Collins v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr.

Decision Date06 October 2020
Docket NumberCase No. 3:18-cv-164-J-34JBT
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Florida
I. Status

Petitioner James L. Collins, Jr., an inmate of the Florida penal system, initiated this action on January 23, 2018,1 by filing a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Petition; Doc. 1). In the Petition, Collins challenges a 2013 state court (Duval County, Florida) judgment of conviction for grand theft. He raises four grounds for relief. See Petition at 5-51.2 Respondents have submitted a memorandum in opposition to the Petition. See Answer to Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Response; Doc. 21). They also submitted exhibits. See Resp. Exs. A-O, Docs. 21-1 through 21-10. Collins filed a brief in reply. See Reply Brief (Doc. 22). He also submitted exhibits. See Docs. 22-1 and 22-2. This case is ripe for review.

II. Relevant Procedural History

On April 24, 2013, the State of Florida charged Collins, by Information in case number 16-2013-CF-003339-AXXX-MA, with grand theft. See Resp. Ex. B1 at 8. At the conclusion of a trial on September 10, 2013, a jury found Collins guilty, as charged. See Resp. Exs. B1 at 23, Verdict; B2 and B3, Transcripts of the Trial Proceedings (Tr.), at 252.3 The circuit court sentenced Collins to a term of imprisonment of ten years, as a habitual felony offender (HFO), on September 25, 2013. See Resp. Ex. B1 at 46-52, Judgment; 105-27, Transcript of the Sentencing Proceeding (Sentencing Tr.).

On appeal, Collins, with the benefit of counsel, filed an initial brief, arguing that the trial court erred when it (1) denied his motions for judgment of acquittal because the State did not present a prima facie case of the value of the merchandise, and (2) admitted hearsay to prove the essential element of the value of the merchandise. See Resp. Ex. B4. The State filed an answer brief, see Resp. Ex. B5, and Collins filed a reply brief, see Resp. Ex. B6. On June 26, 2014, the appellate court affirmed Collins' conviction and sentence per curiam without issuing a written opinion, see Resp. Ex. B7, and the mandate issued on July 14, 2014, see Resp. Ex. B8.

Collins challenged his HFO sentence in a variety of motions until the appellate court ultimately barred him from filing pro se motions. First, he filed a pro se motion to correct an illegal sentence under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.800(a) (Rule 3.800) on July 16, 2014. See Resp. Ex. C1 at 1-4. The court denied the Rule 3.800 motion on January 21, 2015, see id. at 8-65, stating in pertinent part:

In the instant Motion, Defendant avers his classification and sentence as an HFO are illegal. Specifically, he takes issue with the State's use of a prior conviction from 1987 which was used to habitualize him. Defendant reasons that because he was released from prison in 1992 in that case and he was not convicted of another felony within five years of his release from prison, the State could not have, and should not have, used his 1987 conviction to classify him as an HFO. Therefore, Defendant avers, his sentence as an HFO is illegal and it exceeds the scoresheet guidelines sentence of twenty-seven months of incarceration. Defendant also contends, through citing several cases, that the State did not sufficiently prove his two prior predicate felony convictions.
A defendant may be sentenced as an HFO if "[t]he defendant has previously been convicted of any combination of two or more felonies in this state or other qualified offenses." § 775.084(1)(a)1, Fla. Stat. (2012). Additionally, the felony for which the defendant faces sentencing must have been "committed ... [w]ithin 5 years of the date of the conviction of the defendant's last prior felony or other qualified offense." § 775.084(1)(a)2b, Fla. Stat. (2012). Thus, pursuant to section 775.084, the State is only required to reference two of a defendant's prior felony convictions, one of which occurred within five years of the instant felony offense. Seeid.
In the instant case, the State filed its Notice of Intent to Classify Defendant as a Habitual Felony Offender on July 23, 2013.[4] (Ex. D.) In this Notice, the State relied upon Defendant's following two prior felony convictions: Robbery on February 13, 1987, and Grand Theft on January 13, 2012. (Ex. D.) During Defendant's sentencing hearing, the State submitted into evidence certified copies of Defendant's judgments and sentences for the aforementioned convictions: Robbery in case number CR-86-5800 in Orange County, Florida; and Grand Theft: Third Degree in case number 48-11-CF-16055 in Orange County, Florida.[5] (Exs. E at 7-8, 10-12, 15; F.) Both of these predicate convictions were for felony offenses. See § 812.12(2)(c), Fla. Stat. (1992) (classifying Robbery as a second-degree felony); § 812.014(2)(d), Fla. Stat. (2011) (classifying Grand Theft as a third-degree felony).
The record demonstrates Defendant committed the instant crime on April 6, 2013,[6] approximately one year after his felony conviction for Grand Theft on January 13, 2012, and well within the five-year period mandated by section 775.084(1)(a)2b. (Exs. F, G.) Therefore, this Court finds the State lawfully relied upon, and proved, two of Defendant's prior felony convictions in classifying him as an HFO. Because Defendant's sentence as an HFO is not illegal, his instant allegations are without merit and the instant Motion is denied.

Resp. Ex. C1 at 8-10. On May 13, 2015, the court denied Collins' request for rehearing, see id. at 69-70, stating that the court did "not find any points of law or fact that were overlooked in deciding [Collins'] Motion," id. at 80. On appeal, Collins filed a pro se initial brief, see Resp. Ex. C2, and the State filed a notice that it did not intend to file an answer brief, see Resp. Ex. C3. On September 28, 2015, the appellate court affirmed Collins' conviction and sentence per curiam without issuing a written opinion, see Resp. Ex. C4, and denied his motion for rehearing on November 2, 2015, see Resp. Exs. C5; C6. The mandate issued on November 18, 2015. See Resp. Ex. C7.

On or about November 9, 2015, Collins filed a pro se motion to correct illegal sentence in the Florida Supreme Court. See Resp. Ex. C8. The court construed the motion as a petition for writ of habeas corpus, and dismissed it on November 12, 2015.7 See Resp. Ex. C9.

Collins also challenged his HFO sentence by filing a pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus on January 19, 2016, see Resp. Ex. D1 at 1-9, and an amended petition on March 7, 2016, in the state circuit court, see id. at 10-20. As relief, he asked that the court resentence him without using the 1987 robbery conviction. See id. at 18. The court denied both petitions on September 15, 2016, see id. at 21-88, stating in pertinent part:

In the instant Motions, Defendant contends his sentence as a habitual felony offender is illegal because the State used a 1987 robbery conviction as a third conviction to establish Defendant's habitual felony offender status. According to Defendant, because this conviction was not within five years of Defendant committing the offense in the case at bar, his 1987 robbery conviction cannot be used in the habitualization process. Defendant also contends that robbery is not a qualifying offense for purposes of applying the habitual felony offender designation. Therefore, Defendant argues that his conviction of robbery in 1987 taints his convictions on the other counts in his 1987 case, thereby rendering any conviction in his 1987 case inapplicable to the habitual felony offender statute. Furthermore, Defendant claims his 1987 convictions are not subject to the habitual felony offender statute because they occurred prior to enactment of the statute, and that using it to enhance the sentence in the instant case is a violation against the prohibition of double jeopardy.
A petition for writ of habeas corpus cannot be used to raise issues which could have been raised at trial and on direct appeal.SeeHargrave v. Wainwright, 388 So. 2d 1021, 1021 (Fla. 1980) (it is well settled that habeas corpus may not be used as a vehicle to raise for the first time issues that the petitioner could have raised during the formal trial and on appeal). Likewise, a defendant cannot use a petition for writ of habeas corpus to obtain the kind of collateral postconviction relief which may have been available by filing a motion in the sentencing court pursuant to the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure. SeeBaker v. State, 878 So. 2d 1236, 1245 (Fla. 2004) (the common law remedy of habeas corpus is not available in Florida to obtain the kind of collateral postconviction relief available by motion in the sentencing court pursuant to rule 3.850). However, a court can treat an incorrectly styled motion under an applicable rule of criminalprocedure if it is properly pled. Gill v. State, 829 So. 2d 299, 300 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2002) ("Where a movant files a properly pleaded claim but incorrectly styles the postconviction motion in which it was raised, the trial court must treat the claim as if it had been filed in a properly styled motion."). Accordingly, to the extent any of Defendant's claims are cognizable under rule 3.800(a) or another applicable postconviction rule, the Court will treat the motion as such. Id.
Rule 3.800(a) allows for the correction of an illegal sentence. For a sentence to be illegal under rule 3.800(a), "the sentence must impose a kind of punishment that no judge under the entire body of sentencing statutes could possibly inflict under any set of factual circumstances." Blakley v. State, 746 So. 2d 1182, 1187 (Fla. 4th DCA 1999). See alsoCarter v. State, 786 So. 2d 1173, 1181 (Fla. 2001) (approving the definition of illegal sentence outlined in Blakley). However, "if it is possible under all the sentencing statutes - given a specific set of facts -

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