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Snell v. State

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

November 17, 2015

Curley Snell
v.
State of Rhode Island.

Associate Justice Stephen P. Nugent, Providence County Superior Court. PM 10-5585

For Applicant: Catherin Gibran Office of the Public Defender

For State: Virginia M. McGinn Department of Attorney General

Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.

OPINION

INDEGLIA JUSTICE.

The applicant, Curley Snell (Snell or applicant), appeals from a judgment of the Superior Court denying his application for postconviction relief. On appeal, Snell contends that the hearing justice erred by rejecting his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. This case came before the Supreme Court for oral argument on September 29, 2015, pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised in this appeal should not be summarily decided. After carefully considering the written and oral submissions of the parties, we are satisfied that this appeal may be resolved without further briefing or argument. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

I

Facts and Travel

This Court affirmed Snell's convictions in State v. Snell, 892 A.2d 108, 123 (R.I. 2006) (Snell II), [1] which sets forth the facts and procedural history of his prosecution. In short, on January 11, 2001, Snell argued with his ex-girlfriend, Tanny Eisom (Tanny), about her plans to go out that night. Upon her return to her apartment early the following morning, Snell chased after Tanny and stabbed her and her brother, Slade Edmonds.

On March 19, 2001, Snell was charged with one count of felony domestic assault (count 1), two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon (counts 2 and 3), and one count of simple domestic assault after previously having been convicted twice of domestic assault (count 4). During Snell's trial, in December 2001, both the state and Snell's trial counsel stipulated in the presence of the jury that Snell had been "twice previously convicted of a domestic violence crime." The trial justice then immediately instructed the jury that they were not to consider the previous convictions as evidence that Snell had a propensity to commit the charged offenses. Instead, the trial justice made clear that the jury was to consider the stipulation solely for the purpose of establishing an essential element of count 4, namely, that Snell had been convicted twice previously of domestic violence crimes. He further cautioned that the jury was to consider the stipulation for no other purpose.

The jury convicted Snell on all four counts, and he timely appealed those convictions to this Court. After reviewing the record, we affirmed his convictions on all counts on February 27, 2006. See Snell II, 892 A.2d at 123. On May 26, 2006, Snell timely moved for a reduced sentence, which the trial justice denied. We affirmed that decision in State v. Snell, 11 A.3d 97, 103 (R.I. 2011) (Snell III). On September 23, 2010, Snell filed an application for postconviction relief. In it, he alleged that his trial counsel was "constitutionally deficient because he failed to even attempt to prevent the jury from hearing that [Snell] had two prior convictions for domestic violence, but, instead, actually stipulated to this fact before the jury."[2] At the hearing, the parties submitted memoranda and stipulated facts, the hearing justice heard oral arguments, and Snell testified. Snell's trial counsel could not be located and therefore was unavailable to testify.

In his bench decision denying Snell's application, the hearing justice noted that count 4 charged Snell with violating G.L. 1956 § 11-5-3 which, because it would be his third offense, "required [the state] to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that [Snell] had at least two prior convictions of domestic violence offenses." See G.L. 1956 § 12-29-5.[3] The hearing justice considered the stipulation to be a tactical decision, reasoning that Snell's trial counsel chose to stipulate to the existence of the prior convictions, "[r]ather than allow[ing] the jury to see or consider the certified copies of the convictions and to hear the details of the prior crimes * * * as well as the resulting sentences imposed for each of those prior convictions * * * ." The hearing justice further noted that "the trial court properly characterized the prior convictions as elements of crimes charged and cautioned the jury from considering or using [the stipulation] for any other purpose or in any other way." As to Snell's contention that his counsel should have stipulated to the convictions outside the presence of the jury, the hearing justice countered that counsel had no control with regard to "whether [the trial court] was going to read that stipulation to the jury[.]" He also noted that "the Supreme Court upheld the conviction, including the fact that that stipulation was read to the jury." [4]

After three unsuccessful appeals, Snell is again before this Court, this time arguing that the hearing justice erred in denying his ...


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