Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court

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Defendant Justin Parker appealed his conviction and sentence for theft of a motor vehicle, felony theft, and two counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. All of the charges against Parker stemmed from one night where Parker and another man entered a lot that housed various vehicles, pointed a gun at the guard and locked him in a portable toilet, and then loaded a container with several vehicles, which they then stole. On appeal, Parker argued his sentences for both theft of a motor vehicle and felony theft violated double jeopardy because the vehicles at issue in each count were stolen on the same occasion and were part of one course of action by Parker. The Delaware Supreme Court was presented with two issues for resolution by this appeal: (1) as a general matter, whether theft of a motor vehicle and felony theft the “same offense” for double jeopardy purposes; and (2) even if they were, can the two charges be separated in this particular case because they were associated with different stolen items, even though the items were stolen at the same time and place? The Court held theft of a motor vehicle was indeed the same offense as felony theft for double jeopardy purposes and that the two charges could not be separated in this case. The Court therefore vacated Parker’s sentence and remanded for resentencing. View "Parker v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Defendant Rydell Mills appealed his convictions and sentence for various offenses, including cocaine and heroin drug dealing and two counts of resisting arrest with force or violence. These convictions arose from a single incident in which two police officers caught Mills in a dark alley with a digital scale in his hands, Mills resisted the two officers’ arrest, and the police ultimately found a substantial amount of cocaine and smaller amount of heroin nearby. Mills argued on appeal: (1) when a defendant resists the attempt of multiple officers to arrest him, the multiplicity doctrine prohibits the State from dividing the resisting arrest offense into separate counts for each officer, as what occurred in this case; (2) convictions for resisting arrest with force or violence and heroin drug dealing could not stand because the State used the resisting arrest offense as an aggravating factor to elevate the drug dealing offense to a higher felony grade; and (3) the trial court erred by omitting from its jury instruction for heroin drug dealing the required element that he intended to deliver the heroin. The Delaware supreme Court held that convicting a defendant of separate counts of resisting arrest with force or violence based solely on the number of arresting officers violated the multiplicity doctrine drawn from the Double Jeopardy Clauses of the United States and Delaware Constitutions; the Delaware General Assembly intended one count per arrest, not one count per officer. It was therefore multiplicitous to convict Mills twice when the charges arose solely from two officers’ joint attempt to arrest him at the same time and place. Furthermore, the Court held a defendant could be sentenced for both resisting arrest with force or violence and aggravated drug dealing, even when the resisting arrest offense is a necessary aggravating factor for the drug dealing conviction. As to the last issue, the Court held the omission in the jury instruction was plain error, “[a]lthough it is regrettable that defense counsel missed the mistake below, this omission of a critical element of the drug dealing offense is glaring and fundamental enough to require reversal even under a plain error standard of review, especially given that the omission was prejudicial under the circumstances of this case.” The Court therefore affirmed in part and reversed in part defendant’s convictions, vacated his sentence, and remanded to the Superior Court for further proceedings. View "Mills v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Appellant Brandon Ways appealed after a jury found him guilty of Aggravated Possession of Heroin in a Tier 5 Quantity, Drug Dealing in a Tier 4 Quantity, and Conspiracy in the Second Degree. These charges were the result of a year-long investigation by the Delaware State Police and the Seaford Police Department into a large-scale drug trafficking operation of Ways and his associate, Torontay Mann. Ways’s co-defendant, Angeline Metelus, was also charged with these same crimes as a result of the investigation. Through their investigation, the police had been informed that Ways bought a large amount of cocaine and heroin every two weeks from sources in New Jersey. They also knew from experience that New Jersey was a source for drugs transported into Delaware. Metelus was stopped and the jeep she was driving was searched pursuant to a search warrant. Approximately 1,300 grams of heroin were found in a hidden compartment. On appeal, Ways argued: (1) the Superior Court abused its discretion by denying his motion to suppress all evidence derived from the State’s use of a mobile tracking device (“MTD”) to track the jeep in the State of New Jersey; and (2) the Superior Court erred by denying his motion for judgment of acquittal, arguing that the State failed to prove the predicate element of venue for any charge in the indictment. Finding no reversible error, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed Ways' convictions. View "Ways v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Ron Flowers and his co-defendant, Tariq Mariney, were indicted on charges of Drug Dealing, Aggravated Possession of Cocaine, Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony (“PFDCF”), Carrying a Concealed Deadly Weapon (“CCDW”), two counts each of Possession of a Firearm By a Person Prohibited (“PFBPP”) and Possession or Control of Ammunition By a Person Prohibited (“PABPP”), Receiving a Stolen Firearm, and Conspiracy Second Degree. Flowers moved to suppress evidence before trial, but in a bench ruling, the Superior Court denied his motion. A jury ultimately convicted Flowers of two counts of PFBPP as well as the CCDW charge, for which Flowers was sentenced to five years of incarceration followed by descending levels of supervision. On appeal, Flowers argued the Superior Court abused its discretion in denying his motion to suppress. Finding no reversible error nor abuse of discretion, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed Flowers' conviction. View "Flowers v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Alan Fowler was present during two melees at which gun shots were fired, and bystanders were shot. Fowler was convicted on multiple crimes arising from the shootings. After Fowler’s trial and direct appeal were over, it emerged during post-conviction proceedings that the State had failed to provide "Jencks" statements to the defense of four of its key witnesses. In ruling on his post-conviction petition, the Superior Court held that the State had proved the error was harmless, largely based on the testimony of the State’s ballistics expert, Carl Rone, who said that the same gun was used in both incidents. When this case was on appeal, evidence emerged that the expert, who was not properly certified in the relevant area of firearms identification as of trial, was being charged by the State with Theft by False Pretense over $1,500 and Falsifying Business Records to Make or Cause False Entry for “providing false [Delaware State Police] activity sheets and receiving compensation from [Delaware State Police] for work that was not performed.” The State asked the Delaware Supreme Court to excuse the serious issues with its expert’s credibility in the Fowler case because of the compelling nature of testimony by witnesses, several of whose Jencks statements were not timely disclosed. The Supreme Court found that when the reliability of both strains of the key evidence the State used to prove Fowler was the shooter has been called into question, Rule 61 required setting aside the conviction. But rather than impose upon the Superior Court the burdensome step of conducting an evidentiary hearing under Rule 61 in these unusual circumstances, the Supreme Court vacated Fowler’s conviction and remanded for a new trial. View "Fowler v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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A jury found Zamarianne Bradley guilty of first-degree assault of a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest. She appealed that conviction and the trial court’s ruling denying her motion for acquittal, arguing the evidence was insufficient for the jury to find that Bradley’s victim suffered the requisite “serious physical injury” for the First Degree Assault conviction, and that the jury instruction on that charge prevented the jury from intelligently performing its duties. Finding no reversible error, the Delaware Supreme Court denied Bradley’s requests on appeal and affirmed Bradley’s conviction. View "Bradley v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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