doubt.” Card v. Singletary, 981 F.2d 481, 484 (11th Cir. 1992) (quotations omitted). Relevant information may include evidence of a defendant's irrational behavior, demeanor at trial, or prior medical opinion. See Watts v. Singletary, 87 F.3d 1282, 1287 (11th Cir. 1996).

         A lifelong history of mental illness and emotional problems does not demonstrate incompetency without a specific showing of how these difficulties generated a substantial doubt as to the defendant's competency at the time in question. See Medina, 59 F.3d at 1106; Card, supra. Similarly, the fact that the accused is undergoing treatment with psychiatric drugs, while relevant, does not alone prove incompetence. See Sheley v. Singletary, 955 F.2d 1434, 1438-39 (11th Cir. 1992). In order to establish incompetence, evidence must establish that the drugs affected the accused to the point that she could not effectively consult with her attorney and could not understand the proceedings. See Id. at 1439.

         2. Federal Review of State Court Decision

         a. Ground One

         With respect to Ground One, trial counsel's failure to request a continuance of the plea hearing in order to have Petitioner mentally evaluated, the only fact Petitioner alleged in support of this claim was that her stating “No, ” when the trial court asked her if she was currently under the influence of any medication, should have indicated to counsel and the court that she was incompetent to proceed (see Ex. C1 at 17). Petitioner alleged:

Counsel, knowledge [sic] of Defendant's diagnosis of schizophrenia and severe bi-polar disorder, and his open discussion at plea hearing with Judge about her mental instability and the jail's struggle to medicate her correctly shows he cannot claim ignorance of her condition. Defendant shows a lack of understanding and easy confusion over a simple question. At this time, counsel should have requested the Court to reschedule the hearing until he set up further evaluation for Defendant's competency and his failure to do so meets the deficiency prong for ineffective assistance of counsel. This is counsel's specific act of omission, by letting proceedings continue after witnessing Defendant's incompetency. Someone who does not even know they are taking medications until they are told so is clearly incompetent.

         (Ex. C1 at 17).

         The state circuit court adjudicated Ground One as follows:

Defendant now brings four grounds alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. To prevail on these claims, Defendant must establish that counsel's performance was both deficient and prejudicial. See Spera v. State, 971 So.2d 754, 757 (Fla. 2007) (outlining standard enunciated in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984)). Based on this legal framework, the Court will analyze Defendant's claims.

         Ground One

Defendant claims that counsel should have requested that the hearing be continued because she originally answered no to the Court's question of whether she was under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or medication. The remainder of the colloquy regarding Defendant's mental state refutes this claim. Under oath Defendant affirmed her attorney's explanation to the Court that she was clear headed and had her medications well adjusted. Exh. 1 - pp. 4-5. As such, there was no basis for counsel to seek a continuance. Defendant cannot go behind her statements made under oath and the plea hearing. Davis v. State, 938 So.2d 555, 557 (Fla. 1st DCA 2006). This claim is denied.

         (Ex. C1 at 21-22).

         The transcript of Petitioner's plea colloquy is part of the state court record. Contrary to Petitioner's assertions, her statements during the colloquy did not indicate she was incompetent.

MR. CUMMINGS [defense counsel]: . . . At this time, Ms. Bryant is prepared to withdraw her previously entered written pleas, tender to the court a plea of no contest as charged to second degree murder. The State has agreed to waive the PRR [Prison Releasee Reoffender enhancement].
The agreement is for 45 years Department of Corrections, credit for 310 days served, whatever the court costs are, and I believe a PD fee of $100.
THE COURT: . . . Is that your understanding of what you're doing, Ms. Bryant?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, sir. . . . .
THE COURT: Would you swear the defendant, please?
THE COURT: State your name for the record, please.
THE DEFENDANT: Cynthia Bryant.
THE COURT: And, Ms. Bryant, are you currently under the influence of any alcohol, drug, or medication?
THE COURT: It was my understanding you are taking some medications.
THE DEFENDANT: I took the medication this morning.
THE COURT: All right. Well, that's what we're trying to discuss. Have you taken anything other than what's been prescribed for you by a doctor?
THE COURT: Is that medication interfering with your ability to understand what's ...

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