Taylor v. Sec'y

Decision Date01 June 2011
Docket NumberCase No. 8:10-cv-382-T-30AEP
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Florida

This cause is before the Court on Petitioner Perry Alexander Taylor's ("Petitioner" or "Taylor") petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 ("petition") (Dkt. 1). Taylor is a Florida prisoner under sentence of death. Respondent filed a response to the petition (Dkt. 10), and Taylor filed a reply (Dkt. 13). Upon consideration of each of Taylor's claims, the Court has determined that none merits relief. Thus, Taylor's request for federal habeas relief must be DENIED.


Taylor was convicted in 1989 of first-degree murder and sexual battery with great force. He was sentenced to death on the first-degree murder charge.1 The convictions were affirmed by the Florida Supreme Court on June 27, 1991. See Taylor v. State, 583 So.2d 323 (Fla. 1991). TheFlorida Supreme Court, however, vacated Taylor's death sentence, and remanded for resentencing before a new jury. Id.

On June 23, 1992, Taylor was again sentenced to death. His sentence was affirmed by the Florida Supreme Court on May 5, 1994. See Taylor v. State, 638 So. 2d 30 (Fla. 1994). His petition for writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court was denied on November 14, 1994. See Taylor v. Florida, 513 U.S. 1003 (1994).

Taylor initiated state court post-conviction proceedings in March 1996. In February 2006, the state trial court denied his post-conviction motion. On January 29, 2009, the Florida Supreme Court affirmed the denial of Taylor's post-conviction motion, and denied his petition for writ of habeas corpus. See Taylor v. State, 3 So. 3d 986 (Fla. 2009). The Florida Supreme Court's mandate issued on February 16, 2009.

Petitioner filed the instant federal habeas petition on February 5, 2010.


Taylor was charged with the murder and sexual battery of Geraldine Birch ("Birch") whose severely beaten body was found in a dugout at a little league baseball field. Shoe prints matching Taylor's shoes were found at the scene. Taylor confessed to killing Birch but claimed that the sexual contact was consensual and that the beating from which she died was done in a rage without premeditation. Taylor testified that on the night of the killing, he was standing with a small group of people when Birch walked up. She talked briefly with others in the group and then all but Taylorand a friend walked off. Taylor testified that as he began to walk away, Birch called to him and told him she was trying to get to Sulphur Springs. He told her he did not have a car. She then offered sex in exchange for cocaine and money. Taylor agreed to give her ten dollars in exchange for sex, and the two of them went to the dugout.3

Taylor testified that when he and Birch reached the dugout they attempted to have vaginal intercourse for less than a minute. She ended the attempt at intercourse and began performing oral sex on him. According to Taylor, he complained that her teeth were irritating him and attempted to pull away. She bit down on his penis. He choked her in an attempt to get her to release him. After he succeeded in getting her to release her bite, he struck and kicked her several times in anger.

The jury convicted Taylor on both counts. Upon the jury's unanimous recommendation, the trial judge sentenced Taylor to death. The Florida Supreme Court, however, reversed the sentence of death and remanded for resentencing before a new jury.

The new jury recommended death by an eight to four vote.4 The judge found the following aggravating factors:

(1) Taylor had a previous felony conviction involving the use or threat of violence; (2) the capital felony occurred during the commission of a sexual battery; and (3) the capital felony was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel. The court found no statutory mitigators but did give someweight to Taylor's deprived family background and the abuse he was reported to have suffered as a child. The court considered but gave little weight to Taylor's remorse, to psychological testimony that while Taylor has above-average intelligence, he suffers from an organic brain injury, and to testimony concerning Taylor's good conduct in custody. The judge determined that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating factors and sentenced Taylor to death.


Because Taylor filed his petition after April 24, 1996, this case is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). Penry v. Johnson, 532 U.S. 782, 792 (2001); Henderson v. Campbell, 353 F.3d 880, 889-90 (11th Cir. 2003);Maharaj v. Sec'y of Dept. of Corrections, 304 F.3d 1345, 1346 (11th Cir. 2002). The ultimate issue with respect to each claim is whether the Florida Supreme Court's resolution of the claim was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000); Robinson v. Moore, 300 F.3d 1320 (11th Cir. 2002); Van Poyck v. Florida Department of Corrections, 290 F.3d 1318 (11th Cir. 2002). The standard Taylor must meet could not be higher; it is not enough that the state court "got it wrong." Petitioner must show that the state court's decision was objectively unreasonable. Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 694 (2002) (citing Williams v. Taylor, supra).

In the event constitutional error is found in a habeas proceeding, the relevant harmless error standard is set forth in Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619 (1993). The test is "less onerous" than the harmless error standard enunciated in Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. (1967). "The test iswhether the error had substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict. Under this standard, habeas petitioners may obtain plenary review of their constitutional claims, but they are not entitled to habeas relief based on trial error unless they can establish that it resulted in 'actual prejudice.'" Brecht, 507 U.S. at 637. Although no constitutional error has occurred in Taylor's case, any possible error would be harmless beyond any reasonable doubt based on the facts and the record.

No evidentiary hearing is required because none of Taylor's claims turn on any unresolved issue of fact. All involve issues of law argued on the basis of the existing record.5

Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Standard

To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of trial or appellate counsel, a petitioner must meet the two-part test set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). Strickland's two-part test requires a petitioner to demonstrate that counsel's performance was deficient and "there was a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Id. If a claim fails to satisfy the prejudice component, the court need not make a ruling on the performance component.

Procedural default

A § 2254 application cannot be granted unless a petitioner "has exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State; . . ." 28 U.S.C. 2254(b)(1)(A); Snowden v. Singletary, 135 F.3d 732, 735 (11th Cir. 1998). In other words, the state prisoner must give the state courts an opportunityto act on his claims before he presents those claims to a federal court in a habeas petition. O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 842 (1999). See also, Henderson v. Campbell, 353 F.3d at 891 ("A state prisoner seeking federal habeas relief cannot raise a federal constitutional claim in federal court unless he first properly raised the issue in the state courts.")(quoting Judd v. Haley, 250 F.3d 1308, 1313 (11th Cir. 2001)); Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364, 365 (1995)("[E]xhaustion of state remedies requires that the state prisoner 'fairly present' federal claims to the state courts in order to give the State the 'opportunity to pass upon and correct alleged violations of its prisoners' federal rights[.]'") (citation omitted).

Under the procedural default doctrine, "[i]f the petitioner has failed to exhaust state remedies that are no longer available, that failure is a procedural default which will bar federal habeas relief, unless either the cause and prejudice or the fundamental miscarriage of justice exception is applicable." Smith v. Jones, 256 F.3d 1135, 1138 (11th Cir. 2001). "The doctrine of procedural default was developed as a means of ensuring that federal habeas petitioners first seek relief in accordance with established state procedures." Henderson, 353 F.3d at 891 (quoting Judd v. Haley, 250 F.3d at 1313).

Pre-AEDPA decisions from the Supreme Court establish the framework governing procedural default in federal habeas cases. A procedural default will only be excused in two narrow circumstances. First, petitioner may obtain federal habeas review of a procedurally defaulted claim if he shows both "cause" for the default and actual "prejudice" resulting from the default. "Cause" ordinarily requires petitioner to demonstrate that some objective factor external to the defenseimpeded the effort to raise the claim properly in the state court. Henderson, 353 F.3d at 892; Marek v. Singletary, 62 F.3d 1295, 1302 (11th Cir. 1995).

To show "prejudice," the petitioner must show "not merely that the errors at his trial created a possibility of prejudice, but that they worked to his factual and substantial disadvantage, infecting his entire trial with error of constitutional dimensions." Hollis v. Davis, 941 F.2d 1471, 1480 (11th Cir. 1991) (quoting United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 170 (1982)). The petitioner must show that there is at least a reasonable probability that the result of the proceeding would have been different. Henderson, 353 F.3d at 892.

Second, a petitioner may obtain federal habeas review of a...

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