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Barnes v. Secretary, Department of Corrections

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

April 25, 2018

JAMES BARNES, Petitioner - Appellant,
v.
SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL, STATE OF FLORIDA, Respondents - Appellees.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 6:13-cv-01698-KBD-DAB

          Before WILLIAM PRYOR, MARTIN, and JULIE CARNES, Circuit Judges.

          JULIE CARNES, Circuit Judge:

         Petitioner James Barnes, a Florida death row prisoner, appeals the district court's denial of his 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition for writ of habeas corpus. The district court granted a certificate of appealability ("COA") as to its ruling that the state trial court's appointment of special counsel to present mitigation evidence did not violate Petitioner's Sixth Amendment right to self-representation as recognized by the Supreme Court in Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975). After review and with the benefit of oral argument, we conclude that federal habeas relief is not warranted on Petitioner's Faretta claim. Accordingly, we AFFIRM.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Petitioner's Crime

         In 2005, while serving a life sentence for the strangulation murder of his wife, Petitioner confessed to the 1988 rape and murder of Patricia Miller. See Barnes v. State, 29 So.3d 1010, 1013 (Fla. 2010).[1] As recounted in his confession, Petitioner entered Ms. Miller's condominium on the night of the murder, took off all his clothes, and armed himself with a knife from the kitchen. See id. at 1015. After surreptitiously watching Ms. Miller for a short period of time, Petitioner confronted her and forced her at knife-point to the bedroom, where he sexually assaulted her. See id. He then bound her hands and feet, sexually assaulted her again, and tried to strangle her to death with a belt. See id. When the strangulation attempt was unsuccessful, Petitioner killed Ms. Miller by hitting her in the head with a hammer he had found in her bedroom. See id. Petitioner then set fire to the bed where Ms. Miller's body lay to destroy any evidence left there before fleeing the scene. See Barnes, 29 So.3d at 1015.

         Firefighters discovered Ms. Miller's body while responding to a fire alarm at the condominium complex. See id. The medical examiner autopsied the body and noted signs of attempted strangulation, but ultimately determined that Ms. Miller had died from multiple hammer strikes to her head. See id. Although Petitioner had attempted to destroy any evidence of the crime by setting the fire, semen was recovered from Ms. Miller and preserved for DNA testing. See id. Within a week of the murder, the police questioned Petitioner as a potential suspect, but he denied any involvement. See id. Petitioner provided a sample of his blood for DNA comparison, but the DNA testing method available in 1988 was inadequate to produce a match due to the small amount of semen that had been collected, and the case remained unsolved. See Barnes, 29 So.3d at 1016.

         In 1998, while Petitioner was incarcerated for his wife's murder, the semen collected from Ms. Miller was retested with advanced techniques and produced a positive match to Petitioner. See id. Before charges were filed against him, Petitioner wrote to an assistant state attorney requesting an interview concerning the Miller case. See id. During the interview, Petitioner admitted to the rape and murder of Ms. Miller. See id. He described with accuracy Ms. Miller's physical appearance and the interior of her condominium, and he provided details of the murder, rape, and arson that were consistent with the forensic evidence that was gathered by the police. See id.

         II. Trial and Sentencing

         Petitioner was charged with murder, burglary, sexual battery by use of a deadly weapon, and arson, and the State indicated that it intended to seek the death penalty on the murder charge. See Barnes, 29 So.3d at 1013, 1016. At his initial appearance, Petitioner waived his right to counsel and moved to proceed pro se. See id. at 1016. The trial court conducted a hearing pursuant to Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975)[2] and found Petitioner competent to represent himself, but appointed standby counsel. See id. at 1013-14, 1016-17.

         Petitioner pled guilty to all of the charges against him and waived his right to an advisory sentencing jury. See id. at 1014. In preparation for the penalty phase hearing, the trial judge ordered a presentence investigation report ("PSR") to be prepared. See id. In addition, the judge ordered Petitioner's school records and appointed Dr. William Riebsame, a forensic psychologist, to evaluate Petitioner. See Barnes, 29 So.3d at 1014.

          During the penalty phase proceedings, the State presented the following evidence in support of various aggravators: (1) testimony of detective Dennis Nichols that when he entered Ms. Miller's apartment he found the charred remains of her nude body on the bed, with her hands tied behind her back with shoelaces, (2) testimony of Assistant State Attorney Michael Hunt that Petitioner had written him a letter stating that a fellow inmate had persuaded him, as a converted Muslim, to confess to Ms. Miller's unsolved murder during Ramadan, (3) a videotaped interview of Petitioner describing Ms. Miller's murder, (4) testimony of the medical examiner that Ms. Miller died from blunt-force trauma following multiple blows to her head consistent with being beaten with a hammer, (5) Petitioner's confession explaining that he struck the back of Ms. Miller's head several times with the metal end of a hammer, then struck her fractured skull with the wooden end of the hammer to conceal the identity of the murder weapon, (6) forensic evidence showing that Petitioner attempted to strangle Ms. Miller prior to killing her with a hammer, and that he set her body on fire after her death, (7) DNA evidence matching semen found in Ms. Miller's body to Petitioner, and (8) an impact statement from the victim's sister stating that Ms. Miller was a nurse who loved to backpack, ride horses, hike with her dog, ski, canoe, and bird watch, and who was generous and active with the Salvation Army domestic abuse program in her community. See id. at 1018-19.

         At the conclusion of the State's penalty phase presentation, Petitioner announced that he did not plan to present any mitigation evidence. See id. at 1019. Petitioner explained that, as mitigation, he would rely solely on the fact that he confessed and took responsibility for the murder. See id. The trial judge inquired whether Petitioner wanted appointed counsel to develop mitigation evidence, but Petitioner declined. See id. The judge then asked standby counsel, who had appeared at the hearing, what steps he would take to develop mitigation evidence if he was representing Petitioner. See Barnes, 29 So.3d at 1019. Standby counsel replied that he would gather all of Petitioner's school, medical, and mental health records, and that he would interview anyone he could locate who had ever had substantial contact with Petitioner. See id. Following this colloquy, the judge continued the penalty phase proceedings and appointed special counsel to investigate any available mitigation evidence. See id. Petitioner objected to the appointment, reiterating that his strategy was to facilitate a final resolution of the case by confessing and taking responsibility for Ms. Miller's murder. See id.

         The trial judge reconvened the penalty phase proceedings several months later, and again offered to appoint counsel for Petitioner. See id. When Petitioner declined the offer, the judge conducted a second Faretta inquiry and concluded that Petitioner had made a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent decision to represent himself. See Barnes, 29 So.3d at 1019. After the Faretta inquiry, special counsel presented the mitigation evidence he had discovered during his investigation. See id. The evidence primarily came from Dr. Riebsame, who testified that Petitioner had suffered from behavioral and emotional problems since he was young, that he had an antisocial personality disorder, and that he was under the emotional or mental disturbance of cocaine dependency at the time of the offense. See id. at 1020. Dr. Riebsame arrived at these conclusions by reviewing the available documentary and forensic evidence and by consulting a report prepared by a mitigation expert who had interviewed Petitioner's family members.[3] See id. at 1019-20. Petitioner cross-examined Dr. Riebsame, but he did not offer any witnesses or other evidence and he advised the trial court that he would not submit a sentencing memorandum. See id.

         Based on the evidence presented during the penalty phase proceedings, the trial court found six aggravators, each of which the court determined was entitled to great weight: (1) Petitioner committed the murder while under sentence of imprisonment, (2) he previously was convicted of another capital felony or felony involving the use or threat of violence, (3) he committed the murder while engaged in the commission of a sexual battery and burglary, (4) he committed the murder for the purpose of avoiding lawful arrest, (5) the murder was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel, and (6) the murder was cold, calculated, and premeditated. See Barnes, 29 So.3d at 1014, n.3. The court found one statutory and nine non-statutory mitigators, each of which it determined was entitled to little or slight weight: (1) Petitioner was under the influence of an extreme mental or emotional disturbance when he committed the crime (statutory and non-statutory), (2) he came forward and revealed his involvement in the unsolved crime, (3) he took responsibility for his acts, (4) he has experienced prolonged drug use, (5) he did not have the benefit of a loving relationship with his mother or father, (6) he was sexually abused as a child, (7) he has taken steps to improve himself, and (8) he is a functional and capable person who demonstrated by his participation in the case that he can contribute to society. See id. at n.4, 5. The court concluded that each aggravator, standing alone, outweighed all of the mitigating factors combined. See id. at 1014. It sentenced Petitioner to death for the murder, to life for the burglary and sexual battery, and to thirty years for the arson. See id.

         III. Direct Appeal and State Post-Conviction Proceedings

         The Florida Supreme Court affirmed Petitioner's convictions and sentences on direct appeal. See id. at 1013. Among other claims asserted in support of his direct appeal, Petitioner argued that the trial court had violated his Sixth Amendment right to self-representation, as recognized by the United States Supreme Court in Faretta, by appointing special counsel to investigate and present mitigation evidence during the penalty phase of his trial. See Barnes, 29 So.3d at 1022. The Florida Supreme Court considered and rejected Petitioner's Sixth Amendment self-representation claim on the merits. See id. at 1022-26. The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari. Barnes v. Florida, 562 U.S. 901 (2010).

         Petitioner filed a motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Rule 3.851 of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure. See Barnes v. State, 124 So.3d 904 (Fla. 2013). The state court denied the motion. See id. at 907. Its decision was affirmed by the Florida Supreme Court. See id.

         IV. Petitioner's Federal Habeas Petition and Appeal

         Petitioner subsequently filed a petition for habeas corpus in federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, asserting four grounds for relief: (1) a claim that his Sixth Amendment right to self-representation was violated by the trial court's appointment of special counsel to investigate and present mitigation evidence during the penalty phase of his trial, (2) a Confrontation Clause claim arising from the trial court's allegedly erroneous admission of hearsay evidence, (3) an ineffective assistance of counsel claim based on standby counsel's failure to request a competency hearing prior to the entry of Petitioner's guilty plea, and (4) a claim that Petitioner may be incompetent by the time of his execution, such that his execution would violate the Eighth Amendment. The district court denied all of Petitioner's claims. The court declined to issue a certificate of appealability ("COA") as to Petitioner's Confrontation Clause, ineffective assistance, and competency claims, but it granted a COA as to the Sixth Amendment self-representation issue.

         Petitioner appealed the denial of his § 2254 petition, and Capital Collateral Regional Counsel ("CCRC") attorney Ali Shakoor filed a motion in this Court to expand the COA to include Petitioner's Confrontation Clause and competency claims. Petitioner responded with a pro se motion to discharge Shakoor as his counsel, as well as a motion to dismiss Shakoor's motion to expand the COA. In his motion to discharge Shakoor, Petitioner did not ask the Court to appoint alternate counsel. Instead, Petitioner indicated that he was specifically electing to proceed pro se in this habeas appeal.

         Citing record evidence establishing that Petitioner was competent to represent himself, and noting that federal litigants have a statutory right to pursue their claims pro se pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 1654, we granted Petitioner's motion to discharge Shakoor as his counsel. In our order granting the motion, we stated that Petitioner would "henceforth be responsible for representing himself in this habeas appeal." Nevertheless, we continued Shakoor's appointment to serve as standby counsel. We further advised Shakoor that, in his capacity as standby ...


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