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State v. Cuffee

Superior Court of Delaware, Kent

August 7, 2017

STATE OF DELAWARE
v.
MICAH O. CUFFEE Defendant.

         RK12-10-0534-01, RK12-10-0536-01, RK12-10-0557-01.

          Jason C. Cohee, Esq., Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice, for the State of Delaware.

          Micah O. Cuffee, Pro se.

          COMMISSIONER'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Andrea M Freud Commissioner.

         Upon Defendant's Motion for Postconviction Relief Pursuant to Superior Court Criminal Rule 61

         The defendant, Micah O. Cuffee ("Cuffee") was found guilty, following a jury trial on August 7, 2013, as charged, of one count of Attempted Theft of a Senior, 11 Del. C. § 841; one count of Conspiracy in the Second Degree, 11 Del. C. § 512; and one count of Criminal Mischief < $1, 000, 11 Del. C. § 811. A presentence investigation was ordered by the Court. The State filed a motion to declare Cuffee a habitual offender pursuant to 11 Del. C. § 4214(a).[1] The motion was granted on October 15, 2013. Cuffee was "...sentenced to eight years of Level V incarceration for Attempted Theft, two years of Level V incarceration, suspended for one year of Level III probation, for Conspiracy in the Second Degree, and a fine of $250 for Criminal Mischief."[2]

         Cuffee waived his right to counsel on appeal and was permitted to represent himself in his appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court. The issues on appeal were noted by the Court as follows:

Cuffee claims: (i) the Superior Court erred in allowing the State to amend the indictment before trial and during trial; (ii) the Superior Court erred in admitting a picture of Cuffee the night of his arrest; (iii) the prosecutor made improper statements during his opening and closing arguments; (iv) the State committed discovery and Brady violations by failing to produce a recording of police radio communications; and (v) Cuffee was deprived of his right to self-representation.[3]

         The Supreme Court, on October 14, 2014, affirmed Cuffee's conviction and sentence finding each of his claims meritless.[4]

         On August 11, 2015 Cuffee filed a Motion for Postconviction Relief pursuant to Superior Court Rule 61. He then filed a motion to amend the motion for postconviction relief. On October 20, 2015 Cuffee was granted permission to file an Amended Motion to replace the original motion. The Amended Motion for Postconviction Relief and Memorandum were filed on December 29, 2015 to replace the motion filed on August 11, 2015. The pending amended motion alleges several grounds for relief including ineffective assistance of Trial Counsel.

         FACTS

Following are the facts as set forth by the Delaware Supreme Court:
(2) On the night of September 19, 2012, a resident of a development located near Walker Road in Dover heard a vehicle, a screeching, metallic noise like something was being dragged, and voices outside the back of her townhouse. Office buildings, which were closed for the day, were located behind the caller's townhouse. The resident called 911 to report the noises at approximately 10:30 p.m. Corporal Gregory Hopkins and other members of the Dover police responded to the 911 call.
(3) Initially, Hopkins and the other police officers checked businesses and communities along Walker Road for the source of the reported noises. Hopkins checked 1155 Walker Road and did not see anything there. Hopkins then went to the 911 caller's townhouse and spoke to her about what she had heard in order to pinpoint the location of the noises. Based on that conversation, Hopkins drove back to 1155 Walker Road, which was located behind the townhouse.
(4) Hopkins walked around the building located at 1155 Walker Road and saw four, disconnected air conditioning units behind the building and near a shed. The air conditioners had been cut from the building located at 1155 Walker Road. Hopkins reported his findings and it was decided that he would stay in the area to conduct surveillance in case someone returned to pick up the disconnected air conditioners. Other officers set up a perimeter near Walker Road.
() Shortly after Hopkins concealed himself under some trees to monitor the area where the air conditioners were located, he observed a maroon minivan, with no headlights on, driving in from Walker Road. After driving into the parking lot that was closest to the disconnected air conditioners, the minivan began backing up over a bed of rocks near the air conditioners and became stuck.
(6) Hopkins watched the minivan occupants attempt to remove the minivan from the rocks. They were unsuccessful and called somebody for assistance. Although Hopkins could see the occupants of the minivan walk around it, he could not see them at all times. Hopkins observed a white pick-up truck drive in from Walker Road and tow the minivan off of the rocks. Cuffee's cousin, Walter Cuffee, testified that Cuffee called him the night of September 19, 2012 for assistance. Walter Cuffee drove his white pick-up to Walker Road, where he testified that he picked up Cuffee and Mark McDonald, and then helped Cuffee and McDonald tow the minivan from the rocks. After Hopkins watched the white pick-up truck and maroon minivan leave the parking lot, he saw that the disconnected air conditioners were no longer where he had previously seen them. Hopkins radioed police units on Walker Road to report that the air conditioners had been taken and that both the white pick-up truck and maroon minivan should be stopped. Hopkins then walked around the area and saw that the air conditioners had been moved to the other side of the shed.
(7) Police stopped the white pick-up truck and maroon minivan. Cuffee was driving the minivan and McDonald was the passenger. Both men were arrested. In a search of the minivan, the police found a pair of bolt cutters, Channellock pliers, a flashlight, and two pairs of work gloves. All of the seats, except for the driver seat and front passenger seat, had been removed from the minivan. Cuffee's daughter testified that she owned the minivan and that the equipment in the minivan belonged to her husband.[5]

         CUFFEE'S CONTENTIONS

         On April 6, 2016, Cuffee filed a "Motion to Amend Postconviction." He requested ".. .that this Honorable Court to allow him to amend a portion of his postconviction to correct the grounds raised in the Postconviction to correlate with the attached Memorandum of Law and Supporting Facts. ...the Defendant rushed to get the Amended Motion filed [on December 29, 2015] according to the Court's Order. In doing so, the Defendant failed to include 3 grounds that were in his Memorandum of Law and Supporting Facts. ...The Defendant is not seeking to amend any of the supporting facts in his Memorandum of Law and Supporting facts." The Court granted the motion to amend and on April 6, 2016 Cuffee filed a Second Amended Motion for Postconviction Relief listing the grounds as follows:

         Ground I: The Court erred when it allowed the State to amend the Indictment. Please see attached Memorandum of Law and supporting facts.

         Ground II: Prosecutorial Misconduct.

A. Prosecutor made false and misleading statements to jury.
B. Improper vouching by prosecutor.
C. Improper vouching for State ...

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