United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
GERARD L. BROOKINS, Petitioner,
SECRETARY, FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Respondents.
Morales Howard, Judge
Gerard Brookins, an inmate of the Florida penal system,
initiated this action on February 8, 2017,  by filing a
Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. §
2254 (Petition; Doc. 1). In the Petition, Brookins challenges
a 2009 state court (Duval County, Florida) judgment of
conviction for home invasion robbery with a firearm or deadly
weapon. Brookins raises four grounds for relief. See
Petition at 5-10. Respondents have submitted a memorandum in
opposition to the Petition. See Answer to Petition
for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Response; Doc. 18) with exhibits
(Resp. Ex.). Brookins decided not to file a reply brief;
instead, relying on his assertions and arguments as pled in
his Petition. See Doc. 20. This case is ripe for
Relevant Procedural History
August 26, 2008, the State of Florida (State) charged
Brookins by way of amended Information with home invasion
robbery with a firearm or deadly weapon. Resp. Ex. A at
13-14. Brookins proceeded to a jury trial, at the conclusion
of which the jury found him guilty as charged. Id.
at 74. On May 26, 2009, the circuit court adjudicated
Brookins to be a habitual felony offender (HFO) and sentenced
him to a term of incarceration of life in prison.
Id. at 86-91, 97, 167-71.
appealed his conviction and sentence to Florida's First
District Court of Appeal (First DCA). Id. at 105. In
his amended initial brief, Brookins, with the assistantce of
counsel, raised the following three grounds for reversal: (1)
the circuit court erred in allowing the State to make
improper comments and argument during voir dire, opening
statements, and closing arguments; (2) trial counsel was
ineffective; and (3) the cumulative effect of the circuit
court and State's errors required a retrial. Resp. Ex. G.
The State filed an answer brief, Resp. Ex. H, and Brookins
filed a brief in reply. Resp. Ex. I. On April 7, 2011, the
First DCA per curiam affirmed Brookins' judgment and
sentence without issuing a written opinion, Resp. Ex. J, and
issued the Mandate on April 26, 2011. Resp. Ex. K.
8, 2011, Brookins filed a pro se motion to correct an illegal
sentence pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure
3.800(a) (Rule 3.800(a) Motion), in which he argued his life
sentence exceeded the statutory maximum penalty for his
offense. Resp. Ex. P. The circuit court had yet to rule on
the Rule 3.800(a) Motion at the time Respondents filed their
Response, Resp. Ex. O, but the state court record reflects
the circuit court denied the motion on March 2, 2018. See
State v. Gerard Brookins, 16-2008-CF-010468-CX (Docket #
March 6, 2013 and June 13, 2013, Brookins through two
different attorneys, filed two separate motions for
postconviction relief pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal
Procedure 3.850. Resp. Ex. Q at 1-52. On January 13, 2015,
the circuit court struck the motions and directed Brookins to
file an amended motion, id. at 55-59, which Brookins
filed, pro se, on March 6, 2015 (Rule 3.850 Motion).
Id. at 63-99. In his Rule 3.850 Motion, Brookins
asserted his counsel was ineffective for failing to: (1)
object to the State's line of questioning during jury
selection; (2) properly investigate his case; and (3) put the
State's case through a true adversarial testing.
Id. Brookins also alleged the cumulative effect of
counsel's errors prejudiced him. Id. On February
1, 2016, the circuit court denied the Rule 3.850 Motion.
Id. at 100-23. The First DCA per curiam affirmed the
denial on May 31, 2016, without a written opinion. Resp. Ex.
T. On June 10, 2016, Brookins filed a pro se motion for
rehearing, Resp. Ex. U, which the First DCA denied on July
21, 2016. Resp. Ex. X. The First DCA issued the Mandate on
August 8, 2016. Resp. Ex. Y. Brookins sought review with the
Florida Supreme Court, but the court dismissed his appeal for
lack of jurisdiction. Resp. Ex. Z.
also filed a pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus in the
circuit court on December 3, 2015, in which he argued he
received a disparate sentence compared to his co-defendant
and the State vindictively prosecuted him. Resp. Ex. AA at
1-25. On September 14, 2016, the circuit court denied his
petition, cautioned him against filing frivolous motions, and
corrected a scrivener's error in the judgment and
sentence form. Id. at 30-34. On September 19, 2016,
the circuit court entered an amended judgment and sentence.
Resp. Ex. BB. The First DCA per curiam affirmed the denial of
the petition without issuing a written opinion on August 8,
2017. Resp. Ex. FF. Brookins moved for rehearing on September
12, 2017, Resp. Ex. GG, which the First DCA denied on
November 8, 2017. Resp. Ex. HH. The First DCA issued the
Mandate on November 29, 2017. Resp. Ex. II.
3, 2017, Brookins filed another pro se motion to correct
illegal sentence pursuant to Rule 3.800(a), arguing count one
was illegally enhanced from a first-degree felony to a
first-degree felony punishable by life. Resp. Ex. JJ. On
March 2, 2018, the circuit court denied the motion. Resp. Ex.
KK. Brookins did not appeal. Resp. Ex. O.
One-Year Limitations Period
proceeding was timely filed within the one-year limitations
period. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d).
habeas corpus proceeding, the burden is on the petitioner to
establish the need for a federal evidentiary hearing. See
Chavez v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 647 F.3d
1057, 1060 (11th Cir. 2011). “In deciding whether to
grant an evidentiary hearing, a federal court must consider
whether such a hearing could enable an applicant to prove the
petition's factual allegations, which, if true, would
entitle the applicant to federal habeas relief.”
Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 474 (2007);
Jones v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 834
F.3d 1299, 1318-19 (11th Cir. 2016), cert.
denied, 137 S.Ct. 2245 (2017). “It follows
that if the record refutes the applicant's factual
allegations or otherwise precludes habeas relief, a district
court is not required to hold an evidentiary hearing.”
Schriro, 550 U.S. at 474. The pertinent facts of
this case are fully developed in the record before the Court.
Because the Court can “adequately assess
[Brookins'] claim[s] without further factual development,
” Turner v. Crosby, 339 F.3d 1247, 1275 (11th
Cir. 2003), an evidentiary hearing will not be conducted.
Governing Legal Principles
Standard of Review
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA)
governs a state prisoner's federal petition for habeas
corpus. See Ledford v. Warden, Ga. Diagnostic &
Classification Prison, 818 F.3d 600, 642 (11th Cir.
2016), cert. denied, 137 S.Ct. 1432 (2017).
“‘The purpose of AEDPA is to ensure that federal
habeas relief functions as a guard against extreme
malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, and not
as a means of error correction.'” Id.
(quoting Greene v. Fisher, 565 U.S. 34, 38 (2011)
(quotation marks omitted)). As such, federal habeas review of
final state court decisions is “‘greatly
circumscribed' and ‘highly deferential.'”
Id. (quoting Hill v. Humphrey, 662 F.3d
1335, 1343 (11th Cir. 2011) (quotation marks omitted)).
first task of the federal habeas court is to identify the
last state court decision, if any, that adjudicated the claim
on the merits. See Marshall v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't
of Corr., 828 F.3d 1277, 1285 (11th Cir. 2016). The
state court need not issue a written opinion explaining its
rationale in order for the state court's decision to
qualify as an adjudication on the merits. See Harrington
v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 100 (2011). Where the state
court's adjudication on the merits is unaccompanied by an
explanation, the United States Supreme Court has instructed:
[T]he 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
Wilson v. Sellers, 138 S.Ct. 1188, 1192 (2018). The
presumption may be rebutted by showing that the higher state
court's adjudication most likely relied on different
grounds than the lower state court's reasoned decision,
such as persuasive alternative grounds that were briefed or
argued to the higher court or obvious in the record it
reviewed. Id. at 1192, 1196.
claim was “adjudicated on the merits” in state
court, § 2254(d) bars relitigation of the claim unless
the state court's decision (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); Richter, 562 U.S. at 97-98. The Eleventh
Circuit describes the limited scope of federal review
pursuant to § 2254 as follows:
First, § 2254(d)(1) provides for federal review for
claims of state courts' erroneous legal conclusions. As
explained by the Supreme Court in Williams v.
Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389
(2000), § 2254(d)(1) consists of two distinct clauses: a
“contrary to” clause and an “unreasonable
application” clause. The “contrary to”
clause allows for relief only “if the state court
arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the
Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court
decides a case differently than [the Supreme] Court has on a
set of materially indistinguishable facts.”
Id. at 413, 120 S.Ct. at 1523 (plurality opinion).
The “unreasonable application” clause allows for
relief only “if the state court identifies the correct
governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court's
decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the
facts of the prisoner's case.” Id.
Second, § 2254(d)(2) provides for federal review for
claims of state courts' erroneous factual determinations.
Section 2254(d)(2) allows federal courts to grant relief only
if the state court's denial of the petitioner's claim
“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)(2). The Supreme
Court has not yet defined § 2254(d)(2)'s
“precise relationship” to § 2254(e)(1),
which imposes a burden on the petitioner to rebut the state
court's factual findings “by clear and convincing
evidence.” See Burt v. Titlow, 571 U.S. __,
__, 134 S.Ct. 10, 15, 187 L.Ed.2d 348 (2013); accord
Brumfield v. Cain, 576 U.S. __, __, 135 S.Ct. 2269,
2282, 192 L.Ed.2d 356 (2015). Whatever that “precise
relationship” may be, “‘a state-court
factual determination is not unreasonable merely because the
federal habeas court would have reached a different
conclusion in the first instance.'” Titlow,
571 U.S. at __, 134 S.Ct. at 15 (quoting Wood v.
Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301, 130 S.Ct. 841, 849, 175
L.Ed.2d 738 (2010)).
Tharpe v. Warden, 834 F.3d 1323, 1337 (11th Cir.
2016), cert. denied, 137 S.Ct. 2298 (2017).
Also, deferential review under § 2254(d) generally is
limited to the record that was before the state court that
adjudicated the claim on the merits. See Cullen v.
Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 182 (2011) (stating the
language in § 2254(d)(1)'s “requires an
examination of the state-court decision at the time it was
“AEDPA erects a formidable barrier to federal habeas
relief for prisoners whose claims have been adjudicated in
state court.” Burt v. Titlow, 134 S.Ct. 10, 16
(2013). “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 fairminded jurists could
disagree.'” Tharpe, 834 F.3d at 1338
(quoting Richter, 562 U.S. at 102-03). This standard
is “meant to be” a “difficult” one to
meet. Richter, 562 U.S. at 102. Thus, to the extent
that the petitioner's claims were adjudicated on the
merits in the state courts, they must be evaluated under 28
U.S.C. § 2254(d).
are prerequisites to federal habeas review. Before bringing a
§ 2254 habeas action in federal court, a petitioner must
exhaust all state court remedies that are available for
challenging his state conviction. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254(b)(1)(A). To exhaust state remedies, the
petitioner must “fairly present” every issue
raised in his federal petition to the state's highest
court, either on direct appeal or on collateral review.
Castille v. Peoples, 489 U.S. 346, 351 (1989)
(emphasis omitted). Thus, to properly exhaust a claim,
“state prisoners must give the state courts one full
opportunity to resolve ...