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Durham v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

November 13, 2017

JAMES J. DURHAM, Defendant Below, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff Below, Appellee.

          Submitted: September 15, 2017

         Court Below-Superior Court of the State of Delaware Cr. ID No. 1003006262 (K)

          Before STRINE, Chief Justice; VALIHURA and TRAYNOR, Justices.

          ORDER

          Leo E. Strine, Jr. Chief Justice.

         This 13th day of November 2017, upon careful consideration of the parties' briefs and the Superior Court record, it appears to the Court that:

         (1) The appellant, James J. Durham, filed this appeal from the Superior Court's summary dismissal of his second motion for postconviction relief under Superior Court Criminal Rule 61. We affirm the Superior Court's judgment.

         (2) Following a jury trial in October 2010, Durham was convicted of first degree robbery and other offenses. After the verdict, Durham's trial counsel filed a motion for new trial, which was denied on June 9, 2011.[1] Durham was sentenced on June 15, 2011. On direct appeal, this Court affirmed Durham's convictions and sentence.[2]

         (3) In January 2013, with the help of postconviction counsel, Durham filed a timely motion for postconviction relief alleging ineffective assistance of trial counsel and appellate counsel. In October 2013, a Superior Court Commissioner issued a report recommending that the postconviction motion should be denied. Durham's postconviction counsel appealed from the report and recommendation, and the State filed a response. On April 30, 2015, the Superior Court adopted the report and recommendation and denied the postconviction motion "as procedurally barred for failure to prove cause and prejudice, and as meritless.[3] The Superior Court concluded that the appeal did "not advance the motion for postconviction relief in any substantive way."[4] On appeal in this Court, we affirmed the Superior Court's judgment.[5]

         (4) On February 6, 2017, Durham filed a second motion for postconviction relief. In his pro se motion, Durham alleged that his postconviction counsel was ineffective because counsel failed to raise additional claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel in Durham's first motion for postconviction relief.

          (5) By order dated February 13, 2017, the Superior Court summarily dismissed Durham's second postconviction motion as procedurally barred. This appeal followed. We review the Superior Court's dismissal of the postconviction motion for abuse of discretion and consider questions of law under de novo review.[6]

         (6) Both this Court and the Superior Court are required to consider the procedural requirements of Rule 61 before addressing any substantive issues.[7] In this appeal from the summary dismissal of his second postconviction motion, Durham claims the Superior Court considered procedural requirements inapplicable to his motion and failed to consider relevant case law.

         (7) First, Durham argues that the Superior Court should have applied the version of Rule 61 in effect in 2012, when his convictions became final after his direct appeal. According to Durham, had the Superior Court applied the 2012 version of Rule 61, the court would not have summarily dismissed his second postconviction motion. Second, Durham argues that, had the Superior Court properly applied the dictates of our 2013 decision in Guy v. State, [8] the court would have been compelled to consider the merit of the claims that he raised in his second postconviction motion. Both arguments are without merit.

         (8) Our 2013 decision in Guy v. State decided an appeal from the denial of a defendant's third motion for postconviction relief under Rule 61 as it then existed.[9]Under the unique circumstances presented in Guy, we found that the defendant's claims of ineffective assistance of postconviction counsel were not procedurally barred under Rule 61(i)(2) because the defendant had not had a prior opportunity to raise the claims.[10] We also held that the one-year time limitation in Rule 61(i)(1) would not begin to run on a defendant's claim of ineffective assistance of postconviction counsel until the conclusion of the appeal from the denial of the postconviction motion filed by postconviction counsel or the conclusion of the time in which to file such an appeal.[11]

         (9) In June 2014, Rule 61 was substantially amended with the adoption, among other things, of a new pleading standard for second or subsequent motions for postconviction relief.[12] The new pleading standard-found in Rule 61(d)(2) and incorporated in Rule 61(i)(2) and (i)(5)-provides that any second or subsequent postconviction motion will be summarily dismissed unless the movant was convicted after a trial and the motion either: (i) pleads with particularity that new evidence exists to establish the movant's actual innocence in fact; or (ii) pleads with particularity that a new, retroactively applicable constitutional rule applies to the movant's case and renders a conviction or death sentence invalid.[13] Rule 61(d)(2), and the other ...


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