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State v. Sykes

Superior Court of Delaware

September 15, 2017

DESI R. SYKES, Defendant.

          Submitted: August 14, 2017

          James K. McCloskey, Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for the State of Delaware.

          Patrick J. Collins, Collins & Associates, Wilmington, Delaware, counsel for Desi Sykes.

          Desi Sykes, James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, 1181 Paddock Road, Smyrna, DE, pro se


          MAYER, Commissioner

         This 14th day of September, 2017, upon consideration of Defendant's Motion for Postconviction Relief, the Motion to Withdraw as Counsel for Petitioner, the Defendant's Motion to Proceed Pro Se, and the record in this matter, the following is my Report and Recommendation.


         Desi Sykes ("Defendant") plead guilty on February 26, 1996 to charges of Attempted Murder, four counts of Possession of a Deadly Weapon During the Commission of a Felony ("PDWDCF"), Assault in a Detention Facility, Possession of a Deadly Weapon by a Person Prohibited and Promoting Prison Contraband (the " 1995 Case"). All of the charges stem from an incident that occurred on November 1, 1995, when Defendant assaulted a correctional officer with a metal horseshoe and stabbed him multiple times with an improvised knife. At the time, Defendant was incarcerated and serving a sentence for a previous conviction. Specifically, in 1989 a jury found Defendant guilty of Murder in the First Degree, PDWDCF and Assault in the Third Degree (the "1988 Case"). Defendant was sentenced in the 1995 Case to serve a term of his natural life at Level V, plus 106 years of incarceration. Notably, the Court intentionally ordered that Defendant's sentence in the 1988 Case was to be interrupted such that the sentence in the 1995 Case would be served first.[1]

         Defendant filed his pro se Motion for Postconviction Relief on December 1, 2014.[2] Counsel was subsequently appointed, and briefing is now complete. The record includes Defendant's original Motion, appointed counsel's Motion to Withdraw as Counsel with accompanying Brief and Appendix, trial counsel's Affidavit, the State of Delaware's Response to the Motion, Defendant's Motion to Amend, and Defendant's Reply in support.[3] I have considered the arguments presented in the submissions and based upon the record, Defendant's Motion should be denied.


         Before considering the merits of the claims, the Court must first determine whether there are any procedural bars to the Motion.[4] It is evident here that Defendant's Motion is procedurally barred as untimely. Superior Court Criminal Rule 61(i)(1) imposes the condition that a motion for postconviction relief may not be filed more than one year after the judgment of conviction is final, or, if it asserts a retroactively applicable right that is newly recognized after the judgment of conviction is final, more than one year after the right is first recognized by the Supreme Court of Delaware or by the United States Supreme Court.[5] On February 26, 1996, Defendant was sentenced and his conviction became final 30 days thereafter.[6] Defendant's Motion, having been filed more than eighteen (18) years later, is significantly beyond the allowable time under Rule 61.

         In an attempt to avoid the time bar, Defendant argues that his motion is timely because the Rambo[7] decision was not previously available. To the extent Defendant argues that this decision created a newly recognized right, he was required to submit the argument within one year after the decision was issued. Defendant's Motion was filed almost seven (7) years later. Therefore, this argument does not excuse the untimely filing in this matter.[8]

         There are certain exceptions to the procedural bars. The bars to relief in Rule 61(i)(1), (3) and (4) will not apply to a claim that the court lacked jurisdiction, to a claim that pleads with particularity that new evidence exists creating a strong presumption of actual innocence, or an argument that a new rule of constitutional law made retroactive to the case renders the conviction invalid.[9] Defendant has not pled any new evidence or facts demonstrating an inference that he is innocent of the acts giving rise to the conviction, nor has there been a new rule of constitutional law issued rendering his conviction invalid.

         The numerous arguments throughout Defendant's papers, many of which are difficult to decipher, may also be dismissed as meritless and/or subject to other procedural bars. Defendant's argument that the sentencing judge abused his discretion or committed plain error by failing to explain the consequences of the guilty plea, is not only procedurally barred under Rule 61(i)(3) for Defendant's failure to have raised it in the proceedings leading to the judgment of conviction, but is also simply untrue. During the plea colloquy, the judge clearly explained that by pleading guilty, a range of penalties could be imposed including a sentence of life plus 106 years.[10]

         Next, Defendant argues that his plea violated the Double Jeopardy Clause because he was sentenced to multiple offenses of PDWDCF in violation of the Constitutional protection from successive prosecution from multiple charges. However, Delaware law is well settled on this issue and the imposition of multiple sentences upon a defendant for offenses arising out of a single criminal act does not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment.[11] Defendant cites no new rule of constitutional law that changes this analysis.

         Defendant also raises several claims that collectively assert that trial counsel was ineffective. Essentially, Defendant argues (i) trial counsel was ineffective during the plea stage for failing to take into consideration his state of mind at the time and that there was some type of "heated exchange" with the sentencing judge that compelled him to accept the plea; and (ii) trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate and develop mitigating evidence that would have supported his case during the sentencing phase.

         In order to prevail on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, a defendant must show that his counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and that but for the errors, there is a reasonable probability that the outcome of the proceedings would have been different.[12] Defendant must overcome a strong presumption that counsel's conduct was reasonably professional under the circumstances.[13] Defendant must also show that any alleged errors were so serious that his counsel was not functioning as the "counsel" guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment.[14]

         Having reviewed the record in this matter, there is no evidence of a "heated exchange" having taken place with the sentencing judge. The record though does reflect trial counsel's thorough review of Defendant's mental state.[15] Trial counsel also obtained an agreement with the State to have Defendant's mental state further evaluated, and if the examination demonstrated Defendant's plea was not knowing, intelligent and voluntary, the State would not oppose the withdrawal of the plea and for the matter to be set for further proceedings consistent with the evaluation. That evaluation was completed and Defendant was found competent to stand trial and assist his attorney.[16] The Director of Forensic Services determined that Defendant "understands the court proceedings and understands the charges against him." The Court was also aided by Defendant's pre-sentence file during sentencing.[17] Trial counsel did investigate Defendant's mental state and history and recommended Defendant ...

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