Norman v. Sec'y

Decision Date13 June 2018
Docket NumberCase No. 3:15-cv-1045-J-34JRK
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Florida
I. Status

Petitioner Wenzel Eugene Norman, an inmate of the Florida penal system, initiated this action on August 16, 2015, by filing a pro se Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Petition; Doc. 1) under 28 U.S.C. § 2254.1 In the Petition, Norman challenges a 2007 state court (Duval County, Florida) judgment of conviction for trafficking in heroin and trafficking in cocaine. Respondents have submitted a memorandum in opposition to the Petition. See Respondents' Answer to Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Resp.; Doc. 20) with exhibits (Resp. Ex.). On February 24, 2017, the Court entered an Order (Doc. 21) giving Norman a time frame in which to submit a reply. Norman submitted a brief in reply. See Petitioner's Reply to Respondents' Answer to the Petition (Reply; Doc. 26). This case is ripe for review.

II. Procedural History

On August 28, 2006, the State of Florida charged Norman with trafficking twenty-eight grams or more, but less than thirty kilograms, of heroin (count one); trafficking four grams or more, but less than fourteen grams, of heroin (count two); trafficking twenty-eight grams or more, but less than 200 grams, of cocaine (count three); and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon (count four). See Resp. Ex. 1 at 8. On June 21, 2007, with the assistance of counsel, Petitioner filed a motion to sever count four from the remaining counts. Resp. Ex. 1 at 28-29. The circuit court granted Petitioner's motion to sever the same day. Id. The state later nolle prossed count four. See State v. Norman, 2006-CF-12343 (Fla. 4th Cir. Ct.).

Norman proceeded to a jury trial on counts one, two, and three, at the conclusion of which, on August 16, 2007, the jury found him guilty, as charged. See Resp. Ex. 1 at 54-56. On October 9, 2007, the circuit court sentenced Norman to incarceration for a minimum mandatory term of twenty-five years for count one, and a twenty-five-year term with a three-year minimum mandatory for each count two and three, to run concurrently with count one. See Resp. Ex. 1 at 60-68.

On direct appeal, Norman, with the benefit of counsel, filed an initial brief pursuant to Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967) representing that no good faith argument of reversible error could be made. Resp. Ex. 3. The First District Court of Appeal (First DCA) granted Norman leave to file a pro se initial brief. Resp. Ex. 4. Norman then filed a pro se initial brief raising the following issues: the trial court erred in denying Norman's motion in limine regarding evidence of a crime for which Norman was not charged (issue one); the trial court erred in allowing a state witness to violate Norman's confrontation rights underCrawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004) (issue two); and the trial court erred in permitting Detective Lavell Thomas (Detective Thomas) to bolster the testimony of Detective Bertrand Hollins (Detective Hollins) (issue three). Resp. Ex. 5. The state did not file an answer brief. See Resp. Ex. 6. On December 16, 2008, the First DCA per curiam affirmed Norman's convictions and sentences without a written opinion. See id.; Norman v. State, 997 So. 2d 409 (Fla. 1st DCA 2008). The First DCA issued its mandate on January 13, 2009. Resp. Ex. 6.

On December 29, 2009, Norman filed a pro se motion for postconviction relief pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850, raising the same claims as those raised in issue two and issue three of his pro se initial brief on direct appeal, and an additional claim that the trial court erred in omitting a jury instruction for simple possession of heroin as a lesser included offense for count one. Resp. Ex. 7 at 1-13. Norman filed a motion to amend his Rule 3.850 motion on October 23, 2013. Id. at 14-17. That same day, Norman filed an amended Rule 3.850 motion for postconviction relief asserting that trial counsel (Katherine Littell) was ineffective because she failed to: object to the jury instruction and verdict forms as to the lesser included offenses (ground one); object to hearsay testimony (ground two); object to Detective Thomas bolstering the testimony of Detective Hollins (ground three); adequately advise Norman about testifying on his own behalf (ground four); and the cumulative effect of trial counsel's errors violated his Sixth Amendment and due process rights (ground five). Id. at 18-41.

The circuit court granted Norman's motion for leave to amend, and on September 23, 2014, struck ground four of Norman's amended Rule 3.850 motion and gave him sixty days to file a facially sufficient claim. Id. at 42-46. In response, Norman withdrew groundfour. Id. at 47. On December 23, 2014, the circuit court summarily denied Norman's Rule 3.850 motions. Id. at 54-62. The First DCA affirmed the circuit court's denial per curiam on April 29, 2015, and issued its mandate on March 10, 2016. Resp. Ex. 10.

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).

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 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 this Court can "adequately assess [Norman'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. 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 an 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 groundsthat 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. As the Eleventh Circuit has explained:

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

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