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Roberts v. State

Superior Court of Rhode Island

March 15, 2018

MARK ROBERTS
v.
STATE OF RHODE ISLAND

          For Plaintiff: Paul J. DiMaio, Esq.

          For Defendant: Jeanine P. McConaghy, Esq.

          DECISION

          Procaccini, MAGISTRATE JUSTICE.

         Before this Court is Petitioner Mark Roberts' (hereinafter Petitioner or Roberts) application for postconviction relief (hereinafter, Application). Petitioner asserts two theories in support of his Application: (1) that his counsel rendered constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel and (2) that his nolo contendere plea was in violation of his constitutional rights. This matter is before this Court pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 10-9.1-1.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         On March 14, 2005, the Providence Police Department arrested Petitioner for an alleged sexual assault. Shortly after his arrest, Petitioner went to Eleanor Slater Hospital (hereinafter, ESH). While at ESH, two separate doctors evaluated Petitioner in order to determine if he was competent to stand trial.[1] The first doctor to evaluate Petitioner concluded that he was incompetent to stand trial. The second doctor, who evaluated Petitioner approximately seven weeks later, concluded that he was competent to stand trial. On August 12, 2005, a grand jury indicted Petitioner on the charge of first degree sexual assault. A different trial justice held a bail hearing on January 5, 2006. Petitioner later pled nolo contendere to the charge on January 9, 2007. Petitioner filed this Application on December 12, 2011. This Court held a hearing for Petitioner's Application on February 12, 2018.

         II

         Standard of Review

         "[T]he remedy of postconviction relief is available to any person who has been convicted of a crime and who thereafter alleges either that the conviction violated the applicant's constitutional rights or that the existence of newly discovered material facts requires vacation of the conviction in the interest of justice." DeCiantis v. State, 24 A.3d 557, 569 (R.I. 2011) (citing Page v. State, 995 A.2d 934, 942 (R.I. 2010)). The action is civil in nature, with all rules and statutes applicable in civil proceedings governing. See § 10-9.1.-7; see also Ouimette v. Moran, 541 A.2d 855, 856 (R.I. 1988) ("In this jurisdiction an application for postconviction relief is civil in nature."). The applicant for postconviction relief "bears '[t]he burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that such relief is warranted' in his or her case." Brown v. State, 32 A.3d 901, 907 (R.I. 2011) (quoting State v. Laurence, 18 A.3d 512, 521 (R.I. 2011) (alteration in original)).

         III

         Analysis

         As mentioned above, Roberts filed his Application asserting two theories: (1) ineffective assistance of counsel and (2) an unconstitutional plea. For the reasons stated herein, this Court rejects Petitioner's Application and upholds his conviction.

         A

         Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         Petitioner contends that he was deprived of his right to effective assistance of counsel because his counsel did not pursue an insanity defense. Specifically, Petitioner argues that the information contained in his competency reports from ESH should have motivated his counsel to pursue an insanity defense.

         The benchmark decision when faced with a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is the United States Supreme Court case Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), which has been adopted by our Supreme Court. See LaChappelle v. State, 686 A.2d 924, 926 (R.I. 1996) ("This Court has adopted the standard announced by the United States Supreme Court in Strickland v. Washington, when generally reviewing claims of ineffective assistance of counsel."); Brown v. Moran, 534 A.2d 180, 182 (R.I. 1987) ("The appropriate standard for reviewing a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is set forth in Strickland v. Washington . . . ."). The Strickland test is two-tiered, and "provides certain criteria that a [petitioner] must establish in order to show ineffective assistance of counsel." Brennan v. Vose, 764 A.2d 168, 171 (R.I. 2001). Pursuant to the first prong of the Strickland test, a petitioner must "demonstrate that counsel's performance was deficient, to the point that the errors were so serious that trial counsel did not function at the level guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment." Id. (citing Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687). According to our Supreme Court, "[a] trial attorney's representation of his or her client will be deemed to have been ineffective under that criterion only when the court determines that it fell 'below an objective standard of reasonableness.'" Guerrero v. State, 47 A.3d 289, 300 (R.I. 2012) (quoting Brennan, 764 A.2d at 171).

         "If (but only if) it is determined that there was deficient performance, the court proceeds to the second prong of the Strickland test . . . ." Guerrero, 47 A.3d at 300-01. Pursuant to the second prong, a petitioner "must show that such deficient performance was so prejudicial to the defense and the errors were so serious as to amount to a deprivation of the applicant's right to a fair trial." Brennan, 764 A.2d at 171.

         1

         First Prong

         As previously stated, the first prong of the Strickland test requires a petitioner to "demonstrate that counsel's performance was deficient, to the point that the errors were so serious that trial counsel did not function at the level guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment." Id. at 171 (citing Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687). In essence, this prong of the Strickland test evaluates whether counsel's performance "fell below an objective standard of reasonableness." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688. The Sixth Amendment standard, however, is "very forgiving, " United States v. Theodore, 468 F.3d 52, 57 (1st Cir. 2006), and the presumption is that counsel performed competently. See Gonder v. State, 935 A.2d 82, 86 (R.I. 2007) ("With respect to the first prong of the Strickla ...


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