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Brantley v. Florida Attorney General and Secretary

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Ft. Myers Division

July 22, 2019

Jeffery Neil Brantley, Petitioner,
Florida Attorney General and Secretary, DOC, Respondents.



         This matter is before the Court on a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the following reasons, the Petition is denied.


         Petitioner Jeffery Brantley is currently serving a 30-year state prison sentence for sex crimes involving a minor. Because the facts underlying his crimes are relevant to the claims he raises here, the Court will briefly recount those facts.

         Petitioner first encountered his minor victim in an internet chat room when Petitioner was 33 and victim was 14. In January 2002, after more than two years of phone and email conversations, the two began a physical relationship. Petitioner was 36 and the victim was 16. The two initially met at a hotel in Hollywood, Florida, and then traveled together to a hotel in Naples. The victim's mother contacted the United States Secret Service on January 6, 2002, reporting that the victim was missing and may have been abducted. Special Agent Timothy Devine investigated and retrieved emails from Petitioner to the victim. On January 7, 2002, Agent Devine subpoenaed Petitioner's internet service provider for Petitioner's name and credit-card account number. Agent Devine then contacted the credit-card company, which provided information regarding the card's recent use at the Naples hotel. Agent Devine notified the Naples police, who found Petitioner and the victim at the hotel and arrested Petitioner.

         Among the items found in the hotel room at the time of Petitioner's arrest were a camcorder, tripod, and three miniature video cassettes, which had been damaged by pulling out the videotape. Pieces of videotape were found in the toilet but not retrieved. The small amount of tape remaining on the damaged cassettes was edited into a single tape submitted as evidence.

         On October 23, 2003, a jury found Petitioner guilty of four counts of unlawful sexual activity, one count of Promoting a Sexual Performance by a Child, and one count of Tampering with or Fabricating Physical Evidence. The trial court sentenced Petitioner to 30 years' imprisonment followed by 35 years of probation. Petitioner appealed, and his conviction was affirmed per curiam. Brantley v. State, 959 So.2d 1194 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App 2007) (Table). The United States Supreme Court denied a petition for writ of certiorari on November 26, 2017. Brantley v. Fla., 552 U.S. 1046 (2007).

         Petitioner filed a Florida Rule 3.800(a) Motion to Correct Illegal Sentencing Error on January 16, 2008. The trial court denied the claim and the Florida District Court of Appeal affirmed the denial. Brantley v. State, 32 So.3d 89 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2009). The Florida Supreme Court denied a petition for review. Brantley v. State, 23 So.3d 711 (Fla. 2009) (Table).

         Petitioner then pursued a state petition for writ of habeas corpus alleging ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. The Court of Appeal denied that petition on July 22, 2009. Brantley v. State, 18 So.3d 1043 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2009) (Table).

         Petitioner filed a Florida Rule 3.850 motion for postconviction relief on October 29, 2008, amending the motion on February 2, 2009, and again on October 30, 2009. The trial court held an evidentiary hearing on December 10, 2012, and denied the Rule 3.850 motion on February 8, 2013. The District Court of Appeal affirmed per curiam on March 6, 2015. Brantley v. State, 177 So.3d 613 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2015).

         Petitioner filed the instant Petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on May 3, 2016. Petitioner's claims for relief include an inadequate trial record on appeal, a vindictive sentence, a warrantless search, an unreasonable conclusion of exigent circumstances, and ineffective assistance of counsel.


         Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2241 et seq., a federal court's “review is greatly circumscribed and is highly deferential to the state courts.” Crawford v. Head, 311 F.3d 1288, 1295 (11th Cir. 2002). Indeed, AEDPA “modified a federal habeas court's role in reviewing state prisoner applications 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) (citation omitted). 28 U.S.C. § 2254, which applies to persons in custody pursuant to a state-court judgment, provides:

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).

         A. Petitioner's Claims For Relief

         1. Inadequate trial record

         Petitioner argues that the trial court's reconstruction of incomplete hearing records was inadequate, thereby denying his right to due process and public trial in violation of the United States Constitution. On April 15, 2005, the Florida District Court of Appeal ordered the trial court to reconstruct portions of the record. On August 23, 2005 the trial court reviewed and discussed indiscernible and unreported portions of the trial transcript with both parties and later issued an order reconstructing the record. (App'x (Docket No. 17) Ex. 2.)

         By arguing that the reconstruction of the trial record is inadequate, Petitioner appears to be exercising his right under § 2254(f) to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence adduced in the hearing to reconstruct the record. Because Petitioner and the State both produced all pertinent evidence in their possession during the hearing to reconstruct the record, and because Petitioner offers nothing additional that is relevant to determination of the sufficiency of the evidence considered, this Court gives full weight to the trial court's factual determination reconstructing the record. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1) (“[A] determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct” and a petitioner “shall have the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence.”)

         The state court provided Petitioner with a complete re-transcription of the trial record and a hearing to review and discuss indiscernible or unreported portions of the trial transcript. Petitioner also appealed the reconstruction issue. He has not demonstrated that more process is required, that the trial record remains inadequate, or that the state courts otherwise violated his rights under the Fifth or Fourteenth Amendments.

         Finally, Petitioner provides no evidence suggesting any of his hearings were not open to the public in violation of the ...

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