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State v. York-James

Superior Court of Delaware

March 8, 2017

STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff,
v.
OBEDIAH YORK-JAMES, Defendant.

          Submitted: February 14, 2017

          Brian J. Robertson, Esquire, Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for the State.

          Obediah York-James, Sussex Correctional Institution, Georgetown, Delaware, pro se.

          COMMISSIONER'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION THAT DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR POSTCONVICTION RELIEF SHOULD BE DENIED.

          Lynne M. Parker Commissioner

          This 8th day of March 2017, upon consideration of Defendant's Motion for Postconviction Relief, it appears to the Court that:

         BACKGROUND. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         1. On December 8, 2014, Defendant Obediah York-James was indicted on the charges of Attempted Murder in the First Degree, two counts of Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony ("PFDCF"), Robbery in the First Degree, and Conspiracy Second Degree. One count of PFDCF was linked to the robbery and one count of PFDCF was linked to the shooting.

         2. The charges stemmed from an August 21, 2014 robbery of a liquor store, Cutrona's Liquors. During the commission of the robbery, Defendant pointed a gun at the clerk, Navin Patel, and shot him twice hitting him in the wrist and the chest. Mr. Patel required extensive surgery to save his life. There was a video recording which captured Defendant's robbery and his shooting of the clerk.[1] This video tape recording was very damaging evidence against Defendant.

         3. Defendant was 16 years old at the time of the incident.

         4. On April 22, 2015, the parties entered into a plea agreement. The State agreed to allow Defendant to enter a guilty plea to substantially reduced charges. The State agreed to amend the Attempted Murder in the First Degree charge, and allow Defendant to plead guilty to the lesser charge of Assault in the First Degree. In addition to the Assault in the First Degree charge, the parties agreed that Defendant would also plead guilty to Robbery in the First Degree, and both counts of PFDCF.

         5. As part of the plea agreement, the State agreed to dismiss the remaining charge of Conspiracy in the Second Degree. For the four charges comprising the guilty plea, the minimum mandatory sentence Defendant faced was 11 years of unsuspended Level V time with a maximum sentence of 100 years of incarceration.[2] If the State had not allowed the Defendant to plead guilty to the lesser charge of Assault in the First Degree, and Defendant went to trial on the Attempted Murder in First Degree charge, he would have been facing, on that charge alone, a minimum mandatory sentence of 15 years of incarceration and up to life imprisonment.

         6. As part of the plea agreement, the State agreed to recommend the minimum mandatory sentence of 11 years of unsuspended Level V time.

         7. Defendant's mother was present during the plea negotiations.[3] Defendant's counsel consulted with both Defendant and his mother during the plea negotiations. Defendant and his mother both signed the plea agreement accepting the plea.[4]

         8. Defendant consulted with his family and with defense counsel prior to accepting the plea.[5]

         9. Prior to entering into the plea, defense counsel had met Defendant on several occasions at the New Castle County Detention Center, and several times at the court house.[6] Defense counsel also communicated with Defendant's parents.[7] The video recording which captured Defendant's robbery and shooting taking place was very damaging evidence against Defendant. In Defense Counsel's professional opinion, if Defendant went to trial there was a substantial risk of conviction for the Attempted Murder in the First Degree charge, which alone carried a minimum mandatory sentence of 15 years of incarceration and up to life imprisonment.[8]

         10. Defense counsel believed that the plea was the best result that Defendant could hope to obtain given the facts and circumstances of this case.[9]

         11. After the entry of the plea, Defendant was immediately sentenced to the minimum mandatory 11 years of unsuspended Level V time followed by decreasing levels of probation.

         12. Defendant did not file a direct appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court.

         DEFENDANT'S RULE 61 MOTION

         13. Defendant was sentenced on April 22, 2015. The subject motion was filed on October 11, 2016, almost 17 months later.

         14. In the subject motion, Defendant claims that his plea was "coerced" and uninformed, that the two counts of PFDCF should have been merged into one count, and that his counsel was ineffective for not getting him a better plea.

         15. Before making a recommendation, the Commissioner enlarged the record by directing Defendant's trial counsel to submit at Affidavit responding to Defendant's ineffective assistance of counsel claims. Thereafter, the State filed a response to the motion. Finally, Defendant submitted a reply thereto.[10]

         16. The claims raised in the subject motion are procedurally barred, waived and without merit.

         A) Defendant's Motion is Procedurally Barred

         17. Prior to addressing the substantive merits of any claim for postconviction relief, the court must first determine whether the defendant has met the procedural requirements of Superior Court Criminal Rule 61.[11] If a procedural bar exists, then the claim is barred, and the Court should not consider the merits of the postconviction claim.[12]

         18. Rule 61 (i) imposes four procedural imperatives: (1) the motion must be filed within one year of a final order of conviction;[13] (2) any basis for relief must be asserted in the first timely filed motion for postconviction relief absent exceptional circumstances warranting a subsequent motion being filed; (3) any basis for relief must have been asserted at trial or on direct appeal as required by the court rules unless the movant shows prejudice to his rights and cause for relief; and (4) any basis for relief must not have been formally adjudicated in any proceeding. The bars to relief however do not apply to a claim that the court lacked jurisdiction or to a claim that new evidence exists that movant is actually innocent or that there is a new law, made retroactive, that would render the conviction invalid.[14]

         19. Rule 61(i)(1) provides that a motion for postconviction relief is untimely if it is filed more than one year after a final judgment of conviction. In this case, Defendant was sentenced on April 22, 2015, and did not file a direct appeal. Therefore, Defendant's judgment of conviction became final 30 days after his sentence was imposed, on or about May 22, 2015.[15] The motion, filed on October 11, 2016, was filed over one year after the final judgment of conviction and is procedurally barred as untimely.

         20. Moreover, in addition to being untimely, Rule 61(i)(3) required that Defendant raise his claims, with the exception of his ineffective assistance of counsel contentions, on direct appeal.[16] Defendant's ineffective assistance of counsel claims are not procedurally barred by Rule ...


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