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Santiago v. State

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Providence

September 13, 2019

GABRIEL SANTIAGO
v.
STATE OF RHODE ISLAND

          For Plaintiff: Kenneth C. Vale, Esq. Diane Daigle, Esq.

          For Defendant: Jeanine P. McConaghy, Esq.

          DECISION

          McGUIRL, J.

         This matter is before the Court on the Amended Verified Petition of Gabriel Santiago (Petitioner) for Post Conviction Relief (Amended Petition). Petitioner asserts defense counsel denied him effective assistance of counsel as guaranteed by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, and article I, section 10 of the Rhode Island Constitution, and that as a result, he was convicted of the crime with which he had been charged. He also maintains his innocence of the charge. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 10-9.1-3.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         On November 22, 2011, a jury found Petitioner guilty of second degree child molestation sexual assault pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 11-37-8.3. See State v. Santiago, P2/09-0972A. Thereafter, the Court sentenced Petitioner to a term of twenty-five years imprisonment at the Adult Correctional Institutions, with nine years to serve and sixteen years suspended, with probation. See State v. Santiago, 81 A.3d 1136, 1137 (R.I. 2014). The Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed his conviction on January 15, 2014. Id. at 1141.

         The following facts are taken from the Supreme Court opinion:

"In August 2008, defendant met a woman named Chely on the internet.[1] During the course of their burgeoning online relationship, Santiago invited Chely to relocate to Rhode Island from Texas, and she eventually moved into defendant's Central Falls apartment with two of her daughters, then ages six and seven.
"On February 5, 2009, defendant was home alone with Chely's daughters while their mother attended night classes. Doreen, the older of Chely's daughters, asked defendant for permission to play a video game. Doreen said that Santiago told her that, to play the video games, she would have to 'do something,' specifically, to 'take a shower with him or touch his private part.' According to Doreen, defendant made her touch 'his private part' under his clothes and move her hand back and forth. The defendant instructed Doreen to cover her eyes with her other hand so that she would not see. While recounting the events of that night, Doreen also said that after about a minute, defendant told her to go wash her hands because she had 'white things around her hands.' She said that she did not know the source of the substance but that it had not been on her hand before she touched defendant. She also said that Santiago instructed her not to tell anyone what had occurred.
"Despite that admonition, however, the following day Doreen informed her mother about what had happened. Chely and her daughters quickly vacated the apartment, and, a few days later, Chely reported the incident to the Central Falls Police Department. Chely and Doreen were referred by the police to the Child Advocacy Center (CAC) for an interview, and a trained CAC counselor interviewed the young girl on February 11, 2009. The interview was transcribed and recorded on videotape. During the CAC interview, Doreen provided details of the events of February 5, including the fact that when she touched defendant's body part it felt hard. Santiago subsequently was arrested and charged with second-degree child molestation sexual assault." Santiago, 81 A.3d at 1138.

         On June 13, 2014, Petitioner, pro se, filed an Application for Post Conviction Relief (PCR). He later obtained counsel who then filed an Amended Petition on Petitioner's behalf.[2] The Court conducted a hearing on the Amended Petition on February 5, 2017. Petitioner and his former attorney, Jeffrey D. Peckham, testified at the hearing. Additional facts will be supplied in the Analysis section of this Decision.

         II

         Standard of Review

         It is well-settled that '"the 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) (quoting Page v. State, 995 A.2d 934, 942 (R.I. 2010)); see also Lyons v. State, 43 A.3d 62, 64 (R.I. 2012) ("[O]ne who has been convicted of a crime may seek collateral review of that conviction based on alleged violations of his or her constitutional rights"). The action is civil in nature and governed by all rules and statutes applicable in civil proceedings. See § 10-9.1-7 ("All rules and statutes applicable in civil proceedings shall apply . . . ."); see also Lyons, 43 A.3d at 64 (stating "[a]pplication[s] for postconviction relief [are] civil in nature"). The "applicant for postconviction relief bears the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that such relief is warranted in his or her case." DeCiantis, 24 A.3d at 569.

         III

         Analysis

         The Petitioner contends that the defense counsel was ineffective because he failed to satisfy Petitioner's tactical demands during the trial. He asserts three ineffective assistance of counsel arguments; namely, that his counsel failed (a) to engage a medical expert; (b) to cross-examine the victim's mother regarding her alleged motive to make false allegations against Petitioner; and (c) to utilize notes about witnesses that Petitioner took during the trial at counsel's request. Petitioner also maintains that he is innocent of the crime.

         In Rhode Island, "[i]t is well established that . . . ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims are assessed under the familiar two-pronged test announced by the United States Supreme Court in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984)." Millette v. State, 183 A.3d 1124, 1129 (R.I. 2018). Under the Strickland test,

"an applicant for postconviction relief must first establish that counsel's performance was constitutionally deficient by demonstrating that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the counsel guaranteed . . . by the Sixth Amendment. Second, the applicant must demonstrate that he or she was prejudiced by counsel's performance by showing that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Millette, 183 A.3d at 1129 (internal citations and quotations omitted).

         In making his claim, Petitioner "is saddled with a 'heavy burden,' in that there exists 'a strong presumption [recognized by this Court] that an attorney's performance falls within the range of reasonable professional assistance and sound strategy . . . .'" Rice v. State, 38 A.3d 9, 16-17 (R.I. 2012) (quoting Ouimette v. State, 785 A.2d 1132, 1138-39 (R.I. 2001)). See also Jaiman v. State, 55 A.3d 224, 238 (R.I. 2012) ("Recognizing the difficulties inherent in [an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, ] 'a court must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance; that is, the defendant must overcome the presumption that, under the circumstances, the challenged action 'might be considered sound trial strategy.'" (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689). The "Constitution guarantees criminal defendants only a fair trial and a competent attorney. It does not insure that defense counsel will recognize and raise every conceivable constitutional claim." Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107, 134 (1982).

         A

         Failure to Engage ...


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