United States v. Candelario-Santana

Decision Date08 October 2020
Docket NumberNo. 19-1191,19-1191
Citation977 F.3d 146
Parties UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Alexis CANDELARIO-SANTANA, a/k/a "Congo", Defendant, Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit

David Ruhnke, with whom Ruhnke & Barrett, Montclair, NJ, Francisco Rebollo-Casalduc, Francisco Rebollo-Casalduc Law Office, Kendys Pimentel-Soto, and Kendys Pimentel-Soto Law Offices, LLC, San Juan, PR, were on brief, for appellant.

Scott H. Anderson, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney, Mariana E. Bauzá-Almonte, Assistant United States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, and David C. Bornstein, Assistant United States Attorney, were on brief, for appellee.

Before Howard, Chief Judge, Torruella and Thompson, Circuit Judges.

HOWARD, Chief Judge.

On October 19, 2012, the appellant, Alexis Candelario-Santana ("Candelario") was charged in a 52-count superseding indictment in connection with the October 17, 2009 shooting at La Tómbola, a mini-market and bar in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. Relevant to this appeal, Candelario was charged with nine counts of committing a violent crime (here, murder) in aid of racketeering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959, and nine counts of using a firearm during a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(j). In advance of trial, the government filed a notice of its intent to seek the death penalty on sixteen of these counts.

In 2013, a jury found Candelario guilty on all charges but failed to reach a unanimous decision on the question of punishment. The district court, consistent with its representations to the jury during trial, imposed an incarcerative sentence for the term of Candelario's natural life without the possibility of release. Candelario timely appealed his conviction, arguing that the district court's decision to close the courtroom during the testimony of a single witness violated his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial. See United States v. Candelario-Santana, 834 F.3d 8, 23 (1st Cir. 2016). We concluded that this courtroom closing constituted structural error and vacated his conviction. Id. at 24. On remand, now before a different district court judge, the government again notified the court of its intention to seek the death penalty on sixteen of the charges levied against Candelario.

In response, Candelario moved to strike the government's notice of intent to seek the death penalty on double jeopardy grounds. The district court denied the motion and Candelario timely appealed.

We now reverse and remand for further proceedings.

I. BACKGROUND

Because the facts underlying Candelario's original conviction were set forth in some detail in our opinion in his initial appeal, see Candelario-Santana, 843 F.3d at 15–16, we recite them only briefly. We focus our attention on the original jury's verdict following the penalty phase of Candelario's trial.

A. The Facts

In 1993, Candelario became the head of a drug-trafficking organization known as the Palo de Goma drug point, which operated primarily in the Sabana Seca barrio of Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. During this time, Candelario, along with various co-conspirators, trafficked in heroin, cocaine, and marijuana, and used violence to maintain exclusive control of the organization's "territory." In 2003, Candelario pled guilty in a Puerto Rico court to twelve counts of second-degree murder and was sentenced to imprisonment. Nonetheless, he continued to be involved in the drug organization from prison. Candelario was released from custody in February 2009.

On October 17, 2009, several gunmen entered the La Tómbola mini-market and bar in Sabana Seca during its opening night party. They opened fire on the crowd gathered there. Several witnesses identified Candelario as one of the shooters. One of the witnesses stated that she heard Candelario shout, "Nobody is getting out of here alive," while firing on the crowd. The shooting left nine people dead, including an unborn child, and nineteen others injured.

Shortly thereafter, Candelario was indicted along with several others in federal court in connection with the shooting. The indictment included eighteen murder-related charges that carried the possibility of a death sentence. On July 8, 2012, the government notified the district court that it intended to seek the death penalty against Candelario on sixteen of the eighteen murder charges. The government did not seek the death penalty for the two charges related to the death of an unborn child. After a sixteen-day trial, the jury convicted Candelario on all counts, including the sixteen capital counts.

B. The Original Penalty Phase

The trial then moved to the penalty phase. During this phase, the district court instructed the jury orally that "[t]he selection between two serious choices, the death penalty or lifetime imprisonment without the possibility of release is yours and yours alone to make." After instructing the jury with respect to the relevant aggravating and mitigating factors, the burdens of proof, and the proper order of deliberations, the district court stated:

[i]f you determine beyond a reasonable doubt that the aggravating factor or factors found to exist sufficiently outweigh any mitigating fact or factors found to exist to justify a sentence of life for a given capital offense, you will enter your determination as to whether death is justified in the corresponding section of the verdict form ... If you unanimously determine that the aggravating factor or factors do not exist, do not sufficiently outweigh any fact or factors that exist to justify a sentence of death, you will enter your determination as to whether the defendant be sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of release in the pertinent section of the verdict form.
However, if you are unable to come to [an] agreement of [a] unanimous nature on the issue of punishment, after following the instruction [regarding the duty to deliberate] ... I will impose a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of release. There is a space in your verdict form addressing this outcome.

In reference to the duty to deliberate, the district court instructed the members of the jury that they had a "duty to consult with one another and to deliberate with a view to reaching [an] agreement if you [the members of the jury] can do so without doing violence to your individual judgment." It reminded the members of the jury that "[e]ach of you must decide the case for yourself, but [that] you should do so only after consideration of the evidence with your fellow jurors." The members of the jury, the court noted, had an obligation to "examine the questions submitted to you openly and frankly, with proper regard to the opinion of others and with a willingness to examine your own views." Beyond this instruction, however, the district court did not give the jury further oral instructions regarding their duty to reach a unanimous verdict. The district court gave the jury substantively identical written instructions.

The jury was then sent to deliberate, and it was required by statute to return a special verdict. See 18 U.S.C. § 3593(d). In particular, it was required to state both (1) whether it found beyond a reasonable doubt that Candelario was death eligible; and, (2) its finding on each statutory and non-statutory aggravating factor that the government had argued existed in this case. The jury was also required to indicate how many of its members found each of the mitigating factors by a preponderance of the evidence. The verdict form finally asked the jury to state with respect to each of the capital counts whether it "determine[d], by unanimous vote, that a sentence of death shall be imposed"; "determine[d], by unanimous vote, that a sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed"; or determined that "[a]fter due deliberation, [the members of the jury] are unable to come to unanimous agreement on the issues of punishment. We [the jury] understand that the Court will impose a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of release."

After approximately one day of deliberation, the jury informed the district court that it had "concluded deliberations." The jury unanimously found that Candelario was death eligible and that the government had proven six statutory aggravating factors and three non-statutory aggravating factors beyond a reasonable doubt. With respect to the mitigating factors, at least one member of the jury found and considered ten of the twelve mitigating factors presented by Candelario, and two additional ones that had not been raised by counsel. With respect to each of the capital counts, however, the jury stated that it was unable to come to a unanimous agreement on the issue of punishment and "under[stood] that the Court will impose a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of release."

Upon receiving the verdict form, the district court announced the jury's decision and asked each member of the jury if "this [is] your verdict." Each juror answered in the affirmative, and the district court discharged the jury. The district court did not give the jury an Allen charge or expressly inform counsel that the jury was not unanimous before announcing the verdict. See generally, Allen v. United States, 164 U.S. 492, 17 S.Ct. 154, 41 L.Ed. 528 (1896).

C. Appeal and Remand

At a hearing held on August 23, 2013, the district court sentenced Candelario to a sentence of life imprisonment and a (purely hypothetical) period of five years of supervised release.

Candelario timely appealed his conviction, arguing only that the district court's decision to hear testimony from one witness in a closed session violated his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial. Candelario-Santana, 834 F.3d at 21. We agreed with Candelario, holding that the district court had failed to make any finding that closing the courtroom was necessary to protect an "overriding interest" in the witness's...

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2 cases
  • United States v. Candelario-Santana
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • June 5, 2023
    ...Michigan). (Docket No. 1148 at p. 2.) [2] Candelario is no longer eligible for the death-penalty. See United States v. Candelario-Santana, 977 F.3d 146 (1st Cir. 2020). [3] The VICAR counts pertain to allegations that “several shooters attacked” “La Tómbola” market and bar on October 17 200......
  • United States v. Candelario-Santana
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • May 22, 2023

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