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Brooks v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

November 13, 2018

WARREN BROOKS, Defendant Below, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff Below, Appellee.

          Submitted: October 17, 2018

          Court Below-Superior Court of the State of Delaware Cr. ID No. K1305019721

          Before VAUGHN, SEITZ, and TRAYNOR, Justices.

          ORDER

          Gary F. Traynor, Justice

         This 13th day of November, 2018, after careful consideration of the parties' briefs and the record on appeal, it appears to the Court that:

         (1) In May 2013, a Dover police officer was on patrol on South New Street, "a high-crime, high-drug area" in Dover. The officer observed a large group of people and, sensing that there might be a problem, reported the situation to his supervisor. Because the officer was alone, he returned to the police station to pick up additional officers and develop a plan.

         (2) At the police station, the group of officers monitored the activities on South New Street through remote surveillance cameras. While observing the broadcast, officers saw one of the co-defendants, Trevor Jenkins, approach an automobile parked on South New Street, retrieve an object from the driver's compartment, and jump over a fence in the alley. The officers also saw Appellant Warren Brooks walk to the same vehicle. He opened the trunk, removed a long object covered with what turned out to be a pair of jeans and walked to the alleyway fence that Jenkins had previously jumped. Once in the alleyway, Brooks left the concealed object on the side of the fence to be retrieved by another co-defendant, Derrell Snipes. Based on this activity, officers suspected that Jenkins and Brooks had both retrieved firearms from the car.

         (3) Officers were subsequently dispatched to New Street. All three defendants had gathered in an alleyway and started to run when they saw the approaching officers. Despite the officers' commands, they continued to flee. The officers observed Snipes discard the jeans containing the object that Brooks had retrieved from the car. The police eventually apprehended all three defendants and took them into custody. Inside the jeans, officers discovered a sawed-off shotgun loaded with two twelve-gauge rounds. Officers also found a Taurus .38 Special revolver loaded with five rounds in Jenkins' right rear pocket. All three defendants had previously been prohibited from possessing a firearm and a stipulation to that effect was entered at trial.

         (4) In February 2014, a jury found Brooks guilty of (i) one count of possession of a firearm or firearm ammunition by a person prohibited; (ii) one count of possession of a deadly weapon by a person prohibited; (iii) one count of carrying a concealed deadly weapon; and (iv) one count of resisting arrest. The jury failed to reach a conclusion on the charge of conspiracy second degree, and the State entered a nolle prosequi on that charge. Brooks was sentenced to ten years and nine months of unsuspended Level V incarceration, followed by probation. This Court affirmed his conviction on direct appeal.[1]

         (5) On June 1, 2015 (the date on which the 2015 revisions to Rule 61 became effective), Brooks filed a pro se motion for postconviction relief alleging multiple grounds for relief, including ineffective assistance of counsel. The Superior Court appointed counsel to represent Brooks in his motion. Brooks's new counsel filed an amended motion for postconviction relief in September 2016 and waived all grounds previously raised in Brooks's pro se motion, instead alleging ineffective assistance of trial counsel.

         (6) In September 2017, a Superior Court Commissioner submitted a report recommending that Brooks's amended motion be denied as procedurally barred under Rule 61 because it had been previously adjudicated and because Brooks failed to prove cause and prejudice excusing procedural default.[2] The Superior Court denied Brooks's motion for the reasons set forth in the Commissioner's report.[3] This appeal followed.

         (7) Brooks advances two arguments on appeal. First, he argues that the Superior Court erred in finding that his counsel was not ineffective for failing to seek a severance of the person-prohibited charge and for stipulating that he was a person prohibited. Second, he claims that the Superior Court erred in finding that his counsel was not ineffective for failing to request a bill of particulars.

         (8) To prevail on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, the defendant must first demonstrate that his or her "counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness."[4] To do so, the defendant must overcome a strong presumption "that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance; that is, the defendant must overcome the presumption that, under the circumstances, the challenged action 'might be considered sound trial strategy.'"[5] Second, "the defendant must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different."[6] A reasonable probability requires more than a showing "merely that the conduct 'could have or might have or it is possible that [it would have]' led to a different result."[7] "A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome."[8]

         (9) Brooks and his co-defendants, Jenkins and Snipes, were tried together and jointly stipulated that, on the date of the alleged offenses, "they were prohibited under Delaware law from owning, possessing and/or controlling a firearm and/or firearm ammunition."[9] Brooks now blames his lawyer for making this admission, claiming that, instead, he should have moved to sever and requested a separate trial on the person-prohibited charge. According to Brooks, "[p]erson-[p]rohibited charges are routinely severed to avoid prejudice"[10] and "[t]here is no valid reason or strategy for a trial ...


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