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State v. Stanford

Superior Court of Delaware

June 7, 2017



          Vivian L. Medinilla Judge.

         AND NOW TO WIT, this 7th day of June, 2017, upon consideration of Defendant Shamar T. Stanford ("Defendant")'s Motion for Postconviction Relief, the sentence imposed upon Defendant, and the record in this case, it appears to the Court that:

         1. On December 12, 2016, Defendant pleaded guilty and was sentenced for charges of Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited ("PFBPP") and misdemeanor Endangering the Welfare of a Child. As to PFBPP, he was sentenced to fifteen years at supervision Level V, suspended after five years for two years at Level III. His period of incarceration is a minimum mandatory sentence pursuant to 11 Del. C. § 1448(e)(1)(b).[1] As to Endangering the Welfare of a Child, he received one year at Level V, suspended for one year at Level III.

          2. Defendant now moves for postconviction relief under Delaware Superior Court Criminal Rule 61.[2] He filed this Motion-his first postconviction relief motion-on January 18, 2017.[3] He filed an amendment to his Motion on April 6, 2017.[4] The Motion seeks to set aside his guilty plea on four grounds: (1) "search and seizure"-arguing that police lacked probable cause to search the residence in which he was arrested; (2) "unreasonable search"-contending that "officers lacked substantial and articulable facts that the person whom they were dealing with was possibly armed and dangerous;" (3) "ineffective assistance of counsel"-arguing that his attorney "didn't raise client concerns" and "withheld photographs" of the residence in which he was arrested; and (4) "unfulfilled plea agreement"-maintaining that his plea for PFBPP was a Class D Felony, not a Class C Violent Felony.[5] Defendant also requests appointment of counsel to assist in his postconviction relief proceedings.[6] This is the Court's Order with respect to his Motion for Postconviction Relief and his Motion for Appointment of Counsel. 3. Rule 61 is the exclusive remedy for persons "in custody under a sentence of this court seeking to set aside the judgment of conviction. . . ."'[7] This Court "must first consider the procedural requirements of Rule 61 before addressing any substantive issues."[8] The procedural "bars" of Rule 61 are: timeliness, [9] repetitiveness, [10] procedural default, [11] and former adjudication.[12] If any of these bars apply, the movant must show entitlement to relief under Rule 61(i)(5).[13] The contentions in a Rule 61 motion must be considered on a "claim-by-claim" basis.[14]

         Procedural Bars

         4. This Court finds that Defendant's first and second claims-arguing evidentiary issues regarding the search of the residence in which he was arrested- are procedurally barred under both Rule 61(i)(3) ("procedural default") and Rule 61(i)(4) ("former adjudication").

         5. His first claim is that police lacked probable cause to search the residence in which he was arrested. This issue was thoroughly briefed and considered when the Court denied his motion to suppress on December 2, 2016. Defendant's principal contention at the suppression hearing was that a protective sweep of the Defendant's overnight residence was unconstitutional because he was arrested in the doorway of the residence.[15] Because the Court considered Defendant's arguments on this issue, and Defendant did not appeal the Court's denial of his motion to suppress, Defendant's present Motion for Postconviction Relief as to his first claim is procedurally barred under Rule 61(i)(3) and (4).

         6. His second claim states in full: "Officers lacked substantial and articulable facts that the person they were dealing with was possibly armed and dangerous. Nor were officers supplied with any information that the name/residence was holding additional occupants."[16] This is a restatement of his first claim above; Defendant argues that the protective sweep was unconstitutional. Therefore, for the same reasons above, claim two is procedurally barred under Rule61(i)(3)and(4).

         7. His third claim asserts ineffective assistance of counsel. Generally, a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel may not be raised on direct appeal.[17]Defendant did not file a direct appeal and is not procedurally barred from raising such a claim in his collateral proceedings. Therefore, the Court will address the merits of this claim below.

         8. Finally, his fourth claim asserts that his plea agreement is unfulfilled. He claims that he should have been sentenced for PFBPP as a Class D Felony. This contention is procedurally barred under Rule 61(i)(4) as formerly adjudicated in his prior Rule 35(b) motion.[18]

         9. Three of Defendant's four claims are procedurally barred under Rule 61(i). Therefore, he must satisfy Rule 61(i)(5) to obtain relief from these applicable bars. Rule 61(i)(5) states: "The [procedural bars] shall not apply either to a claim that the court lacked jurisdiction or to a claim that satisfies the pleading requirements of subparagraphs (2)(i) or (2)(ii) of subdivision (d) of this rule."[19]Rule 61(d)(2) requires Defendant to either: "(i) plead[] with particularity that new evidence exists that creates a strong inference that the movant is actually innocent in fact of the acts underlying the charges of which he was convicted; or (ii) plead[] with particularity" the applicability of a new retroactive rule of constitutional law.[20] Rule 61(d)(2)(h) is inapplicable to this Motion. Further, Defendant has not shown any new evidence creating a strong inference of actual innocence in fact of the charges for which he pleaded guilty under Rule 61(d)(2)(i). Therefore, Defendant's first, second, and fourth claims are procedurally barred and this Court will not consider the merits of these three claims.

         Summary Dismissal

         10. Rule 61(d)(5) states that, if "it plainly appears from the motion for postconviction relief and the record of prior proceedings in the case that the movant is not entitled to relief, the judge may enter an order for its summary dismissal and cause the movant to be notified."[21]

         11. The seminal case on claims of ineffective assistance of counsel is Strickland v. Washington.[22] This case and its progeny established a two-part test: a defendant must show that, (1) "counsel's performance was objectively unreasonable, " and (2) "the defendant was prejudiced as a result."[23] The nuances of this test have been exhaustively distilled since Strickland was decided:

Under the first prong [of Strickland], judicial scrutiny is 'highly differential.' Courts must ignore the 'distorting effects of hindsight' and proceed with a 'strong presumption' that counsel's conduct was reasonable. The Strickland court explained that 'a court deciding an actual ineffectiveness claim must judge the reasonableness of counsel's challenged conduct on the facts of the particular case, viewed as of the time of counsel's conduct.'
Under the second prong, ' [i]t is not enough for the defendant to show that the errors had some conceivable effect on the outcome of the proceeding.' In other words, 'not every error that conceivably could have influenced the outcome undermines the reliability of the result of the proceeding.' 'Some errors will have a pervasive effect. . ., and some will have had an isolated, trivial effect.' The movant must show 'that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.' 'A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.' The court must consider the 'totality of the circumstances, ' and 'must ask if the [movant] has met the burden of showing that the decision reached would reasonably likely have been different absent the errors.'[24]

         In the context of guilty pleas, the "prejudice prong" is stated differently.[25] Where a defendant has accepted a plea agreement that he later challenges under Strickland, the defendant must establish prejudice by showing "that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial."[26]

         12. In the present case, Defendant argues that counsel "didn't raise client concerns" and "withheld photographs of the apartment" in which he was arrested that counsel later produced to Defendant after his guilty plea and sentence. Under the first prong of Strickland, there is a "strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance. . . ."[27] It is Defendant's burden to overcome this presumption.[28] However, Defendant's grounds for ineffective assistance are patently meritless. He fails to state what "concerns" were neglected, and how earlier production of photographs of the apartment in which he temporarily resided undermined his right to assistance of counsel.

         13. The Court expanded the record, under Rule 61(g), and ordered his former counsel to submit an affidavit responding to Defendant's third claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.[29] Matthew C. Buckworth, Esquire ("Counsel"), submitted this affidavit on May 15, 2017.[30] In response to Defendant's claims, Counsel describes his efforts to argue the suppression of evidence and obtain a favorable plea agreement for his client.[31] He explains that Defendant rejected an earlier plea offer, instead choosing to file and argue his motion to suppress evidence.[32] Once the Court denied his motion, Counsel was able to persuade the State to re-offer the same plea offer that Defendant belatedly accepted on the day of trial.[33] Counsel states in his affidavit that he is unclear what "concerns" Defendant relayed to him that were allegedly neglected.[34] Nevertheless, Counsel affirms that he sought to obtain a favorable plea agreement because Defendant faced the possibility of over 49 years at Level V supervision.[35] Moreover, Defendant ultimately accepted this plea offer; an offer that was resurrected by Counsel to avoid the significant period of incarceration Defendant faced were he convicted of all the charged offenses at trial.

         14. Additionally, as to Counsel's alleged failure to disclose photographs of the apartment in which Defendant was arrested, Counsel states that the photographs were provided to him by Defendant's girlfriend.[36] He explains that he intended to use the photographs at trial, but the plea offer obviated their importance.[37] He subsequently provided the photographs to Defendant upon his request after sentencing.[38]

         15. In accordance with Rule 61(g)(3), Defendant was afforded an opportunity to respond to Counsel's affidavit. Defendant did so by way of affidavit on May 30, 2017.[39] In this affidavit, Defendant repeats a parade of horribles that putatively imbued the entire course of his case. With respect to his claims against Counsel, Defendant states that the photographs should have been used at the suppression hearing.[40] Instead, Defendant claims that Counsel did not present the photographs to challenge the arresting officer and failed to conduct himself in accordance with an objective standard of reasonableness.[41]

         16. Even if Defendant could show that counsel's representation fell below this objective standard of reasonableness, he categorically cannot show any prejudice under Strickland. "The 'failure to state with particularity the nature of the prejudice experienced is fatal to a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.'"[42] Defendant does not state what prejudice he suffered as a result of pleading guilty to PFBPP and Endangering the Welfare of a Child. Perhaps this is because he was originally charged with PFBPP, Possession of Ammunition by a Person Prohibited, Aggravated Possession, Endangering the Welfare of a Child, Possession of Marijuana, and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia. His plea colloquy reflects that he understood the charges for which he pleaded guilty and comprehended that he was waiving certain constitutional rights, including the ability to test the sufficiency of the State's evidence against him. Because Defendant has failed to state what prejudice he has suffered-and because a review of the record reveals that he did not suffer any identifiable prejudice-Defendant plainly cannot state a viable claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Therefore, this claim is summarily dismissed under Rule 61(d)(5).[43]

         Motion for ...

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