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Clay v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

June 1, 2017

CHRISTOPHER CLAY, Defendant Below, Appellant/Cross-Appellee,
v.
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff Below, Appellee/Cross-Appellant.

          Submitted: April 12, 2017

         Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware ID No. 1408007714A (S)

          Upon appeal from the Superior Court. AFFIRMED in part, REVERSED in part.

          Michael W. Andrew, Esquire, Law Office of Mooney & Andrew, P.A., Georgetown, Delaware, for Appellant/Cross-Appellee, Christopher Clay.

          Kathryn J. Garrison, Esquire, Delaware Department of Justice, Georgetown, Delaware, for Appellee/Cross-Appellant, State of Delaware.

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

          VAUGHN, Justice

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Defendant-below/Appellant Christopher Clay appeals from a Superior Court jury verdict finding him guilty of Robbery in the First Degree, Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony, Tampering with Physical Evidence, Conspiracy in the Second Degree, and Resisting Arrest. He asserts three claims on appeal. First, he claims that the trial court abused its discretion by denying his motion to sever his trial from the trial of his co-defendants. Second, he claims that the trial court erred by denying his motion for judgment of acquittal on all charges. Finally, he claims that the trial court erred by finding the police possessed a reasonable, articulable suspicion to seize him and probable cause to arrest him. On cross-appeal, the State claims that the Superior Court abused its discretion by requiring the State to provide the defendant with a redacted copy of a Department of Justice intake document and a copy of the prosecutor's notes from witness interviews under Superior Court Criminal Rule 26.2.

         For the reasons which follow, we find that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied Clay's motion for judgment of acquittal on the Tampering with Physical Evidence charge, but reject his remaining claims. We also find that the trial court erred by requiring the State to provide a copy of the Department of Justice's intake document and copies of the prosecutor's notes under Rule 26.2. The judgment of the Superior Court is, therefore, affirmed in part and reversed in part.

         II. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On August 9, 2014, an employee of the Dollar General store in Georgetown, Delaware was taking a register till to her office shortly before 9:00 p.m. As she entered her office, a man wearing a black hat and a t-shirt that said "Security" on the back approached her in her office while displaying a black handgun. He ordered her to give him the money from the register till she had and another till that was in the office. After she did so, he told her to get on the ground. The man then exited the store and the employee called the police.

         Shortly after the robbery occurred, Corporal Joel Diaz of the Georgetown Police Department observed three black males run across the street. Corporal Diaz testified that his attention was initially drawn to the men because a series of robberies had recently taken place in the area. As Corporal Diaz continued to observe the men, a call came over his radio that a robbery had just taken place at the Dollar General store, which was a quarter of a mile away from his location. The radio call described the suspect as a black male dressed in all black and possibly armed with a handgun. Corporal Diaz realized that one of the three men that he was observing was dressed in all black. The officer approached the men, rolled down his window and asked them to stop. At first, the men ignored him, but when Corporal Diaz stopped and exited his vehicle, one of the men, later identified as Christopher Clay, ran. Corporal Diaz radioed to other officers to pursue Clay and ordered the other two men, later identified as Maurice C. Land and Booker T. Martin, to stop.

         Corporal Diaz and another Georgetown Police officer, Officer Derrick Calloway, were eventually able to detain Land and Martin. As Land was getting on the ground, he removed his shirt, which was black with "Security" written across the back in yellow letters. The officers also found a black baseball cap on the sidewalk near where Land had been standing. At the time of his arrest, Land had a latex glove and $81 in cash on his person. Martin had $897 in cash in his pocket in three bundles that were folded and organized by denomination.

         While Corporal Diaz and Officer Calloway were with Land and Martin, Officer John Wilson was responding to Corporal Diaz's call to pursue Clay. Officer Wilson saw Clay running in the opposite direction of his car. He exited his vehicle and began chasing Clay on foot. Clay continued to run, and Officer Wilson observed him raise his hand into the air. Officer Wilson testified:

I didn't know if [Clay] was going to run like he was going to turn or if he was throwing something. And I thought -- I did think I saw something leave his hand, but the lights are - - it was dark; my overheads on my police car are on; everything's flashing.[1] Clay eventually got into a parked vehicle, and Officer Wilson ordered him out of the vehicle at gunpoint. Clay had $280 in cash in his pocket, folded and organized by denomination, and $1.17 in change. Officers later recovered a black handgun on the opposite side of a fence near where Officer Wilson observed Clay making a throwing motion.

         Security footage from the Dollar General store showed Clay entering the store with Land shortly before 9:00 p.m. Land went to the back of the store and into the office, where surveillance cameras recorded him putting on a clear glove and taking money out of an employee's wallet. When the employee entered the office, Land pointed a handgun at her and demanded the money from the register tills. He then made her get on the ground, and he left the office. As Land was in the back of the store, Clay placed several items on the counter. Four seconds after Land left the store, Clay followed without purchasing any of those items.

         On November 10, 2014, Clay was indicted on charges of Robbery in the First Degree, two counts of Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony ("PFDCF"), Aggravated Menacing, Conspiracy in the Second Degree, Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited ("PFBPP"), Possession of Ammunition by a Person Prohibited ("PABPP"), Receiving a Stolen Firearm, Tampering with Physical Evidence, and Resisting Arrest. The Superior Court scheduled a joint trial for Clay and his two co-defendants. Before trial, Clay filed a motion to suppress evidence. After a hearing, the Superior Court denied Clay's motion. Clay filed motions to sever his case from Land and Martin and to sever his Person Prohibited charges. The court granted Clay's request to sever the charges, but denied his request to sever his trial from his co-defendants. The State then filed an amended indictment charging Clay with Robbery in the First Degree, PFDCF, Conspiracy in the Second Degree, Tampering with Physical Evidence, and Resisting Arrest. Clay filed another motion to suppress which was also denied following a hearing.

         Trial went forward and at the conclusion of the State's case, Clay moved for judgment of acquittal on all charges. The Superior Court denied Clay's motion, and at the end of the trial, the jury found Clay guilty of Robbery in the First Degree, PFDCF, Tampering with Physical Evidence, Conspiracy in the Second Degree, and Resisting Arrest. Clay was sentenced to forty years and six months of Level V incarceration followed by probation. He then filed a notice of appeal with this Court and the State filed its notice of cross-appeal.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. The Trial Court Did Not Abuse its Discretion by Denying Clay's Motion to Sever His Trial from the Trial of his Co-defendants

         Clay's first claim is that the trial court abused its discretion by denying his motion to sever his trial from his co-defendants' trial. Motions to sever a defendant's trial from the trial of co-defendants "lie in the sound discretion of the trial court and will not be overturned, absent a showing of prejudice by the defendant."[2] This Court "review[s] such motions to determine only if, under the specific facts and circumstances of the case before us, the trial court abused its discretion in denying the motion."[3]

As a general rule, the factors to be considered when determining whether a motion for a separate trial should be granted are: [1] problems involving co-defendant's extra-judicial statements; [2] an absence of substantial independent competent evidence of the movant's guilt; [3] antagonistic defenses as between the co-defendant and the movant; and [4] difficulty in segregating the State's evidence as between the co-defendant and the movant.[4]

         Clay contends that the second and fourth factors are applicable. He claims that the State did not offer substantial independent competent evidence of his guilt, and that the jury had difficulty segregating the evidence between Clay and his co-defendant, Land. Both of Clay's claims lack merit.

         The State presented evidence against Clay at the joint trial that would have been admissible against Clay had he been tried separately from Land. The video surveillance from the Dollar General store showed Clay entering the store with Land and leaving the store just after Land without purchasing the items he had placed on the counter. A police officer also saw Clay walking across the street with Land shortly after the robbery, and when the officer approached the men, Clay ran. Clay continued to run from a second officer, who observed Clay throw his hands into the air as though he was throwing something. Officers later found a gun near where the officer made this observation. Clay also does not dispute the fact that evidence that Land committed the robbery would still be admissible at Clay's trial had his motion to sever been granted. This evidence collectively constitutes substantial independent competent evidence of Clay's guilt that is attributable only to Clay, and therefore, Clay did not suffer any prejudice because of the joint trial. The record reflects that the Superior Court appropriately exercised its discretion in denying Clay's motion to sever his trial.

         B. The Trial Court Erred by Denying Clay's Motion for Judgment of Acquittal as to the Tampering with Physical Evidence Charge

         Clay contends that the trial court erred by denying his motion for judgment of acquittal because the State failed to produce sufficient evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Clay was guilty of the offenses of Robbery in the First Degree, PFDCF, Conspiracy in the Second Degree, and Tampering with Physical Evidence. This Court reviews an appeal from the denial of a motion for judgment of acquittal de novo.[5] Specifically, this court examines "whether any rational trier of fact, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, could find a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of all the elements of the crime."[6] We conclude that the ...


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