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Williams v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

June 17, 2014

MICHAEL W. WILLIAMS, Defendant Below, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff Below, Appellee

Submitted: April 30, 2014.

Case Closed June 25, 2014.

Editorial Note:

This decision has been designated as "Table of Decisions Without Published Opinions." in the Atlantic Reporter.

Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware, in and for Sussex County. Cr. I.D. No. 1203004885.

Before BERGER, JACOBS and RIDGELY, Justices.

OPINION

Carolyn Berger, Justice.

ORDER

This 17th day of June 2014, upon consideration of the parties' briefs and the record on appeal, it appears to the Court that:

(1) Michael W. Williams appeals from his convictions, following a jury trial, of two counts of first degree reckless endangering and related charges. Williams argues that: (a) the prosecutor improperly vouched for the strength of the State's case; and (b) the trial court committed reversible error by providing an incorrect supplemental jury instruction. We find no merit to these arguments and affirm.

(2) On March 6, 2012, Delaware State Police Corporal Michael Dill saw the vehicle Williams was driving run a stop sign. Dill attempted a traffic stop by activating his emergency lights. Williams did not stop. Instead, he continued driving, and a 23-mile chase ensued. Dill testified that Williams drove erratically, passed many vehicles on both the left and right, and failed to stop at two additional stop signs.

(3) The police used spike strips three times in an attempt to stop Williams. In one attempt, the police placed spike strips on Route 404. Two probation officers happened to be driving in the area, and joined the effort to stop Williams. They stopped oncoming traffic about 100 yards from the spike strips, and one probation officer got out of the vehicle. Williams steered around the spike strips and narrowly avoided a collision with the two probation officers. Dill testified that Williams was driving over 89 miles per hour on Route 404.

(4) Williams first claims that the prosecutor improperly vouched for the strength of the State's case by emphasizing parts of Dill's testimony and by discussing facts not in evidence. Because Williams did not raise this issue at trial, this Court reviews for plain error.[1] Under that standard, we review the record de novo to determine whether prosecutorial misconduct occurred.[2] If the Court finds no misconduct, the analysis ends.[3] " If, however, the trial prosecutor did engage in misconduct we move to the second step in the plain error analysis by applying the familiar Wainwright standard." [4] In this case, we need not reach the second step because there was no misconduct.

(5) " Conceptually, improper vouching occurs when the prosecutor implies personal superior knowledge, beyond that logically inferred from the evidence at trial." [5] This can occur where the prosecutor provides an official endorsement of a witness, or where the prosecutor " vouches for the State's case." [6] In short, the prosecutor must " avoid improper suggestions, insinuations, and assertions of personal knowledge in order to ensure that guilt is decided only on the basis of sufficient evidence." [7] But " [t]he prosecutor is ...


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