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Richardson v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections

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

October 11, 2019

RANEY RICHARDSON, Petitioner,
v.
SECRETARY, FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Respondents.

          ORDER

          BRIAN J. DAVIS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Petitioner, Raney Richardson, challenges his state court (Duval County) conviction for felony murder and attempted armed robbery through a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Petition) (Doc. 1) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Respondents filed an Answer to Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Response) (Doc. 13).[1]Petitioner's Reply to Respondents' Answer to Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Doc. 26) followed. The Petition is timely filed. See Response at 15.

         II. EVIDENTIARY HEARING

         Petitioner has the burden to establish a need for an evidentiary hearing. See Chavez v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 647 F.3d 1057, 1060 (11th Cir. 2011) (opining a petitioner bears the burden of establishing the need for an evidentiary hearing with more than speculative and inconcrete claims of need), cert. denied, 565 U.S. 1120 (2012). In this case, the pertinent facts are fully developed in this record or the record otherwise precludes habeas relief; therefore, the Court is able to "adequately assess [Petitioner's] claim[s] without further factual development," Turner v. Crosby, 339 F.3d 1247, 1275 (11th Cir. 2003), cert. denied, 541 U.S. 1034 (2004). Petitioner has not met his burden as the record refutes the asserted factual allegations or otherwise precludes habeas relief. Thus, the Court finds Petitioner is not entitled to an evidentiary hearing. Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 474 (2007).

         III. CLAIMS OF PETITION

         The Petition presents two grounds for habeas relief: (1) the ineffective assistance of appellate counsel for failure to raise a claim on direct appeal that the trial court abused its discretion by failing to permit completion of Petitioner's psychological evaluation and conduct a competency hearing, and (2) the ineffective assistance of trial counsel for failure to object to the jury verdict finding Petitioner guilty of first-degree murder and attempted armed robbery as charged in the indictment. Petition at 6-7. These claims are exhausted. Response at 25-26, 40-41.

         IV. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) governs a state prisoner's federal petition for habeas corpus. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254. This statute "imposes important limitations on the power of federal courts to overturn the judgments of state courts in criminal cases." Shoop v. Hill, 139 S.Ct. 504, 506 (2019) (per curiam). The AEDPA statute: "respects the authority and ability of state courts and their dedication to the protection of constitutional rights." Id. Therefore, "[u]nder AEDPA, error is not enough; even clear error is not enough." Meders v. Warden, Ga. Diagnostic Prison, 911 F.3d 1335, 1349 (11th Cir. 2019) (citing Virginia v. LeBlanc, 137 S.Ct. 1726, 1728 (2017) (per curiam)), petition for cert. filed, (U.S. Aug. 2, 2019) (No. 19-5438).

         Applying the statute as amended by AEDPA, federal courts may not grant habeas relief unless one of the claims: "(1)'was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States,' or (2) 'was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.' 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)." Nance v. Warden, Ga. Diagnostic Prison, 922 F.3d 1298, 1300-1301 (11th Cir. 2019).

         Thus, in order to obtain habeas relief, the state court decision must unquestionably conflict with Supreme Court precedent. Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011). If some fair-minded jurists could agree with the lower court's decision, habeas relief must be denied. Meders, 911 F.3d at 1351. As noted in Richter, unless the petitioner shows the state court's ruling was so lacking in justification that there was error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fair-minded disagreement, there is no entitlement to habeas relief. Burt v. Titlow, 571 U.S. 12, 19-20 (2013).

         In undertaking its review, this Court is not obliged "to flyspeck the state court order or grade it." Meders, 911 F.3d at 1349. Indeed, specificity and thoroughness of the state court decision is not required; even if the state court fails to provide rationale or reasoning, AEDPA deference is due "absent a conspicuous misapplication of Supreme Court precedent." Id. at 1350 (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         Of importance, a state court's finding of fact, whether a state trial court or appellate court, is entitled to a presumption of correctness under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). But, this presumption of correctness applies only to findings of fact, not mixed determinations of law and fact. Brannan v. GDCP Warden, 541 Fed.Appx. 901, 903-904 (11th Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (recognizing the distinction between a pure question of fact from a mixed question of law and fact), cert. denied, 573 U.S. 906 (2014).

         Where there has been one reasoned state court judgment rejecting a federal claim followed by an unexplained order upholding that judgement, federal habeas courts employ a "look through" presumption: "the federal court should 'look through' the unexplained decision to the last related state-court decision that does provide a relevant rationale. It should then presume that the unexplained decision adopted the same reasoning." Wilson v. Sellers, 138 S.Ct. 1188, 1192 (2018) (Wilson).

         Once a claim is adjudicated in state court and a prisoner seeks relief in the federal court system, AEDPA's formidable barrier to habeas relief comes into play, and it is very difficult for a petitioner to prevail under this stringent standard. As such, state-court judgments will not easily be set aside once the Court employs this highly deferential standard that is intentionally difficult to meet. See Richter, 562 U.S. at 102. Although AEDPA does not impose a complete bar to issuing a writ, it severely limits those occasions to those "where there is no possibility fairminded jurists could disagree that the state court's decision conflicts" with Supreme Court precedent. Id. In sum, application of the standard set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) ensures that habeas corpus is a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, and not a mechanism for ordinary error correction. Richter, 562 U.S. at 102-103 (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         V. INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL

         Petitioner raises a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. To prevail on his Sixth Amendment claim, Petitioner must satisfy the two-pronged test set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688 (1984), requiring that he show both deficient performance (counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness) and prejudice (there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different). See Brewster v. Hetzel, 913 F.3d 1042, 1051-52 (11th Cir. 2019) (reviewing court may begin with either component).

         In order to obtain habeas relief, a counsel's errors must be so great that they adversely affect the defense. In order to satisfy this prejudice prong, the reasonable probability of a different result must be "a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694.

         The standard created by Strickland is a highly deferential standard, requiring a most deferential review of counsel's decisions. Richter, 562 U.S. at 105. Not only is there the "Strickland mandated one layer of deference to the decisions of trial counsel[, ]" there is the added layer of deference required by AEDPA: the one to a state court's decision. Nance, 922 F.3d at 1303. Thus,

Given the double deference due, it is a "rare case in which an ineffective assistance of counsel claim that was denied on the merits in state court is found to merit relief in a federal habeas proceeding." Johnson v. Sec'y, DOC, 643 F.3d 907, 911 (11th Cir. 2011). And, for the reasons we have already discussed, it is rarer still for merit to be found in a claim that challenges a strategic decision of counsel.

Nance, 922 F.3d at 1303.

         VI. INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF APPELLATE COUNSEL

         The two-part Strickland standard is also applicable to Petitioner's claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. Overstreet v. Warden, 811 F.3d 1283, 1287 (11th Cir. 2016). The Eleventh Circuit describes Strickland's governance of this type of claim:

To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel, a habeas petitioner must establish that his counsel's performance was deficient and that the deficient performance prejudiced his defense. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 2064, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984); Brooks v. Comm'r, Ala. Dep't of Corr., 719 F.3d 1292, 1300 (11th Cir. 2013) ("Claims of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel are governed by the same standards applied to trial counsel under Strickland.") (quotation marks omitted). Under the deficient performance prong, the petitioner "must show that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688, 104 S.Ct. at 2064.

Rambaran v. Sec'y, Dep't of Corr., 821 F.3d 1325, 1331 (11th Cir. 2016), cert. denied, 137 S.Ct. ...


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