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Washington v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

April 28, 2017

MICHAEL T. WASHINGTON, Defendant Below, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff Below, Appellee.

          Submitted: February 24, 2017

         Court Below-Superior Court of the State of Delaware Cr. ID No. 0909018475 A&B

          Before VALIHURA, VAUGHN, and SEITZ, Justices.

          ORDER

         This 28th day of April 2017, upon consideration of the parties' briefs and the record below, [1] it appears to the Court that:

         (1) The appellant, Michael T. Washington, filed this appeal from the Superior Court's denial of his first motion for postconviction relief under Superior Court Criminal Rule 61. We find no merit to the appeal and affirm the Superior Court's judgment.

          (2) The record reflects that, in September 2009, a New Castle County grand jury charged Washington by indictment with two counts of Murder in the First Degree, two counts of Attempted Robbery in the First Degree, two counts of Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony ("PFDCF"), and one count of Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited ("PFBPP"). The charges arose from the fatal shooting of Leighton Francis and Amin Guy in Wilmington. The bodies of Francis and Guy were discovered on September 1, 2008 in the driver's seat and front passenger seat of a bullet-ridden car in the 500 block of East 10thStreet.

         (3) After a nine day trial, a jury found Washington guilty of two counts of the lesser included offense of Manslaughter and two counts of PFDCF. The jury found Washington not guilty of Attempted Robbery in the First Degree. In a separate bench trial, the Superior Court found Washington guilty of PFBPP. Washington was sentenced to sixty-four years of non-suspended Level V time, followed by decreasing levels of supervision. On direct appeal, this court affirmed Washington's convictions and sentence.[2]

         (4) On March 7, 2012, Washington filed his first motion for postconviction relief under Rule 61. At the direction of a Superior Court Commissioner, Washington's former counsel filed affidavits in response to the motion. On May 8, 2012, Washington filed a motion to amend his postconviction motion. The Commissioner granted the motion.

         (5) On August 7, 2012, Washington filed his amended motion for postconviction relief. Washington's former counsel filed affidavits in response to the motion. The State filed its response to Washington's motion on October 31, 2012. Washington filed a response to the affidavits and the State's response.

         (6) On February 25, 2013, Washington filed a motion for appointment of counsel. The Superior Court initially denied the motion, but then granted the motion after this Court's order in Holmes v. State[3] Several attorneys appointed to represent Washington withdrew after discovering conflicts. On July 17, 2015, the last attorney appointed to represent Washington filed a motion to withdraw under Rule 61(e). Washington filed multiple documents in response. At the Commissioner's request, Washington's counsel provided additional information regarding his motion to withdraw.

         (7) On March 2, 2016, the Commissioner granted Washington's request to file an amended postconviction motion. In a letter dated March 20, 2016, Washington asserted three supplemental claims. Washington directed the Commissioner to review only the four claims raised in the amended motion for postconviction relief he filed on August 12, 2012 and the three supplemental claims raised in the March 20, 2016 letter. The Commissioner gave the State the opportunity to respond to Washington's supplemental claims, but the State chose not to respond. Although the Commissioner stated he would not allow additional submissions from Washington, Washington continued to submit letters regarding his claims.

         (8) In a report and recommendation dated September 27, 2016, the Commissioner recommended denial of Washington's motion for postconviction relief and granting of his counsel's motion to withdraw.[4] Washington filed objections to the report. The Superior Court adopted the report and recommendation of the Commissioner, denied the motion for postconviction relief, and granted the motion to withdraw.[5] This appeal followed.

         (9) This Court reviews the Superior Court's denial of postconviction relief for abuse of discretion and questions of law de novo[6] Issues that Washington fails to raise in his opening brief or that he attempts to incorporate by reference to his Superior Court filings are waived.[7] The Court must consider the procedural requirements of Rule 61 before addressing any substantive issues.[8]

         (10) At the time Washington filed his motion for postconviction relief in March 2012, Rule 6l[9] provided that a claim was procedurally barred if: (i) the motion for postconviction relief was filed more than one year after the final judgment of conviction;[10] (ii) the claim was not asserted in a previous postconviction proceeding, unless consideration of the claim is warranted in the interest of justice;[11] (iii) the claim was not asserted in the proceedings leading to conviction, unless the movant shows cause for relief from the procedural default and prejudice from violation of the movant's rights;[12] or (iv) the claim was formerly adjudicated, unless reconsideration of the claim is warranted in the interest of justice.[13] The procedural bars of Rule 6l(i)(1), (i)(2), and (i)(3) do "not apply to a claim that the court lacked jurisdiction or to a colorable claim that there was a miscarriage of justice because of a constitutional violation that undermined the fundamental legality, reliability, integrity or fairness of the proceedings leading to the judgment of conviction."[14]

         (11) On appeal, Washington first argues that the Superior Court erred in denying his claim that his counsel was ineffective for failing to move to suppress the out of court statements of two State witnesses. The procedural bars of Rule 6l(i) did not bar Washington's timely claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. To prevail on his ineffective assistance of counsel claims, Washington must demonstrate: (a) his counsel's conduct fell below an objective standard of reasonableness; and (b) but for his counsel's unprofessional errors, there is a reasonable probability that the outcome of the proceedings would have been different.[15] Although not an insurmountable standard, there is a strong presumption that counsel's representation was professionally reasonable, [16] "A reasonable probability that the outcome would have been different is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome."[17] Washington must set forth and substantiate "concrete allegations" of actual prejudice.[18]

         (12) Washington argues his counsel was ineffective for failing to: (i) move to suppress Isaiah Fields' statement to the police that he saw Washington fire a gun at 930 Spruce Street similar to the gun used in the shooting of Francis and Guy because this was inadmissible as a prior bad act under Delaware Uniform Rule of Evidence ("D.R.E.") 404(b), unfairly prejudicial under D.R.E. 403, and in violation of 11 Del C. § 3507; and (ii) move to suppress William Coleman's statements and letters to the police about what Washington told him regarding the shooting under D.R.E. 404(b) and 11 Del C § 3507. Washington has not satisfied Strickland and therefore his ineffective assistance of counsel claims are without merit.

         (13) Fields testified at trial that Washington told him while they were both at the same prison that he unintentionally killed Francis and Guy with a MAC-10 in a robbery or drug deal that went wrong. Fields also testified that he saw Washington accidentally fire a MAC-10 at 930 Spruce Street a few months before Francis and Guy were killed. In late 2009, Fields gave this information to the police investigating the crimes. Based on Fields' information about the MAC-10, a detective obtained a search warrant for 930 Spruce Street and found bullets in the floor.

         (14) Coleman testified at trial that Washington told him while they were both at the same prison that he shot the victims from the back seat of a car with a MAC-10 in a robbery that went wrong, he disposed of the MAC-10 used in the shooting, and April Gardner had witnessed the shooting. Based on Coleman's information, the police contacted and interviewed Gardner. The letters Coleman wrote to the police with this information were admitted into evidence, (15) As to D.R.E. 403, which provides relevant evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, the Commissioner found that Fields' testimony about seeing Washington with a MAC-10, a candidate weapon in the shooting, was highly relevant.[19] The Commissioner acknowledged the evidence was prejudicial to Washington's case, but correctly found it was not unfairly prejudicial under D.R.E. 403.[20] The Superior Court did not err in concluding that the lack of a motion to suppress or objection under D.R.E. 403 by Washington's counsel was professionally reasonable. Contrary to Washington's contention, the Commissioner did not find the lack of a motion to suppress this evidence prejudicial to Washington under Strickland?[21]

         (16) As to D.R.E. 404(b), which provides evidence of other crimes or acts is not admissible to show the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith, but may be admissible for other purposes such as opportunity, the Commissioner concluded Fields' testimony about seeing Washington with a MAC-10 was properly offered to show Washington had possessed the same type of weapon used in the shooting, not that he had a general criminal disposition.[22]Washington does not identify the prior bad acts he claims were in Coleman's letters. The Superior Court did not err in accepting the Commissioner's conclusion that the lack of a motion to suppress or objection under D.R.E. 403 or D.R.E. 404(b) by Washington's counsel was professionally reasonable.

         (17) As to Section 3507, which governs the admissibility of prior out of court statements, the State did not introduce Fields' and Coleman's interviews with police into evidence at trial. Washington's counsel used Coleman's letters in order to expose inconsistencies between his version of events in the letters and his trial testimony, as well as his strongly-expressed desire for a deal in exchange for providing information about the shooting. Even assuming Washington's counsel could have objected to Coleman's letters under Section 3507, Washington has not shown a reasonable probability of a different outcome if the letters (or other challenged, out of court statements) had not been admitted. There was significant additional evidence presented at trial about Washington's role in the shooting, including Gardner's eyewitness testimony and Fields, Coleman, and Christopher Waterman's trial testimony that Washington admitted to killing Francis and Guy. The Superior Court did not err, therefore, in denying this ineffective assistance of counsel claim.

         (18) Washington next argues the Superior Court erred in denying his claim that the prosecutor misled the jury by failing to disclose Waterman, who testified Washington told him while they were both at the same prison that he accidentally shot Francis and Guy during an attempted robbery, was guaranteed leniency under U.S. Sentencing Guidelines § 5K1.1 and 18 U.S.C. § 3553 due his federal plea agreement and his testimony against Washington. The Superior Court accepted the Commissioner's recommendation that this claim was procedurally barred under Rule 61(i)(3). According to Washington, this claim is not ...


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