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Hernandez v. State

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

November 27, 2018

Ricardo Hernandez
v.
State of Rhode Island

          Providence County Superior Court (PM 08-401) Associate Justice Robert D. Krause

          For Petitioner: William T. Murphy, Esq.

          For State of Rhode Island: Christopher R. Bush Department of Attorney General

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

          OPINION

          FRANCIS X. FLAHERTY, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE

         Ricardo Hernandez appeals from a judgment of the Superior Court denying and dismissing his application for postconviction relief.[1] This case came before this Court for oral argument on October 2, 2018, pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised in this appeal should not summarily be decided. After hearing the arguments of counsel and examining the memoranda filed on behalf of the parties, we are of the opinion that cause has not been shown, and we proceed to decide the appeal at this time without further briefing or argument. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we vacate the judgment of the Superior Court.

         I. Facts and Travel

         In 1998, a justice of the Superior Court sentenced Hernandez to sixty-three years to serve at the Adult Correctional Institutions after a jury found him guilty, in three consolidated criminal cases, of first degree sexual assault, two counts of second degree sexual assault, assault with intent to commit murder, assault with intent to commit robbery, unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, and assault with a device similar to a firearm. He appealed to this Court, and we affirmed the conviction.[2] Ten years later, in January 2008, Hernandez filed an application for postconviction relief, in accordance with G.L. 1956 chapter 9.1 of title 10. A justice of the Superior Court appointed counsel to represent Hernandez. After a thorough examination of Hernandez's claims, postconviction relief counsel opined that the issues that had been raised in Hernandez's application were "wholly frivolous, without merit, and neither supported by existing law, nor by a good faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law." Counsel further determined that "no other non-frivolous issues or arguments exist which might arguably support plaintiff's Petition[, ]" and that "trial counsel's performance was neither deficient, prejudicial, nor ineffective." Consequently, and in accordance with the mandate set forth in Shatney v. State, 755 A.2d 130 (R.I. 2000), counsel moved to withdraw from the case.

         A hearing was held on postconviction relief counsel's motion to withdraw on April 23, 2010. After counsel explained to the hearing justice his basis for concluding that Hernandez's claims for postconviction relief lacked merit, the hearing justice granted his motion. The hearing justice then reviewed Hernandez's claims and said that he agreed with counsel that the claims lacked merit. He informed Hernandez that, if he still wished to pursue his postconviction relief claims, he would have to do so without court-appointed counsel. After the hearing justice asked Hernandez what he wished to do, Hernandez replied that he continued to believe that he had the right to an attorney to represent him, and that he should not have been charged with attempted murder for using a BB gun during one of the assaults. The hearing justice responded that Hernandez's argument was "wholly and totally without merit[, ]" was a matter "set forth to the finders of fact[, ]" and was never raised. He denied Hernandez's application for postconviction relief. Final judgment was entered on that same day, and Hernandez timely appealed to this Court.

         II. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to § 10-9.1-1, postconviction relief is a remedy 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." Duvere v. State, 151 A.3d 314, 317 (R.I. 2017) (quoting Lamoureux v. State, 93 A.3d 958, 961 (R.I. 2014)). An applicant for postconviction relief bears "[t]he burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that such [postconviction] relief is warranted[.]" Navarro v. State, 187 A.3d 317, 325 (R.I. 2018) (quoting Motyka v. State, 172 A.3d 1203, 1205 (R.I. 2017)). "This Court will not disturb a [hearing] justice's factual findings made on an application for post[ ]conviction relief absent clear error or a showing that the [hearing] justice overlooked or misconceived material evidence in arriving at those findings." Id. (quoting Chapdelaine v. State, 32 A.3d 937, 941 (R.I. 2011)).

         III. Discussion

         Before this Court, Hernandez argues that postconviction relief counsel acted as a mere screening agent rather than as his advocate, as required under state law. He also contends that the hearing justice erred when he denied the application without providing Hernandez with notice of his intent to dismiss the action or granting a continuance to allow Hernandez to respond to the proposed dismissal. Moreover, Hernandez alleges that the hearing justice failed to probe the potential existence of genuine issues of material fact.

         A. ...


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