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State ex rel Rodriguez-Hernandez v. State

Supreme Court of Louisiana

June 5, 2017



          PER CURIAM.

         Denied. Relator fails to show he received ineffective assistance of counsel under the standard of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984). As to the remaining claims, relator fails to satisfy his postconviction burden of proof. La.C.Cr.P. art. 930.2. We attach hereto and make a part hereof the district court's written reasons denying relator's application.

         Relator has now fully litigated his application for post-conviction relief in state court. Similar to federal habeas relief, see 28 U.S.C. § 2244, Louisiana postconviction procedure envisions the filing of a second or successive application only under the narrow circumstances provided in La.C.Cr.P. art. 930.4 and within the limitations period as set out in La.C.Cr.P. art. 930.8. Notably, the legislature in 2013 La. Acts 251 amended that article to make the procedural bars against successive filings mandatory. Relator's claims have now been fully litigated in accord with La.C.Cr.P. art. 930.6, and this denial is final. Hereafter, unless he can show that one of the narrow exceptions authorizing the filing of a successive application applies, relator has exhausted his right to state collateral review. The district court is ordered to record a minute entry consistent with this per curiam.

         Field: Octomber 13, 2015


          Hon. August J. Hand, Judge

         On August 31, 2015, petitioner Luis Startyn Rodriguez-Hernandez ("Rodriguez" or "petitioner") filed a timely pro se application for Post-Conviction Relief. The application was mistakenly filed in Washington Parish, which is also within the 22nd Judicial District. The application was transferred to and was subsequently filed in St. Tammany Parish, the parish of Rodriguez' conviction. See La. C.C.P. art, 925. After considering the application and the applicable law, the Court finds the application may be dismissed upon the pleadings pursuant to 928.

         The record shows Rodriguez was charged by grand jury indictment with first degree murder, a violation of La. R.S. 14:30. Carlos Rodriguez (no relation to the petitioner), Erly Montoya and Gina Scramuzza were charged with first degree murder in the same indictment. The state severed the charges against the petitioner and tried him separately. The state elected not to pursue the death penalty. Following a jury trial, the petitioner was found guilty as charged. He was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor without the benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence.

         Rodriguez appealed. In his sole assignment of error, Rodriguez claimed his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the prosecutor's expression of his personal opinion "as to petitioner's guilt in closing argument. The appellate court found no merit to this claim and affirmed Rodriguez's conviction and sentence in an unpublished opinion. State v. Rodriguez-Hernandez, 2012-1040 (La.App. 1 Cir. 9/13/13). The Louisiana Supreme Court denied writs. State v. Rodriguez-Hernandez, 2013-2476 (La. 5/23/14); 140 So, 3d 722 (Mem.).

         In his post-conviction application, Rodriguez raises three claims; (1) the evidence was insufficient to convict and appellate counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to assign this as an error in the direct appeal; (2) the trial Court abused its discretion by admitting evidence of Melvin Gonzales' prior statement as impeachment evidence and trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to object to its admission; and (3) his constitutional rights were violated when he was denied the right to testify on his own behalf. Each of these claims will be addressed separately.

         Evidence Sufficiency

         Although more often raised on appeal, timely free-standing claims challenging the sufficiency of the evidence are cognizable on collateral review. State ex rei. Montgomery v. State, 2012-2116 (La. 3/15/13), 109 So.3d371. "In reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence to support a conviction, an appellate court in Louisiana is controlled by the standard enunciated by the United States Supreme Court in Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979), ... [T]he appellate court must determine that the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution, was sufficient to convince a rational trier of fact that all of the elements of the crime had been proved beyond a reasonable doubt." State v. Captviila, 448 So.2d 676, 678 (La. 1984).

         First degree murder is the killing of a human being when the offender has the specific intent lo kill or to inflict great bodily harm and is engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of certain enumerated felonies, including robbery or kidnapping. La. R.S. 14:30(A)(1). First degree murder is also the killing of a human being when the offender has the specific intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm and has offered, has been offered, has given, or has received anything of value for the killing. La. R.S. 14;30(A)(4). The state argued to the jury that the evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt the petitioner committed first degree murder under both of these theories.

         Rodriguez contends there was no evidence linking him to the killing of the victim, Mario Scramuzza, Jr. He argues the state failed to prove he had the requisite specific intent to commit first degree murder, second degree murder, or manslaughter, or lo be a principal to any of those crimes. Rodriguez maintains he was hired to help only with an insurance scam, which involved removing items from the Scramuzza household. He claims Carlos Rodriguez committed the murder of Mr. Scramuzza, and that he had no knowledge Carlos Rodriguez and Gina Scramuzza planned to kill Mr. ...

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