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State v. Hollis

Superior Court of Delaware

March 27, 2017

STATE OF DELAWARE
v.
AARON HOLLIS, Defendant.

          Submitted: January 31, 2017

         Upon Defendant's Motion for Postconviction Relief SUMMARILY DISMISSED

         Upon Defendant's Request for Appointment of Postconviction Counsel DENIED

          ORDER

          Honorable Andrea L. Rocanelli Judge

         Upon consideration of the Motion for Postconviction Relief ("PCR Motion") filed by Defendant Aaron Hollis ("Defendant"); Rule 61 of the Superior Court Criminal Rules ("Rule 61"); the facts, arguments, and legal authorities set forth by Defendant; statutory and decisional law; and the entire record in this case, the Court hereby finds as follows:

         1. On September 27, 2012, police arrested Defendant for allegedly participating in a large-scale drug dealing operation based in New Castle, Delaware.

         2. On February 4, 2013, a Grand Jury charged Defendant with ten felony offenses, including multiple counts of Drug Dealing, Conspiracy Second Degree, Racketeering, and Forgery First Degree. Defendant was appointed counsel to represent him ("Defense Counsel").

         3. On October 21, 2013, Defendant pleaded guilty to Racketeering, Drug Dealing, and Conspiracy Second Degree.

         4. By Order dated March 20, 2015, effective April 29, 2013, Defendant was sentenced. As to Racketeering, Defendant was sentenced to 25 years at Level V with credit for 15 days previously served, suspended after 5 years at Level V for 2 years at Level III/TASC. As to Drug Dealing, Defendant was sentenced to 15 years at Level V, suspended after 5 years at Level V for 2 years at Level III. As to Conspiracy Second Degree, Defendant was sentenced to 2 years at Level V, suspended for 1 year at Level III.

         5. On June 8, 2015, Defendant filed a motion to preserve Defendant's right to request sentence reduction at a later time. By Order dated July 10, 2015, the Court denied Defendant's motion, finding that Rule 35 of the Superior Court Criminal Rules did not provide for the requested relief.

         6. On October 16, 2015, Defendant filed a motion for correction of sentence. By Order dated February 23, 2016, the Court denied Defendant's motion.

         7. On July 23, 2015, Defendant filed the PCR Motion currently before the Court. Defendant asserts that Defense Counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel by (1) failing to ensure that Defendant was sentenced in accordance to the State's plea agreement; (2) coercing Defendant into pleading guilty; and (3) failing to adequately challenge the charges that led to Defendant's convictions. On August 26, 2016, Defendant filed a motion for appointment of counsel, requesting this Court to appoint postconviction counsel in connection with Defendant's PCR Motion.

         8. Defendant filed his PCR Motion on July 23, 2015.[1] Accordingly, the June 1, 2015 version of Rule 61 applies.[2] Postconviction relief is a "collateral remedy which provides an avenue for upsetting judgments that have otherwise become final."[3] To protect the finality of criminal convictions, the Court must consider the procedural requirements for relief set out under Rule 61(i) before addressing the merits of the motion.[4]

         9. Rule 61(i)(1) bars a motion for postconviction relief that is filed more than one year from a final judgment of conviction.[5] This bar is inapplicable as Defendant's PCR Motion is timely. Rule 61(i)(2) bars successive motions for postconviction relief.[6] This bar is inapplicable as this is Defendant's first postconviction motion. Rule 61(i)(3) bars relief if the postconviction motion includes claims that were not asserted in prior proceedings leading to the final judgment, unless the movant shows cause for relief from the procedural bars and prejudice from a violation of the movant's rights.[7] Moreover, Rule 61(i)(4) bars relief if the postconviction motion includes grounds for relief formerly adjudicated in any proceeding leading to the judgment of conviction, in an appeal, or in a postconviction proceeding.[8] Rule 61(i)(3) and 61(i)(4) are inapplicable because Defendant's claims for ineffective assistance of counsel could not have been raised on direct appeal.[9]

         10. The procedural requirements of Rule 61(i) are satisfied. Accordingly, the Court will address Defendant's PCR Motion on the merits.

         11. The standard used to evaluate claims of ineffective counsel is the two-prong test articulated by the United States Supreme Court in Strickland v. Washington, [10] as adopted in Delaware.[11] Under Strickland, Defendant must show that (1) Defense Counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness; and (2) there is a reasonable probability that, but for Defense Counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.[12] Failure to prove either prong will render the claim insufficient.[13] The Court shall dismiss entirely conclusory allegations of ineffective assistance.[14] The movant must provide concrete allegations of prejudice, including specifying the nature of the prejudice and the adverse affects actually suffered.[15]

         12. With respect to the first prong-the performance prong-the movant must overcome the strong presumption that counsel's conduct was professionally reasonable.[16] To satisfy the performance prong, Defendant must assert specific allegations establishing that Defense Counsel acted unreasonably as viewed against "prevailing professional norms."[17] With respect to the second prong-the prejudice prong-Defendant must show that "there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different."[18]

         13. Defendant contends that Defense Counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel in connection with Defendant's guilty plea. Specifically, Defendant asserts that Defense Counsel misrepresented the severity of Defendant's sentence under the State's plea offer, coercing Defendant to accept the plea without a knowing, voluntary, and intelligent waiver of Defendant's rights. Moreover, Defendant alleges that the State failed to honor the plea agreement that was originally negotiated on Defendant's behalf.

         14. Pursuant to Rule 11(c)(1) of the Superior Court Criminal Rules, the Court addressed Defendant personally in open court prior to Defendant's sentencing. The Court determined that Defendant understood the nature of the charges to which the plea was offered, including the mandatory minimum and maximum penalties provided by law. Defendant confirmed that his plea was voluntary, and not the result of force, threats, or promises apart from the plea agreement.[19] Defendant ...


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