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McLaughlin v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

March 23, 2015

EDWARD McLAUGHLIN, [1] Defendant Below, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff Below, Appellee.

Submitted: January 23, 2015

Court Below–Superior Court of the State of Delaware, in and for New Castle County Cr. ID No. 1104021773

Before HOLLAND, VALIHURA, and VAUGHN, Justices.

ORDER

Karen L. Valihura, Justice.

This 23rd day of March 2015, it appears to the Court that:

(1) The appellant, Edward McLaughlin, has appealed the Superior Court's denial of postconviction relief under Superior Court Criminal Rule 61 ("Rule 61"). After careful consideration of the parties' briefs on appeal and the Superior Court record, the Court has concluded that the Superior Court judgment should be affirmed.

(2) The record reflects that McLaughlin was tried in 2011 and retried in 2012 on five counts of Rape in the Second Degree. The alleged victim was McLaughlin's ten-year old step-daughter. McLaughlin's first trial ended in a mistrial when the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. At the second trial, the jury found McLaughlin guilty on four of the five counts. On July 6, 2012, the Superior Court sentenced McLaughlin to one hundred years of Level V incarceration – twenty-five years for each count – followed by ten years of probation. On direct appeal, this Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.[2]

(3) On July 23, 2013, McLaughlin moved for the appointment of counsel to assist him in filing his first motion for postconviction relief under Rule 61. McLaughlin's motion identified one "substantial ground for relief, " namely that his trial counsel was ineffective when cross-examining the alleged victim. According to McLaughlin, trial counsel "failed to proffer any questions to the witness concerning the allegations, and, in so doing, did not challenge the veracity and integrity of the witness' testimony."

(4) By order dated July 25, 2013, the Superior Court appointed counsel (hereinafter "Counsel") to represent McLaughlin. Under the Rule, Counsel was required to assist McLaughlin in presenting "any substantial ground for relief."[3] If Counsel determined that McLaughlin's claim was "lacking in merit" and if Counsel was "not aware of any other substantial ground for relief, " Counsel could file a motion to withdraw explaining "the factual and legal basis for [C]ounsel's opinion."[4]

(5) On March 14, 2014, Counsel filed a motion to withdraw averring that he had carefully reviewed the record and determined that McLaughlin's ineffective assistance of counsel claim was without merit and that the record did not suggest any other grounds for relief. In an answer opposing Counsel's motion, McLaughlin argued the merit of his "sole complaint . . . that trial counsel failed to effectively cross-examine the alleged victim." McLaughlin explained that his "defense was that the events did not happen and that ulterior motive was the reason the [alleged victim] was making the statements, " and that "[t]he key to the entire defense" was effective cross-examination of the alleged victim.

(6) By memorandum opinion dated July 2, 2014, the Superior Court granted Counsel's motion to withdraw and denied postconviction relief on the basis that McLaughlin's ineffective assistance of counsel claim was without merit.[5]In response to the memorandum opinion, McLaughlin filed a letter on July 29, 2014, advising the court that he had not yet filed a motion for postconviction relief, and that the court's denial of "the Rule 61 where none had been filed [was] an error." The court considered McLaughlin's letter as a motion for reargument and, by order dated July 29, 2014, denied reargument. [6] This appeal followed.[7]

(7) On appeal, McLaughlin claims that the Superior Court "abrogated his constitutional right to challenge the validity of his conviction by way of collateral review." The claim is without merit. McLaughlin sought postconviction relief on the basis of one claim, that his trial counsel was ineffective when cross-examining the alleged victim. McLaughlin thoroughly addressed the ineffective counsel claim in his motion for appointment of counsel and answer to Counsel's motion to withdraw (hereinafter "submission").[8]

(8) McLaughlin asserts that he advised Counsel "of a plethora of violations he wanted to pursue" in addition to the ineffective counsel claim.[9] The record does not support that assertion. When answering Counsel's averment that "there are no other potential meritorious issues to raise in a motion for post-conviction relief, " McLaughlin made no mention of any claims other than his "sole complaint . . . that trial counsel failed to effectively cross-examine the alleged victim."

(9) McLaughlin asserts, under Castro v. United States, that the Superior Court erred when it failed to notify him that it intended to consider his submission as a motion for postconviction relief.[10] The claim is without merit. The United States Supreme Court's decision in Castro v. United States governs federal courts and first federal habeas corpus petitions, [11] ...


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