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State v. Starr

Superior Court of Delaware, Sussex

October 29, 2014

State of Delaware
v.
Matthew E. Starr

DATE SUBMITTED: August 20, 2014

Dear Mr. Starr and Mr. Funk:

Pending before the Court is a motion for postconviction relief which defendant Matthew E. Starr ("defendant") filed pursuant to Superior Court Criminal Rule 61 ("Rule 61").[1] Also pending is postconviction relief counsel's motion to withdraw pursuant to Rule 61(e)(2). This is my decision denying the motion for postconviction relief and ruling the motion to withdraw is moot.

In August, 2012, defendant was charged with numerous sex offenses involving his then girlfriend's minor daughter in the case of State of Delaware v. Matthew E. Starr, Def. ID# 1208019108 (hereinafter, "Starr I"). As a condition of his bond, he was ordered to have no contact with the victim or her family members. He thereafter sent two letters to the victim's mother. He was arrested for violating his bond conditions in the case of State of Delaware v. Matthew E. Starr, Def. ID# 1209018395 (hereinafter, "Starr II").

Defendant was not pleased with his trial counsel and filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court against him. Then, citing to the existence of this federal case, defendant sought to have trial counsel disqualified to represent him in Starr 1. This Court denied that request.[2]

A motion to suppress in Starr I was scheduled for March 8, 2013. On that day, defendant entered into a plea agreement to resolve Starr I and Starr II. Defendant possesses a copy of the transcript of the plea colloquy and sentencing from March 8, 2013; yet, in his Rule 61 submissions, he ignores what occurred. Below, I provide a detailed summary of the plea colloquy because it establishes the facts of this case.

Trial counsel explained the following. The parties came to the courthouse that day for the suppression motion. Trial counsel received a revised plea offer which he conveyed to defendant. He met with defendant for a while to answer defendant's questions regarding the plea. He previously had met with defendant a number of times at Sussex Correctional Institution to prepare for the suppression hearing, trial, and possible plea negotiations. Trial counsel explained:

Today I again went over the plea agreement and truth-in-sentencing form and the immediate sentencing form with Mr. Starr. We went through those together line by line. We discussed the nature of the charges, the evidence against him, the maximum penalties he faces, and the important constitutional trial rights he is giving up by doing this plea. With all that, I believe he is entering this plea knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily.[3]

Defendant then was put under oath and was informed that if his answers were not truthful, he was looking at a perjury charge.

The Court verified with defendant that trial counsel's representations set forth above were accurate and that defendant did not disagree with any statement of trial counsel. The Court then questioned defendant in detail about his satisfaction with trial counsel. The Court recounted that defendant had been unhappy with trial counsel earlier. The Court verified with defendant that he was "fully satisfied"[4] with trial counsel's representation, had no complaints about the representation, and found nothing objectionable about the representation.

Defendant confirmed he had enough time to go over his case with trial counsel. Defendant further confirmed that he had read and signed both the Truth-In-Sentencing Guilty Plea Form ("TIS Form") and the Plea Agreement. As postconviction counsel notes, by signing those documents, defendant affirmed the following:

*He was freely and voluntarily pleading guilty;
*He was not threatened or forced into pleading guilty;
*He understood he was waiving his Constitutional trial rights;
*He understood the potential prison sentence;
*He was satisfied with his trial counsel's representation of him;
*He understood all of the information contained in the forms; and
* His answers were truthful.

Defendant affirmed to the Court that trial counsel went over each line of the forms with him and that he truthfully checked each box beside the questions. Defendant affirmed he understood the information in the forms and trial counsel had answered any questions defendant had.

The Court explored defendant's mental health history, confirming that defendant had been in the hospital for mental health treatment when was 15, [5] and also confirming that he was of sound mind currently and thus, was competent to enter the plea.

The following colloquy occurred regarding the voluntariness of the plea:

THE COURT: Nobody can force you to plead guilty because when you plead guilty, you incriminate yourself, you lose your valuable trial and appeal rights, and you subject yourself to the penalties of law; do you understand that?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, I do.
THE COURT: Is anybody forcing you to plead guilty?
THE DEFENDANT: No.
THE COURT: Is anyone putting any pressure on you to plead guilty?
THE DEFENDANT: No.[6]

The Court then went over each and every trial right defendant was giving up by entering the plea. I set forth the actual words spoken regarding defendant's right to testify:

If you had a defense, you can present it on your behalf. You can testify or not testify as you might choose to do. If you chose not to testify, the jury would be told not to take it against you because it is an exercise of a valuable constitutional right.[7]
The Court then confirmed the following facts from defendant:
THE COURT: Is anybody forcing you to give up your valuable trial and appeal rights?
THE DEFENDANT: No.
THE COURT: Do you understand, as well, by pleading guilty here this afternoon, that any complaints you might have had about how the prosecution was commenced, about any statements that you made, about any evidence that had been taken from you, any complaints at all that you might have with respect to any of those matters are gone and lost forever?
THE DEFENDANT: I have no complaints.
THE COURT: You have no complaints, I understand that, but do you understand that you are not going to be able to make any complaints about, for example, Miranda was not properly given to you; do you understand what Miranda is?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
THE COURT: One of the issues that had been set up for the suppression hearing today was that the Miranda rights were not properly given; do you understand that?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
THE COURT: Do you understand that by pleading guilty here today, any complaints about Miranda, your rights that were given or not given, any irregularities in how the statement was obtained, any claimed pressures about how the statement was obtained, any complaints, they are all gone, they are done, finished; do you understand that?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.[8]

The Court reviewed with defendant his understanding of the charges to which he was pleading guilty, the evidence in the case, and the punishments. The Court explained as follows:

THE COURT: As a result of the conviction, you will be a Tier 3 sex offender registration. That is the most serious and ...

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