Webster v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections et al
ORDER denying 1 Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus Under 28 U.S.C. Section 2254 and dismissing the case with prejudice. The Clerk shall enter judgment in favor of Respondent and against Petitioner, and close the file. If Petitioner appeals this Order, the Court denies a certificate of appealability. Signed by Judge Timothy J. Corrigan on 10/14/2020. (JHC)
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
IAN CHAD WEBSTER,
SECRETARY, FLORIDA DEPARTMENT
Petitioner, an inmate of the Florida penal system, initiated this case by
filing a pro se Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc.
1). He challenges a state court (Duval County, Florida) judgment of conviction
and sentence for conspiracy to traffic cocaine, possession of cocaine while armed,
and tampering with evidence. Respondent opposes the Petition. (Doc. 15,
Response; Doc. 15-1 through Doc. 15-4, Respondent’s Exhibits (“Resp. Ex.”)).
Petitioner has filed a reply brief. (Doc. 21). 1 Thus, the case is ripe for review.
In his reply, Petitioner states that he never received a copy of the Respondent’s
response. (Doc. 21 at 1, 4). However, one month before he filed the reply brief, the
Court granted Petitioner an extension of time to file a reply and instructed the Clerk’s
office to send him a one-time courtesy copy of the response (Doc. 15) without exhibits.
(Doc. 20). The Court’s docket (which contains entries viewable only by the Court)
reflects that copies were mailed to Petitioner the next day, and that the mail was not
returned as undeliverable.
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This case began in early 2011 when Petitioner was arrested and charged
with possession of cocaine while armed (“Case Number 11-743”). (Resp. Ex. A
at 21-22). 2 Petitioner pleaded guilty to the offense and received a probationary
sentence. (See id. at 52-57). However, he was later charged with committing two
more crimes while on probation. First, he was charged with conspiracy to traffic
more than 400 grams of cocaine (“Case Number 12-1635”). (Id. at 66). Pursuant
to a negotiated plea agreement, Petitioner pleaded guilty to that charge,
admitted to violating his probation, and agreed to assist the State in
prosecuting other drug offenses. Under the agreement, Petitioner’s sentencing
range would depend on his level of cooperation and assistance. Then, while
working for the police, he was arrested for tampering with evidence (“Case
Number 12-4761”). (Id. at 77-79). The State alleged that after Petitioner made
a controlled purchase of crack cocaine, video captured him taking a portion of
the cocaine for himself. (Id. at 78, 84). Petitioner pleaded guilty to tampering
with evidence as well. (Id. at 138-39).
Based on his guilty pleas, the trial court adjudicated Petitioner guilty of
each offense charged in Case Numbers 11-743, 12-1635, and 12-4761. The court
sentenced Petitioner to 20 years in prison for conspiracy to traffic cocaine. (Id.
Unless otherwise noted, citations to Respondent’s exhibits will refer to the
Bates-stamp page number on the bottom-center of each page.
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at 132-37). The court also revoked Petitioner’s probation for possession of
cocaine while armed and sentenced him to 15 years in prison for that offense,
as well as 5 years in prison for tampering with evidence, all sentences to run
concurrently. (Id. at 127-31, 154-47).
Petitioner appealed his sentence to the First District Court of Appeal
(“First DCA”). On direct appeal, Petitioner’s public defender filed a brief
pursuant to Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967). (Resp. Ex. C). Petitioner
did not file a pro se brief on his behalf. On July 10, 2013, the First DCA per
curiam affirmed Petitioner’s conviction and sentence. Webster v. State, 116 So.
3d 1269 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013); (Resp. Ex. D).
On January 8, 2014, Petitioner filed a motion for post-conviction relief in
the trial court pursuant to Rule 3.850, Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure.
(Resp. Ex. F at 1-16). Petitioner filed an Amended Rule 3.850 Motion on August
29, 2016. (Resp. Ex. F at 37-51). Petitioner argued, among other things, that his
guilty plea was unknowing and involuntary and that his trial counsel, Charles
Truncale, gave ineffective assistance. The trial court denied the Amended Rule
3.850 Motion on October 4, 2016. (Id. at 52-190). Petitioner appealed the denial
of the Amended Rule 3.850 Motion to the First DCA, which dismissed the appeal
on February 7, 2017 because Petitioner did not file a timely notice of appeal.
Webster v. State, 229 So. 3d 1227 (Fla. 1st DCA 2017); (Resp. Exs. G, H). The
instant federal habeas petition followed.
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Governing Legal Principles
A. Standard of Review
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA)
governs a state prisoner’s federal habeas corpus petition. 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)).
The first task of the federal habeas court is to identify the last state court
decision, if any, that adjudicated the petitioner’s claims 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 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 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. But the State may rebut the
presumption by showing that the unexplained affirmance relied or
most likely did rely on different grounds than the lower state court’s
decision, such as alternative grounds for affirmance that were
briefed or argued to the state supreme court or obvious in the record
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Wilson v. Sellers, 138 S. Ct. 1188, 1192 (2018).
When a state court has adjudicated a petitioner’s claims on the merits, a
federal court cannot grant habeas relief unless the state court’s adjudication 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,” or “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)(1),
(2). A state court’s factual findings are “presumed to be correct” unless rebutted
“by clear and convincing evidence.” Id. § 2254(e)(1).
AEDPA “imposes a highly deferential standard for evaluating state
court rulings” and “demands that state-court decisions be given the
benefit of the doubt.” Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010)
(internal quotation marks omitted). “A state court’s determination
that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as
fairminded jurists could disagree on the correctness of the state
court’s decision.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011)
(internal quotation marks omitted). “It bears repeating that even a
strong case for relief does not mean the state court’s contrary
conclusion was unreasonable.” Id. [at 102] (citing Lockyer v.
Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003)). The Supreme Court has
repeatedly instructed lower federal courts that an unreasonable
application of law requires more than mere error or even clear
error. See, e.g., Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 18 (2003); Lockyer,
538 U.S. at 75 (“The gloss of clear error fails to give proper deference
to state courts by conflating error (even clear error) with
unreasonableness.”); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 410 (2000)
(“[A]n unreasonable application of federal law is different from an
incorrect application of federal law.”).
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Bishop v. Warden, GDCP, 726 F.3d 1243, 1253-54 (11th Cir. 2013) (internal
B. Exhaustion and Procedural Default
There are prerequisites to federal habeas review. Before bringing a § 2254
action in federal court, a petitioner must exhaust all state court remedies that
are available for challenging his state conviction. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A).
To exhaust state remedies, the petitioner must “fairly present” every issue
raised in his federal petition to the state’s highest court, either on direct appeal
or on collateral review. Castille v. Peoples, 489 U.S. 346, 351 (1989) (emphasis
omitted). Thus, to properly exhaust a claim, “state prisoners must give the state
courts one full opportunity to resolve any constitutional issues by invoking one
complete round of the State’s established appellate review process.” O’Sullivan
v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845 (1999); see also Pope v. Rich, 358 F.3d 852, 854
(11th Cir. 2004) (noting “that Boerckel applies to the state collateral review
process as well as the direct appeal process.”).
In addressing exhaustion, the United States Supreme Court explained:
Before seeking a federal writ of habeas corpus, a state prisoner
must exhaust available state remedies, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1),
thereby giving the State the “‘opportunity to pass upon and correct’
alleged violations of its prisoners’ federal rights.’” Duncan v. Henry,
513 U.S. 364, 365, 115 S. Ct. 887, 130 L.Ed.2d 865 (1995) (per
curiam) (quoting Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275, 92 S. Ct. 509,
30 L.Ed.2d 438 (1971)). To provide the State with the necessary
“opportunity,” the prisoner must “fairly present” his claim in each
appropriate state court (including a state supreme court with
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powers of discretionary review), thereby alerting that court to the
federal nature of the claim. Duncan, supra, at 365-366, 115 S. Ct.
887; O’Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845, 119 S. Ct. 1728, 144
L.Ed.2d 1 (1999).
Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 29 (2004).
A state prisoner’s failure to properly exhaust available state remedies
results in a procedural default, which raises a potential bar to federal habeas
review. The United States Supreme Court has explained the doctrine of
procedural default as follows:
Federal habeas courts reviewing the constitutionality of a state
prisoner’s conviction and sentence are guided by rules designed to
ensure that state-court judgments are accorded the finality and
respect necessary to preserve the integrity of legal proceedings
within our system of federalism. These rules include the doctrine of
procedural default, under which a federal court will not review the
merits of claims, including constitutional claims, that a state court
declined to hear because the prisoner failed to abide by a state
procedural rule. See, e.g., Coleman, supra, at 747–748, 111 S. Ct.
2546; Sykes, supra, at 84–85, 97 S. Ct. 2497. A state court’s
invocation of a procedural rule to deny a prisoner’s claims precludes
federal review of the claims if, among other requisites, the state
procedural rule is a nonfederal ground adequate to support the
judgment and the rule is firmly established and consistently
followed. See, e.g., Walker v. Martin, 562 U.S. —, —, 131 S. Ct.
1120, 1127–1128, 179 L.Ed.2d 62 (2011); Beard v. Kindler, 558 U.S.
—, —, 130 S. Ct. 612, 617–618, 175 L.Ed.2d 417 (2009). The doctrine
barring procedurally defaulted claims from being heard is not
without exceptions. A prisoner may obtain federal review of a
defaulted claim by showing cause for the default and prejudice from
Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722 (1991).
Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72 (1977).
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a violation of federal law. See Coleman, 501 U.S., at 750, 111 S. Ct.
Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1, 9-10 (2012). Thus, procedural defaults may be
excused under certain circumstances. Notwithstanding that a claim has been
procedurally defaulted, a federal court may still consider the claim if a state
habeas petitioner can show either (1) cause for and actual prejudice from the
default; or (2) a fundamental miscarriage of justice. Ward v. Hall, 592 F.3d
1144, 1157 (11th Cir. 2010). For a petitioner to establish cause and prejudice,
the procedural default “must result from some objective factor
external to the defense that prevented [him] from raising the claim
and which cannot be fairly attributable to his own conduct.” McCoy
v. Newsome, 953 F.2d 1252, 1258 (11th Cir. 1992) (quoting Carrier,
477 U.S. at 488, 106 S. Ct. 2639). Under the prejudice prong, [a
petitioner] must show that “the errors at trial actually and
substantially disadvantaged his defense so that he was denied
fundamental fairness.” Id. at 1261 (quoting Carrier, 477 U.S. at
494, 106 S. Ct. 2639).
Wright v. Hopper, 169 F.3d 695, 706 (11th Cir. 1999).
In the absence of a showing of cause and prejudice, a petitioner may
receive consideration on the merits of a procedurally defaulted claim if the
petitioner can establish that a fundamental miscarriage of justice – that is, the
incarceration of one who is actually innocent – otherwise would result. The
Eleventh Circuit has explained:
[I]f a petitioner cannot show cause and prejudice, there remains yet
another avenue for him to receive consideration on the merits of his
Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478 (1986).
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procedurally defaulted claim. “[I]n an extraordinary case, where a
constitutional violation has probably resulted in the conviction of
one who is actually innocent, a federal habeas court may grant the
writ even in the absence of a showing of cause for the procedural
default.” Carrier, 477 U.S. at 496, 106 S. Ct. at 2649. “This
exception is exceedingly narrow in scope,” however, and requires
proof of actual innocence, not just legal innocence. Johnson v.
Alabama, 256 F.3d 1156, 1171 (11th Cir. 2001).
Ward, 592 F.3d at 1157. “To meet this standard, a petitioner must ‘show that it
is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted him’ of
the underlying offense.” Johnson v. Alabama, 256 F.3d 1156, 1171 (11th Cir.
2001) (quoting Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 327 (1995)). Additionally, “‘[t]o be
credible,’ a claim of actual innocence must be based on reliable evidence not
presented at trial.” Calderon v. Thompson, 523 U.S. 538, 559 (1998) (quoting
Schlup, 513 U.S. at 324). With the rarity of such evidence, in most cases,
allegations of actual innocence are summarily rejected. Schlup, 513 U.S. at 324.
C. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
“The Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants effective
assistance of counsel. That right is denied when a defense counsel’s
performance falls below an objective standard of reasonableness and thereby
prejudices the defense.” Yarborough v. Gentry, 540 U.S. 1, 5 (2003) (per curiam)
(citing Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 521 (2003), and Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984)). To establish ineffective assistance, a
person must show that: (1) counsel’s performance was outside the wide range of
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reasonable, professional assistance; and (2) counsel’s deficient performance
prejudiced the challenger in that there is a reasonable probability the outcome
of the proceeding would have been different absent counsel’s deficient
performance. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687.
There is no “iron-clad rule requiring a court to tackle one prong of the
Strickland test before the other.” Ward v. Hall, 592 F.3d 1144, 1163 (11th Cir.
2010). Since both prongs of the two-part Strickland test must be satisfied to
show a Sixth Amendment violation, “a court need not address the performance
prong if the petitioner cannot meet the prejudice prong, and vice-versa.” Id.
(citing Holladay v. Haley, 209 F.3d 1243, 1248 (11th Cir. 2000)). As stated in
Strickland: “If it is easier to dispose of an ineffectiveness claim on the ground of
lack of sufficient prejudice, which we expect will often be so, that course should
be followed.” 466 U.S. at 697.
“The question is not whether a federal court believes the state court’s
determination under the Strickland standard was incorrect but whether that
determination was unreasonable – a substantially higher threshold.” Knowles
v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, 123 (2009) (quotation marks omitted). If there is
“any reasonable argument that counsel satisfied Strickland’s deferential
standard,” then a federal court may not disturb a state-court decision denying
the claim. Richter, 562 U.S. at 105. As such, “[s]urmounting Strickland’s high
bar is never an easy task.” Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356, 371 (2010).
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“Reviewing courts apply a ‘strong presumption’ that counsel’s representation
was ‘within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.’” Daniel v.
Comm’r, Ala. Dep’t of Corr., 822 F.3d 1248, 1262 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoting
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689). “When this presumption is combined with §
2254(d), the result is double deference to the state court ruling on counsel’s
performance.” Id. (citing Richter, 562 U.S. at 105); see also Evans v. Sec’y, Dep’t
of Corr., 703 F.3d 1316, 1333-35 (11th Cir. 2013) (en banc) (Jordan, J.,
concurring); Rutherford v. Crosby, 385 F.3d 1300, 1309 (11th Cir. 2004).
Petitioner’s Claims and Analysis
A. Grounds One and Two
Petitioner claims that the ineffective assistance of trial counsel caused
him to plead guilty unknowingly to conspiracy to traffic cocaine. In Ground One,
Petitioner claims that counsel failed to obtain all discovery, and failed to advise
Petitioner of the relation between the facts and the law. (Doc. 1 at 5, 18-23). 6
“Petitioner contends that counsel failed to make an attempt to inform him of all
proper elements and information stemming from the said offense.” (Id. at 5).
Petitioner claims that “this can clearly be seen from Petitioner’s case being
Petitioner entered guilty pleas in three different cases, but he does not specify
which case he is referring to in Ground One. However, Petitioner’s 20-year prison
sentence was based on the conviction for conspiracy to traffic cocaine in Case Number
12-1635, which is the case number identified on the first page of his Petition. (Doc. 1
at 1). It is also the only case in which he filed a Rule 3.850 motion. (See Resp. Ex. F at
53 n.1). Thus, the Court presumes Petitioner is referring to his guilty plea to
conspiracy to traffic cocaine.
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finalized within 45 days.” (Id.). He alleges that counsel met with him only once
“for the initial briefing of the case,” and “coerced Petitioner into taking the first
plea offer the State Attorney presented.” (Id. at 18). According to Petitioner,
counsel’s failure to properly advise him left him confused about his plea options,
the terms of the plea bargain, and the elements of the charge. (Id. at 18-21).
Petitioner also claims that the plea colloquy did not comply with Rule 11 of the
Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.
In Ground Two, Petitioner claims that trial counsel gave ineffective
assistance by causing Petitioner to misunderstand the potential penalties
under his plea agreement. (Doc. 1 at 7, 24-26). Petitioner alleges that when he
signed “the original plea agreement form … it stated that Petitioner would
serve no more than 15 years incarceration if he would accept the offer that was
given to him at that point of time.” (Id. at 24). Petitioner asserts that when he
signed the cooperation plea agreement, his counsel and the State led him to
believe “that even if he could not perform his duties, the plea form was still
declaratory.” (Id.). Once in the courtroom for the plea colloquy, Petitioner
alleges that the judge “deviated” from the negotiated plea agreement, and that
during an off-the-record discussion, Petitioner’s counsel advised him to agree to
the altered terms. (See id.). Petitioner also argues that the trial court failed to
inquire whether he understood “the length of sentence that was discussed in
the actual plea agreement,” or whether any promises were made to induce
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Petitioner to plead guilty, outside what was stated in the original plea form. (Id.
at 25). In sum, Petitioner claims he “did not have proper advice as to the correct
penalty, because of the two different agreements, ‘one from a written plea form
and another from Judge Norton made in open court.’” (Id. at 26).
Petitioner raised similar claims in grounds one and two of his Amended
Rule 3.850 Motion. (Resp. Ex. F at 38-39, 40-41). In its order denying Rule 3.850
relief, the trial court recounted the relevant facts:
On September 18, 2012, Defendant was sentenced to a term of
incarceration of twenty (20) years, with fifteen (15) years imposed
under the mandatory minimum imprisonment provisions of … §
893.135(1)(b)1c, Florida Statutes, for the crime of Conspiracy to
Traffic in a Controlled Substance. [Exhibit “A”] Specifically, as
charged in the Information, Defendant conspired with others to
possess more than 400 grams of cocaine. [Exhibit “B”]
Defendant entered a plea of guilty to the charged offense pursuant
to a sealed written plea and cooperation agreement with the State
of Florida that outlined the amount of cooperation and assistance
Defendant would need to provide in order to receive a more lenient
sentence. It was understood that Defendant would be released from
jail to work as an informant with law enforcement.
Although this Court was unable to find the unsealed written plea
agreement on the docket or in possession of the Clerk of the Circuit
Court, provisions of the agreement relevant to this motion were
stated on the record by the trial court and the prosecuting attorney
at the time Defendant entered his pleas of guilty. [Exhibit “C” at
14-17, 19] Defendant acknowledged his understanding of the
agreement, and specifically acknowledged that should he be
arrested for a new criminal law violation, the State would not waive
the mandatory minimum sentencing provisions, and he would
receive a sentence between fifteen (15) and thirty (30) years in the
Florida State Prison. He also acknowledged that the State need
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only prove a violation of the agreement by a preponderance of the
Defendant was on probation for Armed Possession of Cocaine, Case
Number 2011-CF-000743, at the time he entered the plea of guilty
in the instant case. He also entered an admission to violating
probation. He was sentenced to a concurrent term of incarceration
of fifteen (15) years on the probation violation.
After Defendant was released to work with law enforcement, he
purchased, as an agent of law enforcement, crack cocaine from a
third party on May 7, 2012. After the purchase, he was captured on
video breaking off several pieces of the crack cocaine. On May 10,
2012, he was arrested and subsequently charged with Tampering
with Evidence. [Exhibit “D”] He entered a plea of guilty to
Tampering with Evidence in Case Number 2012-CF-004761.
[Exhibit “E” at 5]
This conduct was a violation of his plea agreement and subjected
him, in accordance with the plea agreement, to a sentence between
15 and 30 years, and the imposition of a mandatory minimum
sentence pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 893.135(1)(b)1c.
(Resp. Ex. F at 52-54). Turning to the current claims, the trial court explained:
1. DEFENDANT WAS CONFUSED AT THE TIME OF
ENTERING HIS PLEA BECAUSE HIS ATTORNEY DID
NOT SUFFICIENTLY INVESTIGATE OR SHARE WITH
HIM HIS “DISCOVERY.” The entire and thorough plea
colloquy refutes any claims that Defendant was confused at the
time of entering his plea. [See Exhibit “C”] Furthermore, the
Defendant’s personal letter to the trial court [Judge Norton]
establishes that he was fully aware of his guilt. [See Exhibit
2. DEFENDANT WAS LED TO BELIEVE THAT HE WOULD
BE SENTENCED TO A TERM OF INCARCERATION
In this letter, Petitioner admitted wrongdoing, apologized for his mistakes, and
recognized the need for punishment, but told Judge Norton that drug-use had affected
his judgment and asked the judge for leniency. (Id. at 184-85).
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BETWEEN 8 AND 15 YEARS. The Defendant was clearly told,
and clearly acknowledged, that his sentence would be between
15 and 30 years [with a mandatory minimum sentence of 15
years] if he was arrested for a new criminal law violation. [See
Exhibit “C” at 14-17, 19] The Defendant violated the agreement
by committing the crime of Tampering with Evidence. He
entered a plea of guilty to this offense and was sentenced to a
term of five (5) years in prison in Case Number 2012-CF-004761.
(Id. at 54-55).
Petitioner appealed the denial of post-conviction relief to the First DCA.
However, the First DCA dismissed the appeal, evidently because Petitioner
failed to file a timely notice of appeal. Webster, 229 So. 3d 1227; (Resp. Exs. G,
H). See also Shaw v. EPI Townsend, LLC, 107 So. 3d 558 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013)
(appellant’s failure to file a timely notice of appeal required the DCA to dismiss
the appeal for lack of jurisdiction). Respondent fails to mention that the First
DCA dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, but instead concedes that
Grounds One and Two were properly exhausted and addresses them on the
merits. (Doc. 15 at 12, 19). For purposes of this Order, the Court assumes that
Petitioner’s claims are exhausted and otherwise cognizable on federal habeas
review. Nevertheless, applying de novo review, they are without merit. 8
It is unclear whether AEDPA deference applies to the trial court’s decision
under the unique circumstances here, where the trial court issued a reasoned decision
on the merits, the last state court to issue a decision (the First DCA) did so on state
procedural grounds, but the respondent fails to raise that procedural defense and
addresses the merits. See Edwards v. Harrington, No. ED CV–10–00968–VBF (VBK),
2011 WL 4434539, at *9–10 & n.5 (C.D. Cal. July 20, 2011) (describing the same
dilemma with respect to claims decided on the merits by a lower state court but that
were unexhausted). In an abundance of caution, the Court reviews the claims de novo,
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Petitioner argues that the trial court’s ruling was based on an
unreasonable determination of the facts. (Doc. 1 at 22-23). However, even upon
de novo review, the Court concludes that Grounds One and Two lack merit
based on the state-court record, including Petitioner’s sworn statements during
the change-of-plea colloquy.
The Supreme Court has held that “[b]efore deciding whether to plead
guilty, a defendant is entitled to the effective assistance of competent counsel.”
Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356, 364 (2010) (quotation marks omitted). Thus,
“[t]he Supreme Court has long recognized that Strickland’s two-part inquiry
applies to ineffective assistance of counsel arising out of the plea process.” Osley
v. United States, 751 F.3d 1214, 1222 (11th Cir. 2014) (citing Hill v. Lockhart,
474 U.S. 52, 57 (1985)). As with any ineffective assistance claim, a petitioner
must demonstrate that counsel’s performance was deficient and that, but for
counsel’s deficient performance, there is a reasonable probability the result of
the proceeding would have been different. Hill, 474 U.S. at 57 (citing Strickland,
466 U.S. at 687-88, 694). Where a petitioner claims that counsel’s misadvice
caused him to plead guilty, demonstrating prejudice means “show[ing] that
but nevertheless finds that they lack merit. See Berghuis v. Thompkins, 560 U.S. 370,
390 (2010) (“Courts can, however, deny writs of habeas corpus under § 2254 by
engaging in de novo review when it is unclear whether AEDPA deference applies,
because a habeas petitioner will not be entitled to a writ of habeas corpus if his or her
claim is rejected on de novo review.”). The Court also considers, and rejects, the
remaining grounds upon de novo review of the merits.
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there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s errors, he would not
have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.” Id. at 59.
The Supreme Court has said that “[s]olemn declarations in open court
carry a strong presumption of verity,” and as such, there is a strong
presumption that statements made during a plea colloquy are true. Blackledge
v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63, 74 (1977). A prisoner often “has everything to gain and
nothing to lose from filing a collateral attack upon his guilty plea.” Id. at 71-72.
Therefore, to preserve the advantages of plea bargaining, “the representations
of the defendant, his lawyer, and the prosecutor at [a plea] hearing, as well as
any findings made by the judge accepting the plea, constitute a formidable
barrier in any subsequent collateral proceedings.” Id. at 73-74. A prisoner who
has made statements at a plea colloquy “‘bears a heavy burden to show his
statements were false.’” Winthrop-Redin v. United States, 767 F.3d 1210, 1217
(11th Cir. 2014) (quoting United States v. Rogers, 848 F.2d 166, 168 (11th Cir.
1988)). “The subsequent presentation of conclusory allegations unsupported by
specifics is subject to summary dismissal, as are contentions that in the face of
the record are wholly incredible.” Blackledge, 431 U.S. at 74. The Supreme
Court has cautioned that “[c]ourts should not upset a plea solely because
of post hoc assertions from a defendant about how he would have pleaded but
for his attorney’s deficiencies. Judges should instead look to contemporaneous
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 18 of 47 PageID 695
evidence to substantiate a defendant’s expressed preferences.” Lee v. United
States, 137 S. Ct. 1958, 1967 (2017).
The transcript of the change-of-plea colloquy refutes Petitioner’s
allegations that he pleaded guilty unknowingly. (Resp. Ex. A at 186-213).
During the plea hearing before Judge Norton on March 30, 2012, Petitioner
admitted to violating probation in Case Number 11-743 and pleaded guilty to
conspiracy to traffic cocaine in Case Number 12-1635 “pursuant to a negotiated
sentence.” (Id. at 192). First, Petitioner affirmed under oath that, having
discussed the matter with his counsel, he knowingly and freely admitted to a
violation of probation (which was based on the conspiracy to traffic cocaine). (Id.
Next, the court took Petitioner’s guilty plea for conspiracy to traffic
cocaine. The information charged:
IAN CHAD WEBSTER on February 15, 2012, in the County of
Duval and the State of Florida, did agree, conspire, combine or
confederate with Karen Perla and Jandy Cruz, to knowingly sell,
purchase, manufacture, deliver, bring into the State, or to be
knowingly in actual or constructive possession of 400 grams or more
but less than 150 kilograms of Cocaine, contrary to the provisions
of Sections 893.135(5) and 777.04(3), Florida Statutes.
(Id. at 66). Trial counsel stipulated, in Petitioner’s presence, that there was a
factual basis for the guilty plea. (Id. at 193). The court inquired whether
Petitioner understood the plea agreement, the nature of the charge, and the
rights he waived by pleading guilty:
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 19 of 47 PageID 696
… At this time, sir, I’m holding up a white form,
and this white form is exactly 1, 2, 3, 4 – – 6
pages. Did you have an opportunity, sir, to read
all six of these pages (indicating)?
And, sir, is that your initials I’m looking at
All right. After reading this, did you discuss it
with your lawyer?
And did he explain it to you completely, including
any possible defenses you may have, as well as
discussing the implications of your plea, sir?
Are you fully satisfied with his representation of
After discussions with your lawyer, did you sign
the Plea of Guilty in Negotiated Sentence form,
And, sir, is this your signature I’m pointing to
As the trial court noted in its order denying Rule 3.850 relief, an unsealed
version of the written plea agreement is not available in the record. (Resp. Ex. F at
53). However, the relevant contents of the agreement were read into the record during
the change-of-plea hearing.
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 20 of 47 PageID 697
Sir, do you understand that you have the right to
plead not guilty?
And, sir, are you pleading guilty today[ ] because
you’re in fact guilty, or because you believe it to
be in your best interest?
I guess, it’s in my best interest.
All right. And do you understand that there will
be no trial in this case, sir?
You’re also giving up your right to call witnesses,
to examine and cross-examine witnesses, as well
as the right to remain silent. This means if you’re
asked about this matter under oath, you must
answer fully and truthfully.
You’re also giving up the right to appeal all
matters relating to the judgment, including the
issue of guilt or innocence.
Do you understand that, sir?
And, Mr. Kennedy [the prosecutor], if you would
announce what Mr. Webster is pleading to today,
and the maximum prison exposure he is facing?
MR. KENNEDY: Your Honor, he is pleading to the one count
Information, which is conspiracy to trafficking in
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 21 of 47 PageID 698
In this scenario, it’s one kilo of cocaine, and this
is a first-degree felony, which is punishable by up
to 30 years[ ] in the Florida State Prison.
And, Mr. Webster, do you understand the nature
of that charge?
Before proceeding further, has your lawyer done
everything that you requested?
Is there anything else that you want done in this
case, before proceeding further?
(Resp. Ex. A at 196-99).
Next, the trial court advised Petitioner that it was “going to go over the
sentencing options that [were] under [his] agreement, to make sure [he]
completely underst[oo]d them.” (Id. at 199). The court advised Petitioner that
the following sentencing ranges and contingencies applied:
(1) If Petitioner satisfied the conditions of the agreement and his
cooperation led to the filing of at least three prosecutable state
narcotics trafficking cases carrying a mandatory minimum
sentence of three years or greater, or if his cooperation led to the
filing of three or more “acceptable and prosecutable” cases that
were not state narcotics trafficking cases, Petitioner’s
sentencing range would be 5 to 12 years in prison.
(2) If Petitioner’s cooperation did not lead to the filing of any
prosecutable state narcotics trafficking cases, but Petitioner
complied with the terms of the agreement, including by
providing “substantial proactive assistance or truthful
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 22 of 47 PageID 699
testimony,” Petitioner’s sentencing range would be 8 to 15 years
(3) If Petitioner violated the terms of the agreement, such as by
providing false information, being arrested for a new law
violation, or failing to appear for a proceeding, hearing, or
interview, his sentencing range would be 15 to 30 years in
prison. The State would need to prove a violation of the plea
agreement only by a preponderance of the evidence.
(Id. at 199-204) (paraphrased). Petitioner affirmed that he understood each of
these terms. Petitioner also affirmed his understanding that the State Attorney
had sole discretion to decide whether a case was prosecutable. (Id. at 200).
Finally, the court inquired whether Petitioner’s guilty plea was free and
Mr. Webster, has anyone threatened or coerced
you into entering this plea?
Has anyone promised you anything[ ] in order to
get you to this plea?
Are you entering this plea freely, willingly, and
Yes, I am.
Sir, do you have any questions?
No, I don’t.
Sir, are you currently under the influence of any
drugs, alcohol, or medication?
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 23 of 47 PageID 700
No, I’m not.
I will find there is a factual basis to accept your
plea, and accept it at this time.
(Resp. Ex. A at 204-05).
The foregoing record shows that Petitioner entered his guilty plea
knowingly and freely. Contrary to the allegation in Ground One that Petitioner
did not understand how the facts related to the law, Petitioner stated, under
oath, that he understood the charge (which was not complex), that he had
discussed his plea decision with counsel, and that he knowingly pleaded guilty.
Petitioner’s counsel stipulated (in Petitioner’s presence) that there was a factual
basis for the guilty plea. To the extent Petitioner claims that counsel failed to
share all discovery with him, or that he felt rushed into pleading guilty, his
sworn statements discredit that claim. Petitioner stated that he was satisfied
with his counsel’s representation (id. at 197) and that there was nothing more
he wanted done in the case (id. at 199). Petitioner affirmed that he was not
coerced into pleading guilty. (Id. at 204-05). Petitioner also claims he was
“confused” about his plea options because of counsel’s misadvice. But Petitioner
acknowledged, under oath, that he knew he had the right to plead not guilty,
that he had the right to a trial, and that he waived that right by pleading guilty.
Indeed, at the sentencing hearing, trial counsel explained to the trial court that
Petitioner “advised [him] from the start he was not going to fight [the charge],
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 24 of 47 PageID 701
he wasn’t going to put the State to its burden of proof. It was clear that he had
violated the law.” (Resp. Ex. B at 228).
Petitioner claims that the plea colloquy did not comply with Rule 11 of
the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure because the trial court did not advise
him of each element of the offense. (Doc. 1 at 20). “The plea colloquy, provided
in Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, constitutes the
constitutional minimum requirements for a knowing and voluntary plea for
federal courts, but that rule is not binding on state courts.” Stano v. Dugger,
921 F.2d 1125, 1141 (11th Cir. 1991) (citations omitted). “The defendant does
not necessarily need to be told the nature of the offense and elements of the
crime at the actual plea proceedings; a knowing and intelligent guilty plea may
be entered on the basis of the receipt of this information, generally from defense
counsel, before the plea proceedings.” Id. at 1142 (citations omitted).
A reviewing federal court may set aside a state court guilty plea
only for failure to satisfy due process: “If a defendant understands
the charges against him, understands the consequences of a guilty
plea, and voluntarily chooses to plead guilty, without being coerced
to do so, the guilty plea ... will be upheld on federal review.”
Id. at 1141 (quoting Frank v. Blackburn, 646 F.2d 873, 882 (5th Cir. 1980) (en
banc)). As explained above, the record establishes that Petitioner (1) understood
the charge against him, (2) understood the consequences of pleading guilty, and
(3) pleaded guilty free of coercion, having discussed the matter with his lawyer.
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 25 of 47 PageID 702
The record also refutes Petitioner’s claim in Ground Two that, due to
counsel’s misadvice, he did not understand the potential penalties under the
plea agreement, or that the trial court “deviated” from the terms of the
agreement. The trial court advised Petitioner that it was “going to go over the
sentencing options that are under your agreement, to make sure you completely
understand them.” (Resp. Ex. A at 199) (emphasis added). As the trial court
reviewed those terms, there was no indication that they differed from the terms
in the written agreement (which Petitioner confirmed he had reviewed with
counsel). Contrary to Petitioner’s allegation that he thought the maximum
sentence would be 15 years in prison, he affirmed under oath that he understood
the maximum penalty to be 30 years in prison, and that if he violated the
agreement, such as by getting arrested for a new law violation, the sentencing
range would be 15 to 30 years’ imprisonment. Petitioner further affirmed that
the State would need to prove a violation of the cooperation agreement by a
preponderance of the evidence, and that he had discussed the preponderanceof-the-evidence standard with his counsel. And, contrary to his claim that the
court failed to inquire whether any promises were made to induce Petitioner to
plead guilty, the judge asked Petitioner whether “anyone promised you
anything[ ] in order to get you to this plea,” to which Petitioner responded, “No,
ma’am.” (Id. at 205).
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 26 of 47 PageID 703
After Petitioner entered into the cooperation plea agreement, he was
charged with, and pleaded guilty to, tampering with evidence while working as
a police informant. (Resp. Ex. A at 84, 127-31; Resp. Ex. B at 216-25). That
breach triggered the 15-to-30-year sentencing range under the terms of his
agreement. Notably, when the prosecutor explained at the sentencing hearing
that Petitioner was subject to a range of 15 to 30 years in prison, Petitioner
voiced neither surprise nor objection. (Resp. Ex. B at 226-27, 235). When given
the chance to speak, Petitioner acknowledged that he had broken the law and
requested a sentence below the mandatory minimum because he had “a very
bad drug problem.” (Id. at 235). The trial court ultimately sentenced Petitioner
to a total term of 20 years in prison. (Id. at 240-41). After the court explained
why it imposed that sentence, Petitioner affirmed that he understood why, but
that he had hoped for 15 years in prison. (Id. at 244).
Thus, the record contradicts Petitioner’s allegations in Grounds One and
Two that, because of counsel’s misadvice, he did not enter his plea knowingly
and voluntarily. Although sworn statements during a plea colloquy are not
insurmountable, Petitioner has not carried his burden of overcoming them.
Accordingly, relief on Grounds One and Two is denied.
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 27 of 47 PageID 704
B. Ground Three
Petitioner claims there “was no factual basis to support the plea of guilt[y]
to trafficking in cocaine” because the factual basis did not support each element
of the charge. (Doc. 1 at 8, 27-29). In Case Number 12-1635, Petitioner was
arrested and charged with conspiracy to traffic cocaine after he and two codefendants met with a confidential source at a mall to purchase a kilogram of
cocaine. Petitioner states that he was arrested before he could purchase the
agreed-upon amount of drugs. (Id. at 27). According to Petitioner, “[a] defendant
who is convicted of any level of trafficking has to have full possession of the said
drugs in order to satisfy all requirements [embedded] in [Statute] Fla.
893.135(5).” (Id. at 8, 27). Thus, according to Petitioner, a defendant may not be
convicted of trafficking cocaine where the defendant is arrested before the drugs
are released to the defendant’s actual possession. (Id. at 27).
Petitioner admits that he “made an attempt to purchase [cocaine] from
the confidential informant, but was subsequently arrested before the said drugs
could be taken under his full control[ ].” (Id. at 28). As such, he claims he never
had possession of the drugs because the transaction was never consummated.
(Id.). Petitioner claims he should have been convicted of attempted trafficking
instead. (Id. at 28-29) (citing Sherwood v. State, 734 So. 2d 1050 (Fla. 1st DCA
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 28 of 47 PageID 705
1998)). 10 Petitioner further claims that he would not have pleaded guilty had
counsel advised him that the factual basis was inadequate to establish each
element of the offense. (Id. at 29).
Petitioner raised a similar claim in ground three of his Amended Rule
3.850 Motion. (Resp. Ex. F at 42-43). The trial court denied the claim, writing:
3. DEFENDANT CLAIMS THERE WAS NO FACTUAL BASIS
TO SUPPORT HIS PLEA. This is not a cognizable claim under
Rule 3.850 because it could, and should, have been raised on
direct appeal. However, the record supports the existence of a
factual basis for the plea. [Exhibit “Q”] This claim is untimely.
(Id. at 55). “Exhibit Q,” which the trial court attached to its order, is the arrest
report for conspiracy to traffic cocaine. (Id. at 187-89). It states:
On 02-15-12, a narcotics investigation was conducted at 10300
Southside Blvd (Avenues Mall)[.] Suspect [Petitioner] was
introduced to the confidential source by co-defendants 1 & 2. The
suspect took possession of the kilogram of cocaine and tested it in
front of the co-defendants. The suspect and co-defendants were
together when the $31,500 was delivered to the confidential source
for the purchase of the cocaine.
When the suspect was taken into custody he was forced to the
ground where he chipped his front tooth. The suspect refused rescue
at the scene.
The suspect was transported to the narcotics office where he was
interviewed by Detectives Maynard and Bennett.
In addition to Sherwood, Petitioner cites a number of state decisions in Ground
Three of his Petition. However, none of these cases involved defendants who were
charged with and convicted of conspiracy.
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 29 of 47 PageID 706
Post Miranda the suspect gave a full confession and written
statement about his involvement in the purchase of the kilogram of
The suspect was booked into the [Pretrial Detention Facility].
(Id. at 188).
Petitioner appealed the denial of post-conviction relief to the First DCA.
However, the First DCA dismissed the appeal because Petitioner did not file a
timely notice of appeal. Webster, 229 So. 3d 1227; (Resp. Exs. G, H). Respondent
fails to mention this procedural default, but instead concedes that the claim was
properly exhausted. (Doc. 15 at 23). 11 For purposes of this Order, the Court
assumes that the claim is exhausted but concludes it is without merit.
“[D]ue process does not require a state court to find a factual basis for a
guilty plea unaccompanied by a claim of innocence.” Massey v. Warden, 733 F.
App’x 980, 990 n.6 (11th Cir. 2018) (citing Wallace v. Turner, 695 F.2d 545, 548
(11th Cir. 1983)). Petitioner does not claim innocence, nor could he plausibly do
so. Petitioner admitted wrongdoing in his letter to Judge Norton (Resp. Ex. F
at 184-85), at his sentencing (Resp. Ex. B at 235), and in the instant Petition,
where he admits he attempted to buy cocaine from a confidential source (Doc. 1
Despite this concession, Respondent may have preserved a procedural default
defense when it observed that the trial court denied the claim as not cognizable under
Rule 3.850 because it could, and should, have been raised on direct appeal. (Doc. 15 at
24); see also Kimbrough v. Sec’y, Fla. Dep’t of Corr., 809 F. App’x 684, 690-91 (11th
Cir. 2020). However, regardless of whether the claim is procedurally defaulted, the
Court finds that it fails on the merits.
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 30 of 47 PageID 707
at 28-29). Petitioner’s claim that the factual basis was inadequate centers on
the fact that he never took possession of the cocaine. But as shown below, that
is irrelevant to whether he was guilty of conspiracy to traffic cocaine.
Petitioner was charged with, and pleaded guilty to, conspiracy to traffic
cocaine, in violation of Florida Statutes Section 893.135(5). (Resp. Ex. A at 66,
132-37). A person commits the offense of trafficking cocaine if he “knowingly
sells, purchases, manufactures, delivers, or brings into this state, or … is
knowingly in actual or constructive possession of, 28 grams or more of cocaine,
as described in s. 893.03(2)(a)4., or of any mixture containing cocaine, but less
than 150 kilograms of cocaine or any such mixture.” Id., § 893.135(1)(b) (2012).
If the amount of cocaine is 400 grams or more, but less than 150 kilograms, the
crime is punishable by a mandatory minimum of 15 years in prison. Id., §
893.135(1)(b)1.c (2012). The statute provides that “[a]ny person who agrees,
conspires, combines, or confederates with another person to commit any act
prohibited by subsection (1) commits a felony of the first degree and is
punishable as if he or she had actually committed such prohibited act.” Id., §
893.135(5) (2012). “The crime of conspiracy consists of an express or implied
agreement between two or more persons to commit a criminal offense. Both an
agreement and an intention to commit an offense are necessary elements of the
crime.” George v. State, 208 So. 3d 838, 839 (Fla. 5th DCA 2017) (citation
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 31 of 47 PageID 708
The record shows that a factual basis supported Petitioner’s guilty plea.
A defendant who pleads guilty admits the facts alleged by the State. See
Vernold v. State, 376 So. 2d 1166, 1167 (Fla. 1979). The information charged
that on February 15, 2012, in Duval County, Florida, Petitioner “did agree,
conspire, combine or confederate with Karen Perla and Jandy Cruz, to
knowingly sell, purchase, manufacture, deliver, bring into the State, or to be
knowingly in actual or constructive possession of 400 grams or more but less
than 150 kilograms of Cocaine.” (Resp. Ex. A at 66). The arrest report, which
the trial court appended to its order denying Rule 3.850 relief, furnished further
factual support for the guilty plea. See Hall v. State, 603 So. 2d 650, 650-51
(Fla. 1st DCA 1992) (on remand, instructing post-conviction court to attach the
arrest report on which it relied to find a factual basis for the defendant’s guilty
plea). The arrest report detailed how Petitioner and two co-defendants met a
confidential source at the Avenues Mall to purchase one kilogram of cocaine.
(Resp. Ex. F at 188). Petitioner sampled some of the cocaine at the meeting and,
along with his co-conspirators, delivered $31,500 to the confidential source.
Indeed, Petitioner’s counsel stipulated that a factual basis supported the guilty
plea. (Resp. Ex. A at 193).
Petitioner’s argument that the factual basis fell short because he never
took possession of the cocaine is unavailing. Petitioner pleaded guilty to
conspiracy to traffic cocaine, not trafficking cocaine itself. “Conspiracy is a
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 32 of 47 PageID 709
separate and distinct crime from the offense which is the object of the
conspiracy.” George, 208 So. 3d at 839. Thus, “a punishable conspiracy may
exist whether or not the crime intended to be accomplished by it was
committed.” King v. State, 104 So. 2d 730, 732 (Fla. 1957). The information and
arrest report each support the existence of “an express or implied agreement
between two or more persons” to traffic more than 400 grams of cocaine, coupled
with an intent to commit the offense. George, 208 So. 3d at 839.
Thus, the factual basis was sufficient. To the extent Petitioner claims
counsel was ineffective for stipulating that a factual basis existed, that claim
lacks merit as well. Accordingly, relief on Ground Three is denied.
C. Ground Four
Petitioner claims that his plea agreement was illegitimate because its
terms violated Florida law, rendering its benefits illusory. (See Doc. 1 at 10, 3033). Specifically, Petitioner contends that the plea agreement’s substantial
assistance provisions did not comply with Florida Statutes Section 893.135. The
statute contains a subsection on substantial assistance that provides:
The state attorney may move the sentencing court to reduce or
suspend the sentence of any person who is convicted of a violation
of this section and who provides substantial assistance in the
identification, arrest, or conviction of any of that person’s
accomplices, accessories, coconspirators, or principals or of any
other person engaged in trafficking in controlled substances. The
arresting agency shall be given an opportunity to be heard in
aggravation or mitigation in reference to any such motion. Upon
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 33 of 47 PageID 710
good cause shown, the motion may be filed and heard in camera.
The judge hearing the motion may reduce or suspend the sentence
if the judge finds that the defendant rendered such substantial
Fla. Stat. § 893.135(4) (2012). Petitioner contends that his plea agreement
violated § 893.135(4) because it authorized him to be sentenced below the 15year mandatory minimum if he provided substantial assistance regarding
crimes other than the February 2012 trafficking offense for which he was
charged. 12 Thus, he contends, the plea bargain was void because the substantial
assistance benefits were unlawful and illusory. Petitioner also claims that
counsel gave ineffective assistance by allowing him to enter the plea agreement.
Petitioner raised a similar claim in ground four of his Amended Rule
3.850 Motion. (Resp. Ex. F at 44-45). The trial court denied the claim as
procedurally barred, untimely, and meritless.
4. THE PLEA AGREEMENT WAS UNLAWFUL OR “NOT
LEGITIMATE” BECAUSE IT REQUIRED HIM TO SET UP
NEW CASES BY WORKING AS AN INFORMANT FOR
LAW ENFORCEMENT: This, too, is not a cognizable claim
under Rule 3.850 because it could, and should, have been raised
on direct appeal. The Court also finds this claim to be untimely.
Defendant purchased a trafficking quantity of cocaine from a
confidential source. He was immediately arrested and gave
police a complete confession. Trial counsel wisely viewed the
case as one in which Defendant needed to cooperate, which
Defendant agreed to do, to avoid a fifteen (15) year minimum
Petitioner references § 893.135(3), but it appears he intended to reference §
893.135(4). The substantial assistance provision used to be located in subsection (3),
but at least since 1987 it has been located under subsection (4).
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 34 of 47 PageID 711
mandatory sentence. However, on the first case involving his
cooperation, Defendant attempted to take crack cocaine
(evidence) in violation of his plea agreement.
(Resp. Ex. F at 55-56).
Petitioner appealed the denial of post-conviction relief to the First DCA.
However, the First DCA dismissed the appeal because Petitioner did not file a
timely notice of appeal. Webster, 229 So. 3d 1227; (Resp. Exs. G, H). Respondent
fails to mention this procedural default, but instead concedes that the claim was
properly exhausted. (Doc. 15 at 27). 13 For purposes of this Order, the Court
assumes that the claim is exhausted but concludes it is without merit.
The Supreme Court has held that “when a plea rests in any significant
degree on a promise or agreement of the prosecutor, so that it can be said to be
part of the inducement or consideration, such promise must be fulfilled.”
Santobello v. New York, 404 U.S. 257, 262 (1971). If a plea agreement makes
illusory promises, “it would fail from the outset due to a lack of valid
consideration.” United States v. Hunter, 835 F.3d 1320, 1326 (11th Cir. 2016).14
Respondent may have preserved a procedural default defense when it observed
that the trial court denied the claim because it could have been raised on direct appeal.
(Doc. 15 at 28); see also Kimbrough, 809 F. App’x at 690-91. Whether or not the claim
is defaulted, the Court finds that it fails on the merits.
To the extent Petitioner claims his plea agreement or resulting sentence
violated Florida law, “federal habeas corpus relief does not lie for errors of state law.”
Swarthout v. Cooke, 562 U.S. 216, 219 (2011) (internal quotation marks and citations
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 35 of 47 PageID 712
Under the cooperation plea agreement, Petitioner faced three sentencing
ranges, depending on his level of cooperation and assistance. (Resp. Ex. A at
199-204). First, if Petitioner’s efforts led to the filing of three or more
prosecutable state narcotics trafficking cases carrying a mandatory minimum
sentence of three years or greater, or if it led to the filing of three or more
“acceptable and prosecutable” cases that were not state narcotics trafficking
cases, Petitioner’s sentencing range would be 5 to 12 years in prison. Second, if
Petitioner’s cooperation did not lead to the filing of any prosecutable state
narcotics trafficking cases, but Petitioner complied with the terms of the
agreement, including by providing “substantial proactive assistance or truthful
testimony,” the sentencing range would be 8 to 15 years in prison. Third, if
Petitioner violated the terms of the agreement, such as by providing false
information or being arrested for a new law violation, his sentencing range
would be 15 to 30 years in prison.
Contrary to Petitioner’s allegations, his plea agreement did not violate
Section 893.135(4) by promising to reward Petitioner for cooperating against
someone other than his co-defendants in the February 2012 trafficking offense.
The statute authorizes a sentence reduction if a defendant “provides substantial
assistance in the identification, arrest, or conviction of any of that person’s
accomplices, accessories, coconspirators, or principals or of any other person
engaged in trafficking in controlled substances.” Fla. Stat. § 893.135(4) (2012)
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 36 of 47 PageID 713
(emphasis added). Thus, Florida law “recognizes that a defendant convicted of
a violation of section 893.135 may benefit via a general reduction of sentence
for assistance relating to matters outside of the particular drug charge against
him,” provided that the requirements of § 893.135(4) are met. Soto v. State, 515
So. 2d 249, 250 (Fla. 5th DCA 1987). 15 To the extent the plea agreement
substantial assistance in other drug-trafficking cases, the agreement was
consistent with § 893.135(4).
And, the type of assistance Petitioner attempted to provide fell within the
scope of § 893.135(4) and the plea agreement. Petitioner attempted to provide
assistance in a narcotics-trafficking case when he made a controlled purchase
of crack cocaine from a suspect. (See Resp. Ex. A at 78; Resp. Ex. B at 217).
Unfortunately, on his first attempt to cooperate, Petitioner was caught on video
taking several pieces of the cocaine he had just purchased, which led to his
conviction for tampering with evidence. (Resp. Ex. B at 217). Petitioner failed
Petitioner relies on Campbell v. State, 453 So. 2d 525 (Fla. 5th DCA 1984),
which the Fifth DCA decided three years before Soto. In Campbell, the court ruled
that § 893.135 did not permit a sentence reduction where a defendant provided
substantial assistance in a drug-trafficking case unrelated to his own charge, and
therefore allowed the defendant to withdraw from his plea agreement. Id. at 526.
However, the version of § 893.135 in effect when Campbell was decided was different.
It only authorized a sentence reduction if the defendant cooperated against “his
accomplices, accessories, coconspirators, or principals.” Fla. Stat. § 893.135(3) (1983).
Later versions of the statute authorized a sentence reduction if the defendant
cooperated, in the alternative, against “any other person engaged in trafficking in
controlled substances.” Fla. Stat. § 893.135(4) (1987).
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 37 of 47 PageID 714
to reap the benefits of the cooperation agreement not because it violated Florida
law, but because Petitioner violated the agreement.
Contrary to Petitioner’s claims, the plea agreement was consistent with §
893.135(4), at least as the agreement was applied to Petitioner. As the trial
court noted, “[t]rial counsel wisely viewed the case as one in which Defendant
needed to cooperate.” (Resp. Ex. F at 55). Petitioner had reportedly given a full
confession to conspiring to traffic cocaine (id. at 188), and the plea agreement
gave Petitioner the opportunity to escape a 15-year mandatory minimum (see
Resp. Ex. B at 228-29 (counsel discussing the benefits of the cooperation deal)).
Unfortunately, Petitioner violated the agreement. Because the plea agreement
was lawful, and because counsel was not ineffective in negotiating the
agreement, relief on Ground Four is denied.
D. Ground Five
Petitioner claims that the trial court and trial counsel erred by failing to
advise him he could seek withdrawal of his guilty plea to conspiracy-to-traffic
cocaine. (Doc. 1 at 34-37). Petitioner claims that counsel gave ineffective
assistance by not moving to withdraw Petitioner’s plea “when it was determined
that he would not [receive] the [sentence] that Petitioner believed he would
obtain for pleading guilty to the said offense.” (Id. at 34). Petitioner claims that
“[o]nce it was decided that the Petitioner would not receive the 8-15 year
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 38 of 47 PageID 715
sentence promised by his counsel and the State Attorney, it was an affirmative
duty to permit the Petitioner an opportunity to withdraw his plea and then
leave it up to the judge to accept the motion or deny it.” (Id.).
Petitioner raised a similar claim in ground five of his Amended Rule 3.850
Motion. (Resp. Ex. F at 56). The trial court denied the claim, explaining:
5. TRIAL COUNSEL WAS INEFFECTIVE FOR FAILING TO
INFORM DEFENDANT THAT HE COULD WITHDRAW
HIS PLEA WHEN GUIDELINE SENTENCE RANGE WAS
FOR A LONGER SENTENCE THAN CONTEMPLATED AT
TIME PLEA OF GUILTY WAS ENTERED. The guideline
range in the instant case was of little significance to the
sentencing in the instant case because Defendant violated the
plea agreement and was facing a minimum sentence of fifteen
(15) years. It should also be noted that Defendant committed a
new crime between the time he entered the plea and was
sentenced which would account for an increase in his guideline
score. This claim is untimely filed.
Petitioner appealed the denial of Rule 3.850 relief, but the First DCA
dismissed the appeal because Petitioner failed to file a timely notice of appeal.
Webster, 229 So. 3d 1227; (Resp. Exs. G, H). Respondent fails to mention this
procedural default, but instead concedes that the claim was properly exhausted
and addresses it on the merits. (Doc. 15 at 30). For purposes of this Order, the
Court assumes that the claim is exhausted.
Nevertheless, the claim is due to be denied because it is without merit. As
Respondent points out, to withdraw a guilty plea before sentencing, “the
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 39 of 47 PageID 716
defendant has the burden to show good and sufficient cause to support the
withdrawal.” (Doc. 15 at 34 (citing Gunn v. State, 841 So. 2d 629, 630 (Fla. 2d
DCA 2003); Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.170(f))). “In order to show cause why the plea
should be withdrawn, mere allegations are not enough; the defense must offer
proof that the plea was not voluntarily and intelligently entered.” Robinson v.
State, 761 So. 2d 269, 274 (Fla. 1999) (citations omitted). As discussed regarding
Grounds One and Two, the record establishes that Petitioner knowingly and
voluntarily pleaded guilty to conspiracy to traffic cocaine under the cooperation
acknowledged that if he violated its conditions, he would be subject to a
sentencing range of 15 to 30 years in prison. Petitioner subsequently violated
the agreement by tampering with evidence, an offense he also admitted at his
sentencing hearing. (Resp. Ex. B at 216-25). That violation triggered the
sentencing range of 15 to 30 years in prison. Petitioner’s allegation that he
thought he would still be subject to a reduced sentencing range of 8 to 15 years,
despite violating his plea agreement and tampering with evidence, is incredible.
Indeed, Petitioner expressed no desire to withdraw from his guilty plea at the
sentencing hearing, even after hearing the applicable sentencing range.
Assuming, arguendo, that counsel and the trial court failed to advise
Petitioner that he could seek withdrawal of his guilty plea under Fla. R. Crim.
P. 3.170(f), Petitioner has not shown prejudice. Even if Petitioner had moved to
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 40 of 47 PageID 717
withdraw his guilty plea, Petitioner could not have shown that his plea was
entered unknowingly or involuntarily. Thus, Petitioner has failed to establish
a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s omission, the outcome of the
proceeding would have been different. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. As such,
relief on this ground is denied.
E. Ground Six
Next, Petitioner claims that the trial court erred when he was sentenced
by a different judge (the Honorable James Daniel) from the one who took his
guilty plea and “was familiar with the case” (the Honorable Virginia Norton).
(Doc. 1 at 38-41). Without explanation, Judge Norton recused herself before
Petitioner’s sentencing (Resp. Ex. A at 125-26), which Petitioner claims left him
“in the blind about his course of options,” denied him due process, and subjected
him to a harsher sentence (Doc. 1 at 38). Petitioner suggests that the change of
judges prejudiced him because Judge Daniel imposed a different sentence than
Judge Norton would have. (See id. at 39-40). Petitioner alleges that Judge
Daniel did not have all the information necessary to impose sentence, but he
does not describe what information Judge Daniel was lacking. (Id. at 40).
Petitioner also argues that counsel should have objected to Judge Norton’s
recusal. (Id. at 40-41).
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 41 of 47 PageID 718
Petitioner raised a similar claim in ground six of his Amended Rule 3.850
Motion. (Resp. Ex. F at 48-49). The trial court denied the claim, explaining:
6. TRIAL COUNSEL WAS INEFFECTIVE FOR ALLOWING
JUDGE NORTON (ORIGINAL TRIAL JUDGE) TO
RECUSE FROM THE CASE WITHOUT PROPERLY
JUSTIFICATION FOR THE RECUSAL. There was no
requirement that Judge Norton explain to Defendant or
Defendant’s counsel the reasons for her decision to enter an
order of disqualification. Therefore, trial counsel could not be
ineffective for failing to inform Defendant of Judge Norton’s
reasons for disqualification. The claim is also untimely filed.
(Id. at 56). Petitioner appealed the denial of Rule 3.850 relief to the First DCA,
which dismissed the appeal because of Petitioner’s failure to file a timely notice
of appeal. Webster, 229 So. 3d 1227; (Resp. Exs. G, H). However, Respondent
concedes that this claim is exhausted and does not assert procedural default.
(Doc. 15 at 36). Assuming that the claim is properly before the Court, it is due
to be denied because it is without merit.
Petitioner fails to point to any clearly established rule or law that requires
a trial judge to explain the reasons for his or her recusal, or that a due process
violation occurs when a defendant is sentenced by a different judge from the
one who presided over his change of plea. Moreover, Petitioner’s argument that
he was prejudiced because Judge Daniel imposed a harsher sentence than
Judge Norton would have imposed is purely speculative. Petitioner has no way
of knowing how Judge Norton would have sentenced him. And, although the 2041
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 42 of 47 PageID 719
year sentence that Judge Daniel imposed was greater than the 15-year
mandatory minimum, it was also less than the 23-to-30-year sentence that the
State sought. (See Resp. Ex. B at 237-38). To the extent Petitioner argues that
the sentencing judge was not familiar with the case, the sentencing transcript
shows that Judge Daniel was well-informed about the facts of the case, the
procedural history, and Petitioner’s personal circumstances. (See id. at 216-45).
Had trial counsel objected to Judge Daniel sentencing Petitioner instead
of Judge Norton, the claim would have been meritless. “A lawyer cannot be
deficient for failing to raise a meritless claim.” Freeman v. Att’y General, 536
F.3d 1225, 1233 (11th Cir. 2008). As such, relief on Ground Six is denied.
F. Ground Seven
Finally, Petitioner claims that counsel gave ineffective assistance by
failing to investigate the circumstances surrounding the charge of tampering
with evidence (which also established that he violated his plea agreement).
(Doc. 1 at 42-49). Petitioner alleges that he did not tamper with evidence or
violate his cooperation agreement when, while working as an informant, he
broke off and took several pieces of crack cocaine acquired in a controlled
purchase. Petitioner contends that sampling the cocaine was inherently part of
the task. Petitioner claims that had counsel investigated this defense, he would
have learned that controlled purchases “require[ ] a buyer to test a small
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 43 of 47 PageID 720
amount before making a purchase, as any law enforcement officer in the Drug
Task Force would be able to testify to this known fact.” (Id. at 43).
Petitioner failed to raise this claim in state court, either in his original
Rule 3.850 Motion or his Amended Rule 3.850 Motion. As a result, Respondent
argues that Petitioner failed to exhaust this claim. (Doc. 15 at 38-43). Petitioner
acknowledges that he failed to exhaust Ground Seven, but argues he can
overcome the default under the standard of Martinez v. Ryan, 132 S. Ct. 1309
(2012). (Doc. 1 at 47-49). In Martinez,
[t]he U.S. Supreme Court enunciated a narrow exception to the
general rule that the lack of an attorney or attorney error in state
post-conviction proceedings does not establish cause to excuse the
procedural default of a substantive claim. The Supreme Court,
however, set strict parameters on the application of this exception.
It applies only where (1) state law requires a prisoner to raise
ineffective-trial-counsel claims during an initial collateral
proceeding and precludes those claims during direct appeal; (2) the
prisoner failed to properly raise ineffective-trial-counsel claims
during the initial collateral proceeding; (3) the prisoner either did
not have counsel or his counsel was ineffective during those initial
state collateral proceedings; and (4) failing to excuse the prisoner’s
procedural default would result in the loss of a “substantial”
ineffective-trial-counsel claim. The Supreme Court later extended
Martinez’s rule to cases where state procedures, as a practical
matter, make it “virtually impossible” to actually raise ineffectivetrial-counsel claims on direct appeal. Trevino, 569 U.S. at –––, 133
S. Ct. at 1918–21.
Lambrix v. Sec’y, Fla. Dep’t of Corr., 851 F.3d 1158, 1164 (11th Cir. 2017) (some
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Petitioner cannot overcome the procedural default because Ground Seven
does not present a substantial ineffective assistance claim. Petitioner pleaded
guilty to tampering with evidence, and he does not explain how counsel’s failure
to investigate a spurious defense rendered his plea unknowing or involuntary.
But, even if he could overcome the procedural default, the claim fails on
the merits. On September 18, 2012, Petitioner appeared before Judge Daniel to
plead guilty to tampering with evidence and to be sentenced in each of his cases.
(Resp. Ex. B at 214-45). The prosecutor summarized the history of the case and
the factual basis for the evidence-tampering charge:
MR. KENNEDY: He pled guilty on [March 30, 2012] to the tiered
plea agreement [for conspiracy to traffic cocaine]
that you just saw, that you just unsealed. The
short explanation of what happened here, he was
on probation, he was arrested as part of a case of
multiple codefendants on the conspiracy to
traffick [sic] case. Basically, he was there to
purchase a kilo of cocaine from the CI. As per the
plea agreement, he was released, he made bond,
while he was out working with law enforcement,
I believe on his first deal actually, he was caught
on video breaking off several pieces of the cocaine
that he had just bought as an agent of the police,
and taking that cocaine. And that is what the last
case – that is [what] the tampering with case
evidence basically is, is that him taking the
cocaine. He has not pled to that[.] I understand
from Mr. Truncale that he’s going to plead to the
Court. That’s a third degree felony, so the State
is in agreement that if you want to run that
concurrent to the other counts, he’ll plead up to
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 45 of 47 PageID 722
(Id. at 217). Petitioner stated that he had no objection to the State’s
representation of the factual basis. (Id. at 224-25). Petitioner admitted guilt to
the charge, and affirmed that he was pleading guilty because he was in fact
guilty. (Id. at 222). In addition, Petitioner stated that he was satisfied with the
advice and representation of his counsel, with whom he had discussed his
decision to plead guilty beforehand. (Id. at 218-19).
In any event, Petitioner’s proposed defense – that taking cocaine for
himself was necessarily part of the task of engaging in a controlled purchase –
is frivolous. Countless sting operations are executed without informants taking
contraband for themselves. Moreover, Petitioner’s defense rings hollow because
according to the factual basis (with which he agreed), he took several pieces of
cocaine after he had already paid for it. (Id. at 217, 224-25). And according to
the arrest report, Petitioner tried to conceal the pieces of cocaine from law
enforcement. (Resp. Ex. A at 78). Thus, under Strickland, trial counsel could
reasonably have declined to pursue Petitioner’s spurious defense. Because
Ground Seven is procedurally defaulted and meritless, relief is denied.
Accordingly, having reviewed each claim in the Petition de novo, it is
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 46 of 47 PageID 723
1. Petitioner Ian Chad Webster’s Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus
Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Doc. 1) is DENIED and this case is
DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
2. The Clerk shall enter judgment accordingly, terminate any pending
motions, and close the file.
3. If Petitioner appeals this Order, the Court denies a certificate of
appealability (COA). Because the Court has determined that a COA
is not warranted, the Clerk shall terminate from the pending motions
report any motion to proceed on appeal as a pauper that may be filed
in this case. Such termination shall serve as a denial of the motion. 16
DONE AND ORDERED at Jacksonville, Florida this 14th day of
TIMOTHY J. CORRIGAN
United States District Judge
The Court should issue a COA only if the Petitioner makes “a substantial
showing of the denial of a constitutional right.” 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). To make this
showing, Petitioner “must demonstrate that reasonable jurists would find the district
court’s assessment of the constitutional claims debatable or wrong,” Tennard v.
Dretke, 542 U.S. 274, 282 (2004) (quoting Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484 (2000)),
or that “the issues presented were ‘adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed
further.’” Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 335-36 (2003) (quoting Barefoot v.
Estelle, 463 U.S. 880, 893 n.4 (1983)). After consideration of the record as a whole, the
Court will deny a COA.
Case 3:17-cv-00904-TJC-PDB Document 22 Filed 10/14/20 Page 47 of 47 PageID 724
Counsel of record
Ian Chad Webster
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