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Sparrow v. Secretary, Department of Corrections

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

October 21, 2019

DONTAVIOUS SPARROW Petitioner,
v.
SECRETARY, Department of Corrections, Respondent.

          ORDER

          CHARLENE EDWARDS HONEYWELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This cause comes before the Court on Dontavious Sparrow's petition for the writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. 1) Sparrow challenges his state convictions for second-degree murder (one count) and attempted second-degree murder (four counts). The Respondent concedes the petition's timeliness. Upon consideration of the petition (Doc. 1) and the response (Doc. 9), [1] and in accordance with the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts, the petition will be DENIED.

         FACTS [2]

         Cortez White, Kenny Baker, Anthony Pruitt, Eric Cooper, and Marquise Pennywell drove to a Snax convenience store. When White pulled into the parking lot he saw a person, later identified as Dontavious Sparrow, walk towards his car. White swerved to avoid hitting Sparrow.

         White and his friends exited the vehicle and were approached by Sparrow who was angry because White almost ran over his foot with the car. Sparrow continued yelling and arguing with the group as Sparrow's friend, Hector Pena, approached. White and his friends went inside the convenience store. When White came back out of the store, he saw Pena and Sparrow drive away in a dark SUV. Sparrow was driving and Pena was the passenger. Sparrow circled the parking lot across the street and then drove back toward the convenience store. As they passed, Pena shot at White and the group. Marquise Pennywell was shot and died from multiple gunshot wounds.

         Eyewitnesses Baker, Cooper, and Pruitt each identified Pena from a police photopack as the shooter. Witness Michelle Moody saw the SUV in which Sparrow and Pena were riding and identified the vehicle's owner, who was Sparrow's father, Joseph Colon. The police located Pena and Sparrow at Colon's house where Sparrow was hiding in the attic.[3] Both Sparrow and Pena were arrested and charged with second-degree murder for the death of Pennywell and with four counts of attempted second-degree murder of White, Baker, Pruitt, and Cooper. The State successfully moved to consolidate the trials and Pena and Sparrow were tried jointly.[4] A jury convicted both Pena and Sparrow of all five charges. Sparrow was sentenced to fifty years imprisonment for the second-degree murder conviction and to concurrent terms of fifteen years imprisonment for each of the attempted murder convictions.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") governs this proceeding. Wilcox v. Florida Dep't of Corr., 158 F.3d 1209, 1210 (11th Cir. 1998), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 840 (2000). Section 2254(d), which creates a highly deferential standard for federal court review of a state court adjudication, states in pertinent part:

         An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim -

(1) resulted in a decision that 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) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

         In Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000), the Supreme Court interpreted this deferential standard:

In sum, § 2254(d)(1) places a new constraint on the power of a federal habeas court to grant a state prisoner's application for a writ of habeas corpus with respect to claims adjudicated on the merits in state court. Under § 2254(d)(1), the writ may issue only if one of the following two conditions is satisfied - - the state-court adjudication resulted in a decision that (1) "was contrary to . . . clearly established Federal Law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States" or (2) "involved an unreasonable application of . . . clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States." Under the "contrary to" clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by this Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than this Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Under the "unreasonable application" clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from this Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.

         "The focus . . . is on whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law is objectively unreasonable, . . . an unreasonable application is different from an incorrect one." Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 694 (2002). "As a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement." Harrington v. Richter, 526 U.S. 86, 103 (2011). Accord Brown v. Head, 272 F.3d 1308, 1313 (11th Cir. 2001) ("It is the objective reasonableness, not the correctness per se, of the state court decision that we are to decide."). The phrase "clearly established Federal law" encompasses only the holdings of the United States Supreme Court "as of the time of the relevant state-court decision." Williams, 529 U.S. at 412.

         The purpose of federal review is not to re-try the state case. "The [AEDPA] modified a federal habeas court's role in reviewing state prisoner applications in order to prevent federal habeas 'retrials' and to ensure that state-court convictions are given effect to the extent possible under law." Cone, 535 U.S. at 693. A federal court must afford due deference to a state court's decision. "AEDPA prevents defendants - and federal courts - from using federal habeas corpus review as a vehicle to second-guess the reasonable decisions of state courts." Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 779 (2010). See also Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011) ("This is a 'difficult to meet,' . . . and 'highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, which demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt' . . . .") (citations omitted).

         The state appellate court affirmed Sparrow's convictions and sentences in a per curiam decision without a written opinion. (Respondent's Exhibit 9) In two per curiam decisions without a written opinion the state appellate court affirmed the denial of both of Sparrow's Rule 3.850 motions. (Respondent's Exhibits 13 and 22) The state appellate court's affirmances warrant deference under Section 2254(d)(1) because "the summary nature of a state court's decision does not lessen the deference that it is due." Wright v. Moore, 278 F.3d 1245, 1254 (11th Cir.), reh'g and reh'g en banc denied, 278 F.3d 1245 (2002), cert. denied sub nom Wright v. Crosby, 538 U.S. 906 (2003). See also Richter, 562 U.S. at 99 ("When a federal claim has been presented to a state court and the state court has denied relief, it may be presumed that the state court adjudicated the claim on the merits in the absence of any indication or state-law procedural principles to the contrary.").

         Review of the state court decision is limited to the record that was before the state court.

We now hold that review under § 2254(d)(1) is limited to the record that was before the state court that adjudicated the claim on the merits. Section 2254(d)(1) refers, in the past tense, to a state-court adjudication that "resulted in" a decision that was contrary to, or "involved" an unreasonable application of, established law. This backward-looking language requires an examination of the state-court decision at the time it was made. It follows that the record under review is limited to the record in existence at that same time, i.e., the record before the state court.

Pinholster, 563 U.S. at 181-82. Sparrow bears the burden of overcoming by clear and convincing evidence a state court factual determination. "[A] determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct. The applicant shall have the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). This presumption of correctness applies to a finding of fact but not to a mixed determination of law and fact. Parker v. Head, 244 F.3d 831, 836 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 534 U.S. 1046 (2001).

         STANDARD FOR INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL

         Sparrow claims ineffective assistance of counsel, a difficult claim to sustain. "[T]he cases in which habeas petitioners can properly prevail on the ground of ineffective assistance of counsel are few and far between." Waters v. Thomas, 46 F.3d 1506, 1511 (11th Cir. 1995) (en banc) (quoting Rogers v. Zant, 13 F.3d 384, 386 (11th Cir. 1994)). Sims v. Singletary, 155 F.3d 1297, 1305 (11th Cir. 1998), explains that Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), governs an ineffective assistance of counsel claim:

The law regarding ineffective assistance of counsel claims is well settled and well documented. In Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984), the Supreme Court set forth a two-part test for analyzing ineffective assistance of counsel claims. According to Strickland, first, the defendant must show that counsel's performance was deficient. This requires showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the “counsel” guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment. Second, the defendant must show that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. This requires showing that ...

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