January 30, 2015
ROBERT E. WILLIAMS, Defendant-Below, Appellant,
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff-Below, Appellee
Submitted January 21, 2015
Case Closed February 18, 2015.
Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware in and for New Castle County. I.D. #1007021554.
Natalie S. Woloshin, Esquire, Woloshin Lynch Natalie & Gagne, P.A., Wilmington, Delaware, for Appellant.
Karen V. Sullivan, Esquire, Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware, for Appellee.
Before STRINE, Chief Justice; RIDGELY and VAUGHN, Justices.
STRINE, Chief Justice.
Robert E. Williams was convicted of two counts of robbery in the first degree, two counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, one count of conspiracy in the second degree, and one count of assault in the third degree. He was sentenced to twenty-two years at Level V incarceration, followed by probation. He now appeals from a Superior Court order denying his motion for postconviction relief, and claims that the trial court abused its discretion for two reasons.
First, Williams claims that the trial court should have found that his trial counsel was ineffective because he failed to file a motion to suppress a statement that Williams made to the New Castle County police approximately fifteen hours after he was taken into custody. As to that point, we agree with the Superior Court's well-reasoned order that the period of time that elapsed was not an " unreasonable delay" that would trigger an automatic finding of legal involuntariness, and therefore, Williams did not satisfy his burden to show that his trial counsel's failure to file a motion to suppress prejudiced him under Strickland v. Washington.
Williams' second argument is that the trial court should have determined that his trial counsel was ineffective because he failed to investigate and present readily available mitigating evidence at Williams' sentencing hearing. We agree with the Superior Court's thorough decision finding that Williams did not establish prejudice under Strickland .
Because of Williams' novel contention that his counsel was ineffective for failing to hire a mitigation investigator in a non-capital case, it is useful to explain why we affirm. Given the seriousness of Williams' criminal record, the chances he had to get on the right track, and the pre-sentence report that detailed his difficult childhood and the fact that his parents were poor role models, there is not a basis to conclude that there was a reasonable probability that Williams' twenty-two year sentence,
which was well below the 103 years he could have received, would have been lesser had the evidence Williams now points to been presented. We also find Williams' contention that a mitigation specialist should be retained in serious non-capital cases as an invariable requirement of effective representation is without legal basis.
There are critical differences between capital and non-capital cases. Among them is the reality that, in a death penalty case in our State, the sentencing judge and jury is asked to decide between two harsh options: execution or natural life in prison. The mitigation presentation is essential because it may be the only way to convince the judge and the jury to give the more merciful of the two harsh sentencing options. But, under either outcome, the defendant is no longer a threat to public safety as neither involves a possibility of freedom.
In a non-capital sentencing hearing, where the judge must determine the length of the defendant's prison sentence, mitigation evidence plays a less central role. Because the defendant may eventually be released from prison, the sentencing judge must consider what sentence best promotes public safety. Mitigating evidence that allows a judge to have a better understanding for why the defendant committed the offense is less critical to the overall sentencing calculus in a context where the central consideration is how long the offender should be incapacitated not just as a fair retributive punishment, but to protect the public. Not only that, it is legitimate to recognize that a sentence of death is different in kind, not degree. In a case like this one, counsel has a duty, which it discharged here, to work with the client to make reasonable arguments for a merciful sentence. But ordinarily, it will be the client's own responsibility to help counsel present mitigating factors to the court and the client cannot expect to be given not only paid counsel, but also a mitigation expert to assist counsel.
For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of convictions of the Superior Court is AFFIRMED.