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Barnhill v. Jones

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

August 26, 2019

ROY C BARNHILL, Petitioner,
v.
JULIE JONES, SECRETARY FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Respondent.

          ORDER

          M. CASEY RODGERS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (the “Report”) dated November 15, 2018, recommending that the Petition for writ of habeas corpus be denied. ECF No. 26. The parties have been furnished with a copy of the Report and were afforded an opportunity to file objections pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The Court has made a de novo determination of the timely filed objections, ECF No. 27.

         Petitioner Roy C. Barnhill first objects to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation that Ground One of his Petition be denied, arguing that the Magistrate Judge erred in “solely” focusing on Barnhill's consent to the decision to waive closing argument without “conduct[ing] any analysis of the reasonableness [that] decision . . . under the facts of the instant case.” ECF No. 27 at 3-4; see also Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 698-99 (2002). The Court disagrees. The Magistrate Judge properly assessed whether the state court's denial of his ineffective assistance claim was “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law” pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). See Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011) (when reviewing an ineffective assistance of counsel claim pursuant to § 2254(d), the pivotable question is not whether “defense counsel's performance fell below Strickland's standard” but rather “whether the state court's application of the Strickland standard was unreasonable.”);[1] Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, 123 (2009) (the relevant 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.”) (quotations omitted); Raulerson v. Warden, 928 F.3d 987, 996-97 (11th Cir. 2019) (when the court reviews ineffective assistance claims under § 2254(d), “the question becomes whether there is any reasonable argument that counsel satisfied Strickland's deferential standard.”). Contrary to Barnhill's assertions, the Magistrate Judge did not “solely” focus on Barnhill's consent to his counsels' decision to waive closing argument. Instead, the Magistrate Judge outlined Barnhill's and his trial counsels' testimony about the decision to waive closing argument, the state court's credibility determinations regarding this testimony, and the state court's finding that his trial counsel made a reasonable tactical decision based on this testimony. See ECF No. 26 at 15-21. Based on the foregoing, the Magistrate Judge concluded that “[i]n light of the testimony presented at the evidentiary hearing concerning counsels' trial strategy and Petitioner's agreement to the strategy, and in light of the evidence at trial, which presented the jury with necessary information concerning the violent nature of the victim and Petitioner's explanation of his belief that he needed to use deadly force to defend himself, Petitioner has not shown that the post-conviction court's credibility determinations and conclusions were unreasonable.” Id. at 21. Accordingly, for the reasons discussed in the Report and herein, Ground One is due to be denied and Barnhill's objections are overruled.[2]

         Barnhill also objects to the portion of the Report recommending that the Court deny Ground Two. See ECF No. 27 at 10-18. Barnhill argues that the state court's denial of his ineffective assistance claim based on his trial counsel's cross-examination of Investigator Mia Harnett was “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); see Harrington, 562 U.S. at 101. Barnhill's trial counsel cross-examined Harnett on her potential bias and whether she conducted a thorough and impartial investigation. The State subsequently solicited allegedly improper opinion testimony on redirect, [3]which Barnhill attributes to his counsel's alleged error in opening the door to that opinion. The state court found that Barnhill's trial counsel was not deficient in cross-examining Harnett on these matters. See ECF No. 22-24 at 637. Barnhill has failed to show that this determination was an unreasonable application of Strickland's deferential standard.[4] Raulerson, 928 F.3d at 996-97; see also Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 689 (1984) (“A fair assessment of attorney performance requires that every effort be made to eliminate the distorting effects of hindsight, to reconstruct the circumstances of counsel's challenged conduct, and to evaluate the conduct from counsel's perspective at the time.”). Thus, the Court rejects Barnhill's objection to the denial of his ineffective assistance claim of Ground Two. Given that, the Court finds it unnecessary to address whether Ground Two fails under the prejudice prong of the Strickland test.[5] See Reaves v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 872 F.3d 1137, 1151 (11th Cir. 2017) (“Because both parts of the [Strickland] test must be satisfied in order to show a violation of the Sixth Amendment, the court need not address the performance prong if the defendant cannot meet the prejudice prong, or vice versa.” (quoting Holladay v. Haley, 209 F.3d 1243, 1248 (11th Cir. 2000)).

         Accordingly:

1. The Objections are OVERRULED, and the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation is ADOPTED and incorporated by reference in this Order.
2. The Petition for writ of habeas corpus, ECF No. 1, is DENIED.
3. A certificate of appealability is DENIED.

         DONE AND ORDERED.

---------

Notes:

[1] In order to establish an ineffective assistance of counsel claim pursuant to Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), the petitioner must establish 1) that his counsel's performance was deficient 2) and that this deficient performance resulted in prejudice. See id. at 687.

[2] Barnhill also argues that the Magistrate Judge erred in not addressing Lawhorn v. Allen, 519 F.3d 1272 (11th Cir. 2008), which he argues supports his ineffective assistance claim in Ground One. See ECF No. 27 at 9-10. Lawhorn is readily distinguishable and does not support Barnhill's argument that the state court unreasonably applied Strickland to his ineffective assistance claim. See Lawhorn, 519 F.3d at 1293-96 (holding that the petitioner's trial counsel was

ineffective under § 2254(d) for waiving closing argument in the sentencing phase of a capital case “based on a complete misunderstanding of a clear rule of law” and for failing to conduct adequate ...


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