Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
Appellant "Arthur Stoner," appealed a Family Court order finding him delinquent of Robbery in the Second Degree and Conspiracy in the Second Degree. On appeal, he argued: (1) the finding that he committed Conspiracy in the Second Degree violated his right to due process because it was based on a finding that he violated an uncharged subsection of the conspiracy statute; (2) there was insufficient evidence to find him delinquent of Robbery in the Second Degree, specifically, the Family Court misconstrued a part of the robbery statute, 11 Del. C. 831(b); and (3) 11 Del. C. 512(1), the subsection of the conspiracy statute under which he was found delinquent, was unconstitutionally vague because it does not expressly include the requirement of an overt act. The State agreed that the Family Court erred when it found Stoner delinquent for violating an uncharged subsection of the conspiracy statute, and recommended vacating that charge. Because the State conceded error and agreed Stoner’s adjudication of delinquency as to Conspiracy in the Second Degree should have been vacated, the Delaware Supreme Court accepted its concession and did not discuss Stoner’s first contention. For this same reason, Stoner’s third contention, that 11 Del. C. 512(1) was unconstitutionally vague, was not be addressed. The Court only addressed Stoner’s contentions relating to the Family Court’s finding of delinquency for Robbery in the Second Degree. To that end, the Supreme Court remanded this case back to the trial court for additional findings with regard to the robbery charge. View "Stoner v. Delaware" on Justia Law

by
Late one evening in October 2017, Wilmington Police Officer Matthew Rosaio was on patrol with other officers when he observed two men walking on a nearby sidewalk. One of the men, Murray, was walking with his right arm canted and pinned against the right side of his body, specifically the right front portion of his body. The other man, Lenwood Murray-Stokes, was walking normally. The manner in which Murray was walking made Officer Rosaio suspicious that Murray was carrying a concealed firearm in his waistband on his right side. The officer began drawing his weapon and instructed Murray to show his hands. Murray appeared to reach for his waistband area. The officer then pointed his weapon at Murray and instructed him to not reach for his waistband and to get on the ground. Murray complied. The officer then asked Murray whether he had anything in his possession. Murray replied that he had a firearm in his waistband. The officer located the firearm in Murray’s waistband on his right side and seized it. Murray was charged with Carrying a Concealed Deadly Weapon, Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited, and Possession of Ammunition by a Person Prohibited. He filed a motion to suppress the discovery of the firearm from use as evidence at trial, arguing that the officer did not have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that Murray had committed or was about to engage in any illegal activity to justify detaining him or probable cause to arrest him. The Superior Court agreed and granted the motion to suppress. The Delaware Supreme Court concluded the officer performed a legitimate Terry stop, and therefore the motion to suppress should have been denied. View "Delaware v. Murray" on Justia Law

by
Milton Taylor appeared before a superior court judge and offered to plead guilty but mentally ill for the July 2016 murder of Whitney White. After his counsel told the court that Taylor was competent to plead guilty, the court conducted a plea colloquy with him but deferred accepting the plea until a later sentencing hearing, when the court would have the presentence investigation. The day after the hearing, Taylor told his counsel to withdraw his plea. His counsel refused. Taylor then made pro se requests to withdraw his plea. The court would not consider them because Taylor had counsel. At the sentencing hearing, Taylor addressed the court and sought again to withdraw his plea. The trial judge refused to consider Taylor’s request because Taylor had counsel. Over Taylor’s objection, the court accepted the guilty but mentally ill plea to manslaughter and possession of a deadly weapon during commission of a felony, and sentenced Taylor to 45 years in prison. Taylor appealed. After review, the Delaware Supreme Court determined: (1) Taylor waived his right to object to the “sole issue” statutory requirement - the State and counsel agreed the plea hearing could be conducted in two parts; (2) Taylor did not cooperate with the presentence investigation; (3) defense counsel’s refusal to withdraw Taylor’s plea violated Taylor’s Sixth Amendment autonomy interest to decide the objective of his defense (having represented to the court that Taylor was competent to plead guilty, defense counsel should have followed Taylor’s demand to withdraw his plea before the court accepted it); (4) under Superior Court Criminal Rule 11, before adjudicating a defendant guilty but mentally ill by plea, the court must address the defendant in open court and be satisfied that the defendant is entering his plea knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily - before the court accepted Taylor’s plea, he objected, thus, Taylor could not have entered his plea voluntarily. The Supreme Court therefore vacated Taylor’s conviction, and remanded this case back to the superior court for his counsel to review with Taylor whether he should withdraw his plea. If he was competent to make the decision and insisted on withdrawing his guilty but mentally ill plea, the court should allow Taylor to withdraw his plea and proceed to trial. View "Taylor v. Delaware" on Justia Law

by
Jerry Longford-Myers has had his share of encounters with the law. The portions of those encounters relevant to this case began on August 10, 201: Longford-Myers pleaded guilty to one count of maintaining a dwelling for keeping controlled substances, and the Superior Court sentenced him to two years’ imprisonment suspended for one year of probation. In a case unrelated to the 2011 "Maintaining Case," Longford-Myers pleaded guilty in 2012 to possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (“PFDCF”) and drug dealing. The Superior Court sentenced Longford-Myers to eight years’ imprisonment suspended after three years for 18 months’ probation for the PFDCF charge and 8 years’ imprisonment suspended for 18 months’ probation for the drug dealing charge. In January 2018, Longford-Myers pleaded guilty to second-degree assault. The conviction that resulted from this plea was a violation of the terms of Longford-Myers’ probation sentences in the 2011 Maintaining Case and the 2012 Firearm/Drug Dealing Case. Because of those probation violations, the Superior Court resentenced Longford-Myers on February 6, 2018. Though the history of this case was "complicated," the issue it presented for the Delaware Supreme Court's review centered on whether, when a Superior Court sentence order contains sentences for multiple convictions, one of which was subject to modification under Superior Court Rule 35(a) because it was illegal, could the court also modify other lawful sentences within the order when it corrected the illegal sentence? The Supreme Court concluded that the Superior Court could not. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court judgment and remanded with instructions. View "Longford-Myers v. Delaware" on Justia Law