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Mattatall v. State

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Kent

June 17, 2019

STEPHEN R. MATTATALL
v.
STATE OF RHODE ISLAND

          Glenn Sparr, Esq. For Plaintiff:

          Judy Davis, Esq. For Defendant:

          DECISION

          K. RODGERS, J.

         Before this Court is Stephen R. Mattatall'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. Stephen R. Mattatall, K1-1983-0012A (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.

         I. Facts and Travel

         On January 7, 1983, Petitioner was indicted on one count of murder under G.L. 1956 §§ 11-23-1 and 11-23-2, and two counts of possession of a firearm after being convicted of a crime of violence under § 11-47-5, all alleged to have occurred on September 24, 1982. On November 9, 1984, a jury found Petitioner guilty of one count of murder in the second degree. The remaining two counts were dismissed pursuant to Super. R. Crim. P. 48(a). He was sentenced to forty years, with thirty years to serve at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI), the balance of ten years suspended, with probation. Petitioner was also sentenced to an additional ten years to serve as a habitual offender. On appeal, the Rhode Island Supreme Court vacated his conviction and remanded the case for a new trial. State v. Mattatall, 510 A.2d 947 (R.I. 1986). The United States Supreme Court granted the State's Petition for Writ of Certiorari and remanded to the Rhode Island Supreme Court instructing the court to reconsider its decision in light of Kuhlmann v. Wilson, 477 U.S. 436 (1986). On remand, the Supreme Court reaffirmed its prior ruling. State v. Mattatall, 525 A.2d 49 (R.I. 1987). Petitioner's second trial ended in a mistrial as a result of Petitioner's courtroom behavior.

         On June 17, 1988, at the conclusion of Petitioner's third trial, a jury again found Petitioner guilty of murder in the second degree. On September 7, 1988, he was sentenced to sixty years, with fifty years to serve at the ACI, the balance of ten years suspended, with probation. The trial justice also sentenced Petitioner to an additional twenty years as a habitual offender, with eighteen years to serve at the ACI before becoming eligible for parole. The trial justice ordered the sentences to be served consecutively. Petitioner appealed his conviction and the Supreme Court affirmed. State v. Mattatall, 603 A.2d 1098 (R.I. 1992).

         Petitioner has filed multiple applications for post-conviction relief prior to the instant Application. On December 28, 2000, Petitioner filed an application for post-conviction relief which was denied on September 28, 2004. Mattatall v. State, KM-2000-0956. Before his first application was decided, Petitioner filed a second application on November 29, 2001, which was denied on May 9, 2002. Petitioner appealed the denial of his second application, and the Supreme Court affirmed. Mattatall v. State, 947 A.2d 896 (R.I. 2008).

         On July 17, 2007, Petitioner filed a third application for post-conviction relief regarding his eligibility for parole. The court granted the State's Motion to Dismiss on February 14, 2008. Mattatall v. State, PM-2007-3645. On appeal, the Supreme Court remanded the case with instructions to provide Petitioner with an opportunity to be heard. Mattatall v. State, 966 A.2d 125 (R.I. 2009) (Mem).

         On June 27, 2013, Petitioner filed another application for post-conviction relief, which was denied on June 17, 2014. Mattatall v. State, PM-2013-3120. Petitioner appealed, and the Supreme Court affirmed, finding that Petitioner's application was barred by the doctrine of res judicata. Mattatall v. State, 126 A.3d 480 (R.I. 2015) (Mem).

         On September 15, 2016, Petitioner filed another application for post-conviction relief regarding his eligibility for parole, which was denied on July 25, 2018. Mattatall v. State, KM-2016-0922. Petitioner filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court, which was denied on June 7, 2019. Mattatall v. State, SU-2018-0267-MP.

         Petitioner currently has an appeal from the denial of a Motion to Correct Illegal Sentence pending before the Supreme Court. State v. Mattatall, SU-2018-0263-CA.[1]

         On January 24, 2019, Petitioner filed the instant pro se Application for Post-Conviction Relief, together with a supporting memorandum (Pet'r's Mem.) and a supplemental memorandum (Pet'r's First Supp. Mem.) asking this Court to vacate his conviction for second degree murder, alleging that his conviction is unconstitutional.[2] In addition to the constitutional infirmities that will be addressed herein, Petitioner also argues in his first Supplemental Memorandum that he is entitled to relief based upon the nature and cause of the accusation, the variance of proof and ineffective assistance of counsel, and he further argues that the State's answer to his original filing was deficient in numerous ways.

         With the agreement of the Attorney General and by Order dated February 22, 2019, this Court limited all arguments[3] 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.[4]

         On May 3, 2019, Petitioner's court-appointed counsel filed an additional Supplemental Memorandum in Support of Petitioner's Application for Post-Conviction Relief (Pet'r's Second Supp. Mem.). The State filed an objection and supporting memorandum thereto on May 20, 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 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 406, 387 A.2d at 1385. The trial justice may not resolve genuine issues of material fact or adjudge the weight or credibility of the evidence. Reyes, 141 A.3d at 653.

         III. Analysis

         Petitioner asserts that his conviction violated his due process rights under both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and article I, section 10 of the Rhode Island Constitution because the single statute of conviction, § 11-23-1, fails to state what conduct qualifies as a crime and fails to provide a penalty. In response, the State contends that Petitioner cannot prove that § 11-23-1 is unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt because Chapter 23 of Title 11 of the Rhode Island General Laws, when read as a whole, clearly and unambiguously provides a description of the criminalized conduct and states a penalty.

         Petitioner was convicted of one count of second degree murder in violation of § 11-23-1.[5] Section 11-23-1 provides:

"The unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought is murder. Every murder perpetrated by poison, lying in wait, or any other kind of wilful, deliberate, malicious and premeditated killing, or committed in the perpetration of, or attempt to perpetrate any arson or any violation of §§ 11-4-2, 11-4-3 or 11-4-4 of the general laws, rape, burglary or robbery, or while resisting arrest by, or under arrest of, any state trooper or policeman in the performance of his duty; or perpetrated from a premeditated design unlawfully and maliciously to effect the death of any human being other than him who is killed is murder in the first degree. Any other murder is murder in the second degree. The degree of murder may be charged in the indictment or information, therefor, and the jury may find the degree of murder, whether the same be charged in the indictment or information or not, or may find the defendant guilty of a lesser offense than that charged in the indictment or information, in accordance with the provisions of § 12-17-14." Sec. 11-23-1

         The penalty for second degree murder is set forth in § 11-23-2, which at all material times provided:

"Every person guilty of murder in the first degree, except as hereinafter provided, shall be imprisoned for life. Every person guilty of murder in the second degree shall be imprisoned for not less than ten (10) years and may be imprisoned for life. Every person who shall commit murder while committed to confinement to the adult correctional institutions or the state reformatory for women shall be punished by death. The punishment of death shall be inflicted by the administration of a lethal gas." Sec. 11-23-2.[6]

         As previously noted, Petitioner was charged in the indictment of violating both §§ 11-23-1 and 11-23-2.

         A. Statutory ...


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