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State v. Ellington

Superior Court of Delaware

August 3, 2017

Jakevis Ellington

          Vivian L. Medinilla, Judge

         Dear Counsel:

         This is the Court's decision on Jakevis Ellington ("Defendant")'s Motion to Transfer the Case to Family Court ("Motion"), filed on April 26, 2017.[1] For the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion is GRANTED.

         Defendant was fourteen years old when he was charged by indictment on April 17, 2017.[2] The charges are: Murder First Degree, Robbery First Degree, two counts of Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony ("PFDCF"), and Conspiracy Second Degree. The allegations stem from alleged conduct that occurred on January 9, 2017. Defendant was arrested on January 10, 2017, and has been detained at the New Castle County Detention Center on these charges since that date.

          Factual and Procedural Background

         At the reverse amenability hearing on July 6, 2017, Detective Mackenzie Kirlin testified on behalf of the State and stated that, on January 9, 2017, police responded to a homicide and robbery scene at a corner store located at 101 North Clayton Street in Wilmington, Delaware. Police found the store clerk dead from an apparent gunshot wound. Change was strewn about the store floor and countertop, suggestive of a robbery.

         On January 10, 2017, Defendant's co-defendant, Devonte Dorsett ("Dorsett"), was arrested in relation to the above incident. At the time of his arrest, he was carrying a firearm that was later linked with ballistics evidence recovered at the crime scene.

         Dorsett was interviewed at the Wilmington Police Department and described his version of the events on January 9, 2017. He told police that, on that date, he was present at his friends' residence located at 204 North Clayton Street. Defendant was also at the residence, visiting another person who lived at this address. Dorsett stated that it was Defendant's idea to rob the corner store. Dorsett responded that he wanted to rob a nearby "7-11" store. Nevertheless, the two traveled together to rob the corner store on Clayton Street.

         Dorsett further admitted to possessing the gun and explained that Defendant did not carry the firearm at any time during the robbery. As the two entered the store, Dorsett stated that he displayed the firearm and demanded that the clerk open the cash register. Dorsett then told Defendant to pillage the cash register for money.

         As Defendant retrieved the money from the cash register, Dorsett and the clerk began to "tussle" with one another. Defendant jumped the countertop to leave and dropped change in the process. Dorsett yelled at him to pick up the money. Defendant refused and fled the store. As Defendant fled, Dorsett claims he accidentally discharged his gun, striking the clerk. He ran from the store and stated that he only found out online the next day that the clerk had died from the gunshot wound.

         After Dorsett's interview, he identified Defendant from a photo. Defendant was arrested that same day and interviewed at the Wilmington Police Department. Defendant described a somewhat different version of the robbery.

         Defendant stated that he was at the residence on Clayton Street when Dorsett grabbed him and took him to the basement of the residence. Dorsett was high on drugs and alcohol.[3] He showed Defendant the gun and told him that they were going to rob the corner store. Dorsett told Defendant that he would shoot him if he did not agree to assist in the robbery. Defendant complied.

         According to Defendant's version, they entered the store and Dorsett drew his gun. Pointing the gun at Defendant, Dorsett told him to grab the money from the cash register. The "tussle" occurred when Dorsett blocked the doorway and prevented the clerk from escaping the store. Defendant explained that he left the store after refusing to pick up the change on the ground. He heard a shot while outside the store. He fled the scene.

         After fleeing the store, he returned to the Clayton Street residence. There, he encountered Dorsett again. Defendant impressed upon someone at the residence to tell Dorsett to leave the residence. One of the residents instructed Dorsett to leave and he did.

         Defendant moved to transfer his case to Family Court on April 26, 2017. A reverse amenability hearing was held on July 6, 2017. At the hearing, the State called two witnesses: Det. Kirlin and Jennifer Skinner, Master Family Service Specialist for the New Castle County Detention Center.

         Additionally, the parties stipulated to the introduction of three reports: one from Robin Belcher-Timme, Psy.D.; a second report from Taunya Batista, M.A.; and a third from Ms. Skinner on behalf of the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families, Division of Youth Rehabilitative Services ("YRS"). After considering the parties' submissions, arguments, and the testimony during the reverse amenability hearing, this is the Court's decision on Defendant's Motion.

         Standard of Review

         The reverse amenability process is meant to identify those juveniles charged as adults who are amenable to the rehabilitative processes of the Family Court.[4] If the juvenile files a motion to transfer the adult charges, this Court must hold a reverse amenability hearing and weigh the four factors set forth in 10 Del. C. § 1011(b).[5]

         Under § 1011(b), the Court may consider evidence of: (1) "[t]he nature of the present offense and the extent and nature of the defendant's prior record, if any;" (2) "[t]he nature of past treatment and rehabilitative efforts and the nature of the defendant's response thereto, if any;" (3) "[w]hether the interests of society and the defendant would be best served by trial in the Family Court or in the Superior Court;" and (4) any "other factors which, in the judgment of the Court are deemed relevant."[6]

         Before the Court weighs these factors, however, "the Court must preliminarily determine whether the State has made out a prima facie case against the juvenile, meaning whether there is a fair likelihood that [the defendant] will be convicted of the crimes charged."[7] There is a fair likelihood that the defendant will be convicted if, after reviewing the totality of the evidence presented, it appears that, if the defense does not sufficiently rebut the State's evidence, "the likelihood of a conviction is real... ."[8] Furthermore, "[a] real probability must exist that a reasonable jury could convict on the totality of the evidence assuming that the evidence adduced at the reverse amenability hearing stands unrebutted by the defendant at trial."[9]


         As a preliminary comment, it should be noted that the State's argument against transfer included a contention that a shorter sentence in the juvenile justice system is simply "not enough" of a sanction for Defendant's alleged conduct. The General Assembly sets the statutory ranges for criminal offenses, including those for juvenile offenders. Abstract arguments about the appropriateness of a sentence miss the mark. The Court will not consider this argument. Instead, the Court focuses solely on the factors under § 1011(b).

         Further, it is important to note what distinguishes this Motion from other motions to transfer regularly addressed by this Court. Defendant is charged with two counts of PFDCF. According to 11 Del. C. § 1447A(f): "Every person charged [with PFDCF] over the age of 15 years shall be tried as an adult, notwithstanding any contrary provisions or statutes governing the Family Court or any other state law."[10] Therefore, as a threshold matter, given Defendant's age of 14 at the time of the alleged offenses, the customary jurisdictional restrictions involving firearms charges are absent in this Motion. As such, the parties agree that the Court has discretion, under § 1011(b), to transfer all of the charged offenses against Defendant to Family Court.[11]

         I. ...

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