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Saez v. Commissioner of Correction

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

September 13, 2016

ARNALDO SAEZ
v.
COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTION

          Argued May 10, 2016

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Tolland, Fuger, J.

          James E. Mortimer, with whom, on the brief, was Michael D. Day, for the appellant (petitioner).

          Sarah Hanna, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy, state's attorney, and Lisamaria T. Proscino, special deputy assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (respondent).

          Beach, Mullins and Mihalakos, Js.

          OPINION

          BEACH, J.

         Following the habeas court's denial of his amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus, the petitioner, Arnaldo Saez, appeals from the judgment of the court denying his petition for certification to appeal. On appeal, the petitioner claims that the court abused its discretion by denying his petition for certification to appeal on the following grounds: (1) his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance in the presentation of the petitioner's self-defense claim; and (2) the habeas court improperly prohibited the petitioner from testifying that he was the victim of attacks prior to committing the homicide of which he was convicted. We conclude that the court did not abuse its discretion in denying the petition for certification to appeal, and, accordingly, we dismiss the appeal.

         The record reveals the following relevant factual and procedural history. At the petitioner's criminal trial, the state presented evidence that in the early morning of July 3, 1994, the petitioner had been a passenger in a van traveling on Benton Street in Hartford. Upon seeing the victim, Lazaro Rodriguez, and Janette Reyes, a friend of both the petitioner and the victim, walking along the street, the petitioner yelled out, ‘‘Who own the street?'' Reyes assumed the petitioner was joking and responded that she did. The petitioner asked the question again, but this time he directed it to the victim. The victim replied, ‘‘What do you mean?'' The victim approached the van, and according to Reyes, the petitioner punched the victim in the face. The victim punched the petitioner back.

         During the ensuing fight between the victim and the petitioner, the petitioner withdrew a knife from his pocket and stabbed the victim. The victim raised his arm to protect himself and jumped backward to get away from the petitioner. After continuing to stab him in the chest area, the petitioner told the victim, ‘‘You dead man. You dead.'' The petitioner got back into the van and left the scene. The victim died.

         The petitioner fled to New York and ultimately was apprehended in California two months later. As he awaited trial, the petitioner informed his cellmate that on the night of the murder he had been at a bar and was ‘‘looking to get out and take someone out.'' He told the cellmate that he had thought he was losing the fight when he took out his knife and began stabbing the victim.

         On February 5, 1997, following a trial before a three judge panel, the petitioner was convicted of one count of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a. He thereafter was sentenced to fifty years incarceration.

         The petitioner filed an appeal from his conviction, but he did not pursue the appeal and it was dismissed after his appointed appellate counsel was granted permission to withdraw pursuant to Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738, 87 S.Ct. 1396, 18 L.Ed.2d 493 (1967) (establishing procedure by which appointed counsel may withdraw from criminal appeal on ground of frivolousness). On July 18, 2014, the petitioner filed an amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging ineffective assistance of trial counsel. On October 30, 2014, in an oral decision, the habeas court denied the petition. On November 12, 2014, the court denied the petitioner's petition for certification to appeal. The present appeal followed.

         We begin by setting forth our standard of review following the denial of certification to appeal from the denial of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. ‘‘Faced with a habeas court's denial of a petition for certification to appeal, a petitioner can obtain appellate review of the dismissal of his petition for habeas corpus only by satisfying the two-pronged test enunciated by our Supreme Court in Simms v. Warden, 229 Conn. 178, 640 A.2d 601 (1994), and adopted in Simms v. Warden, 230 Conn. 608, 612, 646 A.2d 126 (1994). First, he must demonstrate that the denial of his petition for certification constituted an abuse of discretion. . . . To prove an abuse of discretion, the petitioner must demonstrate that the [resolution of the underlying claim involves issues that] are debatable among jurists of reason; that a court could resolve the issues [in a different manner]; or that the questions are adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed further. . . . Second, if the petitioner can show an abuse of discretion, he must then prove that the decision of the habeas court should be reversed on the merits. . . . In determining whether there has been an abuse of discretion, every reasonable presumption should be given in favor of the correctness of the court's ruling . . . [and] [r]eversal is required only where an abuse of discretion is manifest or where injustice appears to have been done.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Wilson v. Commissioner of Correction, 150 Conn.App. 53, 56-57, 90 A.3d 328, cert. denied, 312 Conn. 918, 94 A.3d 641 (2014).

         ‘‘Finally, we note that [t]he conclusions reached by the [habeas] court in its decision to dismiss [a] habeas petition are matters of law, subject to plenary review. . . . [When] the legal conclusions of the court are challenged, [the reviewing court] must determine whether they are legally and logically correct . . . and whether they find support in the facts that appear in the record.'' ...


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