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DeCiantis v. State

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Providence

June 13, 2019

ANTHONY DECIANTIS
v.
STATE OF RHODE ISLAND

          For Plaintiff: Glenn Sparr, Esq.

          For Defendant: Judy Davis, Esq.

          DECISION

          K. RODGERS, J.

         Before this Court is Anthony DeCiantis' (Petitioner) Application for Post-Conviction Relief (Application). Petitioner asserts that his convictions should be vacated because the statute under which he was convicted in both State of Rhode Island v. Anthony DeCiantis, P1-1983-0024C and State of Rhode Island v. Anthony J. DeCiantis P1-1983-0418A (the underlying criminal cases) 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 convictions were not unconstitutional. Accordingly, Petitioner's Application is denied.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         On January 5, 1983, in State v. Anthony J. DeCiantis, P1-1983-0024C, Petitioner was indicted on two counts of murder under G.L. 1956 § 11-23-1 and one count of possession of a sawed-off shotgun under § 11-47-8, all of which were alleged to have occurred on November 7, 1982. On January 10, 1983, Petitioner was arraigned and pled guilty to each of the three counts. As to each count of murder, he was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI). As to the count of possession of a sawed-off shotgun, he was sentenced to five years to serve at the ACI. The trial justice ordered the sentences to be served concurrently.

         Roughly five weeks later, on February 18, 1983, in State v. Anthony J. DeCiantis, P1-1983-0418A, Petitioner was indicted on one count of murder under § 11-23-1, which was alleged to have occurred on December 5, 1981. On June 7, 1984, a jury found Petitioner guilty of murder in the first degree. On October 17, 1984, he was sentenced to life imprisonment at the ACI. The trial justice ordered the sentence to be served consecutively with his previous sentences in P1-1983-0024C. Petitioner appealed his conviction and the Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed. State v. DeCiantis, 501 A.2d 365 (R.I. 1985).

         On November 27, 1985, Petitioner filed an application for post-conviction relief in State v. Anthony J. DeCiantis, P1-1983-0418A, which was dismissed pursuant to a grant of the State's motion for summary judgment. DeCiantis v. State, PM-1985-5167. Petitioner appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. On appeal, the court vacated the entry of summary judgment and remanded the case to the Superior Court to allow Petitioner the opportunity to present evidence. DeCiantis v. State, SU-87-0275. On March 23, 1990, Petitioner filed an amended application for post-conviction relief, which was thereafter denied. Petitioner appealed the denial decision to the Supreme Court and the court affirmed. DeCiantis v. State, 599 A.2d 734 (R.I. 1991).

         On August 20, 1993, Petitioner filed another application for post-conviction relief contesting the Parole Board's denial of his application for parole. DeCiantis v. State, PM-1993-4677. The trial justice granted the State's motion for summary judgment and dismissed Petitioner's application. Petitioner appealed the grant of summary judgment to the Supreme Court and the court affirmed. DeCiantis v. State, 666 A.2d 410 (R.I. 1995).

         On February 24, 1998, Petitioner filed a third application for post-conviction relief in State v. Anthony J. DeCiantis, P1-1983-0418A. DeCiantis v. State, PM-1998-0899. On March 27, 2007, the trial justice entered an order denying Petitioner's application. Petitioner appealed the trial justice's decision and the Supreme Court affirmed. DeCiantis v. State, 24 A.3d 557 (R.I. 2011).

         In 2000, Petitioner filed a Rule 35 Motion to Correct Sentence and a Motion to Dismiss Indictment in State v. Anthony J. DeCiantis, P1-1983-0418A. The trial justice granted his Rule 35 Motion and denied his Motion to Dismiss. After granting the State's Petition for Writ of Certiorari, the Supreme Court quashed the trial justice's order and reinstated Petitioner's original sentence. State v. DeCiantis, 813 A.2d 986 (R.I. 2003).

         On June 25, 2015, Petitioner filed an application for post-conviction relief in both underlying criminal cases challenging the Parole Board's denial of his release on parole, which was denied on July 19, 2016. DeCiantis v. Rhode Island Parole Board, PM-2015-2718. Petitioner sought review from the Supreme Court, and on March 20, 2017, Petitioner's Petition for Certiorari was denied. DeCiantis v. State, SU-16-0268.

         On October 17, 2018, Petitioner filed a pro se Motion to Vacate Judgment of Conviction in the underlying criminal cases, together with a supporting memorandum asking this Court to vacate his convictions for murder pursuant to Rule 35 of the Superior Court Rules of Criminal Procedure, alleging that his convictions are unconstitutional.[1] 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[2] 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 3, 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.

         II

         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 convictions. 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 convictions, 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 two indictments and the plea form in State v. Anthony J. DeCiantis, P1-1983-0024C, 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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