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Santana v. Cowen

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

February 14, 2019

CESAR SANTANA, Petitioner,
BRAD COWEN, Superintendent, MCI Norfolk, Respondent.




         César Santana (“Santana”) petitions this Court for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Pet. Writ Habeas Corpus (“Pet.”), ECF No. 1. Brad Cowen (“Cowen”), Superintendent of Massachusetts Correctional Institution (“MCI”) Norfolk, opposes Santana's petition for habeas relief. Resp't's Mem. Law Opp'n Pet. Writ Habeas Corpus (“Opp'n Mem.”), ECF No. 18.

         In his petition, Santana insists that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, based upon the evidence before it, unreasonably determined that he voluntarily made incriminating statements to police officers. Pet. 6; Mem. Points & Authorities Supp. Pet. Writ Habeas Corpus (“Pet. Mem.”) 8-13, ECF No. 2. Santana further asserts that the Supreme Judicial Court unreasonably applied clearly established federal law in ruling that he voluntarily gave incriminating statements to the police. Pet. 6; Pet. Mem. 13-18 (citing U.S. Const. amends. V, XIV). Santana argues that the Supreme Judicial Court erred when it determined that because the police provided him with Miranda warnings, after assuring him that his incriminating statements would be confidential, his statements were voluntary. Pet. Mem. 13-16. Santana also suggests that the Supreme Judicial Court failed to weigh the police officer's promise to put in a good word for him with state officials. Id. at 16-18. Santana thus maintains that the Massachusetts Superior Court erred when it refused to suppress his incriminating statements and that the Supreme Judicial Court erred when it did not overturn the Superior Court's decision. Id. at 8-18. Therefore, Santana asks this Court to grant his petition for habeas corpus and order his release or a new trial. Id. at 20.

         Cowen, in response, counters that the Supreme Judicial Court rightfully, from both a factual and legal standpoint, refused to overturn the trial court's denial of Santana's motion to suppress. Opp'n Mem. 9-17. Thus, Cowen asks this Court to deny Santana's request for relief. Id. at 17.

         After hearing argument from both parties, and careful consideration, this Court DENIES Santana's petition for habeas relief.

         A. Factual Background

         On August 25, 2004, Rafael Castro (“Castro”), the victim, and his stepdaughter, Norma Cedeno (“Cedeno”), were entering Castro's apartment in Lawrence when four men attacked them. Commonwealth v. Santana, 477 Mass. 610, 611-12 (2017). While Castro attempted to help Cedeno, one of the home invaders shot Castro. Id. at 612. The men moved Cedeno into a bedroom and placed a pillowcase over her head. Id. From there, Cedeno heard the men yelling and striking Castro, insisting that he place a phone call. Id. The men further threatened to burn Cedeno if Castro did not comply. Id. Subsequently, the men left the apartment, promising to return if Cedeno attempted to call the police. Id. After the men had left, Cedeno discovered Castro bound, unresponsive, and bleeding from a gunshot head wound. Id. Cedeno removed the duct tape restraining Castro and dialed 911. Id. When paramedics arrived, they determined that Castro had died. Id.

         During the criminal investigation, police recovered DNA that matched Santana's from the duct tape used during the home invasion. Id. at 612-13. Before the end of August 2004, Santana contacted his probation officer, who was monitoring Santana due to another matter, and informed him that he was willing to disclose information about a Lawrence shooting for a fee. Id. at 613 & n.2. He told the probation officer that he knew that Joonel (Joonie) Garcia had shot an individual in the head and where the gun used in the murder was located. Id. at 612-13. The probation officer relayed the tip to the Boston Police Department. Id. at 613. Santana contacted his probation officer again in March 2005. Id. Santana, who was incarcerated at the time, told the probation officer that he had “significant legal concerns” and that the murder to which he had previously referred was “drug-related.” Id.

         State Police Trooper Robert LaBarge (“LaBarge”) and Lawrence Police Detective Carlos Cueva (“Cueva”) then interviewed Santana about Castro's murder. Id. Cueva, who grew up speaking both Spanish and English, but lacked formal Spanish translation training, acted as a translator during the interview. Id. at 613 & n.4. The portions of the interview at issue in this action are as follows:[1]

LaBarge: [Santana] has said that he has consented to us audio taping our talk with him. [Santana], do you have any problems with us talking on the tape recorder?
Santana: [N]o, no problem, no LaBarge: [O]kay, can you just, can you just translate that? Ask him, ask him --
*Cueva: (garbled) machine to record the -- what we're doing now. You don't have a problem with that?
*Santana: Okay, no problem . . .
LaBarge: Okay
*Santana: [A]s long as it is not used in court, better if not used in court
*Cueva: No, do not worry
*Santana: [T]hat whatever I say to you be confidential
LaBarge: [A]nd as I told you, you said your English is okay but somewhat --
Santana: Sometimes . . . I don't understand
LaBarge: [S]ometimes not so good, but how long have you've [sic] been in the United States?
Santana: [E]le . . . ten years.
LaBarge: [T]en years.
Santana: [Y]eah, . . . almo eleven
LaBarge: [Y]ou can understand me pretty much, but we've got [Cueva] here in case you run into any problems, right?
Santana: [A]hum.
. . .
LaBarge: [H]ow far did you get in school?
Santana: Eight grade
LaBarge: Eight grade where?
Santana: Puerto Rico . . .
LaBarge: And can you read and write?
Santana: Spanish?
LaBarge: Spanish.
Santana: Yeah, perfect.
. . .
LaBarge: Uh, I'm going to have you read this form out loud, and just say number one, read it, and then tell me if you understand it or not. Okay?
*Santana: [D]o I have to read it like that . . .
*Cueva: [Y]es
*Santana: [F]or me or . . . ?
*Cueva: [N]o, for everyone
*Santana: [B]efore any question is asked, it is necessary that you understand your rights
*Cueva: Do you understand? After each line, he wants you to yes or no you understand that line, do you understand me? [sic]
*Santana: What?
*Cueva: [A]fter, re, to read, reading the first line he wants you that you say that yes or no, that you understand what [missing/wrong particle] say [sic].
*Santana: Okay. You have the right to remain silent
*Cueva: Do you understand that?
*Santana: [Y]es
LaBarge: Do you understand number one?
*Santana: [Y]es, anything you say can be employed against you
LaBarge: Do you understand number two?
Santana: Yes. That's, that's number three.
LaBarge: What's number two? Did you understand two, number ...

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