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Agosto v. Secretary, Department of Corrections

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

July 5, 2019

CARLOS LUIS AGOSTO, Petitioner,
v.
SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Respondent.

          ORDER

          Cbarlene Edwards Honeywell, United States District Judge.

         Petitioner, a Florida prisoner, initiated this action by filing a petition for the writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 2254 (Doc. 1), and a memorandum in support (Doc. 2). Upon consideration, the Court ordered Respondent to show cause why the relief sought in the petition should not be granted (Doc. 10). Thereafter, Respondent filed a response in opposition (Doc. 11).

         Petitioner alleges four grounds for relief in his petition:

1. Counsel was ineffective in his assistance when rendering affirmative misadvice to petitioner;
2. Counsel was ineffective in his assistance when failing to call a witness to testify for the defense;
3. Lower court erred in denying JOA filed based on insufficient evidence of a “deadly weapon, ” as classified; and
4. Lower court erred in denying JOA based on insufficient evidence of “great bodily harm.”

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Petitioner was convicted of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon resulting in great bodily harm for smashing a glass beer bottle on the head and face of his former girlfriend (Respondent's Ex. A2), and sentenced to 30 years in prison as a prison releasee reoffender (Respondent's Ex. A3). His conviction and sentence were affirmed on appeal (Respondent's Ex. B3).

         He filed a motion for post-conviction relief under Rule 3.850, Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure, alleging two claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel (Respondent's Ex. C1) and, subsequently, filed an amendment to the motion (Respondent's Ex. C3). Following an evidentiary hearing (Respondent's Ex. C4), the Rule 3.850 motion was denied (Respondent's Ex. C5). The denial of the Rule 3.850 motion was affirmed on appeal (Respondent's Ex. C10).

         Petitioner thereafter filed his federal habeas petition and memorandum in this court (Docs. 1, 2).

         II. GOVERNING LEGAL PRINCIPLES

         Because Petitioner filed his petition after April 24, 1996, this case is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”). Penry v. Johnson, 532 U.S. 782, 792 (2001); Henderson v. Campbell, 353 F.3d 880, 889-90 (11th Cir. 2003). The AEDPA “establishes a more deferential standard of review of state habeas judgments, ” Fugate v. Head, 261 F.3d 1206, 1215 (11th Cir. 2001), in order to “prevent federal habeas ‘retrials' and to ensure that state-court convictions are given effect to the extent possible under law.” Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693 (2002); see also Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (recognizing that the federal habeas court's evaluation of state-court rulings is highly deferential and that state-court decisions must be given the benefit of the doubt).

         A. Standard of Review Under the AEDPA

         Pursuant to the AEDPA, habeas relief may not be granted with respect to a claim adjudicated on the merits in state court 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). The phrase “clearly established Federal law, ” encompasses only the holdings of the United States Supreme Court “as of the time of the relevant state-court decision.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000).

         “[S]ection 2254(d)(1) provides two separate bases for reviewing state court decisions; the ‘contrary to' and ‘unreasonable application' clauses articulate independent considerations a federal court must consider.” Maharaj v. Secretary for Dep't. of Corr., 432 F.3d 1292, 1308 (11th Cir. 2005). The meaning of the clauses was discussed by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Parker v. Head, 244 F.3d 831, 835 (11th Cir. 2001):

Under the “contrary to” clause, a federal court may grant the writ if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the United States Supreme Court] on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the United States Supreme 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 [the United States Supreme Court's] decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.

         If the federal court concludes that the state court applied federal law incorrectly, habeas relief is appropriate only if that application was “objectively unreasonable.” Id.

         Finally, under § 2254(d)(2), a federal court may grant a writ of habeas corpus if the state court's decision “was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.” A determination of a factual issue made by a state court, however, shall be presumed correct, and the habeas petitioner shall have the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence. See Parker, 244 F.3d at 835-36; 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

         B. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Standard

         Claims of ineffective assistance of counsel are analyzed under the test set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), which requires a petitioner to demonstrate both deficient performance by counsel and resulting prejudice. Demonstrating deficient performance “requires showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the ‘counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment.” Id. at 687. Deficient performance is established if, “in light of all the circumstances, the identified acts or omissions [of counsel] were outside the wide range of professionally competent assistance.” Id. at 690. However, “counsel is strongly presumed to have rendered adequate assistance and made all significant decisions in the exercise of reasonable professional judgment.” Id. Additionally, “a court deciding an actual ineffectiveness claim must judge the reasonableness of counsel's challenged conduct on the facts of the particular case, viewed as of the time of counsel's conduct.” Id.

         Petitioner must demonstrate that counsel's alleged errors prejudiced the defense because “[a]n error by counsel, even if professionally unreasonable, does not warrant setting aside the judgment of a criminal proceeding if the error had no effect on the judgment.” Id. at 691-92. To show prejudice, a petitioner must show “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been ...


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