Baynum v. Delaware

In late 2013, Steven Baynum broke into his estranged wife’s residence and physically accosted her and her new romantic partner. Approximately one year later, a Superior Court jury found Baynum guilty of first-degree burglary, third-degree assault, offensive touching, and a host of other crimes. After Baynum was sentenced as a habitual offender to 17 years, he appealed and the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed his convictions. Baynum then moved for postconviction relief under Superior Court Criminal Rule 61 claiming, among other things, that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of his rights under the Delaware and United States Constitutions. The Superior Court denied Baynum’s motion, and he once again appealed to the Supreme Court. On appeal, Baynum argued: (1) his lawyers should have asked the trial court to instruct the jury to consider the charge of offensive touching as a lesser-included offense of third-degree assault in connection with his attack on the romantic partner, which would have had the possibility of a lighter sentence, and the corresponding acquittal of the more serious third-degree assault charge would have undermined the State’s prosecution of the first-degree burglary charges, which also had a physical-injury component; and (2) his counsel during his direct appeal made a prejudicial mistake by not appealing the trial court’s refusal to grant a mistrial following the State’s introduction of improper opinion testimony from one of the lead detectives. The Superior Court rejected both of Baynum’s claims. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed with Baynum on his first claim, and reversed the denial of postconviction relief as to the third-degree assault and first-degree burglary convictions. However, the Court disagreed with Baynum on his ineffective-assistance claim against his appellate counsel: the Court saw no reasonable probability that it would have reversed Baynum’s convictions on the ground that the Superior Court should have ordered a mistrial in the wake of the detective’s testimony, which was offered in response to similar testimony elicited by Baynum and was the subject of a curative instruction. The Court therefore affirmed the denial of postconviction relief as to the balance of Baynum’s convictions. View "Baynum v. Delaware" on Justia Law