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Booker v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

July 14, 2017

JERMAINE BOOKER, Defendant Below-Appellant,
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff Below-Appellee.

          Submitted: April 21, 2017

         Court Below-Superior Court of the State of Delaware Cr. ID 1409017638 (N)

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


         This 14th day of July 2017, upon consideration of the parties' briefs[1] and the record on appeal, it appears to the Court that:

         (1) In January 2016, a Superior Court jury convicted the defendant- appellant, Jermaine Booker, of Assault in the First Degree (as a lesser included offense to Attempted Murder in the First Degree), Home Invasion, Burglary in the Second Degree, Robbery in the First Degree, Theft, and Possession of a Deadly Weapon During the Commission of a Felony. The Superior Court sentenced him to serve forty-four years in prison. Booker was represented by counsel at trial. On appeal, he requested and was permitted to waive his right to appellate counsel. This is Booker's pro se direct appeal.

         (2) The charges against Booker stemmed from two separate incidents on November 21, 2013 and January 2, 2014, respectively, occurring at neighboring homes in the Windsor Hills development in Wilmington. The first homeowner, Drew Van Dyk, testified at trial that his home was burglarized on November 21, 2013. Stolen from his home were two bicycles, multiple electronic items, prescription drugs, keys to his 1998 Subaru and a 1997 driver's manual for the car, [2]and an old New Jersey license plate that had been on his grandmother's car. When he reported the burglary to the police, Van Dyk told officers that, two days before the burglary, a young black man came to his home asking if he needed any yard work done. The young man was carrying a dark backpack and said his name was Enoch, which is Booker's middle name. Van Dyk gave the young man $10 and a ride to a nearby bus stop.

         (3) The owners of the second burglarized home, John Warfield and Jacqueline Fiore, also testified at trial. Warfield testified that he left home on the morning of January 2, 2014 to attend an 8:00 a.m. training session for a new computer that he bought at Christmas. His wife, who was still sleeping at home when he left, was scheduled to attend a separate session for her new computer later that afternoon. When he returned home around 9:30 a.m., his garage door was open and his wife's Lexus was gone. There were other items also missing from the garage, including a leaf blower and gas can. He entered the house and found his wife on the first floor of their home beaten unconscious and bloody. He called 911.

         (4) A paramedic and a forensic nurse both testified at trial. The paramedic testified that, upon arriving at the scene, Ms. Fiore was a trauma code, meaning that her injuries were life threatening. She was unconscious and her airway was obstructed by blood. Upon her arrival at the hospital emergency room, the forensic nurse took photographs and documented Ms. Fiore's injuries, which included several incise wounds to her face and head caused by a sharp object. She had bruising, abrasions, and lacerations all over her body, multiple rib fractures, multiple face fractures, a collapsed lung, injuries to her eye, and swelling of her brain. Ms. Fiore remained in the hospital for several weeks.

         (5) Jacqueline Fiore testified that she had no memory of January 2, 2014. Before that morning, she had been an active retiree who traveled, volunteered, exercised regularly, and had a black belt in karate. As a result of the assault, she spent several weeks in the hospital, undergoing multiple surgeries including a craniotomy due to swelling in her brain, and several more months in rehabilitation facilities. She lost one eye and was left blind in the other. She suffers left-side paralysis due to a stroke caused by the beating. She now requires a full-time aide to help her with activities of daily life, and she remains in significant pain.

         (6) The State's evidence also fairly established that, on January 2, 2014, Booker took his then-pregnant girlfriend to Red Lobster on Concord Pike to celebrate her birthday. He told her that he was going to drive to New Jersey to see his cousin, Kendall Briscoe. On January 4, 2014, Booker drove to Briscoe's home in Newark, New Jersey. EZ-Pass records reflected the precise times that the transponder associated with Fiore's Lexus entered and exited the New Jersey Turnpike on January 4, 2014. Briscoe's girlfriend testified that Booker arrived at her home in New Jersey on the afternoon of January 4. Although she did not see Briscoe exit or enter a car, she did notice an unfamiliar Lexus parked in front of her home. She also saw Booker and Briscoe walking toward the Lexus as she was leaving her house, but she did not see if they got into the car.

         (7) Later on January 4, 2014, a police officer from Newark, New Jersey saw the Lexus spin out in the snow. She saw the two occupants of the Lexus, Booker and Briscoe, get out of the car and walk away, leaving the car parked next to a fire hydrant. The New Jersey license plate on the vehicle was not registered. When the officer stopped Booker and Briscoe to question them about the car, Briscoe gave non-responsive answers to her questions, and then the two men ran away. Additional police officers gave chase and ultimately found the pair hiding under another car. Both men were arrested and charged with resisting arrest and receiving stolen property.

         (8) New Jersey police discovered that not only was the Lexus stolen but it was associated with the assault in Delaware. The car was towed back to Delaware shortly thereafter. It was later discovered that the expired license plate on the Lexus was the one stolen from Drew Van Dyk's garage. Forensic testing recovered Booker's fingerprints on the back of the stolen license plate. Other items found in the stolen Lexus included a leaf blower, gas can, a black backpack with male clothes, a positive pregnancy test, [3] a steak knife, a box cutter, and green Nike sneakers with Ms. Fiore's blood on them. Booker's father testified that the shoes resembled the pair that he had given Booker for Christmas. Neither Booker's fingerprints nor his DNA were recovered from the interior of the car or from any of the objects found inside the car.

         (9) After the State rested its case, Booker's counsel moved for a judgment of acquittal on the charges of home invasion and second degree burglary as well as the weapon charge. The Superior Court denied the motion. Booker did not testify or present any other evidence in his own defense at trial. The jury found Booker not guilty of attempted murder, but guilty of the lesser included offense of first degree assault and all of the remaining charges. This appeal followed.

         (10) Booker raises eight issues in his pro se opening brief on appeal. First, he alleges a denial of his constitutional right to a speedy trial. Second, he contends that the State committed a Brady[4] violation when it failed to timely supply the underlying data supporting its experts' conclusions. Third, he contends that the evidence was insufficient to convict him. Fourth, he contends that the Superior Court erred in admitting expert testimony regarding blood spatter. Fifth, he contends that his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to cross-examine the two victims about their exculpatory out-of-court identifications. Sixth, he contends that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to subpoena witnesses in support of an alibi defense. Seventh, he asserts that the trial judge abused his discretion and imposed a sentence that constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Finally, he contends that the prosecutor made multiple improper comments during his closing argument. We address these claims in order.

         (11) Booker's first claim on appeal is that the Superior Court erred in denying his motion to dismiss the indictment for the State's violation of his right to a speedy trial. We review de novo the alleged denial of a constitutional right.[5] In order to determine whether a defendant's speedy trial rights were violated, a court assesses four factors: a) the length of the delay; b) the reason for the delay; c) the defendant's assertion of the right; and d) prejudice to the defendant.[6] Unless the delay is lengthy enough to be presumptively prejudicial, there is no need to inquire into the remaining factors.[7] There is no precise length of time that will trigger a speedy trial analysis in every case because longer periods of delay may be excusable in serious and complex cases.[8]

         (12) This was a serious and complex case. It involved the commission of multiple serious felonies at multiple crime scenes and required the collection and extensive forensic testing of a large quantity of evidence. The case also required the cooperation of New Jersey authorities. Although Booker asserts that the two-year delay between his January 2014 arrest and his January 2016 trial was prejudicial, the factual underpinning of his argument is incorrect. His January 2014 arrest is not the proper starting point for analyzing the length of the delay in this case because his arrest in January 2014 was for violating New Jersey law in a different, albeit related, case. He was not indicted, arrested, and returned to Delaware to face charges for the Windsor Hills crimes until September 2, 2014.[9] Thus, the total elapsed time between Booker's indictment and his trial was about sixteen months. Given the complexities of this case, we do not find that delay to be presumptively prejudicial under the specific circumstances presented here. Thus, we find no merit to Booker's argument and do not address any of the remaining factors in the speedy trial analysis.[10]

         (13) Booker next argues that the State committed a Brady violation when it failed to timely disclose the underlying data for the expert's DNA analysis. In Brady v. Maryland, the United States Supreme Court held that the prosecution must disclose to the defense evidence favorable to the defendant.[11] There are three elements to a Brady violation: "the evidence at issue must be favorable to the accused, either because it is exculpatory, or because it is impeaching; that evidence must have been suppressed by the State; and prejudice must have ensued."[12] In this case, Booker does not dispute that the State provided the information requested before trial and that the Superior Court gave the defense almost four months to review it and consult with its own expert. Under the circumstances, we find no Brady violation because there was no suppression and no prejudice.

         (14) Next, Booker contends that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he was the perpetrator of these crimes. In reviewing a sufficiency of the evidence claim, the Court must determine, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, whether any rational trier of fact could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.[13] The State can meet its burden of proof through direct or circumstantial evidence.[14] In-court identification or eyewitness testimony is not required to prove identity.[15] Rather, the test to establish identity is whether a rational jury, ...

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