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

Decision Date15 June 2021
Docket NumberCase No. 3:19-cv-145-BJD-MCR
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Florida

This cause is before the Court on Petitioner Bernard Johnson's Petition Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody (Petition) (Doc. 1). He challenges his state court (Duval County) conviction for home invasion robbery. Petition at 1. Respondents filed an Answer in Response to Order to Show Cause (Response) (Doc. 7). Petitioner's Reply to State's Response (Reply) (Doc. 8) followed. See Order (Doc. 6).

Petitioner raises seven grounds. Grounds one - four, claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel, are unexhausted in the state court system. Grounds five and six, claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel, are exhausted. Ground seven, a claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel, is exhausted.1


"In a habeas corpus proceeding, the burden is on the petitioner to establish the need for an evidentiary hearing." Jones v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 834 F.3d 1299, 1318 (11th Cir. 2016) (citations omitted), cert. denied, 137 S. Ct. 2245 (2017). To be entitled to an evidentiary hearing, a petitioner must allege "facts that, if true, would entitle him to relief." Martin v. United States, 949 F.3d 662, 670 (11th Cir.) (quoting Aron v. United States, 291 F.3d 708, 715 (11th Cir. 2002)) (citation omitted), cert. denied, 141 S. Ct. 357 (2020). See Chavez v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 647 F.3d 1057, 1060 (11th Cir. 2011) (opining a petitioner bears the burden of establishing the need for an evidentiary hearing with more than speculative and inconcrete claims of need), cert. denied, 565 U.S. 1120 (2012); Dickson v. Wainwright, 683 F.2d 348, 351 (11th Cir. 1982) (same).

If the allegations are contradicted by the record, patently frivolous, or based upon unsupported generalizations, the court is not required to conduct an evidentiary hearing. Martin, 949 F.3d at 670 (quotation and citation omitted). Here, the pertinent facts are fully developed in this record or the record otherwise precludes habeas relief; therefore, this Court can "adequately assess [Petitioner's] claim[s] without further factual development," Turner v. Crosby, 339 F.3d 1247, 1275 (11th Cir. 2003), cert. denied, 541 U.S. 1034 (2004). Upon review, Petitioner has not met his burden as the record refutes the asserted factual allegations or otherwise precludes habeas relief. Therefore, the Court finds Petitioner is not entitled to an evidentiary hearing. Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 474 (2007).


The Eleventh Circuit recently opined that federal courts are authorized to grant habeas relief to a state prisoner "only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." Lee v. GDCP Warden, 987 F.3d 1007, 1017 (11th Cir. 2021) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254). Further, under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), there is a very deferential framework, limiting the power of federal courts to grant relief if a state court denied a claim on its merits. Sealey v. Warden, Ga. Diagnostic Prison, 954 F.3d 1338, 1354 (11thCir. 2020) (citation omitted) (acknowledging the deferential framework of AEDPA for evaluating issues previously decided in state court), cert. denied, 2021 WL 1240954 (U.S. Apr. 5, 2021); Shoop v. Hill, 139 S. Ct. 504, 506 (2019) (per curiam) (recognizing AEDPA imposes "important limitations on the power of federal courts to overturn the judgments of state courts in criminal cases").

Indeed, relief is limited to occasions where 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," or "was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." A state court's decision is "contrary to" clearly established federal law if the state court either reaches a conclusion opposite to the Supreme Court of the United States on a question of law or reaches a different outcome than the Supreme Court in a case with "materially indistinguishable facts." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13, 120 S. Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000). "Under the 'unreasonable application' clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle" from Supreme Court precedents "but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case." Id. at 413, 120 S. Ct. 1495.

Lee, 987 F.3d at 1017-18.

This high hurdle is not easily surmounted; if the state court applied clearly established federal law to reasonably determined facts whendetermining a claim on its merits, "a federal habeas court may not disturb the state court's decision unless its error lies 'beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.'" Shinn v. Kayer, 141 S. Ct. 517, 520 (2020) (per curiam) (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011)). Also, a state court's finding of fact, whether a state trial court or appellate court, is entitled to a presumption of correctness under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). "The state court's factual determinations are presumed correct, absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary." Sealey, 954 F.3d at 1354 (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1)). This presumption of correctness, however, applies only to findings of fact, not mixed determinations of law and fact. Brannan v. GDCP Warden, 541 F. App'x 901, 903-904 (11th Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (recognizing the distinction between a pure question of fact from a mixed question of law and fact), cert. denied, 573 U.S. 906 (2014). Furthermore, the second prong of § 2254(d), requires this Court to "accord the state trial court [determination of the facts] substantial deference." Dallas v. Warden, 964 F.3d 1285, 1302 (11th Cir. 2020) (quoting Brumfield v. Cain, 576 U.S. 305, 314 (2015)), petition for cert. filed, (U.S. Feb. 27, 2021) (No. 20-7589). As such, a federal district court may not supersede a state court's determination simply because reasonable minds may disagree about the finding. Id. (quotation and citation omitted).

Finally, where there has been one reasoned state court judgment rejecting a federal claim followed by an unexplained order upholding that judgement, federal habeas courts employ a "look through" presumption: "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." Wilson v. Sellers, 138 S. Ct. 1188, 1192 (2018) (Wilson).


Claims of ineffective assistance of counsel are "governed by the familiar two-part Strickland[v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984)] standard." Knight v. Fla. Dep't of Corr., 958 F.3d 1035, 1038 (11th Cir. 2020), cert. denied, 2021 WL 1240957 (U.S. Apr. 5, 2021). To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a petitioner must successfully show his counsel "made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the 'counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment" as well as show "the deficient performance prejudiced the defendant, depriving him of a 'fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.'" Raheem v. GDCP Warden, 995 F.3d 895, 908 (11th Cir. 2021) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687). As both components under Strickland must be met, failure to meet either prong is fatal to the claim. Raheem, 995 F.3d at 908 (citation omitted).

Notably, a claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel is governed by this same standard Strickland standard. Tuomi v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 980 F.3d 787, 795 (11th Cir. 2020) (citing Philmore v. McNeil, 575 F.3d 1251, 1264 (11th Cir. 2009)), cert. denied, 141 S. Ct. 1721 (2021). As in a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel, failure to establish either prong of the Strickland standard is fatal to a claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. Id.

In applying the two-pronged standard established in Strickland, the Court is mindful that appellate counsel may weed out weaker, although meritorious arguments, as there is no duty under the Sixth Amendment to raise every non-frivolous issue. Overstreet v. Warden, 811 F.3d 1283, 1287 (11th Cir. 2016). Regarding the prejudice prong, "[a]ppellate] [c]ounsel's performance will be deemed prejudicial if we find that the neglected claim would have a reasonable probability of success on appeal." Tuomi, 980 F.3d at 795 (quoting Philmore, 575 F.3d at 1265) (internal quotation omitted).

Finally, the Eleventh Circuit warns:

because "[t]he standards created by Strickland and § 2254(d) are both 'highly deferential,' . . . when the two apply in tandem, review is 'doubly' so. Harrington [v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 105 (2011)] (internal citations and quotation omitted). Thus, under § 2254(d), "the question is not whether counsel's actions were reasonable. The question is whether there is anyreasonable argument that counsel satisfied Strickland's deferential standard." Id.

Tuomi, 980 F.3d at 795.


Respondents contend grounds one - four are unexhausted and procedurally defaulted. The doctrine of procedural default requires the following:

Federal habeas courts reviewing the constitutionality of a state prisoner's conviction and sentence are guided by rules designed to ensure that state court judgments are accorded the finality and respect necessary to preserve the integrity of legal proceedings within our system of federalism. These rules include the doctrine of procedural default, under which a federal court will not review the merits of claims, including constitutional claims,

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