Yisrael v. Sec'y

Decision Date16 October 2018
Docket NumberCase No. 3:15-cv-1360-J-34JRK
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Florida
I. Status

Petitioner Yeshuwa Yisrael, an inmate of the Florida penal system, initiated this action on November 13, 2015, by filing a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Petition; Doc. 1) with attachments (Doc. 1-1 through 1-5). In the Petition, Yisrael challenges a 2012 state court (Duval County, Florida) judgment of conviction for sexual battery while in familial or custodial authority. Yisrael raises eight grounds for relief. See Doc. 1 at 5-13;1 Doc. 1-1. Respondents have submitted a memorandum in opposition to the Petition. See Answer to Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Resp.; Doc. 10) with exhibits (Resp. Ex.). Yisrael submitted a brief in reply on January 25, 2017. See Reply to the Respondent's Answer to Mr. Yisrael's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Reply; Doc. 11). This case is ripe for review.

II. Procedural History

On October 22, 2009, the State of Florida charged Yisrael, by way of a second amended Information, with three counts of sexual battery. Resp. Ex. 1 at 66-67. On September 28, 2009, with the assistance of counsel, Yisrael filed a motion to sever all counts. Id. at 51-53. The circuit court granted Yisrael's motion to sever on October 1, 2009. Id. at 54.

Yisrael proceeded to a jury trial on the sexual battery alleged in count one. Resp. Ex. 2. At the conclusion of the trial, on April 15, 2010, the jury found him guilty as charged. Resp. Ex. 1 at 96. On May 19, 2010, the circuit court sentenced Yisrael to a term of incarceration of thirty years for count one. Resp. Ex. 1 at 121-25.

On direct appeal, Yisrael, with the benefit of counsel, filed an initial brief raising the following issue: the trial court erred in relying on a dismissed count and an untried count in imposing the maximum authorized sentence. Resp. Ex. 5. The state filed an answer brief. Resp. Ex. 6. On July 22, 2011, Florida's First District Court of Appeal (First DCA) per curiam affirmed Yisrael's conviction. Resp. Ex. 8. However, the First DCA reversed the imposition of the thirty-year sentence due to the circuit court's consideration of impermissible factors and remanded the matter for a new sentencing hearing before a different judge. Id. The First DCA issued its Mandate on August 17, 2011. Id. Pursuant to the Mandate, the circuit court resentenced Yisrael to a term of incarceration of thirty years. Resp. Ex. 9. Yisrael did not pursue an appeal following his resentencing.

On July 5, 2013, Yisrael, with the benefit of counsel, filed a motion for postconviction relief pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850, asserting that his attorneys (Refik Eller, Dale Carson, and Senovia Lance) were ineffective becausethey: induced Yisrael to waive his speedy trial rights (ground one); failed to introduce exculpatory letters the victim wrote (ground two); failed to call two witnesses at trial (ground three); failed to investigate and present employment records from Yisrael and the victim's mother (ground four); failed to request a permissive lesser included offense (ground five); failed to object to improper closing arguments (ground six);and failed to conduct an adequate voir dire of Juror Woodie (ground seven). In addition, he asserts that the cumulative effect of his attorneys' errors violated his Sixth Amendment rights (ground eight). Resp. Ex. 10 at 5-35. On May 18, 2015, the circuit court denied Yisrael's Rule 3.850 motion. Resp. Ex. 11. The First DCA affirmed the circuit court's order per curiam without a written opinion on September 16, 2015, and issued its Mandate on October 2, 2015. Resp. Ex. 12.

III. One-Year Limitations Period

The Petition is 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 otherwiseprecludes 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 [Yisrael'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 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. 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 statecourt'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." SeeBurt v. Titlow, 571 U.S. ---, ---, 134 S. Ct. 10, 15, 187 L.Ed.2d 348 (2013); accordBrumfield 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. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 182 (2011) (stating the language in § 2254(d)(1)'s "requires an examination of the state-court decision at the time it was made").

Thus, "AEDPA erects a...

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