CRIMINAL LAW

Habeas Corpus • Aggravated Assault • Attempted Burglary • Failure to Call Witness • Hearsay

Santiago v. Collins, PICS Case No. 14-0384 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 20, 2014) Yohn, J. (22 pages).

Habeas relief was unwarranted where petitioner’s claims were adjudicated on the merits in state court and the adjudication was based on a reasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented. Petition denied.

Santiago went to bar where ex-wife worked and repeatedly engaged in altercations. Santiago was asked to leave. Each time, Santiago cooled down and was permitted to stay. During one of these arguments, several people, including bar owner, ran into the kitchen and saw that ex-wife, who was crying, had a fresh visible cut near her eye. Santiago again fought physically with ex-wife. Ex-wife left the premises shortly thereafter. Police arrived at the bar and spoke with Santiago, but did not arrest him.

Police were later dispatched to ex-wife’s home, in response to three emergency calls reporting, respectively, a domestic incident, an act of vandalism in progress, and a break in. Upon arrival, police saw Santiago banging on the front door, yelling. A loud female voice was screaming from inside “he’s trying to break in” and “he just beat the s*** out of me.”

After Santiago was restrained, ex-wife told police that Santiago did not live at the house and that he had beaten her earlier that night. Santiago was arrested and charged with, inter alia, aggravated assault and attempted burglary.

Ex-wife did not testify at trial. Santiago objected to introduction of her statements through police testimony as violating the hearsay rule. The court denied the motion, finding these statements—and the statements ex-wife made to police later at the scene—admissible under the excited utterance exception. Additionally, commonwealth introduced a medical chart detailing the severity of ex-wife’s injuries.

The jury convicted Santiago as charged. The court sentenced him to an aggregate term of 21-42 years of incarceration. Santiago’s appeals and his petition for PCRA relief were denied.

Santiago filed a habeas petition, asserting that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions, that counsel was ineffective for failing to call ex-wife and her daughter (Garcia) as witnesses and that hearsay evidence was admitted in violation of his confrontation clause rights. The court denied the writ.

Santiago contended that the evidence is insufficient to support a finding that he inflicted a serious bodily injury upon ex-wife. In Pennsylvania, a person may be convicted of aggravated assault if he “attempts to cause serious bodily injury to another, or causes such injury intentionally, knowingly or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.” 18 Pa.C.S.A. §2301. Specific intent is subjective, and may be inferred from acts or conduct or from the attendant circumstances.

The lower court found circumstantial evidence sufficient to support the jury’s finding that Santiago’s conduct evidenced his intent to inflict serious bodily injury. Finally, Santiago’s assault only ended when others intervened to restrain him.

This characterization of the evidence was fair, evidenced Santiago’s state of mind with respect to ex-wife, and provided ample basis for a reasonable person to infer that Santiago intended to inflict serious bodily injury upon ex-wife when he punched her and/or attempted to punch her in the kitchen.

Santiago also challenged the sufficiency of evidence supporting his attempted burglary conviction. The lower court held that the facts permitted jury to infer Santiago smashed the glass on ex-wife’s door, and had inserted and removed his arm in an attempt to gain entry to continue his assault of ex-wife. It is reasonable to infer that Santiago’s entrance was not privileged, as he had no key to the home.

Santiago’s confrontation clause challenge regarding admission of ex-wife’s statements as excited utterance also was denied. Admission of ex-wife’s statements was harmless error because they were cumulative of her previous, admissible statements.