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Laterza v. Inch

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

August 30, 2019

ANTHONY LATERZA, Petitioner,
v.
MARK S. INCH,[1] Respondent.

          Anthony Laterza, pro se

          ORDER

          ROY K. ALTMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On 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).

         In his 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[2] because of a consecutive term of supervised release he received for a separate federal crime.

         I. THE FACTS

         On 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, [3] 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.[4] See No. 02-14072-CR-Middlebrooks. Id. Pursuant to this plea agreement, and without objection, [5] 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.

         Unfortunately 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[6] 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.

         The 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.

         II. ANALYSIS

         The 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).

         The 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 ...

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