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State v. Walker

Superior Court of Delaware, Kent

February 8, 2017


          Submitted: January 17, 2017


          Jeffrey J Clark Judge.

         On this 8th day of February 2017, having considered Defendant's Motion for Modification of Sentence, and the State's response, it appears that:

         1. In March 1995, 16-year old Petitioner Levaughn Walker (“Mr. Walker”) was charged with the murder of Nicole Mosley. A jury found Mr. Walker guilty of Murder in the Second Degree, Possession of a Deadly Weapon During the Commission of a Felony, and Misdemeanor Theft. On April 18, 1996, the Superior Court sentenced Mr. Walker to a combined 38 years of incarceration and then decreasing levels of probation. To date, Mr. Walker has been incarcerated for nearly twenty two years of his thirty eight year sentence. He now petitions the Court for a reduction of his prison sentence because he was a juvenile at the time of the offense.

         2. After Mr. Walker was convicted and sentenced, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Graham v. Florida.[1] In the Graham case, the Court held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits a court from sentencing a juvenile to life without the possibility of parole for a non-homicide crime.[2] There, the Court provided, in the context of such sentences, that a juvenile offender must be given the opportunity to demonstrate growth and maturity.[3] Following the Graham case, the United States Supreme Court decided Miller v. Alabama.[4] There, the Court held that mandatory sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole for homicide offenses committed by those under the age of eighteen violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.[5] These Supreme Court decisions acknowledge that juveniles are fundamentally different from adults for purposes of sentencing and those differences make them generally less culpable.[6]In this regard, the Supreme Court also emphasized the need for these offenders to have the opportunity to show growth and maturity upon reaching the age of majority, which in some circumstances, should weigh in favor of their early release.[7]

         3. In order to ensure the constitutionality of Delaware's sentencing scheme, Delaware's General Assembly amended 11 Del. C. § 4204A on June 4, 2013 to address the confinement of youth convicted in the Superior Court.[8] That statute provides a mechanism to reassess lengthy juvenile sentences. In reflection of this statutory change and the Supreme Court's direction, the Delaware Sentencing Accountability Commission (“SENTAC”) amended its Benchbook to reflect that juveniles require different sentencing considerations.[9]

         4. Mr. Walker seeks to modify his sentence pursuant to 11 Del. C. § 4204A and Superior Court Criminal Rule 35A. Specifically, he seeks relief from his remaining term of incarceration and requests release into the community through the Way Home reentry program in Sussex County. As Mr. Walker is petitioning the Court for a sentence modification, he bears the burden of providing the Court with sufficient evidence to justify an evidentiary hearing on this matter and ultimately bears the burden to establish that he is entitled to a sentence modification. The statute at issue, 11 Del. C. § 4204A, provides that

any offender sentenced to an aggregate term of incarceration in excess of 20 years for any offense or offenses other than murder first degree that were committed prior to the offender's eighteenth birthday shall be eligible to petition the Superior Court for sentence modification after the offender has served 20 years of the originally imposed Level V sentence.

         5. Since Mr. Walker committed his crimes at the age of sixteen, was sentenced to more than twenty years of incarceration for crimes other than Murder First Degree, and has served more than 20 years of the imposed Level V sentence, he is statutorily entitled to petition the Superior Court for a sentence modification. Superior Court Criminal Rule 35A controls the process for review of such petitions. This Rule recognizes the Court's discretion to grant or deny the modification request.[10] Furthermore, the Rule provides for the Court to consider the motion without presentation, hearing or argument unless otherwise ordered by the court.”[11] Rule 35A makes it clear that it is a discretionary matter for the Court to determine (1) whether a hearing is appropriate and (2) whether to grant a sentence reduction.

         6. In Mr. Walker's Motion for Modification of Sentence, he asks the Court to consider the mitigating factors outlined in the Miller decision as well as the SENTAC Benchbook's enumerated factors.[12] In furtherance of his motion, a forensic psychiatrist examined Mr. Walker to assist the Court in considering these relevant factors.

         7. In response, the State argues that a hearing is unnecessary to consider Mr. Walker's petition for a sentence modification and that the Court should decide this matter solely on the basis of Mr. Walker's written motion and the State's response. The State argues that the sentencing court, in imposing its original sentence, considered the factors later identified in Miller and the SENTAC Benchbook. Accordingly, the State asserts that there is no reason for the Court to grant a hearing on the motion.

         8. Here, the Court has discretion to grant a sentence modification pursuant to 11 Del. C. § 4204A and Rule 35A when the offender shows sufficient growth, maturity or other such mitigating factors. Mr. Walker's motion attempts to demonstrate the presence of mitigating factors including growth and maturity by emphasizing a lack of prison disciplinary infractions over the last ten years as well as his participation in prison education programs. The written submissions, however, evidence that Mr. Walker has accumulated serious prison violations well into adulthood. Furthermore, taking responsibility for one's actions is a significant factor evidencing growth and maturity. After becoming an adult, Mr. Walker consistently failed and continues to fail to take full responsibility for Ms. Mosley's murder. Accordingly, for these reasons and those that follow, the Court will deny the motion without a hearing.

         9. First and foremost, after reviewing the sentencing transcript, there is no evidence that the sentencing judge imposed the thirty-eight year sentence with the belief that Mr. Walker's character exhibited irretrievable depravity or that he was incapable of being rehabilitated. Furthermore, the sentencing judge considered many of the factors outlined in Miller and those subsequently articulated in the SENTAC Benchbook. Namely, he acknowledged the hardships that Mr. Walker faced throughout his life including his psychological problems. The judge also referenced the pre-sentence report that outlined Mr. Walker's family history including the traumas he suffered. The report also recognized his education level as well as his physical and mental condition. This Court is satisfied, from a review of the transcript and presentence report, that the sentencing judge considered the factors later contemplated in Miller and the SENTAC Benchbook.

         10. Nevertheless, in a petition such as this, the Court should be concerned about providing the juvenile offender the ability to show growth and maturity.[13]Showing growth and maturity rightfully weighs in favor of granting a sentence modification. However, in the particular circumstances of this case, to date, Mr. Walker does not ...

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