Tramel v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 3:19-cv-1071-MMH-MCR

CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
Docket Number3:19-cv-1071-MMH-MCR
Decision Date19 July 2022


I. Status

Petitioner Michael Tramel, a former inmate of the Florida penal system,[1]initiated this action on September 11 2019, by filing a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Petition; Doc. 1).[2] In the Petition Tramel challenges a 2013 state court (Duval County, Florida) judgment of conviction for attempted second-degree murder and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. He raises ten grounds for relief. See Petition at 6-30. Respondents submitted a memorandum in opposition to the Petition. See Response (Doc. 7). They also submitted exhibits. See Docs. 7-1 through 7-24. Tramel filed a brief in reply. See Reply (Doc. 12). This action is ripe for review.[3]

II. Relevant Procedural History

On January 17, 2013, the State of Florida charged Tramel by amended information with attempted first-degree murder (count one) and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon (count two). Doc. 7-1 at 57. On March 14, 2013, a jury found Tramel guilty of attempted second-degree murder, a lesser included offense, and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. Id. at 158-60. On April 25, 2013, the trial court sentenced Tramel to concurrent eleven-year terms of imprisonment followed by one-year terms on probation for counts one and two. Id. at 169-75.

On direct appeal, Tramel, through counsel, filed an initial brief, arguing that the trial court: (1) fundamentally erred when it gave conflicting jury instructions on the duty to retreat; (2) fundamentally erred when it failed to instruct the jury that the justifiable use of deadly force was a defense to attempted second-degree murder; (3) erred when it denied the defense's motion for judgment of acquittal as to count two; and (4) fundamentally erred when it failed to instruct the jury that the justifiable use of nondeadly force was a defense to aggravated battery. Doc. 7-4. The State filed an answer brief. Doc. 7-5. On May 12, 2015, the First DCA affirmed Tramel's conviction and sentence for count two but reversed and remanded his conviction and sentence for count one. Doc. 7-6 at 3. Relying on Floyd v. State, 151 So.3d 452 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014), decision quashed, 186 So.3d 1013 (Fla. 2016), the First DCA determined that the trial court fundamentally erred when it gave conflicting jury instructions on the duty to retreat. Doc. 7-6 at 7-8. Tramel filed a motion for rehearing, and on August 14, 2015, the First DCA issued a revised opinion reversing Tramel's convictions and sentences for both counts one and two because Tramel raised self-defense as his sole defense to both counts. Doc. 7-7 at 8.

The State invoked the discretionary jurisdiction of the Florida Supreme Court, Doc. 7-8, and the First DCA stayed issuance of a mandate, Doc. 7-9 at 4. On June 24, 2016, the Florida Supreme Court granted the State's Petition for review, quashed the First DCA's decision, and remanded the case for reconsideration upon application of the court's decision in Floyd v. State, 186 So.3d 1013 (Fla. 2016).[4] State v. Tramel, No. SC15-1597, 2016 WL 3459512, at *1 (Fla. June 24, 2016). On February 16, 2017, the First DCA per curiam affirmed Tramel's convictions and sentences without prejudice to his right to seek postconviction relief, Doc. 7-12, and the court denied his motion for rehearing, Doc. 7-11 at 5. Subsequently, on May 15, 2017, the First DCA issued the mandate. See, Michael Tramel v. State of Florida, 1D13-2285 (Fla. 1st DCA).

On May 18, 2017, Tramel filed a pro se state petition for writ of habeas corpus, raising five grounds of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. Doc. 7-14 at 2-26. The First DCA denied the petition on the merits on November 9, 2017. Doc. 7-17.

On April 9, 2018, Tramel filed a pro se second amended motion for postconviction relief under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850.[5] Doc. 722 at 135-63. In his second amended Rule 3.850 Motion, Tramel raised ten grounds for relief. See generally id. He alleged counsel was ineffective when he failed to: object to “governmental misconduct” and discharge Tramel (ground one); challenge the violation of Tramel's right to a speedy trial (ground two); object to the denial of the defense's motion to dismiss (ground three); present a sufficient motion for judgment of acquittal (ground five); investigate and impeach witnesses, as well as suppress evidence (ground six); object to the amended information (ground seven); ensure Tramel had a representative jury (ground eight); request and object to jury instructions (ground nine); and object to Tramel's conviction for a lesser included offense (ground ten). Id. at 136-62. Tramel also alleged entitlement to relief based on changes to Stand Your Ground[6] in 2017 (ground four). Id. at 149-50. On May 4, 2018, the circuit court summarily denied relief on all grounds. Id. at 206-14. The First DCA per curiam affirmed the denial of relief without a written opinion on March 7, 2019, Doc. 7-24 at 3, and issued the mandate on April 4, 2019, id. at 2.

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). “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 [Tramel'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). ‘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.

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 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

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