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Iglesias v. Secretary, Dept. of Corrections

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

December 3, 2019




         Gabriel Iglesias, a state prisoner acting pro se, initiated this case by filing a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. 1). Respondents filed a Response seeking denial of the Petition. (Doc. 6). Mr. Iglesias filed a Reply. (Doc. 10). Because the Court may resolve the Petition on the basis of the record, an evidentiary hearing is not warranted. See Habeas Rule 8(a). For the reasons discussed below, the Petition is denied.


         In July 2012, a jury in Citrus County, Florida, found Mr. Iglesias guilty of two counts of arson and two counts of burglary of a conveyance. (Respondents' Appendix, Doc. 6, Exh. A, pp. 85-88, 328-30) (hereafter “Exh”).

         According to the testimony presented at trial, Mr. Iglesias entered the unoccupied vehicles of Kelly and William Lemming and set the trucks on fire. Mr. Iglesias and Mr. Lemming had previously agreed to trade trucks after Mr. Iglesias fixed Mr. Lemming's truck. (Exh. B, Trial Transcript, pp. 37-38). Mr. Lemming took his truck back when Mr. Iglesias did not follow through with the agreement. Mr. Lemming towed his truck to the home of his friend and Mr. Iglesias's neighbor, William Stuelke. Mr. and Mrs. Lemming decided to stay the night at the home of Mr. Stuelke in Floral City and tow the truck to their home in Pinellas County the next day, September 5, 2010. (Id. at 41-46).

         The Lemmings, Mr. Stuelke, and Mr. Stuelke's girlfriend, Randee Roemer, were all at Mr. Stuelke's home when the fires occurred. (Id. at 46). The Lemmings and Ms. Roemer testified that they heard what sounded like Mr. Iglesias's truck outside. (Id. at 47, 81, 108-09, 111). They went outside and saw the vehicles on fire. (Id. at 47). Mr. Lemming testified that he could see Mr. Iglesias in the tree line. (Id. at 48). Mrs. Lemming testified she could see Mr. Iglesias's taillights but not Mr. Iglesias. (Id. at 84). Ms. Roemer testified she did not see anything but the fires. (Id. at 109-11). Mr. Stuelke did not testify at the trial.

         Rick and Robin Anderson, who also lived near Mr. Iglesias, were his alibi witnesses at the trial. Mr. Anderson testified that Mr. Iglesias was at his house until around 2:30 a.m. and had just left when Mr. Stuelke called asking where Mr. Iglesias was. (Id. at 206). Mrs. Anderson testified that Mr. Iglesias was walking home to his house from her house when her husband received a call from Mr. Stuelke and her husband replied “What? Your truck's on fire?” (Id. at 223). Mr. Iglesias testified at trial, stating that he was with the Andersons until 12:30 or 1:00 a.m. (Id. at 242).

         The fire marshal who investigated the case testified as an expert and concluded that the fires were arson and were started by a human in the passenger compartments of the trucks. The fire marshal, who also arrested Mr. Iglesias, testified that Mr. Iglesias told him he was in bed at home that night by 10 p.m. (Id. at 135-83). Mr. Iglesias testified that he did not make that statement. (Id. at 253).

         Ms. Roemer testified that some months after the fires, Mr. Iglesias told her that he was not going to admit anything until after the trial. She assumed this meant he set the trucks on fire even though he did not admit this to her. The State impeached her with her prior deposition testimony that Mr. Iglesias did tell her he set the trucks on fire. (Id. at 103-32). Mr. Iglesias testified that he never told Ms. Roemer that he set the trucks on fire. (Id. at 248-49).

         Mr. Iglesias was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment on the first arson count; 15 years of consecutive probation on the second arson count; and 5 years' probation on the burglary counts, to run concurrently with the 15-year term of probation. Mr. Iglesias's conviction and sentence were affirmed by the Fifth District Court of Appeal, per curiam without written opinion, on August 30, 2013. (Exh. G); Iglesias v. State, 118 So.3d 814 (Fla. 5th DCA 2013) (table).

         On March 20, 2014, Mr. Iglesias filed a pro se motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.850, raising 10 grounds for relief. (Exh. J). The trial court summarily denied Grounds 3-10 but ordered an evidentiary hearing as to Grounds 1 and 2 (trial counsel's alleged failure to convey a plea offer and depose William Stuelke).

         On October 8, 2014, the trial court conducted an evidentiary hearing. The trial court denied Grounds 1 and 2 of the motion on October 23, 2014. Mr. Iglesias appealed, briefing Grounds 1, 2, 4, and 9 for appellate review. The Fifth District Court of Appeal affirmed per curiam without written opinion. Iglesias v. State, 184 So.3d 536 (Fla. 5th DCA 2016) (table); (Exh. O).


         Mr. Iglesias, pro se, filed a timely federal habeas petition in this Court on October 21, 2016. (Doc. 1). He alleges four grounds for relief, alleging that trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to:

1. Convey a 5-year plea offer;
2. Depose witness William Stuelke and present associated exculpatory evidence;
3. Move to suppress Mr. Iglesias's pre-Miranda statement; and,
4. Conduct an adequate pretrial investigation.

(Id.) The State contends that Ground 4 was not properly presented to the state courts and is now procedurally defaulted and barred from federal habeas review, and that Grounds 1, 2, and 3 are without merit. (Doc. 6). Mr. Iglesias argues that he is entitled to review of Ground 4 pursuant to Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012) (creating exception to procedural default rule where counsel during initial-review collateral proceedings was ineffective or defendant did not have counsel). (Doc. 10).


         The role of a federal habeas court when reviewing a state prisoner's application pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 is limited. See Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 403-404, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 1518-19 (2000). Specifically, a federal court must give deference to state court adjudications unless the state court's adjudication of the claim is “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, ” or “resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state proceeding.” See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)- (2). The “contrary to” and “unreasonable application” clauses provide separate bases for review. Wellington v. Moore, 314 F.3d 1256, 1260-61 (11th Cir. 2002). A state court's rejection of a claim on the merits is entitled to deference regardless of whether the state court has explained the rationale for its ruling.

         Furthermore, under § 2254(d)(2), this Court must determine whether the state court's adjudication 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. The AEDPA directs that only clear and convincing evidence will rebut the presumption of correctness afforded the factual findings of the state court. See ยง 2254(e)(1). Therefore, it is possible that federal review may determine that a factual finding of the state court was in error, but deny the Petition ...

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