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State v. Harris

Superior Court of Delaware

November 14, 2017

RAHEEM D. HARRIS, Defendant,

          Submitted: August 8, 2017

          Mark A. Denney, Jr., Esquire, Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for the State.

          John F. Kirk, IV, Esquire, Gonser and Gonser, P. A., Attorney for Defendant Raheem Harris.


          Lynne M. Parker Commissioner.

         This 14th day of November 2017, upon consideration of Defendant's Motion for Postconviction Relief, it appears to the Court that:


         1. On July 7, 2014, Defendant Raheem D. Harris was indicted on one count of Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited ("PFBPP").

         2. The matter was tried before a Superior Court jury on November 12, 2014. The parties stipulated that Harris was a person prohibited from possessing a firearm or deadly weapon.[1] On November 12, 2014, following the trial, Harris was found guilty of PFBPP.

         3. On December 12, 2014, Harris was sentenced to ten years of Level V incarceration, suspended after five years, followed by decreasing levels of supervision.

         4. Harris filed a direct appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court. On July 8, 2015, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and sentence of the Superior Court.[2]


         5. The testimony at trial established that, around 6:00 a.m. on May 8, 2014, the Wilmington Police Department executed a search warrant for an apartment in the City of Wilmington.[3] The apartment was leased by Harris' girlfriend, who lived there with her young son. Harris did not live in the apartment. He lived in the apartment across the hall with his mother. The target of the officers' search warrant was Harris' cousin, Jamir. When the officers executed the warrant, the only occupants of the apartment were Harris, his girlfriend, and her son.[4]

         6. After the officers entered the apartment, Harris and his girlfriend were placed in custody and seated in the living room while the officers conducted the search.[5] During the search, the officers found a loaded 9mm firearm under the mattress where the two had been sleeping.[6] An officer read Harris his Miranda rights. Harris told the officer that the gun was his, but then invoked his right to remain silent and did not answer any other questions.[7]The gun was processed but no fingerprints or DNA was recovered. Harris was charged with one count of PFPBB. The parties stipulated that he was a person prohibited from possessing a firearm. Harris did not testify at trial. The jury found him guilty.[8]


         7. On August 11, 2015, Harris filed the subject motion for post conviction relief. A briefing schedule was entered. Trial counsel submitted an Affidavit responding to Harris' ineffective assistance of counsel claims and the State filed a response to Defendant's motion.

         8. Thereafter, Harris filed a motion requesting the appointment of counsel.[9] The motion was granted.[10] On or about December 7, 2016, counsel was appointed. A supplemental briefing schedule was entered. Harris' Rule 61 counsel filed an amended motion for post conviction relief and the State filed a supplemental response thereto.

         9. On August 8, 2017, this motion was assigned to the undersigned Commissioner.

         10. In the subject motion, Harris raised three ineffective assistance of counsel claims. Harris claimed that: 1) defense counsel was ineffective for not filing a motion to suppress the inculpatory statement made by him at the time of the arrest; 2) defense counsel was ineffective for not exploring on cross-examination of the arresting officer the timing of the Miranda warnings given to Mr. Harris prior to making the inculpatory statement; and 3) defense counsel was ineffective for not exploring the issue of Mr. Harris' location as it related to the proximity of the recovered firearm.

         11. In order to prevail on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, Defendant must meet the two-pronged Strickland test by showing that: (1) counsel performed at a level "below an objective standard of reasonableness" and that, (2) the deficient performance prejudiced the defense.[11] The first prong requires the defendant to show by a preponderance of the evidence that defense counsel was not reasonably competent, while the second prong requires him to show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for defense counsel's unprofessional errors, the outcome of the proceedings would have been different.[12]

         12. Mere allegations of ineffectiveness will not suffice; instead, a defendant must make and substantiate concrete allegations of actual prejudice.[13] Although not insurmountable, the Strickland standard is highly demanding and leads to a strong presumption that counsel's conduct fell within a wide range of reasonable professional assistance.[14]Moreover, there is a strong presumption that defense counsel's conduct constituted sound trial strategy.[15]

         13. In Harrington v. Richter, [16] the United States Supreme Court explained the high bar that must be surmounted in establishing an ineffective assistance of counsel claim. In Harrington, the United States Supreme Court explained that representation is constitutionally ineffective only if it so undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process that the defendant was denied a fair trial.[17] The challenger's burden on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim is to show that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the "counsel" guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment. It is not enough to show that the errors had some conceivable effect on the outcome of the proceeding. Counsel's errors must be so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial.[18]

         14. Counsel's representation must be judged by the most deferential of standards. The United States Supreme Court cautioned that reviewing courts must be mindful of the fact that unlike a later reviewing court, the attorney observed the relevant proceedings, knew of materials outside the ...

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