Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court

by
Appellant Jamar Thompson challenged a Superior Court finding that he violated his probation. On appeal he argued: (1) his right to due process under Amendment XIV of the United States Constitution was violated because he was provided with an untimely and incomplete disclosure of the evidence against him, he was unavailable to testify, and a witness he intended to call was not permitted to testify; (2) the Superior Court violated his rights under Amendments IV and XIV of the United States Constitution and Article I section 6 of the Delaware Constitution by refusing to consider his argument, made at the hearing, that the evidence against him was the product of an unlawful search and seizure and should be suppressed; and (3) the evidence against him was insufficient to support a finding that he violated his probation. After considering Thompson’s claims, the Delaware Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the Superior Court's judgment. View "Thompson v. Delaware" on Justia Law

by
Jane D.W. Doe, the deceased plaintiff whose estate was the appellant, was validly arrested by a Delaware State Police Officer for shoplifting, and “was subject to an outstanding capias.” Doe alleged that, rather than properly processing her arrest, the Officer instead told her that if she performed oral sex on him, he would take her home and she could just turn herself in on the capias the next day. If she refused, he would “take her to court, where bail would be set, and . . . she would have to spend the weekend in jail.” The Officer originally denied that the oral sex occurred, but after DNA evidence of the oral sex was found on Doe’s jacket. The State charged the Officer with multiple crimes, including: (1) “intentionally compel[ling] or induc[ing] [Doe] to engage in sexual penetration/intercourse;” and (2) “solicit[ing] a personal benefit from [Doe] for having violated his duty” to bring her in on her capias. What was disputed in this appeal was whether the jury verdict finding that the State was not responsible in tort as the officer’s employer for this misconduct should have been affirmed. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed with Doe that the jury verdict should have been vacated, finding that the jury was improperly asked to decide whether the employer of a police officer who received oral sex from an arrestee for his own personal gratification, and with no purpose to serve his employer, was acting within the scope of his employment. This question was submitted to the jury because the Supreme Court found in its initial decision (“Doe I”) that the jury should have decided the issue. In a second decision (“Doe II”), the Supreme Court adhered to the law of the case and did not revisit that earlier ruling. In this decision, the Court admitted it erred in leaving this issue of law to the jury, and for leaving the superior court in "the impossible position of crafting sensible jury instructions to implement a mandate that was not well-thought-out." The Court held, as a matter of law, if a police officer makes a valid arrest and then uses that leverage to obtain sex from his arrestee, his misconduct need not fall within the scope of his employment under section 228 of the Restatement (Second) of Agency to trigger his employer’s liability. In so finding, the Supreme Court took into account the unique, coercive authority entrusted in police under Delaware law, and the reality that when an arrestee is under an officer’s authority, she cannot resist that authority without committing a crime. The Court vacated the jury verdict in this case and remanded for entry of a judgment in Doe's favor on the issue of liability, with a jury trial to follow on the issue of damages. View "Sherman v. Dept of Public Safety" on Justia Law

by
Russell Grimes was accused of participating in a bank robbery. He was indicted for first-degree robbery, aggravated menacing, and other related charges. At trial, the jury convicted him of first-degree robbery, but acquitted him of aggravated menacing. He appealed, and based on an error that occurred during jury selection, the Delaware Supreme Court vacated his first-degree robbery conviction and remanded for a new trial. A jury again convicted him of first-degree robbery. The question this case presented for the Supreme Court's review: if a defendant is convicted by a jury of one offense, but acquitted - in the same verdict - of a lesser-included offense, and the conviction on the greater offense is vacated on appeal, does the acquittal on the lesser offense prevent the State, under the Double Jeopardy Clause, from retrying the defendant for the greater offense? The Court concluded it did not. View "Grimes v. Delaware" on Justia Law

by
Defendant-appellant, Terrance Everett accepted a Facebook friend request from a detective who was using a fictitious profile. The detective then used information gained from such monitoring to obtain a search warrant for Everett’s house, where officers discovered evidence that prosecutors subsequently used to convict him. Everett asked the trial court to determine whether the detective knowingly and intentionally, or with reckless disregard for the truth, omitted information from the affidavit- namely, information concerning the detective’s covert Facebook monitoring - that was material to the magistrate’s finding of probable cause. Everett argued that, if he made this showing by a preponderance of the evidence at such a hearing, then the evidence obtained via this warrant should have been suppressed. The Superior Court denied Everett’s motion. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's denial of Everett's motion, finding the Fourth Amendment does not protect a defendant who exposes incriminating evidence to an undercover police officer after he voluntarily "friended" the officer on Facebook. View "Everett v. Delaware" on Justia Law

by
David Buckham was convicted at trial of assault in the first degree and related charges in connection with a shooting. His appeal presented two questions of criminal procedure for the Delaware Supreme Court’s consideration: (1) the propriety of the trial court’s decision to call a recess at the State’s request so that one of the State’s witnesses, who was in the middle of testifying (and in the middle of recanting a statement he had given to investigators before trial) could consult with his lawyer; and (2) whether it was plain error for the trial court to uphold a warrant that authorized a search of “[a]ny and all store[d] data” on Buckham’s cell phone for any evidence of any kind that might link him to the shooting. Buckham was forbidden by the trial court from cross-examining the witness about what transpired during the consultation. He argued it was reversible error to allow it and a violation of his confrontation rights to bar him from cross-examining the witness about it. The trial court sustained the warrant despite recognizing that the only nexus the warrant application established between his phone and the shooting was that the phone might have contained GPS data that might have been useful to investigators. The search instead turned up some arguably incriminating Facebook messages Buckham contended should have been suppressed. The Supreme Court agreed the trial court’s decision to allow the State’s witness a midtestimony consultation with counsel was reversible error, and that the decision to uphold the warrant and admit the Facebook messages was plain error. The Court therefore reversed Buckham’s convictions and remanded for a new trial. View "Buckham v. Delaware" on Justia Law

by
Appellant Christopher Rivers was convicted by jury trial on two counts of Murder in the First Degree, two Counts of Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony, Conspiracy in the First Degree, and Criminal Solicitation in the First Degree. He appealed, arguing: (1) the trial court’s denial of his motion for a change of venue from New Castle County to either Kent or Sussex County prevented him from receiving a fair and impartial jury trial because of highly inflammatory and sensationalized media coverage and the New Castle County public’s reaction to it; and (2) the trial court abused its discretion by admitting into evidence co-defendants’ statements made after the murders were committed pursuant to the co-conspirator hearsay exception under Delaware Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(E). Finding no merit to either claim, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed. View "Rivers v. Delaware" on Justia Law

by
Appellant Christopher Rivers was convicted by jury trial on two counts of Murder in the First Degree, two Counts of Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony, Conspiracy in the First Degree, and Criminal Solicitation in the First Degree. He appealed, arguing: (1) the trial court’s denial of his motion for a change of venue from New Castle County to either Kent or Sussex County prevented him from receiving a fair and impartial jury trial because of highly inflammatory and sensationalized media coverage and the New Castle County public’s reaction to it; and (2) the trial court abused its discretion by admitting into evidence co-defendants’ statements made after the murders were committed pursuant to the co-conspirator hearsay exception under Delaware Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(E). Finding no merit to either claim, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed. View "Rivers v. Delaware" on Justia Law

by
Two 16-year-old high school students got into a shouting match in the girls' bathroom. Things turned physical when Tracy Cannon threw Alcee Johnson-Franklin to the ground and started throwing punches. Alcee tried to protect herself from the blows, and the two ended up on the floor of the bathroom, grappling and kicking at each other. It was over in less than a minute, but within two hours of the assault, Alcee was pronounced dead, not from blunt-force trauma, but from a rare heart condition that even Alcee did not know she had. This tragic result prompted the State to charge Tracy with criminally negligent homicide, and, after a five-day bench trial in Family Court, she was adjudicated delinquent. Tracy appealed, arguing no reasonable factfinder could have found that she acted with criminal negligence or, even if she did, that it would be just to blame her for Alcee’s death given how unforeseeable it was that her attack would cause a 16-year-old to die from cardiac arrest. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed: a defendant cannot be held responsible for criminally negligent homicide unless there was a risk of death of such a nature and degree that her failure to see it was a gross deviation from what a reasonable person would have understood, and no reasonable factfinder could conclude that Tracy’s attack - which inflicted only minor physical injuries - posed a risk of death so great that Tracy was grossly deviant for not recognizing it. View "Cannon v. Delaware" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Darius Harden argued he suffered prejudice because his attorney did not represent him effectively at his sentencing hearing. As originally charged, Harden faced potential convictions for Home Invasion, Assault Second Degree, Terroristic Threatening, Theft, Offensive Touching, and Endangering the Welfare of a Child. Eventually, he pled guilty to Assault Second Degree and Endangering the Welfare of a Child, and the State agreed to cap its sentencing recommendation to 15 years. This agreement was important because Harden, due to his habitual offender status, faced a potential maximum sentence of life imprisonment for the crimes to which he pled guilty. Before his sentencing hearing, Harden’s trial counsel from the Public Defender’s Office changed jobs. Rather than seek a continuance to prepare for sentencing with Harden and develop a sound strategy, Harden’s new sentencing counsel proceeded to the sentencing hearing after, at best, a fleeting discussion with Harden on the day of the hearing either in lock-up or in the courtroom itself. Sentencing counsel did not prepare Harden for allocution or make any effort to discuss with him whether there was mitigating evidence that might support a more lenient sentence. Instead, Harden’s new counsel acted on the supposed strategy of seeking less than the 15 years that the State agreed not to exceed in its recommendation. Harden did not appeal his conviction. After his pro se motion for a sentence reduction was denied, Harden brought a Rule 61 petition alleging that his counsel’s performance in the sentencing phase was ineffective and prejudiced him. In addressing Harden’s petition, the Superior Court assumed that Harden’s counsel had performed unreasonably, but held that there was no prejudice because the record supporting a sentence of 18 years was so strong. The Delaware Supreme Court reversed: “When a defendant’s counsel fails to prepare himself or his client, and the sentencing decision itself reflects the negative effects of that failure, prejudice under Strickland [v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984)] exists. For these reasons, we reverse and remand for resentencing before a different judge.” View "Harden v. Delaware" on Justia Law

by
Prior to “Rauf v. Delaware,” Craig Zebroski was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. After the Delaware Supreme Court held in “Powell v. Delaware” that Rauf was retroactive, his death sentence was vacated and he was resentenced to a mandatory term of life without parole. Zebroski contended that this sentence was unconstitutional in light of both Rauf and the United States Constitution. He contended Rauf invalidated not just Delaware’s capital sentencing scheme, but all of 11 Del. C. 4209, the statute that specifies the penalties for first-degree murder, which was where the capital sentencing procedures are codified. Under Zebroski’s reading, Rauf invalidated the entirety of section 4209, and thus the statute’s life-without-parole alternative could not be enforced and he should have instead been sentenced to the residual punishment prescribed by statute for all other class A felonies: a term of years ranging from fifteen years to life. In the alternative, Zebroski argued if Rauf did not strike down all of section 4209, it should have, because the life-without-parole alternative was not severable from the rest of the statute. The Delaware Supreme Court held Rauf did not invalidate the entirety of section 4209, and, as the Court held in Powell, the statute’s life-without-parole alternative was the correct sentence to impose on a defendant whose death sentence is vacated. And the Court found no constitutional fault in imposing that sentence on him. View "Zebroski v. Delaware" on Justia Law