Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
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Appellant Dakai Chavis appealed his conviction of first-degree criminal trespass. He raised one issue on appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court: the Superior Court erred during his jury trial by admitting evidence of two prior convictions under Delaware Rule of Evidence 404(b). After review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court determined the evidence of Appellant's prior convictions should not have been admitted, and thus reversed the superior court order. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Chavis v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Appellant Maurice Cooper was convicted of: Drug Dealing (Heroin), Aggravated Possession of Heroin, four counts of Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony, four counts of Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited, and two counts of Possession of Ammunition by a Person Prohibited. On appeal, he argued the trial court erred by: (1) denying his motion to suppress evidence discovered when the police searched a business because there was no nexus between the evidence sought and the business; (2) denying his motion to suppress evidence discovered when the police searched a residential unit for the same reason as the business (no nexus); and (3) denying his motion to suppress evidence retrieved from his Instagram account pursuant because evidence from searches of the business and residence lead police to the account. In addition. Cooper argued his sentence violated his constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment. After review of the trial court record, the Delaware Supreme Court found no merit to Cooper’s claims and affirmed the convictions and sentence. View "Cooper v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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In 2018, Appellant Darren Wiggins was arrested for possession of drugs; a vial containing an amber liquid with brown chunks suspended in the liquid. The State’s chemist tested the amber liquid, which tested positive for phencyclidine (“PCP”); she did not test or otherwise identify the brown chunks. The chemist also weighed the liquid PCP and brown chunks together and determined that they weighed 17.651 grams. The chemist did not weigh the liquid or the brown chunks separately. At trial, the State presented no evidence regarding the nature of the brown chunks or their relation to the liquid PCP other than their co-location within the same vial. Nonetheless, the jury found Wiggins guilty of Aggravated Possession of PCP under Delaware’s Uniform Controlled Substances Act. Relevant here, possession of 15 grams or more of PCP, or of any mixture containing any such substance, was classified as a Class B Felony and carried a minimum sentence of two years at Level V incarceration. The parties’ sole focus in this appeal is on whether a rational jury could have concluded that the State met its burden to prove that the liquid PCP and brown chunks in Wiggins’s vial constituted a “mixture” under the statutory scheme. The Delaware Supreme Court held that the meaning of “mixture” within Delaware’s statutory scheme required a showing that the mixture was marketable or usable. As the State presented no evidence concerning what the brown chunks were, that they were in any way associated with liquid PCP, or that they were conventionally sold or used with PCP mixtures, the State made no showing that the liquid PCP and unidentified brown chunks were a marketable or usable drug mixture. Therefore, the Court vacated the conviction for Aggravated Possession of PCP and remanded for sentencing for the lesser-included offense of Misdemeanor Possession of PCP. View "Wiggins v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Dakai Chavis was indicted by grand jury on four counts of trespassing with the intent to peer or peep, four counts of burglary in the second degree, three counts of burglary in the second degree, and one count of theft of a firearm. A jury acquitted Chavis on all but one of the charges, finding him guilty of the second degree burglary of an apartment at 61 Fairway Road in Newark, Delaware. At that address, unlike the other residences identified in the indictment, the police had obtained a DNA sample from a bedroom window. The police sent that sample to an out-of-state laboratory for analysis, and when they later arrested Chavis and swabbed his mouth for DNA, they sent that sample to the same lab. According to one of the lab’s analysts, the evidentiary sample taken from the bedroom window at the burglary scene matched the reference sample taken from Chavis. It was undisputed that several analysts from the lab handled and performed steps in the analytical process on both samples. Even so, before the trial, the State moved in limine for an order declaring that the out-of-state laboratory’s DNA findings would be “admissible via the testimony of [the lead analyst], and that no one else from [the laboratory] needs to appear for trial.” Chavis opposed the motion, citing the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause and 10 Del. C. sec. 4331. The Superior Court agreed with the State and granted its motion. Finding no reversible error in the Superior Court's judgment, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed. View "Chavis v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Anthony Calm was convicted for several weapons charges and resisting arrest. His sole argument on appeal was that the Superior Court erred in denying his motion to suppress a firearm and ammunition that the arresting officer found on Calm during a stop of a motor vehicle in which Calm was the passenger. Pat-down searches must be justified by a “reasonable articulable suspicion that the detainee is armed and presently dangerous.” The Delaware Supreme Court determined the Superior Court did not apply this standard, instead concluding that the mere removal of Calm from the vehicle for the purpose of conducting a consent search of the vehicle justified the pat-down of his person. Furthermore, the Supreme Court found the trial court’s other findings indicated that, had it applied the correct standard, the court would have found the State’s proof lacking and granted the motion to suppress. The Supreme Court therefore reversed Calm’s convictions for possession of a firearm by a person prohibited, possession of ammunition by a person prohibited, and carrying a concealed deadly weapon. Because the evidence seized from Calm was not relevant to the resisting-arrest charge, the Supreme Court affirmed that conviction. View "Calm v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Elder Saavedra was convicted by jury of the first-degree murder of Lester Mateo and possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a felony. The court sentenced Saavedra to life in prison for the murder conviction and ten years in prison for the weapons charge. Saavedra argued on appeal that his convictions should be overturned because of the prosecutor’s misconduct and the trial court’s erroneous admission of evidence during his trial. Saavedra also contends that the trial court abused its discretion by allowing another officer to offer lay opinion testimony under D.R.E. 701 regarding the meaning of a phrase uttered in Spanish by Saavedra at the scene, when, according to Saavedra, the opinion was not “rationally based on the witness’s perception.” Finally, Saavedra argued the prosecutor engaged in misconduct when he asked a question that implied that the witness, despite his denial, had identified Saavedra in a video clip during a pretrial interview. Although the Delaware Supreme Court found Saavedra raised some legitimate concerns regarding the officer’s narrative testimony that accompanied the important video evidence, it disagreed with his conclusion that the admission of that testimony, much of which came in without objection and was the subject of two curative instructions, was grounds for reversal. Nor was the Court persuaded that the challenged opinion testimony and the prosecutor’s question that purportedly implied a fact that was not supported by the evidence affected the fairness of Saavedra’s trial. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Saavedra v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Jeffrey Clark and two associates, Rayshaun Johnson and Christopher Harris, were indicted for first degree murder , conspiracy in the first degree, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, and possession of a deadly weapon by a person prohibited, for their roles in the shooting death of Theodore “Teddy” Jackson. After Harris pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge and entered into a cooperation agreement with the State, the Superior Court granted Clark’s request that his case be tried separately from Johnson’s. Johnson’s case went to trial first, and a jury convicted him on all indicted charges. Then, after a nine-day trial in September 2017, a jury found Clark guilty of attempted assault in the second degree—purportedly a lesser-included offense of murder in the first degree, and conspiracy in the second degree, a lesser included offense of conspiracy in the first degree. Before he was sentenced, Clark moved the Superior Court for acquittal. When that was denied, Clark was sentenced to four years’ incarceration, followed by descending levels of supervision. On appeal, Clark argued that despite the inescapable fact that Teddy Jackson, the only victim identified in the indictment, was dead, the State failed to present sufficient evidence at trial to support the jury’s finding that Clark, at the time of the alleged crime, intended to cause “serious physical injury.” And because intent to cause “serious physical injury,” as opposed to mere “physical injury,” was an element of attempted assault in the second degree, according to Clark, the Superior Court erred when it denied his post-trial motion for judgment of acquittal. Finding no merit to Clark's claims, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed his convictions and sentence. View "Clark v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Richard Cushner was convicted by jury of third-degree burglary and two counts of criminal mischief. Cushner contended on appeal that the trial court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal because the only evidence connecting him to the crimes was a handprint that was discovered on the outside of a storage trailer he allegedly burglarized. Relying on Monroe v. Delaware, 652 A.2d 560 (1995), Cushner contended the motion should have been granted because the State failed to present sufficient evidence to establish that his handprint was impressed at the time the crimes were committed. After review, the Delaware Supreme Court concluded “Monroe” was distinguishable and that the evidence in this case was sufficient to sustain Cushner’s conviction. View "Cushner v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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When police arrested appellant Roderick Brown (aka “Mumford”) for drug dealing and money laundering, they also seized several cars and tens of thousands of dollars. Brown petitioned for the return of that property, but after an evidentiary hearing, the Superior Court denied the bulk of Brown’s claims. Brown then filed this appeal. Because the Delaware Supreme Court concluded the State failed to meet its burden for the seizure of two of Brown’s cars, it reversed in part. View "Brown v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was a Family Court order adjudging appellant Joseph Baker, Jr., a minor child, delinquent for having committed an act of Rape in the Second Degree. Initially, Baker was charged with three counts of Rape in the Second Degree. Count Two was voluntarily dismissed by the State before trial. At trial, the Family Court judge found Baker delinquent on Count One and acquitted him on Count Three. On appeal, Baker argued the judgment of delinquency for the one count of Rape in the Second Degree should be reversed because of evidentiary errors made by the Family Court judge at trial. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed that errors were made and reversal was required. View "Baker v. Delaware" on Justia Law