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State v. Rollins

Superior Court of Delaware

March 14, 2018


          Submitted: January 17, 2018

         On Defendant's Motion for Postconviction Relief. DENIED.

          Andrea L. Johnson, Esquire, Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for the State.

          Duane Rollins, James T. Vaughn Correctional Institution, Smyrna, Delaware, pro se.


          Richard R. Cooch, J.

         This 14th day of March 2018, upon consideration of Defendant's Motion for Postconviction Relief, it appears to the Court that:

         1. On September 4, 2013, Defendant pled guilty to two counts of Strangulation.[1] "As part of the plea agreement, the State indicated that it would seek to declare [Defendant] a habitual offender under 11 Del. C. § 4214(a) on the second count of Strangulation, but would waive proceeding against [Defendant] as a habitual offender on the first count of Strangulation."[2] Defendant was incorrectly advised at the time of the plea that the second count was subject to a minimum mandatory five- year sentence. At sentencing by another judge, the Court declared Defendant a habitual offender as to the second count of strangulation, and sentenced him to fifteen years at Level V supervision as to the second count, and five years Level V as to the first count.

         2. Defendant appealed his sentence to the Delaware Supreme Court. In his appeal, Defendant argued that the Court, his trial counsel, and the prosecutor mistakenly had characterized Strangulation as a violent offense under 11 Del. C. § 4201(c), and improperly had required a minimum mandatory sentence of five years at Level V supervision.[3]"The State agreed and filed a motion to remand for resentencing."[4] As this court later noted in its decision denying Defendant's later request to withdraw his guilty plea, "[t]his case is unusual in that Defendant wishe[d] to withdraw his guilty plea although he ultimately got a better deal (in terms of any minimum mandatory sentence to which he would be subject) than he originally bargained for"[5] since the State in the original plea agreement had agreed to nolle prosequi the companion Assault Second Degree, which would have subjected Defendant, if convicted of same and then sentenced as an habitual offender, to an eight-year minimum mandatory Level V sentence.

         3. Defendant filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea on June 10, 2014. Defendant argued that his guilty plea was not knowing, intelligent, and voluntary because of the mistaken belief that Strangulation was a violent offense, requiring a minimum of five years at Level V supervision. On July 31, 2014, Defendant filed a pro se motion to dismiss his trial counsel and for appointment of new counsel. On August 7, Defendant's trial counsel filed a motion to withdraw. On August 22, 2014, this Court denied all of the pending motions.

         4. On January 16, 2015, Rollins was resentenced. The Court declared Defendant a habitual offender as to the second count of Strangulation, and sentenced him to fifteen years at Level V supervision on that count. The Court sentenced Defendant to five years at Level V supervision on the first count, suspended after two years for decreasing levels of supervision. Defendant appealed his motion to withdraw his guilty plea and his sentence to the Delaware Supreme Court. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed this Court's rulings.[6]

         5. On August 25, 2016, Defendant filed pro se the instant motion, which is his first and timely Motion for Postconviction Relief. Some of the fifteen grounds for relief identified in his motion appear to allege ineffective assistance of counsel. On October 11, 2016, Defendant filed his first Motion for Appointment of Counsel. Due to a lack of response from this Court, Defendant filed a second Motion for Appointment of Counsel on December 28, 2016. This Court denied Defendant's two motions for appointment of counsel on March 3, 2017.

         6. In his motion, Defendant raises fifteen grounds for relief, which read below:

Ground #1: Direct appeal counsel was ineffective for failing to [c]ite trial counsel's ineffectiveness.
Supporting Facts: Counsel's representation on direct appeal filing of non merit brief was inadequate to meet the Supreme Court standard set in anders [sic], and was done to cover up trial counsel's ineffectiveness (A) mislead movant on the conditions of his plea, and (B) conceived argument on direct appeal to hide it. See Grubbs, 900 F.Supp. 435 (1998).
Ground #2: Trial court committed reversible error by not allowing the plea withdrawal.
Supporting Facts: The record shows that the trial court incorrectly ruled on the movant's prior motion to withdraw his plea under Patterson, 684 A.2d 1234 (1996). Delaware Supreme Court made it clear that the trial court does not have a "balancing" criteria under Rule 32(d) and that any "fair and just" reason has been shown by defendant seeking to withdraw a guilty plea. Do not lend themselves to a "balancing" analysis which was incorporated by this court Id., 684 A.2d at 1238-39.
Ground #3: Trial counsel ineffective.
Supporting Facts: Counsel failed to research the possibility of the[re] being serious mental illness. As a result of proneness to violence at a young age there never was an investigation by trial counsel concerning the aforementioned issue.
Ground #4: Counsel refused to file a motion to withdraw guilty plea.
Supporting Facts: Trial counsel's refusal to file a motion to withdraw guilty plea or advise court of movant's desire to do same violated movant's constitutional rights and caused immediate prejudice. Counsel's deficient performance affected the outcome of the proceedings.
Ground #5: Constructive denial of counsel.
Supporting Facts: Attorney-client relationship was so poor, counsel was unable to prepare a defense. Counsel relied solely on defendant taking a plea instead of challenging the state's case.
Ground #6: Right to due process violation.
Supporting Facts: Courts may grant several different kinds of remedies for a Due Process violation if a conviction was unlawfully obtained. Here defendant's constitutional right to Due Process was violated because the violation not only involved a mistake, but also that the mistake undermined the fundamental, legality, reliability, integrity, and fairness of the proceedings leading to his conviction.
Ground #7: Abuse of discretion.
Supporting Facts: Honorable Richard R. Cooch abused his discretion by not allowing defendant to withdraw his guilty plea or an evidentiary hearing to determine why defendant plead guilty under false premises. The cumulative impact of the deficiencies constitutes reversible error.
Ground #8: Failure to challenge career/habitual offender enhancement.
Supporting Facts: Counsel was ineffective for not objecting to career offender enhancements; conviction for strangulation because it wasn't a crime of violence.
Ground [#9]: 14th Amendment.
Supporting Facts: Defendant was denied equal protection of the law when he was not given an opportunity to an evidentiary hearing to correct the mistakes concerning his plea-agreement and the conflict of interest with his trial attorney.
Ground [#10]: Plain Error.
Supporting Facts: Plain error is limited to material defects which are apparent on the face of the record which are basic, serious, fundamental in their character, mis-informing defendant of his procedural defect plea, was an error that was so serious his conviction ...

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