Baez-Figueroa v. Attorney Gen. of Puerto Rico, CIVIL 14-1600 (FAB)

Decision Date20 August 2015
Docket NumberCIVIL 14-1600 (FAB)
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Puerto Rico

On May 5, 2009, Alexis Olivo-Marrero, Angel Vargas-Soto, and Arielys Olivo-Ortiz violently lost their lives in the Municipality of Toa Baja, Puerto Rico in what quickly became known as La Masacre de Pajaros (The Pajaros Massacre). See United States v. Adorno-Molina, 774 F.3d 116, 120 (1st Cir. 2014); United States v. Colon-de-Jesus, 2012 WL 2710877 at *3 (D.P.R. July 6, 2012). Two other people were wounded by gunfire. Two of the victims were children. Sammy Baez-Figueroa, a prisoner at the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico Ponce Correctional Jail, Las Cucharas, maximum security facility, and now petitioner in these proceedings under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, was convicted after a jury trial in the Commonwealth Court of First Instance, Superior Court, Bayamon Part, of criminal conspiracy, possession of ammunition, possession of automatic firearms, andpointing and/or firing a gun.1 The charges were related specifically to the Pajaros Massacre. All punishments were imposed to run consecutively as per the sentence handed down on April 11, 2011. The total length of the sentences added up to 211 years. (Docket Nos. 1 at 2, 24-1 at 45-46)2. Petitioner was acquitted of other offenses including three counts of first degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and weapons violations.3 On appeal, twenty-seven points of error were raised.

The convictions and sentences were affirmed by the Puerto Rico Court of Appeals on December 21, 2012. (Case No. KLAN201100658). Pueblo v. Baez Figueroa, 2012 WL 6931128 (TCA 2012) (Docket No. 1-3). The last motion for reconsideration was denied on August 16, 2013. (Docket No. 1 at 7, ¶ g). In the appeal to the Court of Appeals, petitioner attacked court rulings regarding allegedly coerced testimony, as well as charging the trial court with incorrectlyweighing the evidence. Certiorari was denied on September 12, 2012. (Docket No. 2 at 7). Indeed there were three denials of certiorari on direct review. (Docket No. 1 at 7). A motion for reconsideration of denial of certiorari was denied as was a second motion for reconsideration. A pro se habeas corpus petition before Superior Court, Bayamon Part, was apparently filed on January 14, 2014 and denied without a hearing. In that motion, petitioner arguably raised matters related to the failure of the prosecution to have provided him with exculpatory materials, as well as newly discovered evidence. Petitioner did not seek review before the Puerto Rico Court of Appeals because he understood that the appellate court would not change its original decision and he has lost all confidence in the local courts. (Docket No. 1 at 7, ¶ g). No petition for a writ of certiorari was filed before the United States Supreme Court, nor that of Puerto Rico. (Docket No. 1 at 7, ¶¶ g, h).4

This matter is before the court on petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 filed by Sammy Baez-Figueroa on August 4, 2014. (Docket No. 1). In a comprehensive attack on the court actions below, petitioner raises a litany of errors, based upon a total of twenty-seven issues raised at the appellate court level, beginning with his arrest without probable cause, imputing numerouserrors to the court, the prosecutor and the jury, stressing that the sentence was not warranted as contradicted by the acquittals on the crimes of violence he was charged with. He also argued before the appellate court that his sentence was excessive, cruel and unjust punishment. He argues that his right to confrontation was violated because the star witness, who testified under immunity, was not allowed to be confronted about specific instances of lying, that petitioner was arrested without probable cause, that the BMW in which he was a passenger was disposed of by the government before he could have an expert review the vehicle, and that no conspiracy was proven. Petitioner notes that he was convicted of possession of an automatic weapon when the weapon did not fire automatically. Collateral estoppel should have applied to certain evidence used in a prior trial where the defendants were acquitted. Petitioner was not allowed to present evidence that co-conspirators were acquitted. He also complains that the chain of custody was not proved in relation to firearms and that the same were not identified. Finally, he raises an issue of constitutionality regarding the trial process.5 (Docket No. 1 at 8-12).

Petitioner notes that he exhausted all remedies in relation to the issues stated above. He also complains that if he would have been tried in any other jurisdiction of the United States he would have been acquitted since all that is required for conviction in Puerto Rico is at least nine jurors voting for conviction. (Docket No. 1 at 12).

On October 13, 2014, respondent Cesar Miranda-Rodriguez, Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and in his official capacity only, moved to dismiss the complaint under Fed. R. Civ P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Docket No. 17). He argues that petitioner has chosen an inadequate respondent, that he failed to exhaust available state remedies in this mixed petition which contains exhausted and unexhausted claims, and that therefore, the petition must be dismissed, that there is no factual support for the claims, and that he has failed to show that he is being held in violation of the laws and Constitution of the United States. (Docket No. 17 at 5).

On January 08, 2015, petitioner moved in opposition to the motion to dismiss. (Docket No. 28). He notes that correcting the respondent would simply require an amendment to the caption. He refutes the contentions of the respondent, quoting extensively from 28 U.S.C. § 2254, relating to and describing the evidence which reflects that there was no probable cause for his arrest and where he is actually innocent, all while ignoring any of the factual determinations of the court of appeals. He stresses that there was clearly insufficient evidence to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. He does not make reference to the stipulated narrative of the evidence which was presented to the appellate court in relation to the testimonies of the witnesses at the trial court, but generally paints a portrait of complete innocence.


A federal court will consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus, when a petitioner asserts that his conviction is in violation of the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. §2254(a); Lyons v. Brady, 666 F.3d 51, 55 (1st Cir. 2012); Nazario-Baez v. Batista, 29 F. Supp. 3d 65, 68 (D.P.R. 2014); Romero-Hernandez v. Matias-De Leon, 796 F. Supp. 2d 290, 292 (D.P.R. 2011). "It is commonly said that 'mere' errors under state law in the admission of evidence are not recognizable under federal habeas review. This means that the question is not whether the admission of the evidence was state-law error, butwhether any error rendered the trial so fundamentally unfair that it violated the Due Process Clause." Kater v. Maloney, 459 F.3d 56, 64 (1st Cir. 2006); Nazario-Baez v. Batista, 29 F. Supp. 3d at 68; Reyes v. Puerto Rico, 977 F. Supp. 2d 107, 108-09 (D.P.R. 2013); Collanzo v. Perry, 2010 WL 428960 at *3 (D.N.H. Jan. 29, 2010).

Title 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) reads thus:

(d) An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim-
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). See Brumfield v. Cain, 135 S. Ct. 2269, 2288-89 (2015); White v. Woodall, 134 S. Ct. 1697, 1703 (2014).

In applying this "highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, . . .state-court decisions [must] be given the benefit of the doubt." Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. ___, 131 S. Ct. 1388, 1398 (2011), cited in Brumfield v. Cain, 135 S. Ct. at 2289. The prisoner must rebut any state court factual findings he seeks to challenge by clear and convincing evidenceunder 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). Burt v. Titlow, 571 U.S. ___,___, 134 S. Ct. 10, 15 (2013), cited in cited in Brumfield v. Cain, 135 S. Ct. at 2289.


To be eligible for relief, petitioner must show that he has either exhausted all of his state court remedies for each claim raised, or that he is excused from exhausting those remedies because of an absence of available or effective state corrective processes. See Perez-Arocho v. Wanders, 2014 WL 859091 at *1 (D.P.R. Feb. 28, 2014); Legere v. Gerry, 2010 WL 398960 at *3 (D.N.H. Jan. 27, 2010), citing 28 U.S.C. §2254 (a) & (b). See also Adelson v. DiPaola, 131 F.3d 259, 261 (1st Cir. 1997). In order to exhaust state remedies in Puerto Rico, petitioner must file either a motion under Rule 192.1, Puerto Rico Rules of Criminal Procedure6, or file a motion under the Puerto Rico Code of Criminal Procedure, P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 34, § 1741 (c). See Martinez-Gonzalez v. Rodriguez-Madera, 2013 WL 625312 at *2 (D.P.R. Feb. 20, 2013). Other than his own statement that all issues were exhausted, there is no other evidence in support of the statement. (DocketNo. 1 at 7). The act of having filed a pro se habeas corpus petition is not enough. Petitioner has to show that the issues presented to this court were adequately presented to the...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT