Submitted: April 5, 2013
On Defendant’s Third Motion for Postconviction Relief – DENIED
Brian Ahern, Esquire, Department of Justice
Ryeki Stewart, James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Pro Se Defendant.
William C. Carpenter, Jr., Judge
On this 25th day of July 2013, upon consideration of Defendant's Pro Se Motion for Postconviction Relief, it appears to the Court that:
1. On March 19, 2013, Ryeki Stewart ("Stewart") filed a Pro Se Motion for Postconviction Relief, his third, pursuant to Superior Court Criminal Rule 61 ("Rule 61"). In this Motion, Stewart raises the following grounds for relief: 1) constitutional violations; 2) ineffective assistance of trial counsel; 3) ineffective assistance of appellate counsel; and 4) ineffective assistance of postconviction counsel. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Third Motion for Postconviction Relief is DENIED.
2. Following a stipulated trial, Stewart was found guilty on June 19, 2007 of: 1) Trafficking Cocaine over 100 Grams; 2) Possession With Intent to Deliver Cocaine; 3) Maintaining a Vehicle; and 4) Resisting Arrest. As a result, Stewart was sentenced to a mandatory term of eight (8) years followed by a period of probation supervision. Stewart's conviction and sentence were affirmed on appeal to the Supreme Court in March 2008.
3. On April 16, 2008, Stewart filed a Pro Se Motion for Postconviction Relief, which was denied by this Court on September 24, 2008. The Supreme Court affirmed this Court's judgment on February 27, 2009.
4. On June 22, 2010, Stewart filed his second Pro Se Motion for Postconviction Relief, which was denied by this Court on July 27, 2010.
5. On March 19, 2013, Stewart filed the motion presently before the Court. However, prior to addressing the merits of any postconviction claim, the Court must determine whether the procedural requirements of Rule 61 have been met. Specifically, any ground for relief raised by the Defendant that was not raised at trial or on direct appeal is procedurally barred, unless the Defendant shows both cause for relief and prejudice from a violation of his rights.Additionally, any grounds for relief previously adjudicated, including those adjudicated in "the proceedings leading to the judgment of conviction, in an appeal, in a postconviction proceeding, or in a federal habeas corpus proceeding, " are barred unless "reconsideration of the claim is warranted in the interest of justice."
A. Procedurally Barred Claims
6. In his third Motion for Postconviction Relief, Stewart claims his 6th and 14th Amendment rights were violated. Specifically, Stewart claims that his 6th Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel was violated during the critical stages of plea negotiations at his first case review because his retained counsel, John Malik, did not appear and his surrogate counsel, Andrew Witherell, did not communicate to him the State's plea offer of four (4) years. Stewart contends that Witherell made no effort to communicate this plea offer to him and that, had Witherell informed him of the offer, he would have accepted the plea. Additionally, Stewart claims that his 14th Amendment right to due process was violated because the trial judge accepted the stipulated trial agreement without giving him a colloquy to ensure that he knew he was entering into the agreement voluntarily, intelligently, knowingly, and without false pretenses or coercion.
7. The Court notes that Stewart failed to raise these alleged constitutional violations on his direct appeal and, therefore, these claims are procedurally barred unless he can show cause or prejudice. First, the Court found nothing to suggest that a four (4) year plea was offered at his first case review. The only plea offer in Stewart's file was dated June 11, 2007, which he rejected. This plea offer provided that Stewart would agree to accept a minimum mandatory sentence of eight (8) years for Trafficking Cocaine over 100 Grams and one (1) year of probation for Resisting Arrest with a nolle prosequi entered on the remaining charges. Further, Stewart did not raise this issue previously. Moreover, because the pivotal issue in Stewart's case involved whether evidence would be suppressed, it is logical for the Court to assume that it would not be in Stewart's best interest to accept a plea offer at his first case review, which occurred before the suppression hearing. As such, the Court finds that Stewart's claim regarding an uncommunicated plea offer is, at best, unsupported. Second, the trial judge did ...