Plaintiff: Paul J. DiMaio, Esq.
Defendant: Jeanine P. McConaghy, Esq.
Procaccini, MAGISTRATE JUSTICE.
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.
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. 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.
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)).
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
Assistance of Counsel
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
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
(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.
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 ...