United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
REYNALDO R. CATO, Petitioner,
SECRETARY, FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et. al., Respondents.
TIMOTHY J. CORRIGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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.). Petitioner declined to file a
reply. See Doc. 20. This case is ripe for review.
Governing Legal Principals Standard Under AEDPA
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)).
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).
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
Bishop v. Warden, GDCP, 726 F.3d 1243, 1253-54 (11th
Cir. 2013) (internal citations modified).
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
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