Saunders v. Comm'r of Corr.

Decision Date26 November 2019
Docket NumberAC 41186
Citation221 A.3d 810,194 Conn.App. 473
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals
Parties Willie A. SAUNDERS v. COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTION

Vishal K. Garg, assigned counsel, with whom, on the brief, was Desmond M. Ryan, for the appellant (petitioner).

Bruce R. Lockwood, supervisory assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Maureen Platt, state's attorney, and Eva B. Lenczewski, supervisory assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (respondent).

Alvord, Prescott and Moll, Js.

MOLL, J.

The petitioner, Willie A. Saunders, appeals from the judgment of the habeas court dismissing his petition for a writ of habeas corpus on the ground that his due process claims, predicated on allegations that he was incompetent to stand trial and that the state and the trial court failed to comply with General Statutes § 54-56d,1 were procedurally defaulted. On appeal, the petitioner claims that the court improperly dismissed the petition because (1) his due process claims were not subject to the procedural default rule, or (2) alternatively, he sufficiently pleaded cause and prejudice to overcome the procedural defaults and allow judicial review of his claims. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the habeas court.

The following recitation was set forth by this court in the petitioner's direct appeal from his conviction. "The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. On April 20, 2003, Easter Sunday, the victim,2 who was ten years old at the time, and several members of her family ... were staying with the [petitioner's] sister ... in her apartment.... The sleeping arrangements were such that the victim shared a room with her five year old brother, C .... On that night, the victim shared a twin bed with [C] .... The victim slept on her stomach, still dressed in her Easter dress with her undergarments and shoes on. At some point, the [petitioner] entered the room and shook the victim's arm, telling her that her mother wanted her. The victim feigned sleep and ignored the [petitioner], who then went into the hall outside the room.... The [petitioner] reentered the room and approached the victim, who was still feigning sleep, face down on the bed. He pulled down her undergarments and left the room again. He soon returned and removed C from the twin bed he was sharing with the victim and placed him on the floor. C did not awaken. The [petitioner] then inserted his penis into the victim's vagina. The [petitioner] had lubricated his penis with shampoo that burned the victim's vagina. The [petitioner] then tried to insert his penis fully into the victim's vagina for five minutes to no avail.

During the assault, the victim continued to feign sleep in fear that had she not, the [petitioner] would have physically assaulted her. After ending his efforts, the [petitioner] pulled the victim's undergarments back up, placed C back on the bed and left the room.... The victim did not immediately report the assault."

"On October 29, 2003, the victim was at home with C and her older brother, D, while their mother was at work. She and D were watching the movie ‘The Color Purple’ on television. In the movie, there is a scene in which a character is raped by her father and becomes pregnant. After viewing the movie, the victim had a violent outburst in which she destroyed several glass figurines and other items she kept in her bedroom. D intervened, asking the victim what was wrong with her. The victim told D that the [petitioner] had raped her. D then called their mother and reported to her what the victim had told him. The victim's mother came home and called the police.... Subsequently, the victim picked the [petitioner's] photograph out of a photographic array at the police department." (Footnote in original; footnotes omitted.) State v. Saunders , 114 Conn. App. 493, 495–96, 969 A.2d 868, cert. denied, 292 Conn. 917, 973 A.2d 1277 (2009).

By way of a substitute long form information, the petitioner was charged with sexual assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-70 (a) (2) and risk of injury to a child in violation of General Statutes § 53-21 (a) (2). In June, 2006, following a jury trial, the petitioner was found guilty of both crimes. The trial court imposed a total effective sentence of ten years of imprisonment followed by fifteen years of special parole. This court affirmed the judgment of conviction.3 See State v. Saunders , supra, 114 Conn. App. at 509, 969 A.2d 868.

In October, 2009, the petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus alleging that his trial counsel had rendered ineffective assistance by failing to call additional alibi witnesses at trial (first petition). The habeas court denied the first petition. Following the denial of the petitioner's petition for certification to appeal, the petitioner filed an appeal, which this court dismissed. Saunders v. Commissioner of Correction , 143 Conn. App. 902, 67 A.3d 316, cert. denied, 31 Conn. 917, 76 A.3d 632 (2013).

On September 28, 2015, more than nine years following the judgment of conviction, the petitioner filed a second petition for a writ of habeas corpus—the petition at issue in this appeal (second petition). The second petition consisted of two counts asserting due process violations under the fifth and fourteenth amendments to the United States constitution and article first, §§ 8 and 9, of the Connecticut constitution on the grounds that the petitioner was incompetent to be prosecuted and to stand trial and that, in violation of § 54-56d, no competency examination had been requested by his trial counsel, the state, or the trial court during the criminal proceedings. In count one, the petitioner alleged that he suffers from severe intellectual disabilities, including, inter alia, an inability to read or write, a diagnosis of "mental retardation" at a young age, and brain functioning equivalent to that of a ten year old child. The petitioner alleged that, as a result of these purported deficiencies, he could not comprehend the nature of the criminal proceedings against him, other than the general nature of the charges and the fact that he was facing incarceration if convicted. He further alleged that his trial counsel, the state, and the court did not request that he undergo a competency examination during the course of the criminal proceedings.

In count two of the second petition, the petitioner alleged that he had significant physiological and mental health afflictions that rendered him incompetent to be prosecuted and to stand trial. The petitioner alleged, inter alia, that he had a long history of epileptic seizures, a visibly misshapen head, paranoia, schizophrenia, and depression, and that he had been hospitalized on numerous occasions in North Carolina prior to his arrest for the crimes at issue. The petitioner further alleged that these conditions continued to plague him throughout his period of incarceration. He also alleged, as he had in the first count, that his trial counsel, the state, and the trial court had not requested a competency examination during the course of the criminal proceedings.

On March 31, 2016, pursuant to Practice Book § 23-30,4 the respondent, the Commissioner of Correction, filed a return denying the material allegations in the second petition and asserting several affirmative defenses, including procedural default as to both counts of the second petition.5 According to the respondent, the petitioner's due process claims regarding his alleged incompetency were not raised during the petitioner's criminal trial or pursued on direct appeal from the judgment of conviction and, thus, the claims were barred by the procedural default rule. Furthermore, the respondent alleged that the petitioner could not establish sufficient cause and prejudice to excuse the procedural defaults.

On July 20, 2016, pursuant to Practice Book § 23-31,6 the petitioner filed a reply. Therein, in response to the respondent's affirmative defenses sounding in procedural default, the petitioner alleged that because his due process rights were violated by virtue of his standing trial while he was incompetent, it would be "circular" and "illogical" to subject his due process claims to a procedural default analysis. The petitioner also alleged that he could not have raised his due process claims at any earlier juncture because he is "significantly developmentally disabled because of his significantly low IQ [intelligence quotient] of 50" and none of his previous attorneys had his IQ tested and/or his competency evaluated. Finally, in the alternative, he alleged that he could establish both cause and prejudice to overcome the procedural defaults.7

On October 25, 2017, pursuant to Practice Book § 23-29, the respondent filed a motion to dismiss the second petition, inter alia, on the ground that the petitioner's due process claims raised therein were procedurally defaulted.8 Following a hearing held on the same day,9 the habeas court issued a memorandum of decision granting the motion to dismiss.10 The court determined that the petitioner's due process claims11 were procedurally defaulted and that he had failed to allege legally cognizable cause and prejudice to overcome the procedural defaults. The petitioner then filed a petition for certification to appeal, which the court granted. This appeal followed. Additional facts and procedural history will be set forth as necessary.

Before turning to the petitioner's claims, we begin by setting forth the relevant legal principles and standard of review. " Practice Book § 23-29 (5) permits a habeas court to dismiss a petition for ‘any ... legally sufficient ground’ "; Fuller v. Commissioner of Correction , 75 Conn. App. 814, 818, 817 A.2d 1274, cert. denied, 263 Conn. 926, 823 A.2d 1217 (2003) ; which may include procedural default. Brewer v. Commissioner of Correction , 162 Conn. App. 8, 16–19, 130 A.3d 882 (2015). "The...

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4 cases
  • Saunders v. Comm'r of Corr.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • April 19, 2022
  • Woods v. Comm'r of Corr.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • June 2, 2020
    ... ... and whether they find support in the facts that appear in the record." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Saunders v. Commissioner of Correction , 194 Conn. App. 473, 48182, 221 A.3d 810 (2019), cert. granted on other grounds, 334 Conn. 917, 222 A.3d 103 ... ...
  • Bova v. Commissioner of Correction
    • United States
    • Connecticut Superior Court
    • January 15, 2020
    ... ... that his default by failure to do so should be excused." ... Saunders v. Commissioner of Correction, 194 ... Conn.App. 473, 484, A.3d (2019). "The appropriate ... ...
  • Saunders v. Comm'r of Corr.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • January 14, 2020
    ...state's attorney, in opposition.The petitioner Willie A. Saunders' petition for certification to appeal from the Appellate Court, 194 Conn. App. 473, 221 A.3d 810 (2019), is granted, limited to the following issues:"1. Did the Appellate Court correctly conclude that the doctrine of procedur......

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