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Fuentes v. State

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Providence

June 7, 2019


          For Plaintiff: Glenn Sparr, Esq.

          For Defendant: Judy Davis, Esq.


          K. RODGERS, J.

         Before this Court is Samuel Fuentes's (Petitioner) Application for Post-Conviction Relief (Application). Petitioner asserts that his conviction should be vacated because the statute under which he was convicted in State of Rhode Island v. Samuel Fuentes, P2-1978-0545A (the underlying criminal case) is unconstitutional in that it fails to describe a crime and prescribe a penalty therein.

         This Court's jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 10-9.1-1. Having reviewed the parties' memoranda, and for the reasons set forth below, this Court finds that Petitioner's conviction was not unconstitutional. Accordingly, Petitioner's Application is denied.


         Facts and Travel

         On April 25, 1978, Petitioner was indicted on two counts of murder under G.L. 1956 § 11-23-1, both alleged to have occurred on February 21, 1978. On October 18, 1978, a jury found Petitioner guilty of two counts of murder in the first degree. On December 14, 1978, as to each count, he was sentenced to a life sentence to serve at the Adult Correctional Institutions (the ACI), with special conditions. The trial justice ordered that the sentences run consecutively. Petitioner appealed his convictions to the Rhode Island Supreme Court and the Supreme Court affirmed. State v. Fuentes, 433 A.2d 184 (R.I. 1981).

         Petitioner filed a previous application for post-conviction relief, which was denied on September 13, 1989. Fuentes v. State, PM-1985-4163. Petitioner appealed the denial of that decision to the Supreme Court and the court affirmed. Fuentes v. State, 598 A.2d 113 (R.I. 1991) (mem.).

         On February 19, 2014, Petitioner filed a second application for post-conviction relief. Fuentes v. Wall, PM-2014-0940. On June 12, 2014, the trial justice granted Petitioner's Motion to Dismiss his application and dismissed the petition with prejudice.

         On December 10, 2014, Petitioner filed a third application for post-conviction relief challenging the Parole Board's denial of his release on parole. Fuentes v. State, PM-2015-0259. On May 9, 2016, Petitioner's application was denied. On April 18, 2017, Petitioner filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari, which was denied on January 29, 2018. Fuentes v. State, SU-2017-0144-MP.

         On May 9, 2016, Petitioner filed a fourth application for post-conviction relief claiming ineffective assistance of counsel by his court-appointed attorney who represented him in a collateral post-conviction relief proceeding and contesting the imposition of consecutive sentences. Fuentes v. Wall, PM-2016-2073. Petitioner's application was denied on March 20, 2017.

         On November 8, 2018, Petitioner filed a pro se Motion to Vacate Judgment of Conviction in the underlying criminal case, together with a supporting memorandum asking this Court to vacate his conviction for first degree murder pursuant to Rule 35 of the Superior Court Rules of Criminal Procedure, alleging that his conviction is unconstitutional. On December 14, 2018, by agreement of the Office of the Attorney General and Petitioner's court-appointed counsel, this Court ordered Petitioner's Motion to Vacate to be converted to the instant Petition for Post-Conviction Relief in order that his request under Rule 35 would not suffer the same fate as in State v. Linde, 965 A.2d 415, 416 n.2 (R.I. 2009) (refusing to reach merits of a constitutional challenge in the context of a Rule 35 motion to correct an illegal sentence).

         With the agreement of the Attorney General and by Order dated February 22, 2019, this Court limited all arguments[1] to "the constitutionality of a criminal statute which allegedly fails to state what constitutes the crime alleged and/or fails to provide for a penalty thereunder," without the State raising the affirmative defenses of res judicata and/or laches.

         On March 11, 2019, Petitioner's court-appointed counsel filed a Supplemental Memorandum in Support of Petitioner's Application for Post-Conviction Relief. The State filed an objection and supporting memorandum thereto on April 1, 2019. On May 24, 2019, the Court provided notice to the State and Petitioner's court-appointed counsel that Petitioner's request for relief would be considered by this Court in the context of a summary disposition. The parties thereafter acknowledged that an evidentiary hearing was unnecessary to resolve the issues before this Court.


         Standard of Review

         Under § 10-9.1-1, any person who has been convicted of a crime may file an application for post-conviction relief to challenge the constitutionality of his or her conviction. Sec. 10-9.1-1(a)(1). Unlike the proceedings afforded to Petitioner for his underlying conviction, post-conviction relief motions are civil in nature. Brown v. State, 32 A.3d 901, 908 (R.I. 2011). Accordingly, the applicant bears "'the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that such [postconviction] relief is warranted.'" Motyka v. State, 172 A.3d 1203, 1205 (R.I. 2017) (quoting Anderson v. State, 45 A.3d 594, 601 (R.I. 2012)). Additionally, because Petitioner challenges the constitutionality of his conviction, Petitioner has the heightened burden of demonstrating unconstitutionality beyond a reasonable doubt. See State v. Beck, 114 R.I. 74, 77, 329 A.2d 190, 193 (1974).

         When ruling on an application for post-conviction relief, if the court considers matters outside the pleadings, the court should "treat the [party's] motion as though it were a motion for summary disposition" as opposed to a motion to dismiss. Palmigiano v. State, 120 R.I. 402, 406, 387 A.2d 1382, 1385 (1978). As will be discussed, this Court has considered Petitioner's indictment and verdict form, which are outside the pleadings in the instant civil action. Accordingly, this Court will review Petitioner's Application in the context of a summary disposition motion under § 10-9.1-6(c), which "'closely resembles' a grant of summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure." Reyes v. State, 141 A.3d 644, 652 (R.I. 2016) (quoting Palmigiano, 120 R.I. at 405, 387 A.2d at 1384).

         Under § 10-9.1-6(c), the court may grant summary disposition when it finds, based on "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions and agreements of fact, together with any affidavits submitted, that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Sec. 10-9.1-6(c). The standard for granting summary disposition on an application for post-conviction relief is the same as in granting summary judgment under Super. R. Civ. P. 56(c)-the "trial justice must consider the affidavits and pleadings . . . in the light most favorable to the party against whom the motion is made." Palmigiano, 120 R.I. at ...

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