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State v. McLaughlin

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

July 2, 2014

STATE OF DELAWARE
v.
EDWARD McLAUGHLIN, Defendant.

Submitted: April 2, 2014

Upon the Motion of Defendant Edward McLaughlin for Postconviction Relief

Upon Motion to Withdraw as Counsel for Petitioner Edward McLaughlin

MEMORANDUM OPINION

HONORABLE ANDREA L. ROCANELLI

On April 26, 2011, Edward McLaughlin was arrested on eight (8) counts of rape in the second degree of his 8 year-old stepdaughter and two (2) counts of endangering the welfare of a child regarding the same alleged victim. McLaughlin was indicted by a grand jury on five (5) counts of rape in the second degree and was tried on these indictments in November of 2011. Counsel was appointed to represent McLaughlin at trial ("Trial Counsel").

The trial ended November 10, 2011 in a mistrial when the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. On March 26, 2012, McLaughlin was again indicted by a grand jury and on April 10, 2012, a second trial – in which Trial Counsel relied on primarily the same strategy he employed in the first trial – concluded with the jury finding McLaughlin guilty of four (4) counts of rape in the second degree. On July 6, 2012, McLaughlin was sentenced to 100 years of incarceration – 25 years for each count – followed by 10 years of probation.

McLaughlin challenged the grand jury indictments on the grounds that each of the rape charges was identical and therefore it was not possible to tell which count referred to which alleged incident. The trial court found the indictments to be valid and, upon appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the convictions.

After the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the convictions, McLaughlin filed a motion for postconviction relief on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel. John Barber, Esquire was appointed to represent McLaughlin ("Rule 61 Counsel"). On March 18, 2014, Rule 61 Counsel filed a motion to withdraw from representing McLaughlin on the basis that the evidence did not support a good faith argument that McLaughlin's trial counsel had been ineffective in representing him.

McLaughlin responded to the motion filed by Rule 61 Counsel on April 2, 2014 challenging the conclusion that there was not sufficient evidence to demonstrate ineffective assistance of counsel, specifically challenging the cross-examination of the alleged victim. The alleged victim was a child who, at the time of the incidents, was eight years old, and who was ten years old at time of the trials. McLaughlin was the victim's legal guardian and acted as her stepfather from the time that custody was taken away from the victim's mother until McLaughlin was charged with raping her.

I. McLaughlin's Rule 61 Motion for Postconviction Relief

McLaughlin filed a Motion for Postconviction Relief on March 14, 2013 pursuant to Superior Court Criminal Rule 61 as a self-represented litigant.[1] Rule 61 governs motions for postconviction relief. McLaughlin argues that Trial Counsel's cross-examination of the alleged victim consisted only of questions about where the alleged victim had lived during her lifetime and was irrelevant to McLaughlin's defense. McLaughlin argues that Trial Counsel did not challenge the alleged victim's motive for testifying and therefore "acquiesced" to the State's prosecution of him, resulting in a failure to subject the prosecution's case to a meaningful adversarial testing.

The Sixth Amendment guarantees defendants in criminal trials the right to counsel.[2] In order to assure that the outcome of a criminal trial is just, defendants furthermore have "the right to effective assistance of counsel."[3] To succeed on a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant must show that (1) trial counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and (2) counsel's conduct prejudiced defendant.[4]

The U.S. Supreme Court has pointed to "prevailing professional norms" as the standard against which to judge the reasonableness of counsel's representation with great deference given to Trial Counsel's strategic judgments.[5] Simply because another strategy may have produced a better outcome in hindsight is not enough for a court to rule that a lawyer's assistance was ineffective, given the strong presumption that the assistance was adequate.[6]

Even if it can be shown that a professionally unreasonable error is made by counsel, a defendant must still show that the error had an effect on the judgment.[7] Here, the court must look to see if there is a reasonable probability that the judgment would have been different had counsel not made the error.[8] This standard is lower than a preponderance of ...


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