Ramos v. Sec'y, Case No. 3:15-cv-904-J-34PDB

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. 3:15-cv-904-J-34PDB
Decision Date24 April 2018


Case No. 3:15-cv-904-J-34PDB


April 24, 2018


I. Status

Petitioner Jannette Ramos, an inmate of the Florida penal system, initiated this action on July 13, 2015, by filing a pro se Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Petition; Doc. 1) under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In the Petition, Ramos challenges a 2011 state court (Duval County, Florida) judgment of conviction for aggravated manslaughter of a child. Respondents have submitted a memorandum in opposition to the Petition. See Respondents' Answer to Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Response; Doc. 17) with exhibits (Resp. Ex.). On June 29, 2016, the Court entered an Order to Show Cause and Notice to Petitioner (Doc. 12), admonishing Ramos regarding her obligations and giving Ramos a time frame in which to submit a reply. Ramos submitted a brief in reply.1 See Petitioner's Motion to Show Cause (Doc. 23). This case is ripe for review.

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II. Procedural History

On October 7, 2010, the State of Florida charged Ramos with aggravated manslaughter of a child. See Resp. Ex. 1 at 14, Information. Ramos proceeded to a jury trial in August 2011, at the conclusion of which, on August 4, 2011, the jury found her guilty, as charged. See id. at 106, Verdict; Resp. Exs. 3; 4; 5, Transcripts of the Jury Trial (Tr.), at 457-58. On August 4, 2011, the court sentenced Ramos to a term of imprisonment of fifteen years to be followed by seven years of probation. See Resp. Exs. 1 at 110-14, Judgment; 2 at 324.

On direct appeal, Ramos, with the benefit of counsel, filed an initial brief, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to convict her of manslaughter by culpable negligence, and the trial court erred when it denied her motions for judgment of acquittal (ground one). Additionally, she asserted that the trial court erred when it: (a) allowed the State to cross-examine the child victim's father about the wrongful death lawsuit he filed against the apartment complex, and (b) instructed the jury that it could consider whether a witness was offered or received any money, preferred treatment, or other benefit in order to get the witness to testify (ground two). See Resp. Ex. 6. The State filed an answer brief, see Resp. Ex. 7, and Ramos filed a reply brief, see Resp. Ex. 8. On June 14, 2012, the appellate court affirmed Ramos's conviction and sentence in a written opinion, see Ramos v. State,

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89 So.3d 1119 (Fla. 1st DCA 2012); Resp. Ex. 9, and the mandate issued on July 2, 2012, see Resp. Ex. 9.

On February 12, 2013, Ramos filed a pro se motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850 (Rule 3.850 motion). See Resp. Ex. 10 at 1-19. In her request for post-conviction relief, she asserted that counsel (Alfonso Perkins) was ineffective because he: failed to object to the State's cross-examination of the child victim's father relating to the wrongful death suit filed against the apartment complex (ground one); failed to depose or call the apartment complex manager as a witness at trial (ground two); and advised her not to testify at trial (ground three). The circuit court struck ground two as facially insufficient, and granted her leave to file an amended motion. See id. at 23-25. Ramos filed an amended Rule 3.850 motion and raised the above-stated grounds. See id. at 26-43. The circuit court directed the State to respond to ground two. See id. at 44-46. The State responded, see id. at 48-90, and Ramos filed a pro se reply, see id. at 91-94. On December 16, 2014, the circuit court denied her Rule 3.850 motion. See id. at 95-141. On April 23, 2015, the appellate court affirmed the court's denial of post-conviction relief per curiam, and the mandate issued on May 19, 2015. See Resp. Ex. 11.

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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 [Ramos'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.

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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

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state-court decision that does provide a relevant rationale. It should then presume that the unexplained decision adopted the same reasoning.

Wilson v. Sellers, No. 16-6855, 2018 WL 1800370, at *3 (U.S. Apr. 18, 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 *3, 7.

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

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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.'"[2] 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.

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Pinholster, 563 U.S....

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