State v. Santiago
|21 September 2000
|STATE of Mississippi v. Luis Vigo SANTIAGO a/k/a Avery Hinestova Balanta a/k/a Luie Santiago Vigo a/k/a Luie Vigo Santiago.
|Mississippi Supreme Court
Office of the Attorney General by Thomas L. Rosenblatt, Attorney for Appellant.
George F. West, Jr., Natchez, Walter J. Pink, Houston, TX, Attorneys for Appellee.
¶ 1. As part of a plea agreement, Luis Vigo Santiago ("Santiago") pled guilty to one count of the sale of cocaine and was sentenced to a term of twenty years in prison, with five years suspended. Santiago subsequently filed a motion for post-conviction relief, alleging that he pled guilty only because the State promised him that he would receive a sentence of no greater than seven years in prison. The trial court granted Santiago's motion, vacated his sentence, and set a trial date so that Santiago could be tried on all the counts contained in the indictment. Aggrieved, the State of Mississippi perfected its appeal to this Court.
¶ 2. Santiago was indicted by the Wilkinson County grand jury on one count of sale of cocaine within a church zone (Count I) and one count of possession of cocaine with intent to deliver within a church zone (Count II). Santiago agreed to plead guilty to Count I in exchange for which the enhancement portion of Count I (sale within a church zone) was dropped and Count II of the indictment was dismissed. The trial court then sentenced Santiago to serve twenty years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, with five of those years suspended. From the time he was arraigned through the time he entered his guilty plea, Santiago has been represented by paid counsel.
¶ 3. Approximately fourteen months after being sentenced, Santiago moved to set aside his guilty plea and requested a trial on the charges contained in the indictment. Santiago claimed that his guilty plea was based on the district attorney's promise that in exchange for said plea, he would be sentenced to no more than seven years in prison. At a hearing on the motion, the State argued that because of the amount of time which had passed since Santiago was sentenced, his motion to set aside the guilty plea was procedurally inappropriate, and the only relief available to him was through the Mississippi Uniform Post-Conviction Collateral Relief Act (hereinafter "UPCRA"), pursuant to Section 99-39-1 et seq. of the Mississippi Code. The State did not argue the merits of Santiago's attempt to procure post-conviction relief ("PCR").
¶ 4. The trial court agreed with the State's procedural argument and dismissed Santiago's motion. However, the trial court granted leave for Santiago to file a motion for PCR under the UPCRA. A copy of Santiago's motion to set aside the guilty plea was made, retitled "Motion for PCR," and filed with the circuit court. A certificate of service asserts that the State was served with the PCR motion on the same day. The trial court subsequently granted Santiago's PCR motion, vacating his sentence and setting the matter for trial. On appeal, the State claims it received no notice of trial court's order granting PCR and that it had no opportunity to respond to Santiago's motion. The record reveals that the State filed an answer to the PCR motion but that said answer was not filed until two weeks after the trial court vacated Santiago's sentence. In the answer, the State denied having made any representations to Santiago regarding any sentence he might receive upon pleading guilty. The State, aggrieved by the order of the trial court granting PCR, vacating Santiago's sentence, and setting the matter for trial, now appeals to this Court, raising the following issues:
¶ 5. The State contends that the trial court failed to provide it proper notice prior to granting Santiago's PCR motion. This Court agrees that the trial court violated the clear mandates of the UPCRA.
¶ 6. The UPCRA requires that certain procedures be followed:
¶ 7. In the case sub judice, Santiago filed a PCR motion which the trial court subsequently granted. The trial court, however, did not issue an order, prior to handing down its decision, directing the State to either file an answer to the PCR motion or to take any other action in response to said motion. The trial court's action clearly contradicts the plain language of Section 99-39-11(3) of the Mississippi Code.
¶ 8. In sustaining Santiago's PCR motion, the trial court stated that an "evidentiary hearing" had been held and that based on the evidence presented therein, along with the information contained in the record, it found Santiago's PCR motion to be well taken. However, at this purported "evidentiary hearing" the State merely argued that Santiago's motion to set aside his guilty plea was procedurally inappropriate, offering no evidence regarding Santiago's entitlement to PCR. By the time the State answered Santiago's PCR motion, the trial court already had vacated Santiago's sentence and ordered a new trial. Therefore, when the trial court ruled on the PCR motion, it had no evidence before it which had been offered by the State in opposition to the motion.
¶ 9. For the aforementioned reasons, this Court finds that the trial court erred in not affording the State an opportunity to oppose Santiago's PCR motion prior to ruling on that motion.
¶ 10. The State argues that no evidence, other than Santiago's own affidavit, supports the granting of PCR in this case. This Court finds the State's argument well taken and holds that the trial court erred in sustaining Santiago's PCR motion.
¶ 11. Under Section 99-39-11(2) of the Mississippi Code, a trial court may summarily dismiss a petition for PCR, without having held an evidentiary hearing, when it is clear that the petitioner is not entitled to relief under the UPCRA. This Court has established that dismissal of a PCR motion is proper where "it appears beyond a doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Turner v. State, 590 So.2d 871, 874 (Miss.1991). On numerous occasions, this Court has affirmed such dismissals when the petitioner's claims are belied by the records of the proceedings below. Taylor v. State, 682 So.2d 359, 362-63 (Miss.1996); Campbell v. State, 611 So.2d 209, 210 (Miss.1992); Harveston v. State, 597 So.2d 641, 642-43 (Miss.1992); Lott v. State, 597 So.2d 627, 630-31 (Miss. 1992). In Houston v. State, 461 So.2d 720, 723 (Miss.1984), the defendant, who had pled guilty to murder under a plea agreement and who had stated that he understood the trial court had no discretion to impose any sentence other than life imprisonment, filed a petition for PCR which the trial court summarily denied. This Court affirmed, holding that:
Houston's contention that he entered his plea of guilty on the firm representation by his counsel of a lenient sentence dissolves before the light of the transcript which reveals that the trial judge told Houston that life imprisonment was the only sentence that could be imposed in his case. Houston's acknowledgment of the trial court's mandatory duty to sentence him to life imprisonment appears on its face to rebut Houston's now-claimed anticipation of a lenient sentence.
¶ 12. In the instant case, the record remains devoid of any evidence supporting the granting of Santiago's PCR motion. In fact, the record reflects that Santiago knew he could possibly receive a sentence of greater than seven years in prison. In his sworn petition to plead guilty to Count I of the indictment, Santiago stated, "I know that the sentence I will receive is solely a matter for the judge to decide." Additionally, while entering his guilty plea, Santiago acknowledged to the trial court that he understood the trial court had the discretion to impose a sentence ranging anywhere from a minimum of a suspended sentence to a maximum of 30 years in prison, and Santiago twice told the trial court that he had not been promised anything in order to obtain his guilty plea. At no point during the hearing at which Santiago entered his guilty plea did the State mention any promise that Santiago would receive a sentence of no more than seven years.
¶ 13. This Court finds nothing in the record to support Santiago's allegation that he was promised a sentence of no greater than seven years in exchange for his guilty plea. Neither the petition to plead guilty nor the transcript from the hearing at which he entered his plea makes any reference to a recommendation or affirmative promise regarding sentencing. Santiago also acknowledged that the...
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...when it is clear that the movant is not entitled to relief under the Uniform Post–Conviction Collateral Relief Act (UPCCRA). State v. Santiago, 773 So.2d 921, 923–24 (¶ 11) (Miss.2000). “A [circuit court] enjoys wide discretion in determining whether to grant an evidentiary hearing.” Willia......
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