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Cooke v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

February 21, 2018

JAMES E. COOKE, Defendant-Below, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff-Below, Appellee.

          Submitted: February 7, 2018

         Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware Cr. ID. No. 0506005981 (N)

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

          ORDER

          Collins J. Seitz, Jr. Justice.

         This 21st day of February, 2018, having considered the briefs and the record below, it appears to the Court that:

(1) On April 13, 2012, a jury convicted James E. Cooke of two counts of first degree murder, first degree burglary, first degree rape, first degree arson, first degree reckless endangering, two counts of second degree burglary, second degree robbery, and misdemeanor theft. He was sentenced to death. On April 4, 2017, after this Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional in Rauf v. State[1] and applied it retroactively in Powell v. Delaware, [2] Cooke filed a motion to vacate his death sentence. The Superior Court granted the motion and resentenced Cooke to life without parole or reduction.
(2) On appeal, Cooke argues that the Superior Court violated his constitutional rights because it did not consider a term of years under 11 Del. C. § 4205, and because a mandatory life sentence without parole for first degree murder violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.[3]We review questions of law and constitutional violations de novo.[4]
(3) Cooke first argues that this Court declared 11 Del. C. § 4209 unconstitutional in its entirety, and thus the court should have sentenced him under 11 Del. C. § 4205.[5] We rejected this argument in Norcross v. State.[6] Thus, the argument is without merit.
(4) Cooke next argues that a mandatory life sentence without parole or reduction for first degree murder violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.[7] He cites no cases to support this argument; rather, he points out that other states apply different sentences.[8] But "[t]he Eighth Amendment is not violated every time a State reaches a conclusion different from a majority of its sisters over how to best administer its criminal laws."[9] As we explained in Williams v. State, "[t]he Delaware legislature's determination to draw the line as it did . . . is justifiable because of the violent nature of the crimes involved."[10] We thus defer to the General Assembly's determination.[11]
(5) Cooke argues the sentence violates his Fourteenth Amendment rights because he would have tried the case differently had he known that a mandatory life sentence was the only sentence for first degree murder.[12] He does not explain, however, how his strategy would have differed, or why it would have changed the outcome of the case. Lacking any support for his argument, we find that the Superior Court did not violate Cooke's constitutional rights in sentencing him to life without parole or reduction.

         NOW, THEREFORE, it is hereby ORDERED that the judgment of the Superior Court is AFFIRMED.

---------

Notes:

[1] 145 A.3d 430 (Del. 2016).


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