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Harris v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

June 4, 2015

BRANDON HARRIS, Defendant Below-Appellant,
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff Below-Appellee

Submitted March 24, 2015.

Case Closed July 8, 2015.

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 New Castle County. Cr. ID 1206004370.

Before STRINE, Chief Justice; HOLLAND, and VAUGHN, Justices.


Leo E. Strine, Jr., Chief Justice.

This 4th day of June 2015, upon consideration of the appellant's Supreme Court Rule 26(c) brief, his attorney's motion to withdraw, and the State's response, it appears to the Court that:

(1) The defendant-appellant, Brandon Harris, filed this appeal from the Superior Court's denial of his first motion for postconviction relief. Harris' appointed postconviction counsel has filed a no-merit brief and a motion to withdraw under Rule 26(c). Counsel asserts that, based upon a complete and careful examination of the record, there are no arguably appealable issues. Harris filed a response to his attorney's presentation, arguing that his first trial attorney was ineffective and that he was coerced into pleading guilty because his substitute counsel was not prepared to go to trial. The State has responded to Harris' points, as well as to the position taken by Harris' counsel, and has moved to affirm the Superior Court's judgment. We find no merit to Harris' appeal. Accordingly, we affirm.

(2) The record reflects that Harris was arrested for shooting Taryn Ross in the abdomen on June 3, 2012. Harris made a statement to the police admitting his involvement. He was indicted on five criminal charges: Assault in the First Degree, two counts of Possession of a Firearm during the Commission of a Felony (" PFDCF" ), Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited, and Aggravated Menacing. In October 2012, he filed a motion to suppress his statements to the police. After a hearing, the Superior Court denied the motion to suppress.

(3) On February 19, 2013, Harris' then-attorney filed a document entitled " Motion to Allow Acceptance of Plea and to Withdraw as Counsel." In the motion, defense counsel averred that the State previously had made a plea offer to Harris, which would have allowed Harris to plead guilty to one count each of Assault in the Second Degree and PFDCF in exchange for the State's dismissal of the remaining charges and a recommendation of a four-year sentence (with a provision that defense counsel could argue for imposition of the lesser three-year minimum mandatory sentence). Defense counsel stated that he had failed to inform Harris that the State had set a deadline for acceptance of the plea offer. By the time defense counsel realized his error, the deadline had passed. The State refused defense counsel's request to extend the deadline. Defense counsel asserted in his motion that, but for counsel's own ineffectiveness, Harris would have accepted the plea offer. Counsel, therefore, requested the Superior Court to allow Harris to accept the plea offer, nunc pro tunc, and to allow counsel to withdraw.

(4) The Superior Court granted counsel's motion to withdraw but did not take any action on the motion to allow Harris to accept the State's withdrawn plea offer. After substitute defense counsel was appointed, the State made a revised plea offer to Harris that would allow him to plead guilty to Assault in the First Degree and PFDCF in exchange for dismissal of the balance of the indictment. The minimum mandatory sentence for the two charges was five years.

(5) At a hearing held on April 29, 2013, Harris acknowledged his understanding that, by accepting the State's revised plea offer, he was waiving his right to have the Superior Court decide the pending motion to allow him to accept the State's initial plea offer.[1] After a careful colloquy, the Superior Court accepted Harris' guilty plea. On May 31, 2013, the Superior Court sentenced Harris to a total period of twenty years at Level V incarceration, to be suspended after serving ten years in prison for decreasing levels of supervision. Harris did not file a direct appeal. In August 2013, Harris filed a motion for reduction of sentence, which the Superior Court denied. Harris did not appeal that ruling.

(6) In September 2013, Harris filed a motion for postconviction relief. The Superior Court appointed counsel to represent him. Harris' sole claim was that his initial trial counsel was ineffective for failing to communicate the deadline set by the State on the original plea offer. After obtaining responses from Harris' initial trial counsel and the State, the Superior Court denied Harris' motion for postconviction relief. The Superior Court noted that Harris' ineffective assistance of counsel claim had been raised in the " Motion to Allow Acceptance of Plea." Rather than pursue the claim, Harris (with the assistance of substitute counsel) decided to accept the State's modified plea offer. In doing so, the Superior Court held that Harris knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily pled guilty and ...

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