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Wilson v. Inch

United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Panama City Division

November 18, 2019

ESTHER WILSON, Petitioner,
MARK S. INCH,[1] Respondent.



         This matter is before the Court on Petitioner Esther Wilson's (“Wilson”) petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. ECF Doc. 1. The matter was referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and N.D. Fla. Loc. R. 72.2(B). After considering the Petition, the State's response with exhibits (ECF Doc. 14), and Wilson's reply (ECF Doc. 21), the undersigned recommends the petition be DENIED without an evidentiary hearing.

         Wilson's petition is premised on two grounds of ineffectiveness of trial counsel (“IATC”). First, Wilson claims trial counsel was ineffective in advising her to reject a plea offer from the state. Second, she claims trial counsel was ineffective for failing to call the victim as a witness at trial. ECF Doc. 1. For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned finds that the state court's adjudication of these claims was neither contrary to clearly established federal law nor based on an unreasonable application of the facts to the law. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Wilson was charged in an Amended Information on March 11, 2013 with one count of Aggravated Battery with a Deadly Weapon (Firearm) Causing Great Bodily Harm for shooting her then fiancé, Walter Wright, in the face at point blank range, after a day of drinking and during an argument. ECF Doc. 14-1 at 85. Wilson claims the shooting was an accident and maintained from the beginning that Wright would testify the shooting was an accident.

         Although Wright had been subpoenaed by the State to testify at trial and was present, the State released him from his subpoena the day of trial. Wright left the courthouse without testifying. Wilson chose not to testify and, although the defense deposed ten (10) witnesses, none were called to testify at trial. ECF Doc. 14-4 at 50. Wright, however, did make a statement during Wilson's sentencing hearing, which will be discussed more below and is the basis of Ground Two of Wilson's petition.

         A jury convicted Wilson, and the trial judge sentenced her to the mandatory minimum of twenty-five years' imprisonment. ECF Doc. 14-1 at 239. She filed a direct appeal to the First District Court of Appeal (“First DCA”) on April 29, 2013. ECF Doc. 14-1 at 264. The First DCA issued a per curiam opinion affirming the judgment and sentence without written opinion on March 13, 2014. ECF Doc. 14-3 at 50. Wilson moved for rehearing, which was denied on April 24, 2014. ECF Doc. 14-3 at 52. The conviction became final July 23, 2014, ninety (90) days after the date of the First DCA order denying rehearing, when the time for seeking Supreme Court review expired. Chavers v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 468 F.3d 1273, 1275 (11th Cir. 2006) (“entry of judgment, and not the issuance of the mandate, is the event that starts the running of time for seeking Supreme Court review, within the meaning of Supreme Court Rule 13.3 and 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A).”).

         Ninety-nine (99) days after Wilson's judgment became final, she filed a motion for postconviction relief under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850 on October 30, 2014. ECF Doc. 14-3 at 68. The state court held an evidentiary hearing on October 8, 2015 (ECF Doc. 14-4 at 18) and denied the motion on November 4, 2015. ECF Doc. 14-4 at 4. Wilson appealed the state's court's denial to the First DCA on December 2, 2015, ECF Doc. 14-4 at 8, and the First DCA affirmed per curiam and without written opinion on March 1, 2017. ECF Doc. 14-5 at 2. Wilson filed a Motion for Rehearing and for Issuance of a Detailed Written Opinion, which the First DCA denied on April 5, 2017. ECF Doc. 14-5 at 8. The mandate was issued June 15, 2017. The instant federal petition was delivered to Lowell Correctional Institution mail officials on December 2, 2017, and thus, is timely filed.[2] ECF Doc. 1 at 15.

         II. Legal Standards

         A. Federal review of state court decision

         Under the standard of review for a § 2254 motion, this Court is precluded from granting habeas relief 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, ” 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).

         The United States Supreme Court set forth the framework for a § 2254 review in Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000). See id., at 412-13 (O'Connor, J., concurring). Under the Williams framework, a federal court must first determine the “clearly established Federal law, ” namely, “the governing legal principle or principles set forth by the Supreme Court at the time the state court render[ed] its decision.” See Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 71-72 (2003). The law is “clearly established” only when a Supreme Court holding at the time of the state court decision embodies the legal principle at issue. See Thaler v. Haynes, 559 U.S. 43, 47 (2010). Once the governing legal principle is identified, the federal court must determine whether the state court's adjudication is “contrary to” the identified governing legal principle or the state court “unreasonably applie[d] that principle to the facts of the case.” See Williams, 529 U.S. at 412-13 (O'Connor, J., concurring). Even if a federal court concludes the state court applied federal law incorrectly, habeas relief is appropriate only if that application was “objectively unreasonable.” See Maharaj v. Sec'y Dep't of Corr., 432 F.3d 1292, 1308 (11th Cir. 2005).

         B. Standards for an Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claim

         A claim of ineffective assistance of counsel requires a showing that (1) counsel's performance during representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and (2) prejudice resulted, i.e., a reasonable probability exists that but for counsel's unprofessional conduct, the result of the proceeding would have been different. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 689 (1984). The reasonableness of counsel's performance is to be evaluated from counsel's perspective at the time of the alleged error and in light of all the circumstances, and the standard of review is highly deferential. Id. at 689.

         III. Application to Wilson's Petition

         Because the First District issued a per curiam affirmance of the denial of Wilson's Rule 3.850 Motion, this Court will “look through” that decision to the last related state-court decision that provides a relevant rationale and presume that the unexplained decision adopted the same reasoning. See Wilson v. Sellers, 138 S.Ct. 1188, 1192 (2018). Here, that last decision comes from the Order Denying Motion for Post-Conviction Relief. Ex. J, p. 49-52; ECF Doc. 14-4 at 4-7.

         A. Ground One: IATC for Advising Wilson not to Accept a Plea

         Wilson argues trial counsel "dissuaded [her] from accepting the State's offer to resolve her case by entering a plea in exchange for four years of incarceration, ” by telling her “that the victim would testify at trial that the shooting was an accident, and that the victim's testimony would lead to an acquittal.” ECF Doc. 1 at 5. She contends “[h]ad Counsel not affirmatively promised Defendant that she would be acquitted by a jury, she would have accepted the State's offer and received a sentence of four years of incarceration.” Id. As will be discussed ...

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