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John Wilder v. Secretary, Department of Corrections

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

July 29, 2019




         On December 5, 2016, the Court received Petitioner Wilder's petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for writ of habeas corpus by a person in state custody. Dkt. 1. He filed an Amended Petition on December 20, 2016. Dkt. 5. Petitioner seeks relief from a 2014 Florida state court revocation of community control. Id. at 1. Respondents have filed a response in opposition, Dkt. 9, to which Petitioner replied, Dkt. 13. The Court finds that no hearing is necessary and DENIES the petition.


         In 2012 and 2013, Petitioner was charged in Citrus County for six felony and two misdemeanor offenses in three separate cases.[1] Pursuant to a global plea agreement, Petitioner was adjudicated guilty of the charges, sentenced to time served, placed on five-year drug offender probation, and his driver's license was suspended for two years. Dkt. 10-1 at 177-80. The sentencing scoresheet showed two prior scorable felonies and five prior scorable misdemeanors. Dkt. 10-3 at 77-79. Upon affidavits of Petitioner's violation of the conditions of probation filed in late 2013, the court revoked probation and imposed two years of community control followed by three years of drug offender probation.[2] Dkt. 10-2 at 20.

         The next year, affidavits supporting a violation of community control for an incident of driving without a license were filed. Dkt. 10-2 at 28-32. Following the denial of a motion to suppress and the presentation of law enforcement testimony, the court found the violation proved by a preponderance of the evidence and beyond a reasonable doubt.[3] Dkt. 10-1 at 123. Petitioner also admitted to the violation. Dkt. 10-1 at 112. The court revoked Petitioner's community control and sentenced him to sixty years' incarceration. Id. at 139. The sixty-year sentences were concurrent terms based upon the two first-degree felonies (which were punishable by life in prison). Id.

         Petitioner appealed the revocation and sentence to the District Court of Appeal for the Fifth District of Florida (Fifth DCA). Dkt. 10-5 at 4. Petitioner voluntarily dismissed the appeal after his attorney filed an Anders[4] brief. Id. at 4, 26. Petitioner then filed, through counsel, a 3.850 motion for postconviction relief arguing an involuntary plea and ineffective assistance of counsel. Dkt. 10-5 at 57. The postconviction court denied the motion and the subsequent pro se motion for rehearing without an evidentiary hearing. Dkt. 10-5 at 34, 41. The Fifth DCA affirmed the denial. Dkt. 10-5 at 124.

         Respondent acknowledges that the petition is timely and its one claim exhausted. Dkt. 9 at 4-5. Petitioner claims that his admission of the violation of community control was unlawfully induced, involuntary, and unknowing of the charges and consequences of the plea, and that he suffered related ineffective assistance of counsel.


         This petition is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”). AEDPA “establishes a highly deferential standard for reviewing state court judgments, ” Parker v. Sec'y for Dep't of Corr., 331 F.3d 764, 768 (11th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted), that does not allow relief from a state court conviction on a claim “‘that was adjudicated on the merits in the State court proceedings' unless the state court's decision was ‘(1) . . . contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or (2) . . . based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding, '” Nejad v. Attorney Gen., State of Ga., 830 F.3d 1280, 1288 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)).

         “Clearly established Federal law” means holdings of the U.S. Supreme Court “as of the time of the relevant state-court decision.” Id. at 1288-89 (citation omitted). “Contrary to” requires a state court conclusion “opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the Supreme Court] has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.” Id. at 1289 (citations omitted) (alterations in original). The “unreasonable application” clause applies only “if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.” Id. (citation omitted) (alterations in original).

         A state court's factual determination, meanwhile, “is not unreasonable merely because the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.” Id. (citation omitted). AEDPA “requires federal habeas courts to presume the correctness of state courts' factual findings unless applicants rebut this presumption with ‘clear and convincing evidence.'” Id. (citation omitted). This is a “demanding but not insatiable standard, requiring proof that a claim is highly probable.” Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         Counsel is ineffective under the Sixth Amendment if “(1) counsel's performance was deficient; and (2) the deficient performance prejudiced the defense such that petitioner was deprived of a fair trial.” Dill v. Allen, 488 F.3d 1344, 1354 (11th Cir. 2007) (citing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984)). But in the habeas context, “[t]he question is not whether a federal court believes the state court's determination under the Strickland standard was incorrect but whether that determination was unreasonable-a substantially higher threshold.” Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, 123 (2009) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). “If there is ‘any reasonable argument that counsel satisfied Strickland's deferential standard,' then a federal court may not disturb a state-court decision denying the claim.” Hittson v. GDCP Warden, 759 F.3d 1210, 1248 (11th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted).


         The Court finds that a hearing is unnecessary, see Turner v. Crosby, 339 F.3d 1247, 1274-75 (11th Cir. 2003), and that habeas relief is unwarranted.

         Petitioner claims that his admission of the violation of community control was unlawfully induced, involuntary, and unknowing of the charges and consequences of the plea, and that he suffered related ineffective assistance of counsel. Dkt. 5 at 10. Specifically, he states that (1) his counsel told him to reject a State offer of 102 months, (2) he was promised if he could pay the outstanding restitution his community control would be reinstated and that, if not, he would face a sentence of 8.5 years, (3) his counsel did not communicate with him about the case, and (4) counsel was at the time under investigation by the Florida Bar and was later disbarred. Dkt. 5 at 10. Petitioner also faults the postconviction court for not holding an evidentiary hearing or including attachments that refuted his claim in its order denying the 3.850 motion. Id. at 11.

         But merely reviewing the April 24, 2014 violation of community control hearing, at which Petitioner was represented by counsel, demonstrates that habeas relief is unwarranted. The hearing began with Petitioner admitting his identity, that he was on community control, and that he was instructed on the conditions of community control. Dkt. 10-1 at 63. Those instructions, as confirmed by the testimony of an officer, included refraining from driving without a license. Id. at 63-64, 67.

         The State also called a deputy who was familiar with Petitioner and his facial and body features. Id. at 71. That deputy testified he was on duty on February 15, 2014 and checked that day to see whether Petitioner had a suspended license. Id. at 72. Later that morning, the deputy was positioned in front of Petitioner's address “running radar” on passing cars when he saw a motorcycle leave the residence. Id. at 74-75. The motorcycle had no tag. Id. at 78. Shortly after the deputy was able to recognize Petitioner as the individual operating the motorcycle, Petitioner did an abrupt U-turn and returned to his residence. Id. at 77.

         The deputy conducted a traffic stop when the motorcycle pulled into the driveway. Petitioner got off the motorcycle, removed his helmet, and pleaded with the deputy. Id. at 79. As an explanation, Petitioner told the deputy that he got into an argument with his wife and did not want to hit her. Id. This operation of the motorcycle without a license formed the basis of Petitioner's violation of community control. There were later statements from Petitioner's wife that also confirmed Petitioner drove the motorcycle. Id. at 131.

         After the court heard the officer's and deputy's testimony, Petitioner's counsel argued a motion to suppress the deputy's identification and observations of Petitioner during the traffic stop. The court denied the motion. Id. at 104. The court then shifted gears to discuss Petitioner's violation. Id. at 107. In relevant part:

COURT: [Petitioner] has not necessarily pled. I don't want to force him to do anything. I don't want to chill his constitutional rights. I've now heard, under oath, that he was on probation.
. . .
That the material terms and conditions of his probation were lawfully explained to him; that he has been identified by a law enforcement officer as the same person and has committed a new law violation . . . even though that case is still pending in county court. Nonetheless, I've heard now the -- basically the not even the synopsis. I've heard the final hearing.
. . .
COURT: At this point right now, if he would want to admit - -
COURT: That's all fine and well, but he doesn't necessarily need to because I've already heard the factual basis.
Does [Petitioner] want to make any statement under oath regarding . . . the violation ...

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