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After a jury trial, Applicant Theodore Chapdelaine was found guilty of second-degree child molestation. Defendant later filed an application for postconviction relief, alleging ineffective assistance of his trial defense counsel. The trial justice denied Applicant's application, finding his claims to be without merit. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court, holding that the trial justice did not err in denying the motion where (1) counsel's conduct during plea negotiations was not so deficient as to constitute ineffective assistance of counsel; (2) Applicant affirmatively waived any claim of error arising out of an alleged conflict of interest; (3) counsel's strategy of excluding any mention of drug or alcohol use at the trial to protect Applicant constituted professionally reasonable judgment; and (4) counsel's representation was not ineffective because he failed to explore the use of expert testimony to establish the significance of Applicant's possible psychological issues.Receive FREE Daily Opinion Summaries by Email
Theodore B. Chapdelaine
State of Rhode Island.
NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before
publication in the Rhode Island Reporter. Readers are requested to
notify the Opinion Analyst, Supreme Court of Rhode Island, 250
Benefit Street, Providence, Rhode Island 02903, at Telephone 2223258 of any typographical or other formal errors in order that
corrections may be made before the opinion is published.
Theodore B. Chapdelaine
State of Rhode Island.
Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, and Robinson, JJ.
Chief Justice Suttell, for the Court. The applicant, Theodore B. Chapdelaine, appeals
from a Superior Court judgment denying his application for postconviction relief. On appeal, the
applicant contends that the conduct of his retained trial defense counsel constituted ineffective
assistance in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel, as provided by the United States
Constitution. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of the Superior
In 2003, applicant was charged by criminal information with three counts of seconddegree child molestation in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-37-8.3. The applicant pled not guilty,
and a jury trial commenced on March 31, 2004. After a two-day trial, the jury found applicant
guilty on all three counts. The applicant filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied. He
subsequently was sentenced to thirty years at the Adult Correctional Institutions on count 1;
consisting of fifteen years to serve and fifteen years suspended, with probation. The applicant
also was sentenced to twenty years suspended, with probation, on each remaining count, which
sentences both were to run consecutively with count 1. The applicant timely filed a notice of
appeal, which ultimately was dismissed for failure to file a prebriefing statement.
On September 3, 2008, Mr. Chapdelaine filed a verified application for postconviction
relief, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel by his trial defense counsel, Mark Smith, Esq.
Specifically, applicant asserted that defense counsel (1) was compromised in his ability to crossexamine the complaining witness’s mother because of a conflict of interest, (2) entered into an
ill-advised and prejudicial stipulation with the prosecution to preclude either party from
introducing evidence that applicant or any person testifying at trial had consumed any alcohol
and/or drugs, and (3) failed to present expert witness testimony “to establish the significance of
the psychological overlay” that had an impact on the complaining witness. On the day of the
hearing, applicant filed an amended application for postconviction relief, adding a fourth ground
for relief, which alleged that Mr. Smith “failed to properly communicate and have an informed
review of the conduct and product of plea negotiations defense counsel had with the prosecutor.”
Both Mr. Smith and applicant testified at the hearing. In an order dated March 11, 2009, the trial
justice found applicant’s claims to be without merit and denied his application for postconviction
relief. The applicant filed a notice of appeal; and, following a prebriefing conference, we
remanded the case for entry of a final judgment. 1
Such facts as are pertinent to the issues on appeal will be supplied in the following
Although Mr. Chapdelaine filed his appeal before final judgment was entered, we treat it as
timely because “this Court has stated that it will treat a premature appeal as if it had been timely
filed.” Bleau v. State, 968 A.2d 276, 278 n.1 (R.I. 2009) (mem.); see also Brown v. State, 964
A.2d 516, 526 n.14 (R.I. 2009) (“We repeatedly have said that we treat premature appeals as
Standard of Review
“[P]ost-conviction relief is available to a defendant convicted of a crime who contends
that his original conviction or sentence violated rights that the state or federal constitutions
secured to him.” Gordon v. State, 18 A.3d 467, 473 (R.I. 2011) (quoting Young v. State, 877
A.2d 625, 628 (R.I. 2005)); see also G.L. 1956 § 10-9.1-1(a)(1). “This Court will not disturb a
trial justice’s factual findings made on an application for post-conviction relief absent clear error
or a showing that the trial justice overlooked or misconceived material evidence in arriving at
those findings.” Gordon, 18 A.3d at 473 (quoting Bustamante v. Wall, 866 A.2d 516, 522 (R.I.
“This Court will, however, ‘review de novo any post-conviction relief decision
involving questions of fact or mixed questions of law and fact pertaining to an alleged violation
of an applicant’s constitutional rights.’” Id. (quoting Bustamante, 866 A.2d at 522).
“This Court adheres to the standard set forth by the United States Supreme Court in
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 * * * (1984), when evaluating claims of ineffective
assistance of counsel.” Rodriguez v. State, 941 A.2d 158, 162 (R.I. 2008). To prevail on such a
claim under this test, an applicant must establish two criteria.
“First, the applicant must
‘demonstrate that counsel’s performance was deficient, to the point that the errors were so
serious that trial counsel did not function at the level guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.’” Id.
(quoting Brennan v. Vose, 764 A.2d 168, 171 (R.I. 2001)). “This prong can be satisfied ‘only by
a showing that counsel’s representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.’” Id.
(quoting Vose, 764 A.2d at 171). “The second criterion of the Strickland test requires the
applicant to demonstrate prejudice emanating from the attorney’s deficient performance such as
‘to amount to a deprivation of the applicant’s right to a fair trial.’” Id. (quoting Vose, 764 A.2d at
171). “This prong is satisfied only when an applicant demonstrates that ‘there is a reasonable
probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have
been different.’” Id. (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694).
On appeal, applicant alleges that his Sixth Amendment constitutional rights were violated
because of the ineffective performance of his trial defense counsel. Specifically, applicant
claims that Mr. Smith (1) failed to have a substantive conversation with him about a particular
plea proposal, (2) failed to discern a conflict of interest because of his prior representation of a
state’s witness, (3) entered into a stipulation that resulted in the preclusion of potential
impeachment evidence, and (4) failed to undertake efforts to secure an expert witness. We
discuss these claims seriatim.
Mr. Smith testified at the postconviction-relief hearing that he has been a practicing
lawyer for thirty-five years, has been the defense attorney at more than 200 criminal jury trials,
and has tried twenty to thirty child molestation cases. 2 Mr. Smith said that he had “maybe five
or six” meetings with Mr. Chapdelaine prior to the trial. Mr. Smith testified that applicant
asserted his innocence at their first meeting and consistently maintained that he was not
responsible for the alleged crime. Mr. Smith also testified that at one of these meetings they
discussed a previous statement that applicant had made to a police officer, in which applicant had
offered to “take a five year suspended, five years probation disposition.” Mr. Smith recalled that
Over the years, Mr. Smith admirably has served as court-appointed counsel to numerous
applicant “didn’t deny” making the statement, and he added that “[the applicant] basically said
that he was not responsible, but * * * [h]e wanted to get it behind him, and he would take a
disposition for no jail time.”
Mr. Smith further testified that approximately a week before the trial was scheduled to
begin, the trial justice suggested that he would impose a sentence of four-to-six years of
incarceration in exchange for applicant’s guilty plea. According to Mr. Smith, he presented this
offer to applicant and applicant “indicated that he was not guilty of the actual charges; and so at
that particular point, [Mr. Smith] said well, then we’re going to have a trial.” When Mr. Smith
was asked whether he had made a counterproposal to the offered plea, he responded: “I did. * * *
That we’ll have a trial.” When asked if he was the type of attorney who “spends a tremendous
amount of time going over plea negotiations [and] offers with clients * * * who tell [him] that
they are innocent of the crimes charged,” Mr. Smith responded:
“No. I tell them that this is the offer. If the person changes their
position, can you get me something better than that, if they start to
[waver] a little bit on their innocence, then I do delve into it further
and try to negotiate as best I can, but if the person tells me I didn’t
do this, they’ll tell me once or twice, I’m saying that, you don’t
have to tell me anymore, here’s the offer, you didn’t do this, we’re
going to trial. That’s what I usually do.”
According to Mr. Smith, if applicant at any point had wavered on his claim of innocence or had
said that he was willing to talk about a plea, Mr. Smith would have sought out additional offers
but, in his opinion, applicant was not interested in further negotiations. Mr. Smith testified that
he was aware that applicant was interested in a non-jail disposition; however, he did not believe
that applicant was willing to take any “sort of jail recommendation.” Moreover, applicant
testified that after Mr. Smith informed him of the offer, applicant stated “no, I didn’t do that
* * * I ain’t taking that, and [Mr. Smith] said * * * good, I already told them that.” Additionally,
during cross-examination applicant was also asked whether it was “a fair statement that [he]
wanted a trial at that time,” to which he responded “[y]es.”
Mr. Chapdelaine contends on appeal that Mr. Smith, although informing him of the fourto-six-year offer, was ineffective during plea negotiations because he did not provide applicant
with any guidance about whether the plea offer should have been accepted or rejected. The
applicant also claims that turning down this offer and going to trial was “suicidal.” The state
counters that Mr. Smith was effective because applicant “never expressed any desire to accept a
plea with any sort of jail recommendation attached.” Moreover, the state asserts, when Mr.
Smith told him about the plea offer, applicant reaffirmed his innocence and refused the offer.
The United States Supreme Court has made it clear that the Sixth Amendment right to
effective assistance of counsel attaches during the plea-negotiation process. See Moran v.
Burbine, 475 U.S. 412, 431 (1986) (holding that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel attaches
after the initiation of formal charges).
“When a convicted defendant complains of the
ineffectiveness of counsel’s assistance, the defendant must show that counsel’s representation
fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687-88. “The proper
measure of attorney performance remains simply reasonableness under prevailing professional
norms.” Id. at 688. What is “reasonable” depends on “the legal profession’s maintenance of
standards sufficient to justify the law’s presumption that counsel will fulfill the role in the
adversary process that the [Sixth] Amendment envisions.” Id.
“Representation of a criminal defendant entails certain basic
duties[:] * * * a duty of loyalty, a duty to avoid conflicts of interest
* * * the overarching duty to advocate the defendant’s cause and
the more particular duties to consult with the defendant on
important decisions and to keep the defendant informed of
important developments in the course of the prosecution.”
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688.
The applicant points to the “Boria cases” from the New York state and federal courts and
he asserts that they are “precisely on point” to prove that Mr. Smith’s representation was
ineffective. 3 See People v. Boria, 612 N.Y.S. 2d 80 (N.Y. App. Div. 1994); see also Boria v.
Keane, 897 F.Supp. 809 (S.D.N.Y. 1995); see also Boria v. Keane, 83 F.3d 48 (2d Cir. 1996).
Although applicant attempts to show similarity between his case and the case at issue in Boria,
we find the analogy unpersuasive. In Boria, 83 F.3d at 51 n.4, the defense counsel testified that
it was his “position and * * * belief that relative to criminal cases * * * a drug case under
circumstances of a possession or direct sale to an undercover agent is probably one of the most
difficult cases to defend,” and he stated that “getting an acquittal in a drug case in upstate New
York was almost impossible.” The Boria court opined that “it would be impossible to imagine a
clearer case of a lawyer depriving a client of constitutionally required advice,” and consequently
reduced the defendant’s sentence to time served. Id. at 53, 55.
Although Mr. Smith admitted that the reality of defending a child molestation case is an
uphill battle, 4 we reject applicant’s contention that his decision to proceed to trial was “suicidal.”
Mr. Smith testified that his trial strategy in these types of “typical he said/she said case[s]” is to
“listen to what the witness says [at trial], each witness, and gain as much as [he] can to show that
it’s a fabrication for an ulterior motive other than the actual sexual contact.” Mr. Smith was
Boria v. Keane, 83 F.3d 48, 53 (2d Cir. 1996), centered on a “buy and bust” situation where the
defendant was arrested for selling cocaine to an informer. The defendant, a first-time offender,
was offered a plea bargain of a one-to-three-year sentence in exchange for his guilty plea. Id. at
50. The prosecutor warned the defense attorney that if the plea offer was turned down, there
would be a superseding indictment for a higher-class felony such that any similar plea offer
would be impossible. Id. Although counsel informed his client of the finality of turning the plea
offer down, he did not discuss with the defendant the advisability of either accepting or rejecting
it. Id. at 51. The defendant subsequently was convicted on the greater charge and sentenced to
twenty-five years to life. Id. at 50-51.
Mr. Smith testified that child molestation cases are extremely daunting because “you’re behind
the 8-ball before you even start with these accusations.”
clear that child molestation cases are difficult cases to defend, but in this case we are unable to
conclude that applicant has shown that there was little hope for an acquittal. This is especially
true in light of the fact that in limine motions filed by Mr. Smith on behalf of applicant were
granted, which restricted damaging evidence from coming before the jury.
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688, places the burden on applicant to prove that his “counsel’s
representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” In the case under review,
applicant never backed away from his claim of innocence. He maintained his innocence from
the point at which he first was informed of the allegations against him, to his first meeting with
Mr. Smith, and throughout his trial. The applicant also acknowledged that when Mr. Smith
presented him with the plea offer, it still was applicant’s desire to have a trial.
While in no way endorsing the manner in which Mr. Smith conveyed the plea offer to his
client, we are satisfied that applicant has not shown that Mr. Smith’s conduct fell below “an
objective standard of reasonableness.” Clearly, it would have been preferable for Mr. Smith to
impart his professional and experienced advice at the time when he discussed the plea offer with
applicant. However, in light of applicant’s consistent claims of his innocence and his firm
resolve in insisting on a trial, we cannot conclude that trial counsel’s performance was so
deficient as to constitute ineffective assistance of counsel.
Moreover, applicant has failed to show that the result would have been any different had
Mr. Smith explained to him in greater detail the advisability of accepting or rejecting the four-tosix-year offer. Thus, applicant also is unable to satisfy the second Strickland prong.
Conflict of Interest
A potential conflict of interest came to Mr. Smith’s attention on the first day of the trial.
At that time, Mr. Smith first was made aware that eighteen years earlier he had represented the
complaining witness’s parents in a medical-malpractice suit that the parents had brought on
behalf of their daughter, the complaining witness’s older sister. 5 Both the mother and the father
were scheduled to testify against applicant at this trial. The applicant testified that Mr. Smith
explained the situation to him, “said he’d still represent [him] as best as he could[,] and told
[him] it might be a conflict of interest.” The applicant testified that he responded, “[W]ell, we’re
here now. Let’s go through with it.”
When this potential conflict of interest came to the trial justice’s attention, the trial justice
directly and carefully questioned applicant about his willingness to have Mr. Smith continue
“[Trial Justice]: It would appear that the mother of a child who
was, in part, represented by your attorney will be testifying in this
case. And apparently, this mother, as I’ll refer to her, is someone
with whom you had some type of friendship or romantic
relationship. Recognizing that was about 18 years ago, you still
may be uncomfortable with the fact that your attorney, who is
going to represent you in this very significant criminal action, did,
in fact, represent the mother of the principal complaining witness
in this case.
What is your reaction to that, sir?
“[Applicant]: I’m all set with it.
“[Trial Justice]: Are you comfortable having Mr. Smith represent
“[Trial Justice]: Do you recognize that there is a potential conflict
here because he did, at least in part, represent a witness who may
Mr. Smith was asked by an out-of-state attorney to act as local counsel on this medical
malpractice case. Mr. Smith said he met with the mother “once, maybe twice.”
be called by the [s]tate in this case and may give testimony against
“[Trial Justice]: Okay. Do you have any questions of the [c]ourt as
to this issue, the issue being that your current attorney represented
the sister of the complaining witness in this case as well as the
mother of the complaining witness who may be a witness; do you
have any questions at all?
“[Applicant]: No, I don’t, your Honor.
“[Trial Justice]: Are you completely comfortable with this?
“[Trial Justice]: Have you had enough time to think about this?
This is - - this potentially could be a significant issue. I don’t
know. Do you feel that you’ve had enough time to mentally and
carefully think this thing through?
“[Applicant]: I believe so, your Honor.”
On appeal, applicant alleges that he was deprived of effective assistance of counsel
because Mr. Smith neglected to appreciate the potential conflict this situation presented, which
applicant asserts manifested itself in Mr. Smith’s cross-examination of the mother.
applicant argues that because of Mr. Smith’s desire to “insulate the reputation of his former
client,” his cross-examination of her “was ineffective and, in any material respect, aimless.” 6
When a defendant contends that his attorney had a conflict of interest during his
representation, the “mere ‘possibility’ of a conflict of interest is not enough to impugn a criminal
conviction under the Sixth Amendment * * *.” Simpson v. State, 769 A.2d 1257, 1266-67 (R.I.
2001) (quoting Cuyler v. Sullivan, 446 U.S. 335, 348 (1980)). An “actual” conflict of interest is
defined as “one that requires that an attorney ‘struggle to serve two masters.’” Id. at 1267
(quoting Cuyler, 446 U.S. at 349). To determine whether an actual conflict exists, the Court
must look to “whether the attorney’s actions were motivated by divided loyalties and whether the
The applicant also faults his trial counsel for not informing the trial justice that applicant’s
girlfriend recently had died, not asking applicant if he was emotionally prepared to proceed, and
never giving applicant any examples of what the term “conflict of interest” meant.
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attorney’s conduct lacked a ‘sound strategic basis.’” Id. (quoting Burger v. Kemp, 483 U.S. 776,
Mr. Smith testified at the postconviction-relief hearing about the strategy that he
employed in his cross-examination of the complaining witness’s father and mother.
explained that he attacked the father’s credibility with vigor so he could use the high-conflict
divorce that the mother and father went through and the father’s “cruel” treatment of his
daughter as alternative explanations to the jury as to why the complaining witness would allege
she had been molested if it were not true. Mr. Smith further testified that this explanation could
be used to “suggest to the jury why [the state has] not proven the case beyond a reasonable
doubt.” Mr. Smith also explained that he took a different approach when cross-examining the
complaining witness’s mother. He stated that, with the mother, his approach was “to relax” her
because he believed that her testimony “could be helpful” to applicant. He further testified that
“[t]o chastise the mother of this child by vigorous cross-examination would achieve no purpose.”
We are satisfied that applicant affirmatively waived any claim of error arising out of the
alleged conflict of interest.
As the above-quoted colloquy demonstrates, the trial justice
explained the circumstances of the potential conflict to applicant and the latter indicated that he
wished Mr. Smith to continue representing him. Moreover, we discern no error in the trial
justice’s findings that Mr. Smith “was not struggling to serve two masters,” that his approach
“was based on sound strategic consideration,” and that there was “no evidence that [Mr.] Smith’s
actions were motivated by divided loyalties.”
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Stipulation to Exclude Evidence of Drugs and Alcohol During Trial
At the postconviction-relief hearing, Mr. Smith testified about a pretrial stipulation that
he entered into with the state. The stipulation—a result of a motion in limine Mr. Smith filed on
behalf of applicant—precluded either party from introducing evidence of drug or alcohol use by
the applicant or any other person testifying at the trial. Mr. Smith explained that his strategy for
entering into this stipulation stemmed from his belief that child molestation cases are so
prejudicial that “even though the [c]ourt instructs the jury that the [s]tate must prove the
defendant guilty, the reality of it is the defendant must prove his innocence.” Mr. Smith further
testified that although he thought he might have been able to use evidence of drugs and alcohol
to show that the witnesses’ “ability to recall and recollect was somewhat tainted by the use of
drugs and alcohol,” he firmly believed that it was more important to keep the evidence out
altogether. Mr. Smith explained:
“[T]he damaging aspect was * * * if I get into that area of the
alcohol and marijuana, I open the door, and if I do open the door, I
can see a decent prosecutor asking the witness, well, you had some
beers, yeah, and you smoked some marijuana, yeah, who brought
the marijuana to the party, and the fear is the defendant did.”
The applicant argues that the stipulation entered into by Mr. Smith and the state restricted
applicant’s right of confrontation by foreclosing a potential source of evidence for impeachment
purposes. The applicant further argues that this agreement was entered into to insulate the
reputation of Mr. Smith’s former client, the complaining witness’s mother, exclusively
benefitting the state without reciprocal benefit for applicant.
It is well established in Rhode Island that “neither party may question a witness merely to
show that he or she may have consumed some potentially intoxicating substance before an event
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at issue in the case has occurred.” State v. Rice, 755 A.2d 137, 148-49 (R.I. 2000); see also State
v. Amaral, 109 R.I. 379, 387, 285 A.2d 783, 787 (1972) (holding that evidence of the
consumption of an alcoholic beverage is not admissible merely to establish that the witness
consumed alcohol before the event at issue, but is admissible to establish intoxication when
intoxication itself is at issue). This Court has recognized that “because of the undue potential of
this kind of evidence to cause confusion and to be unfairly prejudicial, evidence of the drinking
of alcoholic beverages should not be admitted to affect credibility.” Rice, 755 A.2d at 149
(quoting Amaral, 109 R.I. at 386, 285 A.2d at 787).
Here, there was no issue of intoxication in applicant’s case. Therefore, any attempt to
impeach the complaining witness’s mother with evidence that she used drugs or consumed
alcohol on the day that her daughter was molested would have been used only to affect her
credibility. Undoubtedly, this would have been impermissible.
Mr. Smith originally filed a motion in limine to exclude any mention of applicant’s
statement to a police trooper that “he had been drinking substantial quantities of alcohol and
smoking marijuana at the time of the alleged incident(s).” The state announced that it would not
object to the motion “if the defendant will agree not to raise it at all during [the] trial with any
party or any witness that the [s]tate calls.” The trial justice affirmed that “to the extent I allow
any testimony in by [the trooper] relative to utterances to [the trooper] by the defendant, we are
not going to go into the areas of alcohol and drugs.”
Mr. Smith testified at the postconviction-relief hearing that he believed that any mention
of applicant either consuming or supplying drugs and alcohol during the day of the alleged
molestation would have been “damning” because it would be “the kiss of death.” Mr. Smith
further expounded: “whether [the state] was adamant that [it] didn’t want to get into this, was
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fine with me, I could care less because I didn’t need that kind of evidence to come against
[applicant].” Additionally, Mr. Smith testified that he believed that any attempt he made to show
that the state’s witnesses’ ability “to recall and recollect was somewhat tainted by the use of
drugs and alcohol” would “open the door” and consequently allow the state to introduce
evidence that applicant was the person who brought the drugs to the location of the assault.
This Court “will not meticulously scrutinize an attorney’s reasoned judgment or strategic
maneuver” in a case in which an applicant has made a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.
Brennan, 764 A.2d at 173. “We are not in the business of second guessing the strategic choices
of trial counsel when their choices are clearly reasonable and within the bounds of competent
representation.” Id. (quoting State v. Brennan, 627 A.2d 842, 851 (R.I. 1993)). In this case, the
trial justice found that Mr. Smith’s “entry into the stipulation did not fall below an objective
standard of reasonableness because it was based on a sound strategic basis.” We agree with the
trial justice that Mr. Smith’s strategy of excluding any mention of drug or alcohol use to protect
applicant constituted professionally reasonable judgment.
Failure to Use Expert Testimony
Finally, applicant argues before this Court that Mr. Smith’s representation was ineffective
because he failed “to explore the use of expert testimony to establish the significance of the
psychological overlay impacting the victim.” The applicant attests that “[t]here was evidence
introduced at trial, and more available, that provided a basis for counsel to undertake an
investigative inquiry as to whether or not there were alternative explanations that the victim’s
allegations were the product of possible psychological issues.” The applicant points to numerous
examples of testimony given during the course of his trial that could have allowed an expert “to
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establish explanations for [the complaining witness’s] behavior other than the consequences of a
The state counters that Mr. Smith’s failure to obtain an expert witness in this case was
reasonable because the trial justice found that “the jurors were able to determine credibility based
upon the evidence at the trial.” The state additionally contends that applicant has failed to
indicate how an expert “could [have] assist[ed] the jury or how his or her testimony would have
altered the verdict.”
We have said that a jury will benefit from expert testimony when the subject of such
testimony is one “involving special skills and training beyond the ken of the average layman.”
State v. Castore, 435 A.2d 321, 326 (R.I. 1981) (quoting Barenbaum v. Richardson, 114 R.I. 87,
90, 328 A.2d 731, 733 (1974)). However, when a jury is capable of accurately comprehending
facts and circumstances that have been described to them by a non-expert, “there is no necessity
for the expert testimony” on that subject. Id. (quoting Barenbaum, 114 A.2d at 90-91, 328 A.2d
Evidence was adduced at applicant’s trial about the complaining witness’s parents’ bitter
divorce, her volatile relationship with her father, her recent switch to a new school, her
depression over having no friends, and her voluntary overdose of diet pills and aspirin, which led
to her hospitalization. Mr. Smith used all this evidence during his closing argument to suggest to
the jury that the complaining witness was falsely accusing applicant because she “had a very
disturbing life” and was seeking “a little sympathy from dad.” Mr. Smith suggested this theory
to the jury, and there is little doubt that the jurors were able to easily comprehend this theory
without the aid of an expert witness.
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The applicant points to a Massachusetts case in which, applicant asserts, an expert
witness was allowed to testify “in support of alternative explanations from a psychiatric
standpoint for the testimony of the victims presented by the prosecution.” See Commonwealth v.
Amirault, 677 N.E.2d 652 (Mass. 1997). Amirault involved assault, battery, and rape allegations
by nine children, ages four to eight, against their daycare provider and staff. Id. at 656; see also
Commonwealth v. Amirault, 535 N.E.2d 193, 195 (Mass. 1989). At trial, the parents of the
children testified about their children’s general symptoms 7 as well as their “extremely sexualized
behavior.” 8 Amirault, 677 N.E.2d at 658. The Commonwealth subsequently presented an expert
witness who testified that the children’s generalized symptoms were “indicative of trauma” and
explained to the jury why young children may delay telling authorities about the abuse they
suffer. Id. The defendants then presented their own expert in response “who testified that the
sexualized behavior and the nonspecific symptoms of trauma could have been the result of
something the children saw or were exposed to or could have been produced by other emotional
trauma.” Id. at 659. The defense expert’s only reference to the possibility of false allegations
was to explain how “improper interviewing techniques could lead to false accusations of abuse.”
In contrast to Amirault, however, the prosecution in the case at bar did not present an
expert witness that applicant would have needed to rebut. Nor was there testimony proffered
These symptoms included “bedwetting, baby talk, pain in their genital areas, headaches and
stomach aches, and fearfulness.” Commonwealth v. Amirault, 677 N.E.2d 652, 658 (Mass.
This sexualized behavior included “masturbation, sexualized play with dolls, boys sticking their
tongues in the mouths of their mothers, and the simulation of sexual acts.” Amirault, 677 N.E.2d
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stating that the victim displayed any abnormal behaviors after the incident. 9 Presenting an expert
in the way applicant suggests would have been nothing more than an attempt to attack the
complaining witness’s credibility. Likewise, at the postconviction-relief hearing, Mr. Smith
testified that he had “never heard of anyone being able to present psychological or psychiatric
evidence by means of an expert to demonstrate the truthfulness or untruthfulness of a
This Court previously has held that “[i]t is beyond dispute that a
determination of the credibility of a witness is solely within the purview of the jury.” Castore,
435 A.2d at 326.
We have observed that although “attorneys have a duty to undertake ‘reasonable
investigations or to make a reasonable decision that makes particular investigations unnecessary’
* * * the reasonableness of a particular decision by counsel not to investigate must be assessed in
light of all of the circumstances of the case.” Larngar v. Wall, 918 A.2d 850, 859 (R.I. 2007)
(quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 691). Moreover, because “a reviewing court should apply ‘a
heavy measure of deference to counsel’s judgments,’” we are satisfied that Mr. Smith’s decision
not to investigate for the purpose of obtaining such an expert witness was reasonable. Id.
(quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 691). We conclude, therefore, that the trial justice did not
clearly err in finding that applicant had “failed to demonstrate that Mr. Smith’s conduct fell
below an objective standard of reasonableness.”
The only evidence of anything that could be construed as “telling” behavior is the testimony by
the victim’s mother that when she attempted to hug her daughter, her daughter would shrug her
away, and her father testified that her attitude became very negative.
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For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we are satisfied that whether the applicant’s
claims are viewed individually or collectively, the applicant has not demonstrated that Mr.
Smith’s representation was deficient.
Additionally, the applicant has failed to demonstrate
“prejudice emanating from the attorney’s deficient performance such as ‘to amount to a
deprivation of the applicant’s right to a fair trial.’” Rodriguez, 941 A.2d at 162 (quoting Vose,
764 A.2d at 171).
In accordance with the foregoing, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court denying
the applicant’s application for postconviction relief.
Justice Indeglia did not participate.
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The record shall be remanded to the
RHODE ISLAND SUPREME COURT CLERK’S OFFICE
Clerk’s Office Order/Opinion Cover Sheet
TITLE OF CASE:
Theodore B. Chapdelaine v. State of Rhode Island.
DATE OPINION FILED: December 15, 2011
Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, and Robinson, JJ.
Chief Justice Paul A. Suttell
SOURCE OF APPEAL:
Washington County Superior Court
JUDGE FROM LOWER COURT:
Associate Justice Edwin J. Gale
ATTORNEYS ON APPEAL:
For Applicant: Kirk Y. Griffin
Pro Hac Vice
For State: Virginia M. McGinn
Department of Attorney General