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Smack v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

October 11, 2017

ADRIN SMACK, Defendant-Below, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff-Below, Appellee.

          Submitted: September 27, 2017

         Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware Cr. ID. No. 1505015401

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

          ORDER

          Collins J. Seitz, Jr. Justice.

         This 11th day of October, 2017 having considered the briefs and the record below, it appears to the Court that:

         (1) Adrin Smack pleaded guilty to four counts of drug dealing, one count of possession of a firearm by a person prohibited, and one count of conspiracy second degree. At sentencing, the State claimed that Smack acted as a "kingpin" in a drug operation and should be sentenced to the fifteen years recommended by the State instead of the eight years recommended by the defendant. Smack requested an evidentiary hearing as part of sentencing, and argued that the State must prove his status as a drug "kingpin" by a preponderance of the evidence. The Superior Court denied Smack's request for an evidentiary hearing and ruled it could consider evidence offered by the State at sentencing if it met a "minimal indicia of reliability" standard. The court sentenced Smack to an aggregate of fourteen years at Level V followed by probation. Smack appeals and argues the Superior Court violated his due process rights by denying him an evidentiary hearing and applying the wrong burden of proof at sentencing. According to Smack, the State was required to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Smack was a drug kingpin. Because this Court has previously upheld the use of a minimal indicia of reliability standard to consider evidence offered at a sentencing hearing, and due process does not require an evidentiary hearing, we affirm the Superior Court's decision.

         (2) In April 2015, the FBI tapped Smack's cell phone and intercepted communications between Smack and his codefendant, Al-Ghaniyy Price, regarding contraband in Price's home. A search revealed two guns, a tactical vest, $16, 108 in cash, and 803 bundles of heroin. Smack was charged with seventy-one counts of drug dealing, one count of possession of marijuana, one count of giving a firearm to a person prohibited, five counts of possession of a firearm by a person prohibited, and two counts of conspiracy second degree. Smack pleaded guilty to four counts of drug dealing, one count of possession of a firearm by a person prohibited, and one count of conspiracy second degree.

         (3) At the June 22, 2016 sentencing hearing, the State presented evidence to show that Smack was a mass distributor of drugs. Smack maintained he was a small-time retail dealer. The hearing was continued to allow Smack to support his contention that facts relied on by the State at sentencing must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence. In addition, he argued that he should have the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses at an evidentiary hearing to challenge the State's evidence that he was a kingpin in the trafficking organization.

         (4) On November 17, 2016, the court held that evidence could be considered at sentencing as long as it had minimal indicia of reliability. The court also denied Smack's request for an evidentiary hearing. The court sentenced Smack to an aggregate of fourteen years at Level V followed by decreasing levels of supervision.[1] Smack appeals, arguing the court violated his due process rights by applying the minimal indicia of reliability standard and by denying his request for an evidentiary hearing. This Court reviews questions of law and constitutional claims de novo.[2]

         (5) First, this Court settled the evidentiary standard in Mayes v. State, holding that "in reviewing a sentence within statutory limits, this Court will not find error of law or abuse of discretion unless it is clear from the record below that a sentence has been imposed on the basis of demonstrably false information or information lacking a minimal indicium of reliability."[3] Smack argues Mayes does not apply because the standard was not contested. But the fact the standard was not at issue is irrelevant-the Court explicitly stated the sentencing judge "comported with due process by relying on information meeting the 'minimal indicium of reliability beyond mere allegation' standard."[4] Subsequent cases rely on Mayes in applying this standard.[5]

         (6) Smack relies on a series of federal cases where the court applied a preponderance of the evidence standard to establish facts warranting a sentence enhancement under the federal sentencing guidelines.[6] According to Smack, the same burden of proof should apply to the State when it argued for a harsher sentence based on Smack's status as a drug kingpin. The federal cases, however, are inapposite. Under the federal sentencing guidelines, the judge must find facts at sentencing using evidentiary burdens because those factual determinations can cause an increase in the sentencing ranges under the guidelines.[7] Here, Smack's guilty plea resulted in a sentencing range of two to seventy-six years.[8] To fix the sentence within that statutory range, the judge was entitled to consider all facts that had a minimal indicia of reliability-including the intercepted text messages and phone conversations that led to the seventy-seven charges of drug dealing brought against Smack.[9] The court could and did find from these facts that Smack was more than a street-level drug dealer.

         (7) Second, "due process does not necessitate a full evidentiary hearing to determine the reliability of the information."[10] It only requires the defendant be allowed to explain or rebut the evidence presented.[11] The court did not abuse its discretion in denying an evidentiary hearing because Smack had, and took, the opportunity to argue he was a middleman in the conspiracy and not the kingpin.[12]

         (8) The Superior Court did not err by applying a minimal indicia of reliability standard ...


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