United States District Court, S.D. Florida
Anthony Laterza, pro se
ALTMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
November 3, 2017, the Petitioner, Anthony Laterza
(“Laterza”), filed a pro se Petition
under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for a Writ of Habeas Corpus (the
“Petition”) [ECF No. 1]. On January 3, 2019, and
pursuant to Administrative Order 2019-2, the Clerk reassigned
the case to United States Magistrate Judge Lisette M. Reid
for a ruling on all pre-trial, non-dispositive questions and
for a report and recommendation on any dispositive matters
[ECF No. 31]. On May 14, 2019, Judge Reid issued a Report and
Recommendation (“R&R”), in which she
suggested that this Court deny both the Petition and the
Petitioner's request for a Certificate of Appealability
[ECF No. 35]. Because the Petitioner filed timely objections
to the R&R (“Objections”) [ECF No. 39], the
Court must review the R&R de novo. See Fed. R.
Civ. P. 72(b)(3).
Petition, Laterza asks this Court to adjudicate a narrow
issue: whether he should be permitted to withdraw the plea
agreement he signed in two state-court criminal
matters because of a consecutive term of
supervised release he received for a separate federal crime.
April 29, 2016, the Petitioner entered into a plea agreement
with the State of Florida (the “State”) to
resolve two pending criminal cases. R&R at 2. Because the
Petitioner was proceeding pro se, the plea
negotiations, which took place over the course of two days,
were recorded and transcribed pursuant to Florida Rule of
Criminal Procedure 3.171(b)(2). Id. In the plea
agreement the Petitioner signed,  both parties agreed that
“the intent of the State and the Defendant” was
for the Petitioner's state-court sentences to run
concurrently with his upcoming federal
sentence. See No. 02-14072-CR-Middlebrooks.
Id. Pursuant to this plea agreement, and without
objection,  on July 5, 2016, the Petitioner pled
guilty in state court to charges of racketeering, money
laundering, and tampering with a witness. Id. That
same day, a state-court judge sentenced the Petitioner to two
concurrent, ten-year prison terms-thus resolving both of the
Petitioner's state-court matters. Id.
for the Petitioner, on May 23, 2016, before he was sentenced
in the state-court cases, the Petitioner appeared before the
Honorable Donald L. Graham at a sentencing hearing for his federal
violation of supervised release. Id. n. 2; see
also State's Omnibus Response to [Petitioner's]
Motion to Withdraw Plea [ECF No. 15-3 at 3]. Judge Graham
sentenced the Petitioner to 18 months of imprisonment (to be
served concurrently with his forthcoming state-court
sentences), followed by a five-year term of supervised
release. Id. Unlike the term of imprisonment,
however, Judge Graham ordered that the term of supervised
release was to “run consecutive to any term of
probation or supervision imposed in the Defendant's State
of Florida cases . . . .” Id.
Petitioner subsequently moved to withdraw his state-court
plea agreement because, he said, Judge Graham's
imposition of a consecutive term of supervised
release violated the state-court parties'
“intent.” Id. at 3. In opposing the
Petitioner's motion, the State pointed to the transcripts
of the plea negotiations, which made clear to the Petitioner
that nothing in the state-court plea agreement could
“force” Judge Graham to impose a
concurrent sentence. Id. Relying, in part,
on these transcripts, the state trial and appellate courts
roundly rejected the Petitioner's efforts to withdraw his
plea. Id. at 3-4. This Petition followed.
Id. at 4.
Petitioner bears the burden of establishing either that (1) a
decision of the state court was contrary to, or involved an
unreasonable application of, federal law, as determined by
the Supreme Court, or (2) a decision of the state court was
based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light
of the evidence presented to the court. See 28
U.S.C. § 2254(d). See also Williams v. Taylor,
529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000). In this way, Section 2254(d)
sets out a “highly deferential standard for evaluating
state-court rulings, which demands that state-court decisions
be given the benefit of the doubt.” Woodford v.
Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (cleaned up). To
succeed on a petition under § 2254, then, a petitioner
must show that the state court's decision was
“objectively unreasonable.” Rimmer v.
Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 876 F.3d 1039, 1053
(11th Cir. 2017); Tharpe v. Warden, 834 F.3d 1323,
1338 (11th Cir. 2016) (“Federal courts may grant habeas
relief only when a state court blundered in a manner so well
understood and comprehended in existing law and was so
lacking in justification that there is no possibility
fair-minded jurists could disagree.”) (cleaned up).
Under this standard, even state-court decisions that, on
review, appear wrong-or even clearly erroneous-will not be
deemed an unreasonable application of federal law.
Id. Indeed, even decisions a state court judge has
made summarily, without any reasoning, are entitled to
deference under § 2254(d). See Harrington v.
Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 98 (2011).
Petitioner claims that Judge Graham's imposition of a
consecutive term of supervised release violated his
plea agreement and rendered his plea involuntary. R&R at
8. But both the state prosecutor and the Petitioner's own
standby counsel warned the Petitioner that the state-court
plea agreement could not guarantee him a concurrent
sentence in his federal case. As the transcripts make plain:
MR. LATERZA: . . . [I]f I go in there and - and I'm
pleading up to the [federal] judge, and the judge says, well,
you know . . . after all these years, now this . . . I
don't think that would - 90 months is - STANDBY COUNSEL:
7 ½ years.
MR. LATERZA 7 ½.
STANDBY COUNSEL: Plus whatever you get in federal
court, which you don't know. It could be
time served or you could get a - I don't know what the
recommended range is, I'm sure it's - it ...