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Cato v. State

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

December 17, 2019

REYNALDO R. CATO, Petitioner,
v.
SECRETARY, FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et. al., Respondents.

          ORDER

          TIMOTHY J. CORRIGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. Status

         Petitioner Reynaldo R. Cato, an inmate of the Florida penal system, initiated this action by filing a pro se Petition Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody. See Doc. 1. He challenges a state court (Duval County, Florida) judgment of conviction for burglary of a dwelling. He is currently serving a twenty-five-year term of incarceration as a habitual felony offender with a fifteen-year minimum mandatory as a prison release reoffender. Respondents filed a Response. See Doc. 17 (Resp.).[1] Petitioner declined to file a reply. See Doc. 20. This case is ripe for review.

         II. Governing Legal Principals Standard Under AEDPA

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) governs a state prisoner's federal habeas corpus petition. 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)).

         The first task of the federal habeas court is to identify the last state court decision, if any, that adjudicated the petitioner's claims 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 an 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 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. But the State may rebut the presumption by showing that the unexplained affirmance relied or most likely did rely on different grounds than the lower state court's decision, such as alternative grounds for affirmance that were briefed or argued to the state supreme court or obvious in the record it reviewed.

Wilson v. Sellers, 138 S.Ct. 1188, 1192 (2018).

         When a state court has adjudicated a petitioner's claims on the merits, a federal court cannot grant habeas relief unless the state court's adjudication of the claim was “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, ” or “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)(1), (2). A state court's factual findings are “presumed to be correct” unless rebutted “by clear and convincing evidence.” Id. § 2254(e)(1).

AEDPA “imposes a highly deferential standard for evaluating state court rulings” and “demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.” Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010) (internal quotation marks omitted). “A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as fairminded jurists could disagree on the correctness of the state court's decision.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). “It bears repeating that even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable.” Id. [at 102] (citing Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003)). The Supreme Court has repeatedly instructed lower federal courts that an unreasonable application of law requires more than mere error or even clear error. See, e.g., Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 18 (2003); Lockyer, 538 U.S. at 75 (“The gloss of clear error fails to give proper deference to state courts by conflating error (even clear error) with unreasonableness.”); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 410 (2000) (“[A]n unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of federal law.”).

Bishop v. Warden, GDCP, 726 F.3d 1243, 1253-54 (11th Cir. 2013) (internal citations modified).

         III. Analysis

         Ground One

         Petitioner argues that the trial court erred in imposing a twenty-five-year HFO sentence because the question of whether an enhanced sentence was necessary for the protection of the public was not determined by the jury. Doc. 1 at 17. Petitioner raised this argument in his Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.800(b)(2) motion to correct sentence filed in state court, in which he argued that in Cunningham v. California, 549 U.S. 270 (2007), the United States Supreme Court found that Florida's HFO statute violates the Sixth Amendment and Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000). Resp. Ex. E at 3-9. The trial court summarily denied this claim, finding in pertinent part:

First, the Defendant submits that pursuant to the United States Supreme Court's decision in Cunningham[ ], Florida's habitual felony offender statute, found in section 775.084, Florida Statutes, violates the Sixth Amendment and Apprendi[ ]. In Cunningham, the Supreme Court held that a California sentencing statute, where circumstances in aggravation were found by the judge, not the jury, and only needed to be established by a preponderance of the evidence, not beyond a reasonable doubt, violated Apprendi [ ]. Apprendi held that except for a prior conviction, “any fact that increases ...

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