Briggs v. State, 031020 RISUP, PM-17-1825

Docket Nº:PM-17-1825, P1/15-1144BG, P2/15-1275AG
Opinion Judge:KRAUSE, J.
Attorney:For Plaintiff: William V. Devine, Jr., Esq. For Defendant: John M. Moreira, Esq. Jeffrey Q. Morin, Esq.
Case Date:March 10, 2020
Court:Superior Court of Rhode Island




Nos. PM-17-1825, P1/15-1144BG, P2/15-1275AG

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Providence

March 10, 2020

For Plaintiff: William V. Devine, Jr., Esq.

For Defendant: John M. Moreira, Esq. Jeffrey Q. Morin, Esq.



In this application for postconviction relief Tevin Briggs contends that his attorneys, Robert B. Mann and Matthew S. Dawson, provided him with substandard representation. The Court disagrees.

On April 22, 2015, Briggs pled guilty to first degree murder and ancillary offenses and agreed to accept a life sentence in exchange for his promised cooperation in the prosecution of a 2014 gangland shooting where one person was killed and another wounded. Mr. Mann represented Briggs in those negotiated proceedings. Almost a year later, on March 10, 2016, Briggs filed a pro se motion to withdraw his guilty pleas, abrogating his cooperation agreement. In that motion, he accused Mr. Mann of coercing him to plead guilty and to undertake unwanted responsibilities under the cooperation agreement. He further alleged that Mr. Mann had ignored his frequent protests that he did not want to cooperate, and he also criticized him for settling on a life term instead of a lesser sentence.

As a result of those complaints, Mr. Mann was obliged to withdraw from the case, and Mr. Dawson was appointed in his place. Rather than pursue Briggs' ill-advised motion to withdraw his pleas, Mr. Dawson concentrated instead, with Briggs' assent, on trying to restore, as much as possible, the original sentence which Mr. Mann had negotiated. Because Briggs was no longer a cooperative witness, Mr. Dawson was unable to reestablish the full measure of leniency which the state had provided to Briggs. He did, however, persuade the state to eliminate a consecutive life sentence and accord Briggs several years of concurrent time for three firearm offenses which were unrelated to the murder case.

On March 16, 2017, after a sentencing hearing, this Court ordered Briggs to serve a life sentence for first degree murder and fifty consecutive years for offenses ancillary to the shooting. Pursuant to the Criminal Street Gang Sentence Enhancement statute, G.L. 1956 § 12-19-39 (the gang enhancement statute), the Court increased Briggs' sentence with an additional ten-year consecutive jail term. Invoking Rule 35, R.Cr.P, Briggs claims that ten-year sentence is illegal.

In his postconviction relief (PCR) application Briggs complains that Mr. Mann acted too hastily and without having conducted an adequate investigation before negotiating the April 22, 2015 disposition which, he says, he was forced to accept. He also contends that his guilty pleas were flawed because he was not informed of the privations associated with this state's "civil death" statute, G.L. 1956 § 13-6-1. Subjection to that statute, he argues, is a direct, not a collateral, consequence of his plea, and that counsel's failure to apprise him of that statute renders his pleas constitutionally infirm.

An evidentiary hearing on those and other claims raised by Briggs in his PCR petition was convened beginning on January 14, 2020, during which Attorneys Mann and Dawson, as well as Assistant Attorney General John Moreira, testified, along with Briggs himself.

For the reasons set forth herein, the Court denies Briggs' PCR application and rejects his Rule 35 claim that the gang enhancement sentence is illegal.

Postconviction Relief

G.L. 1956 § 10-9.1-1 creates a postconviction remedy "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). "An applicant for such relief bears '[t]he burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that such relief is warranted' in his or her case." Brown v. State, 32 A.3d 901, 907 (R.I. 2011) (quoting State v. Laurence, 18 A.3d 512, 521 (R.I. 2011)); Barros v. State, 180 A.3d 823, 828 (R.I. 2018).

The proceedings for postconviction relief are considered civil in nature. Ouimette v. Moran, 541 A.2d 855, 856 (R.I. 1988) (citing State v. Tassone, 417 A.2d 323 (R.I. 1980)); DePina v. State, 79 A.3d 1284, 1288-89 (R.I. 2013) (citing §§ 10-9.1-1; 10-9.1-7).

Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

The benchmark for a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), which has been adopted by the Rhode Island Supreme Court. Brennan v. Vose, 764 A.2d 168, 171 (R.I. 2001); LaChappelle v. State, 686 A.2d 924, 926 (R.I. 1996). Whether an attorney has failed to provide effective assistance is a factual question which a petitioner bears the "heavy burden" of proving. Rice v. State, 38 A.3d 9, 17 (R.I. 2012); Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356, 371 (2010) (noting that Strickland presents a "high bar" to surmount).

When reviewing a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, the question is whether counsel's conduct so undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process that the trial cannot be relied on as having produced a just result. Heath v. Vose, 747 A.2d 475, 478 (R.I. 2000). A Strickland claim presents a two-part analysis. First, the petitioner must demonstrate that counsel's performance was deficient. That test requires a showing that counsel made errors that were so serious that the attorney was "not functioning as the 'counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687; Powers v. State, 734 A.2d 508, 522 (R.I. 1999).

The Sixth Amendment standard for effective assistance of counsel, however, is '"very forgiving, "' United States v. Theodore, 468 F.3d 52, 57 (1st Cir. 2006) (quoting Delgado v. Lewis, 223 F.3d 976, 981 (9th Cir. 2000)), and "a defendant must overcome a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance and sound trial strategy." Hughes v. State, 656 A.2d 971, 972 (R.I. 1995); Gonder v. State, 935 A.2d 82, 86 (R.I. 2007) (holding that a "strong (albeit rebuttable) presumption exists that counsel's performance was competent").

Even if the petitioner can satisfy the first part of the test, he must also demonstrate that his attorney's deficient performance was prejudicial. Thus, he is required to show that a reasonable probability exists that but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694; Hazard v. State, 968 A.2d 886, 892 (R.I. 2009).

Ordinarily, tactical decisions by trial attorneys do not, even if hindsight proves the strategy unwise, amount to defective representation. "As the Strickland Court cautioned, a reviewing court should strive 'to eliminate the distorting effects of hindsight.'" Clark v. Ellerthorpe, 552 A.2d 1186, 1189 (R.I. 1989) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689); see Knight v. Spencer, 447 F.3d 6, 15 (1st Cir. 2006) ("[C]ourts should avoid second-guessing counsel's performance with the use of hindsight."). "Thus, a choice between trial tactics, which appears unwise only in hindsight, does not constitute constitutionally-deficient representation under the reasonably competent assistance standard." United States v. Bosch, 584 F.2d 1113, 1121 (1st Cir. 1978); Linde v. State, 78 A.3d 738, 747 (R.I. 2013) ("'[T]actical decisions by trial counsel, even if ill-advised, do not by themselves constitute ineffective assistance of counsel.'") (quoting Rivera v. State, 58 A.3d 171, 180-81 (R.I. 2013) and Rice, 38 A.3d at 18).

Pertinent Facts

The circumstances surrounding the shooting and Briggs' involvement are fully set forth in the Supreme Court's decision affirming codefendant Bruce Moten's conviction after his jury trial (in which Briggs was, until his aborted cooperation agreement, supposed to have been a significant witness for the state). State v. Moten, 187 A.3d 1080, 1081-85 (R.I. 2018). In short summary, Briggs, Moten, Henry Lopez and Antonio Fortes were part of a Providence street gang denominated the "Young Niggas in Charge" (YNIC) and its affiliate the "Triple Y," which had a longstanding feud with "Triple C," a rival gang from the Chad Brown area in Providence. In the summer of 2014, the feud intensified, and Briggs fired a few wayward shots at some Triple C members at a car wash. On October 22, 2014, Triple C members Terry Robinson, Delacey Andrade and Kendrick Johnson were ambushed in a parking lot at the Chad Brown housing complex. Robinson was killed, and Andrade was wounded. Johnson escaped unharmed.

Although Briggs, Moten, Lopez and Fortes were the main suspects of the shootings, no one was apprehended or charged until January 10, 2015, when Briggs was arrested on several unrelated gun and drug offenses. After that arrest, Briggs confessed to his role in the Chad Brown shootings, identifying his confederates in a four-hour audio/video recorded statement. Moten allegedly shot and killed Robinson; Briggs shot Andrade; and Lopez and Fortes allegedly assisted by locating the targets. Briggs was thereafter charged with the following nine counts arising out of those shootings, the maximum and/or mandatory penalty for each count is set forth in parentheses: (1) first degree murder of Terry Robinson (mandatory, parolable, life sentence);

(2) discharging a firearm while committing a crime of violence resulting in Robinson's death (mandatory consecutive, parolable, life sentence);

(3) assaulting Delacey Andrade with a dangerous weapon (twenty years);

(4) discharging a firearm while committing that felony assault resulting in injury to Andrade (twenty...

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