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State v. Hagins

Superior Court of Delaware

October 31, 2017

STATE OF DELAWARE
v.
MATTHEW D. HAGINS, Defendant.

          Submitted: July 11, 2017

         Upon Defendant's Motion for Postconviction Relief: DENIED

          Diana Dunn, Deputy Attorney General, Matthew D. Hagins, pro se

          ABIGAIL M. LEGROW, JUDGE

         This 31st day of October, 2017, upon consideration of Defendant's Motion for Postconviction Relief (the "Motion") under Superior Court Criminal Rule 61 ("Rule 61") and the record in this case, it appears to the Court that:

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         1. Matthew Hagins was indicted on September 14, 2015 for two counts of Sex Offender Unlawful Sexual Contact with a Child[1] and four counts of Rape Second Degree. The charges stemmed from an interaction between Hagins, then 27 years old, and two girls, ages 13 and 14, who engaged in sexual intercourse with Hagins. After the girls reported the encounter to police, Hagins waived his Miranda rights and admitted under police questioning to having oral and vaginal sex with the two girls. Hagins claimed then, as he has throughout these proceedings, that the sex was consensual and that he believed both girls were over the age of 18.[2]

         2. Patrick J. Collins, Esquire ("Trial Counsel") represented Hagins throughout the case. Hagins faced an 85-year minimum mandatory sentence if convicted at trial of all charges.[3] Approximately six months after he was indicted, Hagins pleaded guilty to two counts of Rape Second Degree.[4] The charges to which Hagins pleaded guilty carried a statutory penalty of 20 years minimum mandatory. The State agreed it would cap its Level V recommendation at the minimum mandatory sentence and would not file a habitual offender petition or a petition to enhance the sentencing range due to one victim's age at the time of the offense.[5]

         3. In connection with his plea, Hagins signed a Truth-in-Sentencing Guilty Plea form in which he (i) denied he was forced to enter into the plea, and (ii) acknowledged he was waiving certain constitutional rights, including the right to proceed to trial and force the State to prove the charges against him. Hagins also acknowledged on the form that he was satisfied with Trial Counsel's representation and that he had been advised fully of his rights.

         4. Before accepting the plea, the presiding judge engaged in a colloquy with Hagins regarding his decision to plead guilty and the rights he was waiving by so doing. During that hearing, Hagins acknowledged signing the Truth-in-Sentencing form and confirmed he discussed the form with Trial Counsel.[6] The presiding judge reviewed with Hagins the two charges to which he was pleading guilty, and Hagins admitted committing each of those crimes.[7] The judge also reviewed with Hagins the constitutional rights he was waiving by pleading guilty, and the potential sentence he was facing as a result of the guilty plea.[8] Hagins stated that he understood the plea proceedings, that Trial Counsel had answered all his questions, and that he was not being threatened or promised anything in exchange for his plea.[9] The judge thereafter accepted Hagins' plea, holding it was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary.[10]

         5. While Hagins' presentence investigation was being conducted, he filed a motion to dismiss Trial Counsel and to appoint new counsel, along with a motion to compel the Court to rule on the motion to dismiss Trial Counsel.[11] The focus of Hagins' presentence motions was his contention that Trial Counsel had taken minimal interest in the case and had allowed Hagins to enter the guilty plea without allowing him to review his "Rule 16 Discovery in its entirety."[12] Hagins' motions suggested a desire to withdraw his plea because it was not knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily entered. The Court forwarded copies of Hagins' motions to Trial Counsel and advised Hagins that, because he was represented by counsel, he could not file motions directly with the Court and the Court would take no further action on the pending motions.[13]

         6. On the date of sentencing, however, the Court addressed Mr. Hagins directly regarding his motions:

THE COURT: Mr. Hagins, you've sent the Court a number of pro se motions, which I forwarded to your counsel, I believe, under cover of letter to you in which I indicated that the Court would take no action on your motions because they are pro se and you are represented by counsel. Do you understand that?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
THE COURT: Are you still interested in filing a motion to withdraw your guilty plea?
THE DEFENDANT: No.
THE COURT: So you wish to proceed with sentencing today?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.[14]

         7. For each rape charge to which he pleaded guilty, Hagins was sentenced to 25 years at Level V, suspended after ten years for decreasing levels of supervision.[15] The Court ordered Hagins to have substance abuse and mental health evaluations and to complete various counseling programs during his sentence.

         8. Hagins filed this Motion for Postconviction Relief on September 6, 2016.[16] He filed a second motion for postconviction relief on May 16, 2017, which I have treated as a supplement to his original motion (the "Supplemental Motion").[17] In the two filings, Hagins alleges he was entitled to relief because Trial Counsel was ineffective for failing to communicate with Hagins, failing to prepare or investigate the case, and failing to object to use of a 17 year old conviction for sentence enhancement. Hagins also alleges the Court abused its discretion by accepting his plea and sentencing him knowing he had not reviewed his "full Rule 16 Discovery." Finally, Hagins contends new evidence supports his contention that his conduct did not rise to the level necessary to support a conviction for Rape Second Degree. At the Court's request, Trial Counsel supplemented the record and responded to the Motion by affidavit.[18] After an extension of his deadline, Hagins filed a reply in further support of his Motion.[19]

         ANALYSIS

         A. Procedural bars to Hagins' claims

         9. Before addressing the merits of any claim for postconviction relief, this Court first must determine whether the motion procedurally is barred under Rule 61.[20] A motion for postconviction relief may be barred for timeliness and repetition, among other things. A motion filed under Rule 61 is untimely if it is filed more than one year after a final judgment of conviction.[21] A defendant also is barred from filing successive motions for postconviction relief.[22] The rule further prohibits motions based on any ground for relief that was not asserted in the proceedings leading up to the judgment of conviction, unless the movant demonstrates "cause for relief from the procedural default" and "prejudice from violation of the movant's rights."[23] Finally, the rule bars consideration of any ground for relief that previously was adjudicated in the case.[24]

         10. Hagins' Motion, his first under Rule 61, was filed less than a year after his sentence became final and it therefore is timely and not repetitive. The Motion alleges ineffective assistance of counsel, which could not be raised at any earlier stage in the proceedings.[25] Hagins' allegations were not previously adjudicated and the Court therefore may consider the merits of Hagins' claims.

         B. Hagins has not shown Trial ...


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