Claxton v. Sec'y, Case No. 3:12-cv-804-J-34JRK

CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
Decision Date29 May 2015
Docket NumberCase No. 3:12-cv-804-J-34JRK
I. Status

Petitioner Recaldo St. Clair Claxton, an inmate of the Florida penal system, initiated this action on July 16, 2012, by filing a pro se Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Petition; Doc. 1) under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In the Petition, Claxton challenges a 2010 state court (Duval County, Florida) judgment of conviction for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. Respondents have submitted a memorandum in opposition to the Petition. See Respondents' Response to Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Response; Doc. 10) with exhibits (Resp. Ex.). On July 26, 2012, the Court entered an Order to Show Cause and Notice to Petitioner (Doc. 6), admonishing Claxton regarding his obligations and giving Claxton a time frame in which to submit a reply. Claxton submitted a brief in reply. See Petitioner's Reply to State's Response (Reply; Doc. 12). This case is ripe for review.

II. Procedural History

On June 25, 2010, the State of Florida charged Claxton with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. Resp. Ex. 2, Information. Claxton proceeded to trial in October 2010, see Resp. Ex. 5, Transcript of the Jury Trial (Tr.), at the conclusion of which, on October 12, 2010, a jury found him guilty of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, as charged. See Resp. Ex. 7, Verdict; Tr. at 220-21. On October 22, 2010, the court sentenced Claxton to a term of imprisonment of ten years. Resp. Exs. 9, Transcript of the Sentencing; 10, Judgment.

On appeal, Claxton, with the benefit of counsel, filed an initial brief, arguing that the trial court erred when it: denied his motion for judgment of acquittal at the close of all the evidence (ground one); admitted into evidence a mugshot-type photograph of Claxton in a jail uniform, thereby prejudicing the jury and violating his right to a fair and impartial trial (ground two); denied his motion in limine to exclude witness testimony of alleged prior bad acts by Claxton (ground three); and read the forcible-felony jury instruction when Claxton had not committed a forcible felony independent of the crime for which he had claimed self-defense (ground four). Resp. Ex. 12. The State filed an answer brief, see Resp. Ex. 13, and Claxton filed a reply brief, see Resp. Ex. 14. On January 18, 2012, the appellate court affirmed Claxton's conviction and sentence per curiam, see Claxton v. State, 77 So.3d1258 (Fla. 1st DCA 2012); Resp. Ex. 15, and the mandate issued on February 3, 2012, see Resp. Ex. 15. Claxton did not seek review in the United States Supreme Court.

III. One-Year Limitations Period

The Petition appears to be timely filed within the one-year limitations period. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d); Response at 3.

IV. Evidentiary Hearing

"In deciding whether to grant an evidentiary hearing, a federal court must consider whether such a hearing could enable an applicant to prove the petition's factual allegations, which, if true, would entitle the applicant to federal habeas relief." Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 474 (2007) (citation omitted). "It follows that if the record refutes the applicant's factual allegations or otherwise precludes habeas relief, a district court is not required to hold an evidentiary hearing." Id. The pertinent facts of this case are fully developed in the record before the Court. Because this Court can "adequately assess [Petitioner's] claim[s] without further factual development," Turner v. Crosby, 339 F.3d 1247, 1275 (11th Cir. 2003), an evidentiary hearing will not be conducted.

V. Standard of Review

The Court will analyze Claxton's claims under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). Section 2254(d) states:

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.

Thus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) "bars relitigation of any claim 'adjudicated on the merits' in state court, subject only to the exceptions in §§ 2254(d)(1) and (d)(2)." Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 784 (2011). As the United States Supreme Court stated, "AEDPA erects a formidable barrier to federal habeas relief for prisoners whose claims have been adjudicated in state court." Burt v. Titlow, 134 S.Ct. 10, 16 (2013). This standard of review is described as follows:

Under AEDPA, when the state court has adjudicated the petitioner's claim on the merits, a federal court may not grant habeas relief unless the state court's decision was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States," 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), or "was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding," id. §2254(d)(2). "Under § 2254(d)(1)'s 'contrary to' clause, we grant relief only 'if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the Supreme Court] has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.'" Jones v. GDCP Warden, 753 F.3d 1171, 1182 (11th Cir. 2014) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 413, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000)). "Under § 2254(d)(1)'s 'unreasonable application' clause, we grant relief only 'if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.'" Id. (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 413, 120 S.Ct. 1495).
For § 2254(d), clearly established federal law includes only the holdings of the Supreme Court - not Supreme Court dicta, nor the opinions of this Court. White v. Woodall,- U.S. -, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702, 188 L.Ed.2d 698 (2014). To clear the § 2254(d) hurdle, "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, 562 U.S. 86, 131 S.Ct. 770, 786-87, 178 L.Ed.2d 624 (2011). "[A]n 'unreasonable application of' [Supreme Court] holdings must be 'objectively unreasonable,' not merely wrong; even 'clear error' will not suffice." Woodall, 134 S.Ct. at 1702 (quoting Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75-76, 123 S.Ct. 1166, 155 L.Ed.2d 144 (2003)). A state court need not cite or even be aware of Supreme Court cases "so long as neither the reasoning nor the result of the state-court decision contradicts them." Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8, 123 S.Ct. 362, 154 L.Ed.2d 263 (2002); accordRichter, 131 S.Ct. at 784.
"AEDPA thus imposes a highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulingsand demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt." Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773, 130 S.Ct. 1855, 176 L.Ed.2d 678 (2010) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). And when a claim implicates both AEDPA and Strickland, our review is doubly deferential. Richter, 131 S.Ct. at 788 ("The standards created by Strickland and § 2254(d) are both highly deferential, and when the two apply in tandem, review is doubly so." (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)). [A petitioner] must establish that no fairminded jurist would have reached the Florida court's conclusion. SeeRichter, 131 S.Ct. at 786-87; Holsey v. Warden, Ga. Diagnostic Prison, 694 F.3d 1230, 1257-58 (11th Cir. 2012). "If this standard is difficult to meet, that is because it was meant to be." Richter, 131 S.Ct. at 786....

Taylor v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 760 F.3d 1284, 1293-94 (11th Cir. 2014), cert. denied, 2015 WL 1228919 (U.S. May 18, 2015) (NO. 14-8875, 14A694); see also Hittson v. GDCP Warden, 759 F.3d 1210, 1230 (11th Cir. 2014), petition for cert. filed, (U.S. Feb. 23, 2015) (NO. 14-8589, 14A549).

Finally, for a state court's resolution of a claim to be an adjudication on the merits, so that the state court's determination will be entitled to deference for purposes of federal habeas corpus review under AEDPA, all that is required is a rejection of the claim on the merits, not an opinion that explains the state court's rationale for such a ruling. Hittson, 759 F.3d at 1232 ("[T]here is no AEDPA requirement that a state court explain its reasons for rejecting a claim[.]"); Richter, 131 S.Ct. at 785 (holding that § 2254(d) does not require a state court to give reasons before itsdecision can be deemed to have been adjudicated on the merits); Wright v. Sec'y for the Dep't of Corr., 278 F.3d 1245, 1255 (11th Cir. 2002). Thus, to the extent that Claxton's claims were adjudicated on the merits in the state courts, they must be evaluated under § 2254(d).

VI. Exhaustion/Procedural Default

There are prerequisites to federal habeas review. Before bringing a § 2254 habeas action in federal court, a petitioner must exhaust all state court remedies that are available for challenging his state conviction. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b), (c). To exhaust state remedies, the petitioner must "fairly present[]" every issue raised in his federal petition to the state's highest court, either on direct appeal or on collateral review. Castille v. Peoples, 489 U.S. 346, 351 (1989) (emphasis omitted). Thus, to...

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