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Clark v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

April 24, 2018

DEVON P. CLARK, Defendant Below, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff Below, Appellee.

          Submitted: February 23, 2018

          Court Below-Superior Court of the State of Delaware Cr. ID No. 0806025325 (N)

          BEFORE STRINE, CHIEF JUSTICE; VALIHURA AND TRAYNOR, JUSTICES.

          ORDER

          LEO E. STRINE, JR. CHIEF JUSTICE

         After consideration of the parties' briefs[1] and the record below, the Court concludes that:

         (1) The appellant, Devon P. Clark, filed this appeal from a Superior Court order denying his motion to appoint conflict counsel to file an application for sentence modification under 11 Del. C. § 4214(f).[2] The Superior Court held Clark was ineligible for relief under § 4214(f) and denied his motion to appoint conflict counsel. We affirm the Superior Court's judgment.

         (2) The record reflects that, on April 9, 2009, Clark pled guilty to Robbery in the Second Degree and Criminal Impersonation. The State filed a motion to declare Clark a habitual offender under § 4214(a). The motion was based on the following felony convictions: (i) Possession Within 1000 Feet of School committed in January 2004; (ii) Possession with Intent to Deliver committed in March 1999; (iii) Robbery in the First Degree committed in February 1990; (iv) Assault in the Second Degree and Possession of a Deadly Weapon During the Commission of a Felony committed in March 1989; and (v) Robbery in the Second Degree committed in March 1985.

         (3) The Superior Court granted the State's motion to declare Clark a habitual offender under § 4214(a). Clark was sentenced as follows: (i) for Robbery in the Second Degree, as a habitual offender under 11 Del. C. 4214(a), fifteen years of Level V incarceration with credit for 148 days previously served; and (ii) for Criminal Impersonation, one year of Level V incarceration, suspended for one year of Level III probation. On direct appeal, this Court affirmed the Superior Court's judgment.[3]

         (4) On March 23, 2017, Clark asked the Superior Court for permission to proceed pro se with a request to modify his habitual offender sentence under 11 Del. C. § 4214(f). Under Superior Court Special Rule of Procedure 2017-1, which was enacted by the Superior Court as directed by the General Assembly in 11 Del. C. § 4214(f), a request for certificate of eligibility under § 4214(f) may only be filed by the petitioner's attorney of record or the Office of Defense Services.[4] The Superior Court will not consider a pro se request under 4214(f) unless the petitioner is granted permission to proceed pro se.[5] The Superior Court denied Clark's March 23, 2017 request without prejudice and forwarded Clark's filing to his counsel at the time of sentencing.

         (5) The Office of Defense Services subsequently informed Clark he was not eligible for relief under § 4214(f). On April 26, 2017, Clark filed a motion for appointment of conflict counsel to represent him in his request for sentence modification under § 4214(f). The Superior Court found Clark was not eligible for relief under § 4214(f) and denied his motion to appoint conflict counsel. The Superior Court did not grant Clark permission to proceed pro se. This appeal followed.

          (6) On appeal, Clark argues that the Superior Court erred in finding he was not eligible for relief under § 4214(f) and in denying his motion for appointment of conflict counsel to file a certificate of eligibility under Superior Court Special Rule of Procedure 2017-1(c)(2). Clark contends he was eligible for relief under § 4214(f) and appointment of counsel because: (i) he was sentenced before July 19, 2016 for a violent felony under § 4214(a); (ii) the sentence was not subject to suspension and constituted a minimum mandatory sentence because the terms minimum, mandatory, minimum mandatory, and mandatory minimum are synonymous under § 234; and (iii) he has served the required minimum sentence. The State argues Clark was not eligible for relief under § 4214(f) because the Superior Court exercised its discretion to sentence Clark to more than the statutory maximum for Robbery in the Second Degree and he was not entitled to appointment of counsel.

         (7) We review questions of statutory interpretation de novo.[6] "The goal of statutory construction is to determine and give effect to legislative intent."[7] If the statute is determined to be unambiguous, "there is no need for judicial interpretation, and the plain meaning of the statutory language controls."[8] "A statute is ambiguous 'if it is reasonably susceptible of different constructions or interpretations' or 'if a literal reading of the statute would lead to an unreasonable or absurd result not contemplated by the legislature.'"[9] When a statute is ambiguous, a court may refer to the legislative history to interpret the statute.[10]

Notwithstanding any statute, court rule or regulation to the contrary, beginning January 1, 2017, any person sentenced as an habitual criminal prior to July 19, 2016, shall be eligible to petition the Superior Court for sentence modification after the person has served a sentence of incarceration equal to any applicable mandatory sentence otherwise required by this section or the statutes describing said offense or offenses, whichever is greater. Absent extraordinary circumstances, the petitioner may only file 1 application for sentence modification under this section. A Superior Court Judge upon consideration of a petition filed pursuant to this subsection may modify, reduce or suspend such petitioner's sentence, excepting any minimum or mandatory sentence required by this section or the statutes describing said offense or offenses. If a Superior Court Judge modifies such petitioner's sentence, the Judge may impose a suspended sentence that includes a probationary term. Nothing in this section, however, shall require the Court to grant such a petitioner a sentence modification pursuant to this section. For the purposes of this subsection, the "applicable mandatory sentence" ...

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