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Reaves v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

September 28, 2017

WILLIAM REAVES, Petitioner-Appellee,

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 2:10-cv-14046-DMM

          Before ED CARNES, Chief Judge, TJOFLAT and MARCUS, Circuit Judges.

          ED CARNES, Chief Judge:

         William Reaves, a Florida prisoner who has been sentenced to death for the murder of a police officer, sought in the Florida courts habeas relief from his conviction and sentence. When he appealed the summary denial of one of his state post-conviction motions, the Florida Supreme Court held that one claim was moot and remanded another claim for an evidentiary hearing. It affirmed on the merits the denial of all of the other claims that Reaves had appealed, including a claim that trial counsel had rendered ineffective assistance at the penalty stage by not developing and presenting certain mitigating circumstances evidence. Reaves v. State, 826 So.2d 932, 941-44 (Fla. 2002). It also affirmed the state trial court's rejection of the penalty stage ineffectiveness claim because "the proposed mitigation evidence was either irrelevant, cumulative of evidence already presented at sentencing, or would not have affected the balance of aggravating and mitigating circumstances." See Reaves v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 717 F.3d 886, 893 (11th Cir. 2013) (explaining that was the basis of the Florida Supreme Court's rejection of the claim).

         The one claim that was not finally disposed of by the Florida Supreme Court's 2002 decision was a guilt stage ineffective assistance claim involving the failure of trial counsel to pursue a voluntary intoxication defense. Reaves, 826 So.2d at 937-39, 944. The court remanded the case to the trial court for it to conduct an evidentiary hearing on that guilt stage claim. Id. at 944; see Reaves, 717 F.3d at 893-94 (explaining that the Florida Supreme Court "conclude[d] that an evidentiary hearing was needed to resolve Reaves' claim that counsel was ineffective in failing to present a voluntary intoxication defense during the guilt phase of the trial, and it remanded the case for that purpose").

         At the evidentiary hearing in the state trial court on remand, Reaves presented evidence that was relevant to the guilt stage ineffectiveness claim involving the voluntary intoxication defense, which was the reason the case was there. He argued to the state trial court that in view of the evidence that he had presented on that claim at the evidentiary hearing he was entitled to relief from the murder conviction. Even though some of the evidence that he presented in support of that guilt stage claim was also relevant to the penalty stage ineffective assistance claim about mitigating circumstances, Reaves did not attempt to re-assert that penalty stage claim during the remand proceedings, nor did he argue that it or any other claim in his Rule 3.850 motion entitled him to relief from his sentence. (Of course, having his conviction set aside on the guilt stage claim he pursued would automatically overturn his death sentence.)

         After the evidentiary hearing on remand, the state trial court again ruled that Reaves was not entitled to relief on his guilt stage ineffective assistance claim relating to the voluntary intoxication defense and reiterated its denial of his Rule 3.850 motion.[1] The trial court on remand did not revisit the penalty stage ineffective assistance of counsel claim involving mitigating circumstances nor mention that claim or any sentence stage claim. Reaves appealed again.

         In his second, or post-remand, appeal from the denial of state collateral relief, Reaves did not re-assert or re-argue the penalty stage ineffective assistance claim that the Florida Supreme Court had rejected on the merits in the first appeal. Instead, as he had in the remand proceeding in the trial court, the only claim he asserted and argued in the state supreme court was the guilt stage ineffective assistance claim involving the voluntary intoxication defense. That was the only claim that court had not rejected on the merits or as moot in his first appeal from the denial of state collateral relief. And in the second appeal that guilt stage ineffectiveness claim was the only one the Florida Supreme Court considered. See Reaves, 942 So.2d 874 (Fla. 2006). The court did not take it upon itself to resurrect and reconsider any claims that it had decided in the first appeal, including the penalty stage ineffectiveness claim.

         After the Florida Supreme Court rejected Reaves' appeal from the denial of his guilt stage ineffective assistance claim on remand, he filed in federal district court a 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition for writ of habeas corpus. He raised 25 claims in his petition, including the penalty stage ineffectiveness claim involving mitigating circumstances. The district court did not grant relief on that claim but instead granted relief on a claim that was not one of the 25 claims that Reaves had raised in his federal habeas petition or otherwise in the proceeding. Not only that, but in granting relief the district court relied on evidence that had not even been before the Florida Supreme Court in the first appeal from the denial of state collateral relief. We reverse.


         We have recounted the facts underlying Reaves' conviction in considerable detail before. See Reaves, 717 F.3d at 889-90. So we will assume familiarity with that recounting and not repeat it in all of its detail here. Early in the morning on September 23, 1986, Reaves tried to call a taxi to pick him up at a convenience store. Id. at 889. When the taxi did not show up quickly enough he dialed 911, but he hung up before speaking to the operator. Id. In response to the hang-up call Deputy Richard Raczkoski was dispatched to the convenience store, where he helped Reaves contact a taxi. Id. While they waited for the taxi to arrive, a .38 caliber pistol fell out of Reaves' pants, and a brief struggle ensued as Deputy Raczkoski tried to stop Reaves from grabbing the pistol. Id. Reaves got ahold of the pistol and, after Deputy Raczkoski turned to run, shot the deputy four times in the back. Id. He discharged the pistol a total of seven times, with each shot requiring a separate pull of the trigger. Id.

         Reaves later told a friend that Deputy Raczkoski had attempted to draw his own weapon and that he had pointed his gun in the deputy's face and warned him: "I wouldn't do that if I were you." Id. at 889-90. Reaves also told his friend that when the deputy pleaded for his life, he responded: "One of us got to go, me or you." Id. at 890. In a voluntary confession to the police, Reaves said that he "couldn't let that officer get that gun" because he believed that he was facing "a mandatory three years" for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Id.

         A. Reaves' State Court Proceedings

         1. Criminal Trials and Appeals

         In 1987 Reaves was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for premeditated first degree murder. Id. The Florida Supreme Court reversed his conviction and remanded for a new trial on a ground not relevant to this appeal. Reaves v. State, 574 So.2d 105, 107-08 (Fla. 1991). Reaves was retried in 1992. Reaves v. State, 639 So.2d 1, 3 n.1 (Fla. 1994). At trial counsel's request the state trial court reappointed Dr. William Weitz, a clinical psychologist, as a mental health expert for the defense. Reaves, 717 F.3d at 891. Dr. Weitz had examined Reaves before his first trial in 1987. Id. He diagnosed Reaves, an African American veteran of the Vietnam War, with antisocial personality disorder, polysubstance abuse, and a disorder called Vietnam Syndrome, which Dr. Weitz defined as a "sub-clinical" variety of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), id., involving a change in behavior occurring because of combat exposure. Trial counsel's strategy was to present a defense of excusable homicide using that mental health evidence, but the trial court found that Dr. Weitz's testimony was inadmissible and barred it from the guilt stage of the trial. Id. at 891-92. Nonetheless, trial counsel continued to focus largely on the defense of excusable homicide. See id. at 892. The jury, unconvinced, found Reaves guilty of premeditated first degree murder. See id.

         At the penalty phase of the trial, Reaves presented eight witnesses who testified about his childhood and his military service in Vietnam. Fran Ross, an attorney who had grown up with Reaves, testified that as a child Reaves had been helpful and well-liked in the community. Reverend Leon Young, the pastor at Reaves' childhood church, testified that Reaves had been "a good Bible student, " and Young had thought that Reaves might become a minister. Similarly, Otis Cobbs, who lived in the same neighborhood as Reaves, testified that Reaves had been "very respectable and very mannerful and a very energetic young man" who had been a model student. Charlie Jones, who was a few years older than Reaves and grew up with him, testified that Reaves had been "a fun-loving happy-go-lucky type fella." And Ann Covington, Reaves' sister, testified that before joining the army Reaves had been very gentle, caring, and obedient, and a devout Christian.

         Ross, Jones, and Covington all testified that Reaves was different after he returned from Vietnam. Ross and Jones testified that it was apparent that Reaves had started to use drugs. Covington testified that after his experiences in the war Reaves had become unable to participate in family dinners, was anxious and tense, and could not be approached without giving him warning.

         Hector Caban and William Wade, soldiers who served with Reaves in Vietnam, also testified. Reaves had arrived in Vietnam in November 1969. They told the jury how, shortly after his arrival, their squad was involved in a "U-shaped ambush, " in which the enemy attacked them from three sides. Two of the men in Reaves' squad were killed in that ambush, and another was seriously injured. Caban, who served in the same squad as Reaves, described for the jury other actions that the squad was involved in during the ten months that he and Reaves were together in Vietnam. He estimated that he was involved in six to eight fire fights, and said that Reaves was involved "[m]ost of the time."

         Although his testimony had been barred from the guilt phase of the trial, the state trial court permitted mental health expert Dr. Weitz to testify for Reaves at the penalty stage. The court qualified him as an expert in general psychology, clinical psychology, military psychology, Vietnam Syndrome, and "post-traumatic stress disorders." Dr. Weitz testified that he had diagnosed Reaves with antisocial personality disorder, polysubstance abuse, and Vietnam Syndrome, a term he defined to mean "a series of psychological and behavioral reactions of veterans as they were returning from the combat service in Vietnam." He explained that Vietnam Syndrome was characterized by alienation, depression, rage, and increased use of alcohol and drugs. And he gave his opinion that Reaves' Vietnam Syndrome "impacted on the events of that evening" in the following ways, as he listed them:

One: Because of use of cocaine and other substances on the night and the morning of that event, [Reaves'] judgment and perception were already impaired.
Secondly: Because of perception at the time of the event of a situation out of control, intense stress and pressure - "panic" as he describes - panic on both parties, heightened fear and anxiety, the fear response is prevalent.
The reaction to - the "survivor" reaction of perceiving his own life would be paramount. I believe, then, that the reaction of Mr. Reaves, the quickness of response, the sensation of fear, the recognition that things were panicked, uncontrolled and becoming unpredictable, that he sensed the danger to his own life, and his behavior was influenced by that perception.

         Dr. Weitz also explained that he diagnosed Reaves with Vietnam Syndrome instead of PTSD because Reaves did not present all of the criteria required for a PTSD diagnosis. According to Dr. Weitz, Reaves had not, for example, reported flashbacks or bad dreams, which are criteria for a formal diagnosis of PTSD.

         In rebuttal the State called Robert Ressler, a retired FBI criminologist and veteran (although not of the Vietnam War) to testify as an expert in military records. Ressler testified that Reaves had been honorably discharged and had received a number of medals and awards, including the Combat Infantryman's Badge, which is awarded for infantrymen assigned to a combat unit. But he also said that those medals and awards "were rather unremarkable and very routine for a person performing in Vietnam for a period of . . . one year." Ressler characterized Reaves' honorable discharge as a product of the wartime environment. He was of the view that because Reaves had been court-martialed for theft, "[c]hances are" that in peacetime he would not have been honorably discharged.

         The State also called Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Cinquino, who had been a platoon leader in Vietnam, and who testified that he had never seen any soldiers suffering from PTSD. Finally, the State called Dr. McKinley Cheshire, an expert in psychiatry, who testified that Vietnam Syndrome was not included in the then-current Third Edition-Revised of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Based on his review of the documents relating to Reaves, Dr. Cheshire was of the opinion that he "was really not suffering from a psychiatric illness, " but instead Deputy Raczkoski "was executed by a drug dealer to cover up the possibility of [Reaves'] going back to jail, " and in doing that Reaves "was motivated to be selfish, to protect himself, and to do away with the witnesses."

         By a vote of ten to two, the jury recommended a death sentence. Reaves, 717 F.3d at 892. The trial judge found three aggravating circumstances, no statutory mitigating circumstances, and three nonstatutory mitigating circumstances. Reaves, 639 So.2d at 3. He concluded that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances, and sentenced Reaves to death. See id. The Florida Supreme Court rejected the trial court's finding with respect to one of the three aggravating circumstances -- that the murder was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel -- but it affirmed Reaves' conviction and also his sentence.[2] Id. at 6.

         2. Initial State Post-Conviction Proceedings

         Reaves then began pursuing collateral attacks on his conviction and sentence. In his first Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850 motion he raised 27 claims, including ineffective assistance of counsel at the guilt and penalty phases of his trial. Reaves contended that his counsel was ineffective at the guilt stage for, among other things, failing to investigate and present a voluntary intoxication defense based on the combination of his mental health and substance abuse problems. He also claimed that in violation of Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68, 105 S.Ct. 1087 (1985), Dr. Weitz had not provided adequate mental health assistance to aid his defense.

         In addition, Reaves claimed that trial counsel had rendered ineffective assistance at the penalty stage. He asserted that counsel had been ineffective because he failed to: seek the assistance of experts in addictionology, psychopharmacology, neuropsychology, and psychiatry; explain to the jury how his substance abuse in conjunction with his mental health problems related to the murder; investigate his military service in Vietnam; provide Dr. Weitz with information relating to his military service and mental state; object to Ressler's qualification as an expert in military records; and "object to the introduction of prejudicial and inflammatory testimony." Finally, Reaves claimed that the cumulative effect of the "number and types of errors involved in his trial, when considered as a whole, resulted in the unreliable conviction and sentence."

         The state trial court held a hearing, pursuant to Huff v. State, 622 So.2d 982 (Fla. 1993), to determine whether any of the claims Reaves had raised in his Rule 3.850 motion required an evidentiary hearing. At the hearing Reaves argued that trial counsel should have hired a neuropsychologist, a psychologist, and an addictionologist. He stated that one of the experts he could proffer was "a black male" who would testify that Reaves had PTSD and did not have antisocial personality disorder. He indicated that an unnamed neuropsychologist would testify about unspecified non-statutory mitigators. He also said that an unnamed psychologist would testify that Reaves had PTSD, about "statutory mitigators as well as a host of non-statutory mitigators, " and would "provide specific testing results with five different tests that have to do with indication of PTSD that were available."

         The state trial court denied Reaves' Rule 3.850 motion without an evidentiary hearing. With respect to the penalty phase ineffective assistance claim, the trial court found that Reaves' claim that trial counsel should have hired additional mental health experts was conclusory and refuted by the record, and that the "additional evidence relating to Reaves' enlistment in the military, his service in Vietnam, . . . and his addiction to heroin . . . . would have been either irrelevant or cumulative."

         In 2002 the Florida Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the state trial court's judgment in the Rule 3.850 proceeding. Reaves, 826 So.2d at 944. The part of the judgment that it reversed was the trial court's summary denial of the Reaves' guilt stage ineffective assistance claim relating to counsel's failure to pursue a voluntary intoxication defense; it remanded that claim for an evidentiary hearing. Id. at 938-39, 944. It dismissed as moot the cumulative error claim in light of the remand, and it "affirm[ed] the trial court's denial of Reaves' postconviction motion in all other aspects." Id. The affirmance of the penalty stage ineffective assistance claim was on the merits, with the Florida Supreme Court specifically stating that it agreed with the state trial court that the additional mitigating evidence Reaves had alleged would have been irrelevant or cumulative to that which trial counsel had presented about Reaves' impoverished childhood, his drug addiction, and the conditions of his service in Vietnam. Id. at 941.

         3. The Post-Remand State Proceedings

         In March 2003 the state trial court held a three-day evidentiary hearing on Reaves' guilt phase ineffectiveness claim. Reaves called as witnesses his trial counsel and six expert witnesses: Dr. Weitz, Dr. Richard Dudley, Dr. Barry Crown, Dr. Deborah Mash, Dr. Erwin Parson, and Dr. Thomas Hyde. Because we described at length the testimony presented at the 2003 evidentiary hearing in our previous decision, Reaves, 717 F.3d at 894-97, we will not describe it in detail now. The takeaways are that Dr. Dudley testified that Reaves suffered from polysubstance abuse and PTSD. Id. at 895. Dr. Crown testified that Reaves suffered from brain damage in a part of his brain associated with understanding the long-term consequences of his behavior and that the combination of Reaves' use of cocaine and brain damage "would have resulted in a phenomenon called 'cocaine kindling, ' which causes a person to have disrupted 'reasoning, judgment, particularly short-term memory, ' and to become impulsive and paranoid." Id. at 895-96. Dr. Mash testified that Reaves' extensive cocaine abuse rendered him paranoid and delusional at the time of the shooting and that cocaine use exacerbates the symptoms of PTSD. Id. at 896. Dr. Parson testified that at the time of the murder, Reaves was suffering from PTSD and "dissociation, " with a history of chronic substance abuse, all of which combined to make him incapable of forming the specific intent to kill. Id. at 896-97. And Dr. Hyde testified that Reaves had a history of polysubstance abuse, depression, strong elements of PTSD, and a head injury which, if the injury occurred prior to the shooting, could have left him "disinhibited, impulsive, and prone to rash behaviors in combination with acute intoxication." Id. at 897.

         In rebuttal the State called Dr. Cheshire, who reiterated his testimony from the penalty phase of the trial that Reaves "knew what he was doing" and had made a conscious decision to shoot the deputy in an attempt to avoid being sent back to prison. Id. Among the materials he had studied in reaching that opinion were ones showing that Reaves had told the police that he shot the deputy because he didn't want to go back to prison and told a friend that when the deputy pleaded for his life, Reaves replied: "One of us got to go, me or you." After the state court evidentiary hearing, Reaves supplemented the record with a 2003 finding by the Department of Veterans Affairs that he was one hundred percent disabled due to PTSD relating to his military service and entitled to benefits for that reason.

         The state trial court again denied Reaves' Rule 3.850 motion, finding that counsel did not perform deficiently at the guilt stage. Reaves appealed that decision to the Florida Supreme Court, where he argued that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance at the guilt stage by failing to pursue a voluntary intoxication defense. He did not, however, re-assert his penalty phase ineffectiveness claim or even mention it. In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court affirmed the state trial court's rejection of Reaves' guilt stage ...

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