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Harris v. Inch

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

August 2, 2019

ADARIUS HARRIS, Petitioner,
v.
MARK S. INCH, Respondent.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          HOPE THAI CANNON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This cause is before the court upon Petitioner Adarius Harris' petition for writ of habeas corpus filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. ECF Doc. 1. Respondent moved to dismiss the petition on grounds of procedural default, ECF Doc. 30, and Petitioner has responded in opposition. ECF Doc. 40 & 42. The matter is referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and N.D. Fla. Loc. R. 72.2(B). After careful consideration, the undersigned recommends that the petition be dismissed without an evidentiary hearing, as it is procedurally barred.

         I. Background

         On September 29, 2010, Harris was indicted for First Degree Murder (Count I) and Attempted Home Invasion Robbery (Count II) in Alachua County Circuit Court No. 01-2010-CF-003712-A. ECF Doc. 30-1 at 73-74. On August 11, 2011, following a jury trial, Harris was found guilty on both counts. See Id. at 125-26. On October 20, 2011, a judgment of conviction was entered sentencing Harris to life in prison for Count I and thirty years in prison for Count II, to run concurrently with his life sentence. Id. at 143-44. Harris was also given 402 days of jail credit. See id.

         Harris appealed his judgment to the First District Court of Appeal (hereafter "1st DCA") (ECF Doc. 30-1 at 160), which per curiam affirmed his judgment and sentence without written opinion on September 27, 2012, in No. 1D11-5752. Harris v. State, 97 So.3d 221 (Fla. 1st DCA 2012). The court's mandate issued on October 15, 2012. ECF Doc. 30-10 at 18. Harris filed a pro se Motion to Correct Sentence in state circuit court on April 9, 2013 (per mailbox rule[1]) (ECF Doc. 30-10 at 2), which was summarily dismissed on April 17, 2013. Id. at 6. On June 5, 2014, Harris filed (per mailbox rule) a second pro se Motion to Correct Illegal Sentence in the state circuit court (ECF Doc. 30-10 at 21), which was granted on June 12, 2014. Id. at 26. In the court's order granting Harris's motion, the court directed the clerk to amend Harris's judgment to reflect the correct degree of the crime in Count II as a second-degree felony and reduce Harris's sentence for Count II to ten years' imprisonment. Id. A modified judgment was entered, nunc pro tunc, on June 23, 2014. ECF Doc. 30-10 at 45. Harris did not file a direct appeal of that modified judgment; thus, the judgment became final thirty days later, on July 23, 2014.

         On June 17, 2014, Harris filed (per mailbox rule) a pro se Motion for Postconviction Relief in the state circuit court asserting two grounds of relief for ineffective assistance of trial counsel (hereafter "IATC"). ECF Doc. 30-8 at 29. Harris subsequently filed an amended pro se Motion for Postconviction Relief (titled "Supplemental Amended Motion for Postconviction Relief”) on July 22, 2014 (per mailbox rule) to add five additional grounds of relief based on IATC. ECF Doc. 30-8 at 61. On August 6, 2016, Harris filed (per mailbox rule) a pro se Petition for Writ of Mandamus in the 1st DCA to compel the state circuit court to rule on his Motion for Postconviction Relief. ECF Doc 30-9 at 29. The 1st DCA dismissed the petition as moot on September 22, 2016 (ECF Doc. 30-9 at 47) after the circuit court summarily denied all seven of Harris's IATC claims on August 23, 2016 (ECF Doc 30-8 at 329). Harris appealed the circuit court's ruling to the 1st DCA (ECF Doc. 30-8 at 328), which per curiam affirmed the denial of postconviction relief without written opinion on May 11, 2017, in Harris v. State, 226 So.3d 817 (Fla. 1st DCA 2017). The court's mandate issued on June 6, 2017. (ECF Doc. 30-9 at 27).

         Harris filed the instant pro se federal Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (per mailbox rule) on August 5, 2017.

         II. Analysis

         Petitioner asserts the following two grounds for relief in the instant petition: (1) the trial court committed fundamental error in failing to instruct the jury on justifiable and excusable homicide directly after the instruction on the lesser-included offense of second- degree murder despite doing so directly after the instructions for first-degree murder and for manslaughter; and (2) the trial court erred in allowing testimony that Harris had previously purchased marijuana from the victim's son at the victim's home. ECF Doc. 1. Respondent argues that both grounds are procedurally defaulted because Harris failed to raise the claims as federal constitutional claims on direct appeal in the state appellate court. ECF Doc. 30. Harris argues in his response that the case should be held in abeyance to allow him to return to state court to exhaust the claims and also that he falls within the “manifest injustice” exception to procedural default. ECF Doc. 40 & 42. As discussed below, however, the undersigned finds that Harris's claims are procedurally defaulted, that he is unable to avail himself of the manifest injustice exception, and that allowing Harris to return to state court is futile.

         A. Harris Has Failed to Exhaust His State Remedies

          As stated above, Harris raises two grounds for relief in the instant petition. Neither ground is premised on a violation of the Constitution or federal law. Harris's first ground for relief is premised on an alleged error by the trial judge when instructing the jury. Specifically, Harris contends that the trial judge committed a fundamental error when he failed to give the jury an instruction on justifiable and excusable homicide after reading the instruction on second-degree murder. ECF Doc. 30-7 at 80. Harris's second ground for relief is also premised on an error that occurred at trial and is limited to a state procedural issue i.e., allowing the state to present testimony that Harris had previously purchased marijuana from the victim's son at the victim's residence. ECF Doc. 30-7 at 75-79. Harris does not mention or cite to federal law or the Constitution in his petition. Additionally, the undersigned has reviewed the cases Harris cites and none impact federal law or the Constitution.

         Thus, as an initial matter, even if Harris's petition was not procedurally barred, it would still be subject to dismissal because it does not implicate a federal constitutional concern. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a) provides that “[t]he Supreme Court, a Justice thereof, a circuit judge, or a district court shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” (emphasis added). Thus, a claim challenging “[a] state's interpretation of its own laws or rules provides no basis for federal habeas corpus relief, since no question of a constitutional nature is involved.” McCullough v. Singletary, 967 F.2d 530, 535 (11th Cir. 1992); Swarthout v. Cooke, 562 U.S. 216, 219 (2011) (“The habeas statute unambiguously provides that a federal court may issue a writ of habeas corpus to a state prisoner only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.”) (internal quotations and citations omitted); Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991) (“[I]t is not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determinations on state-law questions.”).

         In Harris' response (opposition) to the Respondent's motion to dismiss, he argues the trial issues he raises in his petition deprived him “of a fair and impartial trial, due process and equal protection of the law, as guaranteed by the Sixth (6th), and Fourteenth (14th) amendments of the United States Constitution, as well as, Article 1, Section 9, and 16, of the Florida Constitution.” ECF Doc. 40 at 2. Even if the Court allowed Harris an opportunity to amend his petition to include these federal constitutional claims, his petition would still be due to be dismissed because Harris did not raise any federal constitutional claims in his state court proceedings or appeal. See Ward v. Hall, 592 F.3d 1144, 1156 (11th Cir. 2010) (“a critical prerequisite for any state petitioner seeking federal habeas relief is the requirement that he first properly raise the federal constitutional claim in the state courts”).

         Before bringing a § 2254 habeas action in federal court, a petitioner must exhaust all available state court remedies for challenging his conviction, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1), [2] 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 (1995) (quoting Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275 (1971) (citation omitted)). The petitioner “must give the state courts one full opportunity to resolve any constitutional issues by invoking one complete round of the State's established appellate review process.” O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845 (1999); Picard, 404 U.S. at 277-78. In ...


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