CLEVELAND A. BALDWIN, Defendant Below-Appellant,
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff Below-Appellee.
Submitted: April 7, 2017
Below-Superior Court of the State of Delaware Cr. ID
appeal from the Superior Court. AFFIRMED in part and REVERSED
and REMANDED in part.
Cleveland A. Baldwin, pro se, Smyrna, Delaware.
Gregory E. Smith, Esquire, Department of Justice, Wilmington,
Delaware, for Appellee State of Delaware.
STRINE, Chief Justice; VALIHURA and SEITZ, Justices.
STRINE, Chief Justice.
Superior Court Rule of Criminal Procedure that governs
postconviction relief, Rule 61, has the difficult job of
striking the balance between fair consideration of
postconviction claims and the preservation of scarce defense
resources. It does so by granting access to counsel for
certain first petitions,  but also by allowing the Superior Court
to weed out by summary dismissal claims that lack colorable
merit. Here, the Superior Court used that gating
mechanism to summarily dismiss all the claims of a first
petitioner without appointment of counsel for him, without
adversarial briefing, and without any factual record beyond
the form petition and trial record. On appeal, we conclude
that the Superior Court was correct in most of its rulings,
but that as to one claim, the Superior Court erred by not
recognizing the potential merits of the claim and appointing
counsel for the petitioner to present it in a more adequate
appellant, Cleveland Baldwin, filed this appeal from the
Superior Court's summary dismissal of his first timely
motion for postconviction relief. The charges against Baldwin
that led to the convictions he seeks to overturn were based
on the allegation that he, along with two other black men,
assaulted a tenant who supposedly owed Baldwin's aunt
back rent. To wit, the State alleged that Baldwin confronted
the victim, complained that he had disrespected his aunt, and
pulled a pipe out of his pants and beat him with it.
Meanwhile, Baldwin's confreres joined in by punching and
kicking the victim. At trial, the State relied exclusively on
testimony by the victim, who said Baldwin committed the
attack. The record is clear that there were inconsistencies
between the victim's testimony and statements the victim
had made to investigating officers. For his part,
Baldwin's defense rested on the proposition that he was
not present when the attack occurred, and he testified to
that effect. Baldwin's aunt also testified that she
witnessed the victim being beaten up by three unknown white
men. She denied seeing a pipe.
the trial concluded, a Superior Court jury convicted Baldwin
of one count each of Assault in the First Degree, Possession
of a Deadly Weapon During the Commission of a Felony,
Carrying a Concealed Deadly Weapon, and Conspiracy in the
Second Degree. On February 13, 2015, the Superior Court
sentenced Baldwin to a total period of eight years at Level V
incarceration, to be suspended after serving a minimum
mandatory term of four years for decreasing levels of
supervision. This Court affirmed Baldwin's convictions on
September 29, 2016, Baldwin, acting pro se, filed
his first timely motion for postconviction relief asserting
three claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and one
claim that the trial court erred in failing to strike a
portion of the victim's testimony. At the time he filed
his motion, Superior Court Criminal Rule 61(e)(1) provided,
in part, that the Superior Court "shall appoint counsel
for an indigent movant's first timely postconviction
motion and request for appointment of counsel if the motion
seeks to set aside . . . a judgment of conviction after a
trial that has been affirmed by final order upon direct
appellate review and is for a crime designated as a class A,
B, or C felony under 11 Del. C. § 4205(b) . . .
." Although Baldwin was convicted of two
class B felonies, among others, and his convictions had been
imposed after a trial and affirmed on appeal to this Court,
he did not file a motion for the appointment of counsel.
motion was filed on the form that the Superior Court provides
for litigants under Rule 61. The form consists of three
pages. The accompanying instructions provide that all grounds
for relief must be set forth in the proper space on the form.
Petitioners are given three lines to set forth each claim and
are informed that no additional pages are permitted, although
they may use the reverse side of the sheet. If they wish to
submit legal arguments, they are told they may file a
separate memorandum, but are not required to do so.
preliminary consideration, the Superior Court summarily
dismissed Baldwin's petition under Rule 61(d)(5). Rule
61(d)(5) provides, "[i]f 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." Although the petition was summarily
dismissed, the Superior Court, in fact, issued a formal
decision analyzing and addressing each of Baldwin's
claims in some depth, considering both the procedural bars of