James v. Sec'y, Case No. 3:16-cv-491-J-34JRK

Decision Date04 January 2019
Docket NumberCase No. 3:16-cv-491-J-34JRK
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Florida
I. Status

Petitioner Cornelius James, an inmate of the Florida penal system, initiated this action on April 20, 2016,1 by filing a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Petition; Doc. 1), with an attached memorandum in support of the Petition (Memorandum; Doc. 2). In the Petition, James challenges a 2012 state court (Duval County, Florida) judgment of conviction for attempted second degree murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted juvenile delinquent. James raises three grounds for relief. See Doc. 1 at 5-9.2 Respondents have submitted a memorandum in opposition to the Petition. See Answer to Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Resp.; Doc. 22) with exhibits (Resp. Ex.). James submitted a brief in reply on October 20, 2017. See Reply to Respondent's Answer to Court's Order to Show Cause (Reply; Doc. 23). This case is ripe for review.

II. Procedural History

On March 10, 2011, the State of Florida (State) charged James, by way of amended Information, with attempted second-degree murder (count one) and possession of a firearm by a juvenile delinquent found to have committed a felony act (count two). Resp. Ex. A at 43-44. James proceeded to a jury trial, at the conclusion of which the jury found James guilty as charged as to each count, with a specific finding that James possessed and discharged a firearm during the commission of the attempted murder charged in count one. Id. at 286-87. On January 19, 2012, the circuit court sentenced James to a term of incarceration of thirty years in prison, with a twenty-year minimum mandatory as to count one, and fifteen years in prison as to count two. Id. at 352-54. The circuit court ordered each count to run concurrently. Id. at 353.

On direct appeal, James raised two issues in his initial brief: the circuit court committed fundamental error when it failed to instruct the jury on attempted voluntary manslaughter (issue one); and the circuit court erred in admitting into evidence an irrelevant and highly prejudicial letter that James wrote (issue two). Resp. Ex. D at 12-20. The State filed an answer brief. Resp. Ex. E. On February 15, 2013, Florida's First District Court of Appeal (First DCA) per curiam affirmed the judgment and sentences without a written opinion, Resp. Ex. F, and on March 5, 2013, issued its Mandate. Resp. Ex. G.

On September 13, 2013, James filed a pro se motion for postconviction relief pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850. Resp. Ex. H. James subsequently filed a motion to withdraw his Rule 3.850 motion on September 24, 2013, Resp. Ex. I, which the circuit court granted on November 25, 2013. Resp. Ex. J. Thereafter, on January 29, 2014, James filed another motion for postconviction relief pursuant to Rule3.850 (Rule 3.850 Motion). Resp. Ex. K at 1-15. In his Rule 3.850 Motion, James alleged that his trial counsel was ineffective for: failing to request a pretrial suppression hearing (ground one); conceding his guilt (ground two); failing to request a jury instruction for attempted voluntary manslaughter (ground three); and failing to object to a double jeopardy violation (ground four). Id. On March 19, 2015, the circuit court struck ground two of the Rule 3.850 Motion as insufficiently pled and gave James leave to amend. Id. at 31-32. In response, James filed an amendment to his Rule 3.850 Motion (Amended Rule 3.850 Motion) in which he re-alleged ground two. Id. at 34-42. On October 28, 2015, the circuit court denied both motions. Id. at 44-51. The First DCA per curiam affirmed the circuit court's denials on February 9, 2016, without a written opinion, Resp. Ex. M, and issued its Mandate on March 8, 2016. Resp. Ex. N.

III. One-Year Limitations Period

This action is timely filed within the one-year limitations period. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d).

IV. Evidentiary Hearing

In a habeas corpus proceeding, the burden is on the petitioner to establish the need for a federal evidentiary hearing. See Chavez v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 647 F.3d 1057, 1060 (11th Cir. 2011). "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); Jones v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 834 F.3d 1299, 1318-19 (11th Cir. 2016), cert. denied, 137 S. Ct. 2245 (2017). "It follows that if the record refutes the applicant's factual allegations or otherwiseprecludes habeas relief, a district court is not required to hold an evidentiary hearing." Schriro, 550 U.S. at 474. The pertinent facts of this case are fully developed in the record before the Court. Because the Court can "adequately assess [James'] 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. Governing Legal Principles
A. Standard of Review

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) governs a state prisoner's federal petition for habeas corpus. 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) (quotation marks omitted)). As such, federal habeas review of final state court decisions is "'greatly circumscribed' and 'highly deferential.'" Id. (quoting Hill v. Humphrey, 662 F.3d 1335, 1343 (11th Cir. 2011) (quotation marks omitted)).

The first task of the federal habeas court is to identify the last state court decision, if any, that adjudicated the claim 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 a written 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 United States Supreme Court recently stated:

[T]he 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.

Wilson v. Sellers, 138 S. Ct. 1188, 1192 (2018). The presumption may be rebutted by showing that the higher state court's adjudication most likely relied on different grounds than the lower state court's reasoned decision, such as persuasive alternative grounds that were briefed or argued to the higher court or obvious in the record it reviewed. Id. at 1192, 1196.

If the claim was "adjudicated on the merits" in state court, § 2254(d) bars relitigation of the claim unless the state court's decision (1) "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) "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); Richter, 562 U.S. at 97-98. The Eleventh Circuit describes the limited scope of federal review pursuant to § 2254 as follows:

First, § 2254(d)(1) provides for federal review for claims of state courts' erroneous legal conclusions. As explained by the Supreme Court in Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 120 S. Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000), § 2254(d)(1) consists of two distinct clauses: a "contrary to" clause and an "unreasonable application" clause. The "contrary to" clause allows for 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." Id. at 413, 120 S. Ct. at 1523 (plurality opinion). The "unreasonable application" clause allows for 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.
Second, § 2254(d)(2) provides for federal review for claims of state courts' erroneous factual determinations. Section 2254(d)(2) allows federal courts to grant relief only if the state court's denial of the petitioner's claim "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)(2). The Supreme Court has not yet defined § 2254(d)(2)'s "precise relationship" to § 2254(e)(1), which imposes a burden on the petitioner to rebut the state court's factual findings "by clear and convincing evidence." SeeBurt v. Titlow, 571 U.S. ---, ---, 134 S. Ct. 10, 15, 187 L.Ed.2d 348 (2013); accordBrumfield v. Cain, 576 U.S. ---, ---, 135 S. Ct. 2269, 2282, 192 L.Ed.2d 356 (2015). Whatever that "precise relationship" may be, "'a state-court factual determination is not unreasonable merely because the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.'"[3] Titlow, 571 U.S. at ---, 134 S. Ct. at 15 (quoting Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301, 130 S. Ct. 841, 849, 175 L.Ed.2d 738 (2010)).

Tharpe v. Warden, 834 F.3d 1323, 1337 (11th Cir. 2016), cert. denied, 137 S. Ct. 2298 (2017). Also, deferential review under § 2254(d) generally is limited to the record that was before the state court that adjudicated the claim on the merits. See Cullen v. Pinholster, 563...

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