Lewis v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., Case No. 3:17-cv-468-J-34JBT

CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
Writing for the CourtMARCIA MORALES HOWARD United States District Judge
Decision Date28 May 2020
Docket NumberCase No. 3:17-cv-468-J-34JBT


Case No. 3:17-cv-468-J-34JBT


May 28, 2020


I. Status

Petitioner Elliott Lewis, an inmate of the Florida penal system, initiated this action on April 7, 2017,1 by filing a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Petition; Doc. 1) in the United States District Court Northern District of Florida. The Northern District transferred the case to this Court on April 19, 2017. See Doc. 5. In the Petition, Lewis challenges a 2013 state court (Putnam County, Florida) judgment of conviction for the sale of oxycodone. Lewis raises four grounds for relief. See Petition at 13-47.2 Respondents have submitted an answer in opposition to the Petition. See Response to Petition (Response; Doc. 18) with exhibits (Resp. Ex.). Lewis filed a brief in reply. See Petitioner's Reply to State's Response to Petition and Renewed Request for an Evidentiary Hearing (Reply; Doc. 18). This case is ripe for review.

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II. Relevant Procedural History

On May 28, 2013, the State of Florida (State) charged Lewis in an amended Information with trafficking in oxycodone. Resp. Ex. A. Lewis proceeded to a jury trial, at the conclusion of which the jury found Lewis guilty of the lesser-included offense of the sale of oxycodone. Resp. Ex. M. On August 13, 2013, the circuit court adjudicated Lewis as a habitual felony offender (HFO) and sentenced him to a term of incarceration of thirty years in prison. Resp. Ex. N. The circuit court further ordered that the sentence would run concurrently to any active sentences being served at the time. Id.

Lewis appealed his conviction and sentence to Florida's Fifth District Court of Appeal (Fifth DCA). Resp. Ex. P. Lewis' appellate counsel filed an Anders3 brief. Resp. Ex. Q. The State did not file an answer brief. Resp. Ex. R. On December 9, 2014, the Fifth DCA affirmed Lewis' conviction and sentence per curiam, without issuing a written opinion, Resp. Ex. S, and issued the Mandate on January 2, 2015. Resp. Ex. T.

On December 4, 2015, Lewis filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus with the Fifth DCA, arguing his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to argue that the circuit court considered inappropriate factors at sentencing. Resp. Ex. U. The State filed a response in opposition to Lewis' habeas petition, Resp. Ex. V, and Lewis filed a reply brief, Resp. Ex. W. The Fifth DCA denied the habeas petition on February 1, 2016. Resp. Ex. X. Lewis filed a motion for rehearing, Resp. Ex. Y, which the Fifth DCA denied on February 25, 2016. Resp. Ex. Z.

On April 29, 2015, Lewis filed a motion for postconviction relief pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850 (Rule 3.850 Motion). Resp. Ex. AA. In the Rule 3.850

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Motion, Lewis asserted the following grounds for relief: (1) counsel erred in presenting a duress defense instead of an entrapment defense; (2) the State committed a Brady4 violation; (3) counsel failed to call three witnesses; (4) counsel failed to timely request an in-camera hearing to make the State disclose the identity of its confidential informant; (5) counsel failed to object to the circuit court's use of allegedly improper sentencing factors; (6) counsel failed to investigate Lewis' claim he was mentally incompetent at the time of trial; (7) counsel failed to object to the circuit court's allegedly improper limitation of voir dire; (8) counsel failed to question and strike a prospective juror; (9) counsel failed to question a prosecutive juror; and (10) the cumulative impact of counsel's errors prejudiced him. Id. On May 19, 2016, the circuit court denied the Rule 3.850 Motion. Resp. Ex. DD. Lewis moved for rehearing, Resp. Ex. EE, which the circuit court denied on June 21, 2016. Resp. Ex. FF. On November 29, 2016, the Fifth DCA per curiam affirmed the denial of the Rule 3.850 Motion, without a written opinion. Resp. Ex. LL. Lewis filed a motion for rehearing, Resp. Ex. MM, which the Fifth DCA denied on January 9, 2017. Resp. Ex. NN. The Fifth DCA issued the Mandate on January 30, 2017. Resp. Ex. OO.

III. One-Year Limitations Period

This Petition was 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

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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 otherwise precludes 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 [Lewis'] 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.,

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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 has instructed:

[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

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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." See Burt v. Titlow, 571 U.S. ---, ---, 134 S. Ct. 10, 15, 187 L.Ed.2d 348 (2013); accord Brumfield 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.'"[5] Titlow, 571 U.S. at ---, 134 S. Ct. at 15 (quoting Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290,

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