Guzman v. Secretary, Department of Corrections et al (Polk County)
ORDER: Guzman's amended petition is DENIED. The CLERK is directed to enter judgment against Guzman and to CLOSE this case. A certificate of appealability and leave to appeal in forma pauperis are DENIED. Signed by Judge Virginia M. Hernandez Covington on 8/2/2022. (MLH)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
Case No. 8:19-cv-1337-VMC-TGW
Petitioner David Guzman, a Florida prisoner, timely filed a pro se amended
petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. 5.) Having considered
the petition, the response in opposition (Doc. 10), and Guzman’s amended reply (Doc.
18), the Court orders that Guzman’s petition is DENIED.
A state court jury found Guzman guilty of three counts of DUI with serious
bodily injury and one count of DUI with property damage. (Doc. 11-3, Ex. 1, pp. 41314.) The jury found that Guzman had a blood alcohol level above 0.15. (Id.) The state
trial court imposed an overall term of 12 years and seven months in prison. (Id., pp.
456-65.) The state appellate court per curiam affirmed Guzman’s convictions and
sentences. (Doc. 11-5, Ex. 4.) The state appellate court also denied Guzman’s petition
alleging ineffective assistance of appellate counsel, filed under Florida Rule of
Appellate Procedure 9.141, and amended petition. (Doc. 11-5, Ex. 9; Doc. 11-6, Ex.
9a; Doc. 11-7, Exs. 10, 12.)
Guzman was involved in a three-car crash in the early morning hours of August
19, 2012, in Winter Haven, Florida. While traveling southbound on Sixth Street
Northwest, Guzman’s vehicle, a Chevrolet Trailblazer, rear-ended a Chevrolet Tahoe
driven by Andrew Estes. The Tahoe then traveled into the northbound lanes and
collided head-on with a GMC Jimmy driven by Alexis Shumate.
Officer James Oftedal was the first officer to arrive. He found Guzman inside
the Trailblazer lying across the driver and front passenger seats. Officer Oftedal
observed a half-empty bottle of Captain Morgan rum in the back seat. Officer Eric
Womack also arrived on the scene and observed Guzman inside his vehicle. EMS
personnel removed Guzman from his vehicle and advised Officer Womack that they
needed assistance. Officer Womack stood near Guzman, who had been placed on a
stretcher. Officer Womack could smell alcohol on Guzman’s breath and noticed that
Guzman’s eyes were bloodshot and glossy.
Guzman was taken to Lakeland Regional Medical Center. At the direction of
his supervisor, Officer Womack went to the hospital to obtain a blood sample from
Guzman. He did not obtain a warrant. Guzman did not respond when Officer
Womack advised that he was present for a blood draw. The attending nurse complied
This summary is based on the trial transcript and appellate briefs.
with Officer Womack’s request that she conduct a blood draw. Guzman declined to
sign a consent form. A blood sample analyzed by the Florida Department of Law
Enforcement showed that Guzman’s blood alcohol level was .285, more than three
times the legal threshold of .08. A blood sample analyzed at the hospital showed a
blood alcohol level of .29.
The occupants of the third vehicle, the GMC Jimmy that Estes’s vehicle hit
head-on, required medical treatment. The driver, Alexis Shumate, and one of the
passengers, Rusty Waddle, had to be extracted from the vehicle. Shumate broke her
pelvis and also broke both of her feet and legs. Rusty Waddle suffered a broken
humerus, broken knees, and six broken ribs. He also had severe nerve damage in his
wrist. Ashley Lawrence, the other passenger, suffered a brain injury. The right side of
her body was weakened and she was unable to use her right hand. Lawrence had
trouble with her memory and had to re-learn to walk, talk, eat, and write.
At trial, Guzman asserted that he was not responsible for the injuries to the
occupants of the Jimmy. He alleged that the collision between the Tahoe and the
Jimmy was caused by Estes’s operation of the Tahoe.
Standards of Review
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”) governs this
proceeding. Carroll v. Sec’y, DOC, 574 F.3d 1354, 1364 (11th Cir. 2009). Habeas relief
can only be granted if a petitioner is in custody “in violation of the Constitution or
laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Section 2254(d) provides
that federal habeas relief cannot be granted on a claim adjudicated on the merits in
state court unless the state court’s adjudication:
(1) resulted in a decision that 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) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable
determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State
A decision is “contrary to” clearly established federal law “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.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 413 (2000).
A decision involves an “unreasonable application” of clearly established federal law
“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
The AEDPA was meant “to prevent federal habeas ‘retrials’ and to ensure that
state-court convictions are given effect to the extent possible under law.” Bell v. Cone,
535 U.S. 685, 693 (2002). Accordingly, “[t]he focus . . . is on whether the state court’s
application of clearly established federal law is objectively unreasonable, and . . . an
unreasonable application is different from an incorrect one.” Id. at 694; see also
Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011) (“As a condition for obtaining habeas
corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court’s ruling on
the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was
an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for
The state appellate court denied Guzman’s petition alleging ineffective
assistance of appellate counsel without discussion. This decision warrants deference
under § 2254(d)(1) because “the summary nature of a state court’s decision does not
lessen the deference that it is due.” Wright v. Moore, 278 F.3d 1245, 1254 (11th Cir.
2002). When a state appellate court issues a silent affirmance, “the federal court should
‘look through’ the unexplained decision to the last related state-court decision that
does provide a relevant rationale” and “presume that the unexplained decision
adopted the same reasoning.” Wilson v. Sellers, 138 S.Ct. 1188, 1192 (2018).
Ineffective Assistance Of Counsel
Guzman alleges ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. Ineffective
assistance of counsel claims are analyzed under the test established in Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). Strickland requires a showing of deficient
performance by counsel and resulting prejudice. Id. at 687. Deficient performance is
established if, “in light of all the circumstances, the identified acts or omissions [of
counsel] were outside the wide range of professionally competent assistance.” Id. at
690. However, “counsel is strongly presumed to have rendered adequate assistance
and made all significant decisions in the exercise of reasonable professional
Guzman must show that counsel’s alleged error prejudiced the defense because
“[a]n error by counsel, even if professionally unreasonable, does not warrant setting
aside the judgment of a criminal proceeding if the error had no effect on the judgment.”
Id. at 691. To demonstrate prejudice, Guzman must show “a reasonable probability
that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have
been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine
confidence in the outcome.” Id. at 694.
The Strickland standard applies to claims of ineffective assistance of appellate
counsel. Smith v. Robbins, 528 U.S. 259, 285 (2000); Heath v. Jones, 941 F.2d 1126, 1130
(11th Cir. 1991). To establish a claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel,
Guzman must show that appellate counsel’s performance was objectively
unreasonable, and that there is a reasonable probability that, but for this performance,
he would have prevailed on his appeal. Robbins, 528 U.S. at 285-86.
Obtaining relief on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is difficult on
federal habeas review because “[t]he standards created by Strickland and § 2254(d) are
both highly deferential, and when the two apply in tandem, review is doubly so.”
Richter, 562 U.S. at 105 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see also Burt
v. Titlow, 571 U.S. 12, 15 (2013) (stating that this doubly deferential standard of review
“gives both the state court and the defense attorney the benefit of the doubt.”). “The
question [on federal habeas review of an ineffective assistance claim] ‘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) (quoting Schriro v.
Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007)).
Guzman claims that appellate counsel was ineffective for not adequately
challenging the admission of the blood test results. Section 316.1933, Fla. Stat., allows
for forcible blood draws. It provides that if a law enforcement officer has probable
cause to believe that “a motor vehicle driven by . . . a person under the influence of
alcoholic beverages . . . has caused the death or serious bodily injury of a human being,
a law enforcement officer shall require [that] person” to submit to a blood test “for the
purpose of determining the alcoholic content thereof[.]” § 316.1933(1)(a), Fla. Stat.
“[S]ection 316.1933 is part of the trilogy of statutes comprising the implied consent
statutory scheme. . . . [It] requires a police officer to obtain a driver’s blood [under the
circumstance set out in the statute] and to use reasonable force if necessary.” State v.
Liles, 191 So.3d 484, 487 n.2 (Fla. 5th DCA 2016).
The offenses occurred and the blood draw took place on August 19, 2012. Later,
on April 17, 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a decision in Missouri
v. McNeely, 569 U.S. 141 (2013). McNeely addressed the “exigent circumstances”
exception to the general rule that a search conducted without a warrant issued upon
probable cause is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The “exigent
Respondent does not raise any procedural bars to Guzman’s claims. See 28 U.S.C.
circumstances” exception to the warrant requirement applies “when the exigencies of
the situation make the needs of law enforcement so compelling that a warrantless
search is objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.” Id. at 148-49 (citation
omitted). A blood draw is a search subject to the Fourth Amendment’s protections. Id.
at 148. McNeely held that “in drunk-driving investigations, the natural dissipation of
alcohol in the bloodstream does not constitute an exigency in every case sufficient to
justify conducting a blood test without a warrant.” Id. at 165.
Before trial, Guzman unsuccessfully moved to suppress evidence of the blood
test results. Guzman argued that McNeely controlled, notwithstanding § 316.1933.
Guzman argued that passage of time after the crash was not an exigent circumstance
under McNeely and that since no exigent circumstances existed, the warrantless blood
draw was illegal. (Doc. 11-2, Ex. 1, pp. 43-44.)
Guzman also asserted that even if the court determined that McNeely did not
control, a warrant was still required because Officer Womack did not satisfy the
statutory requirements before ordering the blood draw. He contended that Officer
Womack acknowledged that he was unaware of the extent of the victims’ injuries at
the time of the blood draw, and thus lacked probable cause to believe that Guzman
caused serious bodily injury. (Id., pp. 42-44.) Guzman also filed a motion to exclude
the blood evidence on the basis that there was no substantial compliance with the
Florida Administrative Code’s procedures for handling blood samples. (Id., pp. 36-39.)
He contended that there was insufficient evidence that the nurse who conducted the
blood draw inverted the vials to mix the blood with the preservative and anticoagulant
as required. (Id.) The state trial court denied the motions after an evidentiary hearing.
(Id., pp. 222-26.)
Appellate counsel argued that the trial court erred in denying the motions. He
argued that McNeely applied retroactively because Guzman’s court proceedings were
still pending when McNeely was decided. (Doc. 11-5, Ex. 2, pp. 30-33.) He contended
that McNeely effectively invalidated §316.1933, Fla. Stat., and that since no exigent
circumstances existed under McNeely, a warrant was required for the blood draw. (Id.)
Appellate counsel additionally argued that the blood evidence should have been
excluded because the State failed to adequately show substantial compliance with the
Florida Administrative Code in the handling of the blood sample. (Id., pp. 11-16.)
Guzman contends that appellate counsel (1) failed to adequately argue
McNeely’s application to his non-final “pipeline” case; (2) failed to argue in the initial
brief or in a reply brief that the officers lacked a good faith basis to rely upon
§ 316.1933, Fla. Stat.; and (3) failed to argue in the motion for rehearing that police
could not have reasonably relied on § 316.1933 in light of Carpenter v. State, 228 So.3d
535 (Fla. 2017). Guzman has not established that the state appellate court
unreasonably denied these claims of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel.
First, appellate counsel did argue that McNeely applied to Guzman’s case, and
Guzman has not established that counsel was ineffective in his presentation of this
argument. Counsel argued that McNeely represented a dramatic shift in the law and
was controlling authority in Guzman’s case. (Doc. 11-5, Ex. 2, pp. 30-34.) Guzman
does not establish that counsel performed deficiently or that there is a reasonable
probability he would have prevailed on his appeal had appellate counsel presented the
McNeely argument in another fashion.
Second, Guzman fails to show that appellate counsel was ineffective for not
arguing that police lacked a good faith basis to rely on § 316.1933. Evidence obtained
in violation of the Fourth Amendment may be excluded; this exclusionary rule is a
judicially-created remedy intended to protect Fourth Amendment rights by deterring
illegal searches and seizures. See Davis v. United States, 564 U.S. 229 (2011). Because
the exclusionary rule’s purpose is to prevent future police misconduct, a good faith
exception to the rule applies when an officer has acted in objectively reasonable
reliance on a statute that is later invalidated. See Illinois v. Krull, 480 U.S. 340 (1987).
In challenging the denial of the motion to suppress, appellate counsel did note
that the trial court agreed with the State’s argument that the officers acted in good faith
reliance on authority granted to them by § 316.1933, Fla. Stat. (Doc. 11-5, Ex. 2, p.
30.) Guzman does not show a reasonable probability that a more detailed argument
based on the good-faith exception would have succeeded. “[B]efore McNeely, it was
reasonable for the officers to have a good-faith belief in the constitutional validity of a
warrantless blood draw authorized by section 316.1933(1)(a). . . . Accordingly, . . .
based on the good-faith exception, the trial courts should not have suppressed the
results of warrantless blood draws taken before the issuance of McNeely.” Liles, 191
So.3d at 489-90. Again, § 316.1933, in effect at the time of Guzman’s blood draw,
permitted forcible blood draws. See Jackson v. State, 456 So.2d 916 (Fla. 1st DCA 1984)
(rejecting a challenge to the constitutionality of § 316.1933).
To the extent Guzman contends that Officer Womack improperly relied on
§ 316.1933 to require the blood draw because he lacked specific knowledge of the
extent of the victim’s injuries, Guzman fails to show that appellate counsel was
ineffective for not raising this argument. Officer Womack responded to the scene and
knew that the crash involved multiple vehicles. (Doc. 11-2, Ex. 1, p. 107.) He observed
the vehicles and saw one on its side and another that had jumped a curb. (Id.) Officer
Womack saw other officers and EMS personnel at the scene. (Id., pp. 107-09.) Officer
Womack also knew that the crash was serious enough for Guzman to have been taken
to the hospital. (Id., p. 112.)
Thus, it was not unreasonable for appellate counsel to conclude that Officer
Womack’s knowledge was sufficient to allow him to rely on the statute. See, e.g., State
v. Durden, 655 So.2d 215, 216 (Fla. 1st DCA 1995) (“Probable cause to order a blood
test exists under section 316.1933(1) if an officer, based upon reasonably trustworthy
information, has knowledge of facts and circumstances sufficient to cause a person of
reasonable caution to believe that the suspect driver was under the influence of
alcoholic beverages at the time of the accident and caused the death or serious bodily
injury of a human being. Probable cause must be based on objective facts and
circumstances, not on the officer’s personal opinions or suspicions.”).
As addressed, appellate counsel argued the blood evidence should have been
excluded under McNeely and on the basis that there was no substantial compliance
with applicable regulations for handling blood samples. (Id., pp. 11-16.) Guzman does
not show that appellate counsel was ineffective for choosing to proceed with these
arguments, rather than the argument Guzman proposes. Appellate counsel is not
required to raise all non-frivolous issues on appeal. See Jones v. Barnes, 463 U.S. 745,
751-54 (1983). Indeed, appellate counsel must “examine the record with a view to
selecting the most promising issues for review.” Id. at 752. “ ‘[W]innowing out weaker
arguments on appeal and focusing on’ those more likely to prevail, far from being
evidence of incompetence, is the hallmark of effective appellate advocacy.” Smith v.
Murray, 477 U.S. 527, 536 (1986) (quoting Jones, 463 U.S. at 751-52).
Finally, Guzman fails to show that his appellate counsel was ineffective with
respect to the motion for rehearing. Guzman argues that counsel should have argued
on rehearing that the officers could not rely on the state statute to authorize a
warrantless blood draw under Carpenter v. State, 228 So.3d 535 (Fla. 2017). In Carpenter,
the Florida Supreme Court rejected an application of the good-faith exception to the
exclusionary rule because the officers were not relying on longstanding precent “but
rather on a nonfinal, pipeline case still under active review in [the Florida Supreme]
Court at the time of the search.” Id. at 542.
The Carpenter decision was not issued until after Guzman’s appeal became final.
However, Guzman does not show that appellate counsel was ineffective for not
alerting the state district court of appeal that the Florida Supreme Court’s decision in
Carpenter was pending. Guzman does not establish how Carpenter would have
supported an argument that law enforcement did not rely on the statute in good faith
in his case. Unlike the law in question in Carpenter, the statute upon which police relied
in Guzman’s case was well-established authority in Florida. See Liles, 191 So.3d at 489;
Jackson, 456 So.2d 916. Guzman does not show that appellate counsel was ineffective
in not making such an argument or that there is a reasonable probability he would
have succeeded on appeal had counsel done so.
Guzman does not show that the state appellate court’s ruling was contrary to or
involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law, or was based
on an unreasonable factual determination. Ground One warrants no relief.
In an argument similar to that raised in Ground One, Guzman contends in
Ground Three that appellate counsel was ineffective in not arguing that the officers
lacked probable cause to order a blood draw, in violation of his federal constitutional
rights. Guzman again appears to rely on Officer Womack’s acknowledgement that he
was unaware of the extent of the victims’ injuries when he ordered the blood draw. He
also appears to argue that information known to other officers could not be imputed
to Officer Womack. Guzman contends that appellate counsel should have filed a reply
addressing the Florida Supreme Court’s decision in Montes-Valeton v. State, 216 So.3d
475 (Fla. 2017). 3
Montes-Valeton reaffirmed the holding of Voorhees v. State, 699 So.2d 602 (Fla.
1997), that “[t]he fellow officer rule allows an arresting officer to assume probable
Montes-Valeton was decided on February 23, 2017, after Guzman’s initial brief was filed.
cause to arrest a suspect from information supplied by other officers” and recognized that
the fellow officer rule “does not allow an officer to assume probable cause for an arrest
or a search and seizure from uncommunicated information known solely by other
officers.” Montes-Valeton, 216 So.3d at 479 (quoting Voorhees, 699 So.2d at 609)
(emphasis in original).
As addressed, § 316.1933, Fla. Stat., provides that if a law enforcement officer
can require a blood test if he or she has probable cause to believe that “a motor vehicle
driven by . . . a person under the influence of alcoholic beverages . . . has caused the
death or serious bodily injury of a human being[.]” In denying Guzman’s motion to
suppress, the state trial court found that such probable cause existed:
As stated in Williams v. State, 731 So.2d 48, 50 (Fla. 2d DCA 1999):
“Probable cause is a fluid concept that deals in probabilities, which
include common sense conclusions by law enforcement officers.” . . .
“[T]he facts constituting probable cause need not meet the standard of
conclusiveness and probability required of the circumstantial facts upon
which conviction must be based.”
It is clear in this case that the crash in which the Defendant was involved
resulted in serious bodily injury. Based on the testimony at the
evidentiary hearings, there was probable cause to believe that the
Defendant’s vehicle struck vehicle 2 in the rear and thus initiated the
There was also probable cause to believe the Defendant was the driver of
the vehicle that initiated the accident. Immediately after the accident, the
Defendant was found in the driver’s seat of a vehicle registered to him.
He was the only occupant of the vehicle.
There was also probable cause to believe the Defendant was under the
influence [of] drugs or alcohol. A half full bottle of Captain Morgan’s was
observed in the vehicle, as well as an empty glass on the floor of the
vehicle in the area of the driver’s seat. The Defendant was also observed
to have blood shot eyes, slurred speech, and the odor of alcohol on his
(Doc. 11-2, Ex. 1, pp. 224-25.)
Guzman does not show that the state appellate court unreasonably denied his
claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. Appellate counsel explained in a
letter to Guzman that he did not believe it was wise to dilute the arguments brought
in the initial brief by filing a reply brief. (Doc. 11-6, Ex. 9a, Attachment XXII.)
Appellate counsel’s letter explained that he believed Montes-Valeton was easily
distinguishable from Guzman’s case and addressing it in a reply brief would have
impermissibly raised new issues not addressed in the initial brief. (Id.)
In addition, appellate counsel reasonably could have concluded that a probable
cause challenge was not likely to succeed. Although Officer Womack had no specific
knowledge of the extent of the victims’ injuries, appellate counsel could have
concluded that information available to Officer Womack, including his own
observations at the scene, supported probable cause to believe Guzman had caused
serious bodily injury. Furthermore, as addressed in Ground One, it is apparent that
counsel chose to challenge the admission of the blood results by arguing that the state
court erred by failing to apply McNeely to Guzman’s case and by finding that the blood
draw substantially complied with the Florida Administrative Code.
For the reasons discussed in Ground One, Guzman does not establish that
counsel was ineffective for choosing this approach. Under these circumstances, the
state appellate court did not unreasonably determine that appellate counsel was
ineffective for failing to challenge the trial court’s finding of probable cause. Guzman
does not show that the state appellate court’s decision was contrary to or involved an
unreasonable application of clearly established federal law or was based on an
unreasonable factual determination. Therefore, he is not entitled to relief on Ground
Guzman argues that appellate counsel was ineffective for inadequately arguing
that the trial court erred in granting the State’s motion regarding Guzman’s medical
records. When the State requested a subpoena duces tecum for Guzman’s medical
records, the trial court denied the request because obtaining the records would have
delayed the trial. (Doc. 11-2, Ex. 1, p. 238.) Later, the State filed a motion for
reconsideration. (Id., pp. 238-57.) The State argued that because a continuance was
subsequently granted on another basis, the trial court’s reason for denying the request
to obtain medical records had become moot. (Id., p. 238.) When Guzman opposed the
motion for reconsideration as untimely under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure
3.192, the State filed an amended motion for reconsideration. (Id., pp. 258-94.) The
State maintained that the time limitation set out in Rule 3.192, which governs motions
for rehearing of pretrial motions, did not apply because a court can reconsider a ruling
at any time it retains jurisdiction over the case. (Id., pp. 261-62 .)
After conducting a hearing, the state trial court granted the State’s amended
motion for reconsideration. (Doc. 11-3, Ex. 1, pp. 298-326.) The trial court found that
the motion for reconsideration was timely, even assuming Rule 3.192 applied. (Id., pp.
324-26.) Specifically, the trial court relied on language in Rule 3.192 that states,
“[n]othing in this rule precludes the trial court from exercising its inherent authority
to reconsider a ruling while the court has jurisdiction of the case.” (Id., p. 325.) As a
result, the State introduced at trial evidence concerning Guzman’s medical records,
including the blood sample analyzed at the hospital.
On appeal, counsel challenged the admission of the medical records evidence
by arguing that the records were impermissible hearsay evidence and their admission
violated his rights under the Confrontation Clause as set out in Crawford v. Washington,
541 U.S. 36 (2004). (Doc. 11-5, Ex. 2, pp. 17-25.) Guzman appears to contend that
appellate counsel also should have argued that the State’s motion for reconsideration
should have been dismissed as untimely.
Guzman’s ineffective assistance claim turns on a question of state procedural
law: whether the motion for reconsideration was untimely under Florida law. The
state appellate court has already determined that appellate counsel was not ineffective
for failing to raise this issue of state law. This Court must defer to the state appellate
court’s resolution of this state law question. See Pinkney v. Secretary, DOC, 876 F.3d
1290, 1295 (11th Cir. 2017) (“[A]lthough ‘the issue of ineffective assistance—even
when based on the failure of counsel to raise a state law claim—is one of constitutional
dimension,’ [a federal court] ‘must defer to the state’s construction of its own law’
when the validity of the claim that appellate counsel failed to raise turns on state law.”
(quoting Alvord v. Wainwright, 725 F.2d 1282, 1291 (11th Cir. 1984))).
Although Guzman asserts that the underlying evidentiary issue involves his
Fourteenth Amendment due process rights, the question of timeliness under Florida
Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.192 is a state law issue. To the extent Guzman attempts
to frame a state law issue in federal constitutional terms, he cannot avoid the deference
owed to the state court’s ruling on a state law matter. See, e.g., Branan v. Booth, 861
F.2d 1507, 1508 (11th Cir. 1988) (“[A] habeas petition grounded on issues of state law
provides no basis for habeas relief. . . . This limitation on federal habeas review is of
equal force when a petition, which actually involves state law issues, is couched in
terms of equal protection and due process.” (internal quotation marks and citation
In addition, as addressed, appellate counsel chose to challenge the introduction
of Guzman’s medical records on other grounds. Appellate counsel argued that the trial
court erred in allowing these records into evidence based on the business records
exception to the rule against hearsay. (Doc. 11-5, Ex. 2, pp. 17-25.) Counsel vigorously
argued that applying the business records exception in this case violated Guzman’s
right to confrontation. (Id.)
Guzman does not show that appellate counsel was ineffective for choosing to
focus on the argument that he presented on appeal and to omit the identified
procedural argument. See Smith, 477 U.S. at 536; Jones, 463 U.S. at 751-54. As
Guzman fails to establish that the state court’s decision was contrary to or involved an
unreasonable application of clearly established federal law or was based on an
unreasonable factual determination, he is not entitled to relief on Ground Two.
Guzman argues that appellate counsel was ineffective for not challenging the
denial of his motion for judgment of acquittal. Guzman contends that appellate
counsel should have argued that “the State did not establish the statutory element of
causation of the serious bodily injury” to the three occupants of the GMC Jimmy.
(Doc. 5, p. 24.) Guzman relies on the theory, which he believes to be supported by
testimony of accident reconstructionist David Brill, that Estes was responsible for the
crash between Estes’s Tahoe and the Jimmy. (Id., pp. 26-28.)
The state appellate court denied this claim without discussion. Guzman has not
met his burden of establishing that the state appellate court’s denial was unreasonable.
In ruling on a motion for judgment of acquittal, a state trial court must consider the
evidence in the light most favorable to the State. See Boyd v. State, 910 So.2d 167, 180
(Fla. 2005) (“A trial court should not grant a motion for judgment of acquittal ‘unless
the evidence is such that no view which the jury may lawfully take of it favorable to
the opposite party can be sustained under the law.’” (quoting Lynch v. State, 293 So.2d
44, 45 (Fla. 1974))); Odom v. State, 862 So.2d 56, 59 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003) (“A trial court
should not grant a motion for judgment of acquittal unless the evidence, when viewed
in a light most favorable to the State, fails to establish a prima facie case of guilt.”).
To establish the offense of DUI causing serious bodily injury, the State had to
prove beyond a reasonable doubt that (1) Guzman drove or was in actual physical
control of a vehicle; (2) while driving or in actual physical control of the vehicle,
Guzman was under the influence of alcoholic beverages to the extent that his normal
faculties were impaired and/or had a blood alcohol level of .08 or more grams of
alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood; and (3) as a result of operating the vehicle, Guzman
caused or contributed to causing serious bodily injury to the victim. § 316.193(3)(a)(c)2., Fla. Stat. (See Doc. 11-3, Ex. 1, p. 400.)
Appellate counsel could have reasonably concluded that the State’s evidence
was sufficient to show that Guzman at least “contributed to causing” the injuries to
the occupants of the Jimmy. It was undisputed that Guzman’s Trailblazer rear-ended
the Tahoe, which then collided with the Jimmy. Two witnesses for the State, Brill and
Officer Justin Minser, testified concerning causation. Officer Minser testified that as a
result of his investigation, he concluded that Guzman was at fault. (Doc. 11-4, Ex. 1b,
p. 294.) Brill was initially hired by the Jimmy’s driver, Alexis Shumate, in a civil
lawsuit. Brill testified at trial that Guzman contributed to the crash between the Tahoe
and the Jimmy because Guzman “set[ ] the events in motion that cause[d] the second
collision [between the Tahoe and the Jimmy].” (Doc. 11-4, Ex. 1c, p. 702.)
On cross-examination, Brill conceded that in an evaluation he prepared for the
civil lawsuit, he concluded that Estes was responsible for the second collision. But Brill
explained that he treated the two crashes as separate incidents for purposes of the
evaluation, and thus the evaluation concerned the Tahoe and the Jimmy in isolation.
(Id., pp. 725, 731.) Brill reiterated, however, that the second crash was “initiated . . .
by the original collision.” (Id., pp. 731-32, 736.)
Therefore, appellate counsel could have reasonably determined that there was
little chance of succeeding on a challenge to the denial of a motion for judgment of
acquittal due to failure to establish causation. Any inconsistencies in the testimony
about causation involved questions to be determined by the jury rather than by the trial
court in ruling on a motion for judgment of acquittal. See State v. Shearod, 992 So.2d
900, 903 (Fla. 2d DCA 2008) (“The existence of contradictory, conflicting testimony
or evidence ‘does not warrant a judgment of acquittal because the weight of the
evidence and the witnesses’ credibility are questions solely for the jury.’” (quoting
Fitzpatrick v. State, 900 So.2d 495, 508 (Fla. 2005))).
Additionally, appellate counsel could have reasonably concluded that a more
promising argument regarding causation involved a challenge to the trial court’s ruling
excluding evidence that Guzman believed would have attributed causation to Estes.
The state trial court granted the State’s motion to exclude evidence about Estes’s blood
alcohol level. (Doc. 11-3, Ex. 1a, pp. 123-28.) Appellate counsel argued that the trial
court erred by excluding this evidence in ground three on appeal, asserting a denial of
his right to present a defense. (Doc. 11-5, Ex. 2, pp. 26-29.)
As appellate counsel could not expect to prevail on an argument that the trial
court erred in denying the motion for judgment of acquittal, he reasonably chose
instead to challenge the exclusion of other evidence concerning causation. Guzman
fails to show that appellate counsel unreasonably pursued this claim of trial court error.
See Smith, 477 U.S. at 536; Jones, 463 U.S. at 751-54. Guzman has not demonstrated
that the state appellate court’s denial of his ineffective assistance of appellate counsel
claim was contrary to or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established
federal law or was based on an unreasonable factual determination. Accordingly,
Guzman is not entitled to relief on Ground Four.
It is therefore ORDERED that Guzman’s amended petition (Doc. 5) is
DENIED. The CLERK is directed to enter judgment against Guzman and to CLOSE
Certificate Of Appealability
And Leave To Appeal In Forma Pauperis Denied
It is further ORDERED that Guzman is not entitled to a certificate of
appealability (“COA”). A prisoner seeking a writ of habeas corpus has no absolute
entitlement to appeal a district court’s denial of his petition. 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(1).
Rather, a COA must first issue. Id. “A [COA] may issue . . . only if the applicant has
made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right.” Id. at § 2253(c)(2).
To obtain a COA, Guzman must show that reasonable jurists would find debatable
both (1) the merits of the underlying claims and (2) the procedural issues he seeks to
raise. See 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2); Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484 (2000). Guzman
has not made the requisite showing. Finally, because Guzman is not entitled to a
COA, he is not entitled to appeal in forma pauperis.
ORDERED in Tampa, Florida, on August 2, 2022.
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