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Taylor v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

March 7, 2018

MILTON TAYLOR, Defendant-Below, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff-Below, Appellee.

          Submitted: February 21, 2018

         Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware Cr. ID. No. 0003016874

          Before VALIHURA, VAUGHN, and SEITZ, Justices.

          ORDER

          Collins J. Seitz, Jr. Justice

         This 7th day of March, 2018, having considered the briefs and the record below, it appears to the Court that:

         (1) On March 30, 2001, a jury convicted Milton Taylor of first degree murder, and the Superior Court sentenced him to death. This Court affirmed on July 6, 2001. Taylor filed a motion for postconviction relief, which the Superior Court denied on August 6, 2010, and this Court affirmed on October 25, 2011. On November 26, 2014, Taylor filed a second motion for postconviction relief, which was stayed pending this Court's decision in Powell v. Delaware.[1] In Powell, this Court held that the decision in Rauf v. State, [2] which found Delaware's death penalty statute unconstitutional, applied retroactively. Therefore, the Superior Court vacated Taylor's death sentence and sentenced him to life in prison without the benefit of probation or parole, pursuant to 11 Del. C. § 4209(d)(2).[3] On July 10, 2017, Taylor filed a Rule 35 motion to correct or reduce his sentence, [4] arguing he should have been sentenced under 11 Del. C. § 4205. The Superior Court denied the motion on August 11, 2017, [5] and Taylor appealed. This Court reviews the denial of a Rule 35 motion for an abuse of discretion and reviews questions of law de novo.[6]

         (2) On appeal, Taylor argues the court should have sentenced him according to 11 Del. C. § 4205 because Rauf v. State found 11 Del. C. § 4209 unconstitutional in its entirety.[7] We rejected this argument in Zebroski v. State, explaining that "Rauf did not . . . invalidate the entirety of section 4209, and, as we said in Powell, the statute's life-without-parole alternative is the correct sentence to impose on a defendant whose death sentence is vacated."[8] Thus, the Superior Court properly sentenced Taylor under 11 Del. C. § 4209(d)(2).

         (3) Taylor next argues that a mandatory sentence of life without parole violates the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution[9] because "Delaware would be the only non-death penalty state to punish an act defined as broadly as 'intentional killing' with mandatory life without the possibility of parole."[10] Taylor argues this "[r]are usage indicates societal rejection of mandatorily imposing this extreme penalty, rendering it cruel and unusual under the Eighth Amendment."[11] Taylor provides no support for this argument. This Court and the United States Supreme Court have explained that "[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."[12] Instead, we defer to the General Assembly's determination.[13]

         (4) Lastly, Taylor argues that the sentence violates his Fourteenth Amendment Due Process rights, [14] because his "trial strategy would surely have been different, " had life without parole been the mandatory sentence.[15] He argues that his counsel "would have given different advice . . . and may well have changed his approach to the presentation of evidence at guilt."[16] This argument was also rejected in Zebroski v. State, and Taylor does not state how the strategy or advice would have differed, nor how it would have affected the outcome of the case.[17] Therefore, Taylor's sentence of life imprisonment without benefit of probation or parole does not violate his constitutional rights under the Eighth or Fourteenth Amendments.

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

         BY THE COURT:

---------

Notes:

[1] 153 A.3d 69 (Del. 2016).


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