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Santiago v. Riley

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

September 26, 2017

Christopher A. Santiago, #304243 Petitioner,
v.
Warden Tim Riley, Kirkland Correctional Institution, Respondent.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          Richard Mark Gergel, United States District Court Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on the Report and Recommendation ("R. & R.") of the Magistrate Judge recommending that this Court grant Respondent's motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. Nos. 21, 15.) Petitioner has filed objections to the R & R and the Respondent has filed a response. (Dkt. Nos. 22, 24.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Respondent's motion for summary judgment.

         I. Factual Background

         Petitioner was indicted by the Beaufort County Grand Jury in October 2002 for murder and possession of a firearm during commission of a violent crime. Petitioner was tried by a jury before the Honorable Diane Schafer Goodstein. Evidence offered at trial indicated that Petitioner and the victim, Joe Wisn, were involved in a running dispute over Petitioner's relationship with the victim's daughter. Prior to the fateful events of August 9, 2002, the victim had ordered Petitioner out of his vacation home in Hilton Head, where he had been residing with the victim's daughter. Petitioner was deeply upset about his expulsion from the victim's home and the resulting disruption of the relationship with the victim's daughter.

         Petitioner received a telephone message from the victim's father to come by the vacation home to retrieve personal belongings he had left behind. Petitioner arrived at the victim's home and testified that the victim ridiculed him and told him to "stay the f-away from my daughter." As the victim was placing Petitioner's belongings in the truck of Petitioner's car, the victim saw a shotgun, which was loaded. Petitioner testified that he believed the victim was about to grab the shotgun, and he grabbed the loaded weapon and pointed it at the victim. The victim told Petitioner "don't be f-ing stupid." Petitioner took a step backward. Petitioner testified that he thought the victim was about to reach for the weapon so he shot him four times, resulting in the victim's death. State v. Santiago, 634 S.E.2d 23, 25-6 (S.C. App. 2006).

         Petitioner fled the scene but later drove to a fire station, where he told a fireman he had shot a man who had "ruined his life." Law enforcement officers were summoned, Petitioner was Mirandized, and then gave a full confession. He was then arrested, tried and convicted of murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. Id. at 26. Petitioner's conviction was affirmed on direct appeal and a subsequent state post-conviction petition was denied. (Dkt. No. 1-4 at 285-297, 325, 326-27). Petitioner thereafter filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus with this Court.

         In the course of Petitioner's trial which resulted in his criminal convictions, Petitioner sought to admit the testimony of a forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Donna Schwartz-Watts, that he suffered from Asperger's Disorder. This diagnosis was reached, according to defense counsel, after Dr. Schwartz-Watts had examined Petitioner and reviewed his medical records. Defense counsel summarized Dr. Schwartz-Watts' testimony for the trial court, explaining that Asperger's Disorder is a subset of autism which interferes with a person's perceptions, particularly in stressful and anger-filled situations. (Dkt. No. 1-3 at 21-22, 143-145). Defense counsel sought to admit this evidence to support a defense of self-defense.

         The trial judge stated that she recognized that the proposed defense testimony was "offered for the purpose of establishing that by virtue of Mr. Santiago's emotional, mental illness or particular mental illness ... it has an effect on his perception and emotional state" and that his perception of a threat was not "normal." (Id. at 30). Defense counsel summarized Dr. Schwartz-Watts' testimony, rather than put the physician on the stand to make a formal record of her testimony. The trial judge refused to allow Dr. Schwartz-Watts to testify, finding that such testimony was essentially offered in support of a diminished capacity defense, which is not recognized in South Carolina. (Id. at 30-31). She further concluded that the facts before the Court did not support a charge for self-defense, specifically finding Petitioner could not meet the requirement that any perceived danger to support a claim of self-defense must meet a reasonable person standard under South Carolina law. (Id. at 150-153). The trial judge's ruling regarding the legal standard for charging self-defense under South Carolina law was affirmed by the Court of Appeals. State v. Santiago, 634 S.E.2d at 26-29.

         Defendant's state court conviction became final on November 21, 2007, 90 days after denial of his petition for certiorari with the United States Supreme Court on August 23, 2007. Petitioner filed his state PCR petition on February 28, 2008, tolling the statute of limitations after 99 days of untolled time had expired. Petitioner's petition for a writ of certiorari from his PCR appeal was denied on December 30, 2015, with the remittitur being filed with the Beaufort County Clerk of Court on January 25, 2016. This petition for a writ of habeas corpus was filed on October 28, 2016, which was 277 days after the PCR petition became final. Thus, the total number of untolled days was 376 days, rendering Petitioner's petition untimely under the one year statute of limitations under the ADEPA, 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1).

         Petitioner raised in his habeas petition the following two grounds for relief based on the alleged ineffective assistance of his trial counsel:

         1. Trial counsel failed to offer or proffer expert psychiatric testimony that Mr. Santiago's Asperger's Disorder caused him to perceive the victim's words and acts as threatening. The absence of this evidence denied Mr. Santiago critical facts that supported a self-defense charge by the trial court and would have given the jury a choice beyond mere guilt or innocence. Even if the trial court refused to give such a charge, the court of appeals would have been able to review that decision with the benefit of Dr. Schwartz-Watts' testimony. Thus, the absence of this evidence denied Mr. Santiago a defense and precluded him from presenting his case to a jury of his peers.

         2. Trial counsel failed to call Dr. Schwartz-Watts to explain that Mr. Santiago's fragile mental state was responsible for the bizarre, inculpatory pretrial statements he gave to police. Had counsel offered this evidence, these statements would have been excluded altogether or, at least, explained to a jury that had no opportunity to understand the serious developmental disorder that shapes Chris Santiago and his perceptions or the mental health crisis he was still undergoing when he was interrogated. (Dkt. No. 1 at 7.)

         II. Legal Standards

         a. Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility for making a final determination remains with this Court. See Mathews v. Weber,423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The Court may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. ยง 636(b)(1). As indicated below, the Court accepts the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge that the ...


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