Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
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In a bench trial, a Delaware superior court found Appellant Tajiir Patterson guilty of invasion of privacy for filming a sexual encounter with D.L. and distributing the video over social media without her consent. The court sentenced Patterson to two years at Level V incarceration, suspended for twelve months at Level III probation. As part of the investigation, the Police extracted data, including over 9,000 photos, from D.L.’s cell phone. Patterson’s counsel was permitted to inspect these photos. The encounter occurred in late 2017, and nearly three years passed between the time of the recording and the trial. Because D.L.’s appearance had changed significantly during that time, the State sought to introduce “Photo 1” into evidence to show her appearance at the time of the recording. Patterson’s counsel objected because Photo 1 was not disclosed in discovery. The trial judge sustained the objection, ruling that photos not disclosed in discovery would be inadmissible, but photos contained within the cell phone extraction would be admissible. The State then sought to introduce “Photo 2” into evidence, which was of D.L. from 2017 and was included in the cell phone extraction. Patterson’s counsel objected. Photo 2 was admitted into evidence. Patterson seeks reversal of his conviction, contending that the State violated its discovery obligations by not flagging the importance of the 2017 photos of D.L. and by not providing a copy of all the photos in D.L.’s phone. Patterson argued the trial court abused its discretion by allowing Photo 2 into the record given the State’s alleged discovery violation. Finding the State did not violate its discovery obligation, the Delaware Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting Photo 2 into evidence. View "Patterson v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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This case arose from the murder of Jamier Vann-Robinson at an after-prom house party in Dover, Delaware on May 12, 2018. On May 14, 2018, Appellant Ahmir Bailey and codefendant Eugene Riley were arrested in connection with the crime. Bailey was indicted on 16 offenses, including Murder in the First Degree and Attempted Murder in the First Degree. The charges against defendants were severed so that each could be tried separately. Bailey appealed his convictions of Murder in the First Degree and related offenses, claiming only that the Superior Court erred by refusing to admit into evidence a witness’s juvenile adjudication of delinquency for Carrying a Concealed Deadly Weapon (“CCDW”), and the witness’s probationary status resulting therefrom. This error, he claimed, violated his constitutional right to confront the witness. The Delaware Supreme Court rejected Bailey’s claim and affirmed the Superior Court. View "Bailey v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Defendant Brian Wilson was convicted by jury of first-degree murder for hiring someone to kill Allen Cannon. On appeal, Wilson argued: (1) the trial court abused its discretion when it refused to allow testimony about a witness’s reputation as a snitch introduced to counter the witness’s incriminatory statement about Wilson and the murder; (2) the court erred when it overruled a hearsay objection and admitted text messages that infer Wilson was the person responsible for Cannon’s murder; and (3) the State committed a Brady violation when it failed to disclose a witness’s agreement with federal prosecutors to testify in Wilson’s trial in exchange for a possible lighter sentence. Finding no reversible error, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed Wilson’s convictions. View "Wilson v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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In 2019, defendant Kevin Miller was convicted of first-degree murder for killing Jeremiah McDonald. Miller appealed, arguing that the State committed prosecutorial misconduct by: (1) misrepresenting to the jury that Miller asserted at least two separate alibis for McDonald’s murder; and (2) interfering with his constitutional right to testify. He also claimed the Superior Court abused its discretion by admitting a witness’s out-of-court statements on the grounds of forfeiture by wrongdoing. After review, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s judgment. The Supreme Court concluded it could not conclude that the State knew that the two alibis referred to two separate murders. Furthermore, the State’s actions regarding Miller’s constitutional right to testify had the effect of reinforcing his right, not interfering with it. Finally, any error by the Superior Court was harmless. View "Miller v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Cameron Pierce was convicted after a bench trial on two counts of Robbery First Degree, two counts of Wearing a Disguise During the Commission of a Felony, and two counts of Felony Theft. The Superior Court sentenced Pierce to a total of 60 years at Level 5 incarceration, suspended after 6 years, to be followed by probation. Pierce appealed, arguing: (1) the superior court erred in admitting palmprint evidence because it lacked the requisite foundation for admission; and (2) the superior court’s verdict was not supported by evidence sufficient to identify Pierce as the suspect who robbed Silverside Discount Liquors. Finding no merit in either of Pierce’s claims of error, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of conviction. View "Pierce v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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At the heart of the State’s prosecution of defendant Karieem Howell for numerous drug and weapons offenses was the testimony of Brian Caldwell: a witness who had agreed to cooperate with the prosecution in return for a favorable plea agreement. During Howell’s trial, the trial judge instructed Howell’s jurors, at the beginning of Caldwell’s damning testimony, that they could not consider Caldwell’s agreement with the prosecution in weighing his credibility. The State conceded the court’s instruction was legally erroneous. But, because Howell’s lawyer did not object to the instruction, the Delaware Supreme Court was limited to review the mistake for plain error - an error that so affected Howell’s substantial rights that his failure to object would be excused. The State contended that the strength of the evidence independent of Caldwell’s testimony and the correct instructions regarding witness credibility provided to the jury at the close of evidence suffice to erase any prejudice that Howell might have suffered because of the erroneous instruction. The Supreme Court's review of the trial record persuaded it otherwise, finding Caldwell’s testimony was "pivotal evidence" upon which the jury’s determination of key elements of the crimes charged likely turned. "Without Caldwell’s testimony, the prosecution’s case was susceptible to doubt; with it - if the jury found it credible - the likelihood of conviction increased dramatically. The trial court’s instruction, however, unduly restricted the jury’s assessment of Caldwell’s credibility and undermined the fairness of Howell’s trial." Therefore, the Court reversed Howell's convictions and remanded to the Superior Court for a new trial. View "Howell v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Appellant Ricardo Castro appealed his convictions on two counts of Drug Dealing and two counts of Conspiracy in the Second Degree. On appeal, he argued: (1) the Superior Court erred by denying his motion for judgment of acquittal on the two Drug Dealing convictions; (2) the Superior Court erred by denying his motion for judgment of acquittal on the two Conspiracy convictions; and (3) the Superior Court erred in not granting his pre-trial motion to suppress wiretap evidence. Finding no reversible error, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed appellant's convictions. View "Castro v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Corey Patrick was convicted by jury for multiple drug and weapons offenses. On appeal, Patrick challenged : (1) the trial court’s decision to permit law enforcement witnesses to testify about the lengthy drug investigation leading to his arrest; (2) one of his convictions for possession of a deadly weapon by a person prohibited, arguing there was insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction for the simultaneous possession of a firearm and a controlled substance because the State failed to satisfy the “possession” element; and (3) the second of his weapons charges should have been vacated as duplicative of his other conviction under Count Two of the Indictment for possession of a deadly weapon by a person prohibited (weapon and prior felony conviction). After review, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed Patrick’s convictions except for his conviction under Count Four of the October 7, 2019 Indictment (weapon and drugs together). The Count Four conviction duplicated his conviction under Count Two (weapon and prior felony conviction) and violated the constitutional prohibition against Double Jeopardy. Thus, judgment was reversed and remanded to the Superior Court to vacate his conviction and sentence under Count Four of the October 7, 2019 Indictment. View "Patrick v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Heather Juliano was a passenger was passenger in an SUV that was stopped because of a suspected seat-belt violation. One of the investigating officers detected an odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle. Based on that odor alone, the occupants of the vehicle, including Juliano, were immediately ordered out of the vehicle and placed under arrest. The police searched Juliano at the scene and then transported her to their station where they told her that they intended to perform a strip search, prompting Juliano to admit that she had concealed contraband— marijuana and cocaine—in her pants. Juliano was then escorted to another room where she retrieved and handed over the drugs. Juliano was then charged with several drug offenses. Juliano moved to suppress the drugs that the police seized from her, claiming, among other things, that her arrest and the ensuing searches were not supported by probable cause. The State responded that the odor of marijuana emanating from the area of the vehicle where Juliano was seated and on her person provided probable cause for Juliano’s arrest. And, the State argued, because the arrest was lawful, the searches of Juliano at the scene and at the station were incident to her arrest and hence lawful. In two separate orders, one following the suppression hearing and the other on remand by the Delaware Supreme Court of that first order, the Family Court agreed with the State and denied Juliano’s motion. On appeal, Juliano contended that, although the odor of marijuana could support the extension of a traffic stop or serve as a factor contributing to probable cause to search a person or vehicle, it did not, standing alone, authorize a full custodial arrest. The Supreme Court found that under the totality of the circumstances presented by the State in this case, including the vagueness of the officers’ description of the marijuana odor, the timing of their detection of that odor, and the absence of any other observations indicative of criminality, Juliano’s arrest was unreasonable and therefore violated the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 6 of the Delaware Constitution. "It follows that the evidence obtained following Juliano’s unlawful arrest should have been suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree. This being so, we reverse." View "Juliano v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Diamonte Taylor was convicted by jury for gang-related murder and violent felonies. On direct appeal, Taylor claimed the superior court should have suppressed evidence from his smartphones collected under an unconstitutional search warrant. After review, the Delaware Supreme Court determined that unlimited in time and scope, the general warrant to search Taylor’s smartphones violated Taylor’s rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, Article I, Section 6 of the Delaware Constitution, and the particularity requirement under Delaware statutory law. The evidence should have been suppressed and the error was not harmless. The Court therefore reversed his convictions and remanded to the superior court for a new trial without the taint of the improperly seized evidence. View "Taylor v. Delaware" on Justia Law