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Santos v. Williams

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

December 2, 2016

CARLOS SANTOS, Petitioner,
v.
TARRY WILLIAMS, Warden, Stateville Correctional Center, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Marvin E. Aspen United States District Judge.

         Presently before us is Carlos Santos' petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons set forth below, we deny the petition in part and determine an evidentiary hearing and appointment of counsel are necessary to resolve Santos' remaining claim.

         BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         I. Santos' Trial and Conviction

         Following a jury trial in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, Santos was convicted of felony first degree murder, 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(3), and personal discharge of a firearm during the course of the crime. See People v. Santos, 2014 IL App (1st) 123129-U, ¶ 14 (1st Dist. Dec. 23, 2014) (Postconviction Order). The felony murder conviction was predicated on charges of attempted aggravating kidnapping, attempted residential burglary, and attempted aggravated unlawful restraint. (Direct Appeal Order, People v. Santos, No. 02 CR 15262 (1st Dist. 2009), State Ct. R., Ex. A (Dkt. No. 18-1) at 2.) He was sentenced to 55 years in prison. (Id.)

         Santos' conviction stemmed from a May 3, 2002 attempt to collect a drug debt that resulted in the shooting death of Jeffrey Smith. Santos, 2014 IL App (1st) 123129-U, ¶ 4. Santos, along with his brother-in-law Alexander Valencia, sold a kilogram of heroin worth $70, 000 to the victim's father, James Smith. Id. James Smith took the drugs but never paid Santos and Valencia. Id. After several unsuccessful attempts to collect the money Smith owed for the drugs, and after Smith threatened to kill them if they came calling again, they hired two Cook County Sheriff deputies, John Lavelle and Estaban Perkins, to help them collect on the debt. Id. On May 3, 2002, Santos, Valencia, Lavelle, and Perkins traveled to the Smith home in two cars. Id. Valencia stayed in one car, while Santos, Lavelle, and Perkins approached the home. Id. Jeffrey Smith, James' adult son, answered the door armed with a “big gun.” (Direct Appeal Order at 5.) Perkins ran back to Valencia's car and drove away, while Santos and Lavelle took cover. Santos, 2014 IL App (1st) 123129-U, ¶ 5. A shootout ensued, and Jeffrey Smith died two days later from gunshot wounds. Id. Lavelle fired the fatal shots. (Direct Appeal Order at 5.) Santos was also armed, and he told police that although his gun did not work, he pulled the slide and the gun discharged at least once. (Id.)

         Santos and Valencia were tried jointly before separate juries. Santos' jury began deliberating at 6:35 p.m. on September 26, 2006. (Trial Tr., State Ct. R., Ex. AA (Dkt. No. 18-27) at OOO 196.) At some point during the evening, the jury sent a note to the judge requesting a dictionary. (Direct Appeal Order at 18; Trial Tr., State Ct. R., Ex. BB (Dkt. No. 18-28) at TTT 21.) The trial judge-off the record and without informing either the defense or prosecution-directed that a Webster's dictionary be delivered to the jury. (Id.) The parties were called into court later that evening, where they were notified, again off the record, that the jury was provided the dictionary. (Direct Appeal Order at 18; see also Aff. in Support of Mot. for New Tr., State Ct. R., Ex. EE (Dkt. No. 18-31) at ¶ 238-39.) Defense counsel moved to restrict the jury from further use of the dictionary, and the jury was not given the dictionary the following day as they continued their deliberations on September 27, 2006. (Id. at C 239.) At 12:15 p.m. on September 27, 2006, the jury returned a guilty verdict. (Trial Tr., State Ct. R., Ex. BB (Dkt. No. 18-28) at PPP 5.) Santos moved for a new trial on several grounds, including that the judge improperly provided the dictionary. (Am. Mot. for New Tr., State Ct. R., Ex. EE (Dkt. No. 18-31) at ¶ 238-39, 240-43.) The trial judge denied the motion on March 1, 2007. (Trial Tr., State Ct. R., Ex. BB (Dkt. No. 18-28) at TTT 8-22.)

         II. Direct Appeal

         Santos appealed his conviction to the Illinois Appellate Court. Santos argued, among other things, that the trial judge violated his constitutional right to be present by communicating with the jury outside the presence of Santos or his counsel, and by supplying the jurors with a dictionary without consulting with the defense, inquiring as to why the jury asked for the dictionary, or determining whether it influenced their deliberations. (Direct Appeal Order at 18.) The Illinois Appellate Court rejected Santos' claim and upheld the conviction on July 14, 2009. (Id. at 20.) Santos then filed a petition for rehearing, arguing that, under state and federal law, the appellate court erred when it held the trial court did not abuse its discretion in communicating ex parte with the jury and in providing the jury a dictionary without defendant being present or having the opportunity to object or otherwise respond. (Direct Appeal Pet. for Reh'g, State Ct. R., Ex. F (Dkt. No. 18-6).) The Illinois Appellate Court summarily denied the petition for rehearing. (Pet. for Reh'g Order, State Ct. R., Ex. G (Dkt. No. 18-7).) Santos renewed his objection to the Illinois Supreme Court by filing a Petition for Leave to Appeal (“PLA”), and his petition was also summarily denied on March 24, 2010. (Direct Appeal PLA Order, State Ct. R., Ex. I (Dkt. No. 18-9).)

         III. State Post-Conviction Proceedings

         Santos then filed a postconviction petition, claiming that the State violated his due process rights under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194 (1963) by withholding material, exculpatory evidence consisting of an audio-recorded police interview with his mother, Aidali Oquendo. Santos, 2014 IL App (1st) 123129-U, ¶ 16. Oquendo retained a lawyer and went to the police station when she learned of Santos' arrest, and police questioned Oquendo in the presence of her lawyer while she was at the station. Id. ¶ 11.

         Santos argued that part of the interview was recorded without his knowledge, and the recording documented Detective John Trahanas threatening his mother. Id. Specifically, Santos alleged that detectives told Oquendo that “if she did not answer their questions she would be charged with a crime.” Id. ¶ 16. Santos further contended that the threats to Oquendo corroborated his allegations that detectives threatened him prior to his own video-recorded interrogation. Id. Before trial, Santos moved to suppress his video-recorded statement to police. Id. ¶¶ 10-13. He claimed that he was coerced into making the statement by detectives, who told him that if he refused to speak with them, “members of his family would be arrested, ” but if he “cooperate[d]” they would “let [him] go” and would not press charges against his family. Id. ¶ 10. Oquendo testified during the suppression hearing, but she did not mention being threatened by detectives. Id. ¶ 11. Santos contended that had he known about the audiotape of his mother's interrogation, he could have impeached Detective Trahanas' testimony at the hearing that no officers ever told Santos that “if he didn't help[, ] his family would get locked up and that he would go to jail for life” or that “members of his family would be arrested.” Id. ¶ 12.

         The state circuit court dismissed Santos' postconviction petition on December 23, 2014. Id. ¶ 17. The Illinois Appellate Court denied Santos' appeal and affirmed the dismissal. Id. ¶ 24. Santos filed a Petition for Leave to Appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, which was summarily denied on May 27, 2015. (Postconviction PLA Order, State Ct. R., Ex. P (Dkt. No. 18-16).)

         IV. Federal Habeas Petition

         Santos filed the instant federal habeas petition on June 16, 2015, asserting two grounds for relief, both of which were raised in state court and were adjudicated on the merits after a full round of state-court appellate review either on direct appeal or through post-conviction review. First, Santos contends the State violated his Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights because he was excluded from being present at a critical stage of his trial when the trial judge communicated ex parte with the deliberating jury and provided them with a dictionary. (Pet. at 5, 11-13.) Second, Santos claims the State denied his right to due process by failing to disclose material evidence in the form of an audiotape of the interview between the police and Oquendo in violation of Brady v. Maryland. (Pet. at 5, 14-16.) We may consider these ...


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