Prince v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., Case No. 3:17-cv-1145-J-34MCR

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
Docket NumberCase No. 3:17-cv-1145-J-34MCR
Decision Date29 January 2021


Case No. 3:17-cv-1145-J-34MCR


January 29, 2021


I. Status

Petitioner Darius Prince, an inmate of the Florida penal system, initiated this action on October 9, 2017,1 by filing a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Petition; Doc. 1). Prince is proceeding on an amended petition (Amended Petition; Doc. 9). In the Amended Petition, Prince challenges a 2010 state court (Duval County, Florida) judgment of conviction for attempted second-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Prince raises fourteen grounds for relief. See Amended Petition at 5-62.2 Respondents have submitted an answer in opposition to the Amended Petition. See Answer to Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Response; Doc. 28) with exhibits (Resp. Ex.). Prince filed a brief in reply. See Reply to Respondent's Response (Reply; Doc. 32). Prince has also filed a Motion for Fact-Development Procedures with

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Memorandum in Support (Motion; Doc. 43), in which he requests the Court allow him to take depositions and submit interrogatories and requests for admissions to certain witnesses, as well as to include additional documentary evidence. This case is ripe for review.

II. Relevant Procedural History

On February 26, 2010, the State of Florida (State) charged Prince by way of amended Information with attempted first-degree murder (count one) and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon (count two). Resp. Ex. A at 31. Prince proceeded to trial, at the conclusion of which a jury found Prince guilty of the lesser offense of attempted second-degree murder, with a specific finding that he actually possessed and discharged a firearm during the commission of the offense. Id. at 104-06. The jury also found Prince guilty as to count two, with a specific finding that Prince actually possessed a firearm. Id. at 107. On April 14, 2010, the circuit court adjudicated Prince to be a habitual felony offender (HFO), sentenced him to a term of incarceration of fifty years in prison as to count one and twenty years as to count two, and imposed a twenty-year minimum mandatory sentence as to count one and three-year minimum mandatory sentence as to count two . Id. at 124-30. The circuit court ordered the sentence imposed as to count two to run concurrently with the sentence imposed as to count one. Id. at 128.

Prince appealed his convictions and sentences to Florida's First District Court of Appeal (First DCA). Id. at 136. With the assistance of counsel, Prince argued in his initial brief that the circuit court: (1) gave an incorrect jury instruction for attempted manslaughter and (2) fundamentally erred by failing to instruct the jury that the State had the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the killing was not justifiable or

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excusable. Resp. Ex. E. The State filed an answer brief, Resp. Ex. F, and Prince filed a reply brief. Resp. Ex. G. On March 30, 2011, the First DCA per curiam affirmed Prince's convictions and sentences, and on April 26, 2011, issued the Mandate. Resp. Ex. H.

On February 23, 2012, Prince filed a pro se motion to correct illegal sentence pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.800(a) (Rule 3.800(a) Motion), in which he argued his sentences were an illegal upward departure from the recommended guidelines and were based on facts that the jury found did not exist. Resp. Ex. I. On August 29, 2014, the circuit court denied the Rule 3.800(a) Motion. Resp. Ex. J.

On September 20, 2012, Prince filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus with the First DCA alleging his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to argue on direct appeal that: (1) the verdict was contrary to the weight of the evidence; and (2) there was insufficient evidence to convict. Resp. Ex. K. On October 16, 2012, the First DCA per curiam denied the petition on the merits. Resp. Ex. L. Prince moved for rehearing, which the First DCA denied on December 5, 2012. Resp. Ex. M.

On April 1, 2013, Prince filed a motion for postconviction relief pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850. Resp. Ex. N at 1-40. Prince subsequently filed an amended motion pursuant to Rule 3.850 (Amended Rule 3.850 Motion), in which he alleged: (1) trial counsel failed to call Eartha Jones as a witness; (2) trial counsel misadvised Prince concerning his right to testify; (3) trial counsel did not file a motion to suppress or object to the admission of evidence; (4) trial counsel failed to object to prosecutorial misconduct; (5) trial counsel failed to object to a statement not in evidence; (6) the prosecutor knowingly used false testimony to secure the conviction; (7) trial counsel did not object to testimony; (8) trial counsel failed to call a ballistics expert; (9)

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trial counsel failed to call an alibi witness; (10) trial counsel failed to object to hearsay; (11) trial counsel failed to raise an objection to the State's discovery violation; (12) trial counsel failed to raise a viable defense; (13) trial counsel failed to suppress identification testimony; (14) trial counsel failed to file a motion to dismiss; and (15) the cumulative effect of these alleged errors denied Prince a fair trial and effective assistance of counsel. Id. at 41-79. The circuit court denied the Amended Rule 3.850 Motion on September 14, 2015, see id. at 239-40, the First DCA per curiam affirmed the denial on July 14, 2017, see Resp. Ex. R. The First DCA denied Prince's motion for rehearing, Resp. Ex. S, and issued the Mandate on September 14, 2017. Resp. Ex. R.

III. One-Year Limitations Period

This action 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 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

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before the Court. Because the Court can "adequately assess [Prince'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 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.

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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

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